Rising fuel prices trigger social unrest in South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine police blocked a major entry point to the center of the capital on Tuesday to prevent a group of truckers from joining a downtown protest, adding to rumbles of traffic in Buenos Aires to a series of disruptions caused by anger over rising fuel prices and shortages across South America, largely over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Cars were pushed back several kilometers (miles) until truckers agreed to clear a lane for regular traffic as they moved to protest diesel shortages and prices that have lasted for weeks in the Argentine capital.

Argentina is just one of many South American countries to see the repercussions of rising fuel prices, largely due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In Peru, truckers launched an indefinite strike on Monday to protest rising fuel prices while in Ecuador at least five people have been killed in more than two weeks of a protest led by indigenous peoples that has for main rallying cry a demand for cheaper fuel. prices.

The repercussions of rising prices are also hitting executive offices. In Brazil, the chief executive of state-owned oil giant Petrobras resigned last week under political pressure due to falling prices.

Drivers around the world are feeling the pain at the pumps as petrol and diesel prices soar largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the global economic rebound from the pandemic of COVID-19.

This pain is turning into social unrest in several Latin American countries where accelerating inflation, itself fueled by rising energy prices, is making it difficult for many people in one of the most unequal in the world to make ends meet.

Truckers protesting in Argentina are also demanding higher fees for transporting grain.

Truckers have been protesting for weeks over a shortage of diesel at petrol stations across the country and their failed attempt to enter the capital was part of an effort to get the attention of President Alberto Fernandez’s government.

“They give us 60 liters a day to work,” said Rubén Darío Fernández, a 61-year-old trucker who was among those trying to enter the capital on Tuesday. “The problem is that you can’t do long trips or work all week with it.”

In Ecuador, President Guillermo Lasso abruptly cut off dialogue with the largest indigenous group leading the protest on Tuesday following an attack by protesters that killed a military officer and injured 12 others who were escorting a fuel convoy through the Amazon.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities has been on strike for more than two weeks demanding lower fuel prices and other demands, including a bigger budget for health and education.

Negotiations were called off a day after protesters and government officials sat down to talk for the first time since the strike began.

The Argentinian protest stands out from other similar protests in the region as it is linked more to shortages than high prices, as there are diesel supply problems in 23 of Argentina’s 24 provinces, according to the truckers’ federation. .

But truckers also argue that the shortage is driving price hikes.

“They charge whatever they want for how little diesel there is,” said Roberto Arce, a 49-year-old truck driver who was at the protest on Tuesday.

The Argentine government has vowed that the supply problems will soon end. Transport Minister Alexis Guerrera said in a local radio interview on Saturday that things should return to normal “in the next 15 or 20 days”.

Argentina tightly controls pump prices and depends on imports for about a quarter of its diesel consumption.

State-controlled oil company YPF, which is Argentina’s largest producer and refiner, said on Monday it would import 10 shipments of diesel in the next 45 days to help ease the shortage.

Argentina’s fuel production has failed to keep up with demand, creating a bottleneck at a key time for the country’s harvest, as the agricultural sector and truckers used to transport production to port rely on mainly diesel as fuel.

Diesel sales in Argentina rose 16% in the 12 months to April, while production rose by less than half that amount to 7%, according to a recent report by the Argentine Institute of ‘energy.

In Peru, truckers continued their protests for a second day on Tuesday, saying current fuel prices, linked to general inflation, are preventing them from making ends meet.

“The substance of our claims lies in the impossibility of passing on the frequent diesel increases to our customers,” Luis Marcos, a leader of the truck drivers, told a local radio station.

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Associated Press reporter Victor Caivano contributed from Buenos Aires.

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