Sep 17, 2019

Highway BR-163 in Northern Brazil Blocked Again by Protestors

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

It is not easy being a truck driver in Brazil especially if your livelihood depends on transporting grain on highway BR-163 from Mato Grosso north to ports on the Amazon River. For three days last week, there were a series of stoppages along the highway resulting in traffic jams as long as 50 kilometers in both directions.

The source of the blockages were disgruntled small miners/prospectors who try to make a living by illegally mining/prospecting for gold and diamonds without the proper permits and without obeying environmental rules. For several days last week, the miners would block the highway for six hours at a time and then leave the traffic flow for one hour before blocking it again for six hours. The Federal Highway Police in the region were not able to prevent the blockages.

The miners have a series of grievances they want to air including: they want their illegal mining activities to be declared legal, they want the return of their equipment taken by authorities, they want environmental rules for small miners/prospectors to be loosened, and they are requesting a meeting with the Environmental Minister to express their grievances.

Highway BR-163 is a lightning rod for these type of protests because of its strategic importance - it is the only highway connecting central Brazil with the Amazon River. The blocking of BR-163 by protestors is a regular occurrence because they know they will get immediate attention if they block the highway.

In the past, there have been blockages conducted by the landless poor demanding land from the government, indigenous groups protesting invasions of their land, truck drivers themselves demanding higher wages, subsistent farmers demanding more help from the government, even high school kids and teachers demanding more money for schools. The protesters don't always get what they want, but they do draw attention to their causes, which is their goal.

The current protest are occurring in the state of Para about half way between northern Mato Grosso and the Amazon River.