The First Big Challenge of the Petroleum Campaign Will Be Stopping a New Auction: Via Campesina, Assembléia Popular, CUT, Conlutas, CTB, and Oil Workers Plan a Week of Mobilizations in December

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Doing everything possible to stop the 10th Round of Oil and Gas Auctions, set for December 18 and 19, is the first objective of a wide grouping of social movements that, since the recent discovery of oil reserves in the sub-salt beds, has been organizing to defend a model of exploration of energy resources that will benefit Brazilian workers.

Accordingly, national mobilizations were planned at a meeting held in Sao Paulo (SP) on November 17.   The protests will take place between December 14 and December 17.  The highlight will be a demonstration in the streets of the capital of Bahia, on December 15, when the Salvador/Sauipe Coast summit begins.  The summit will last until December 17, with 33 heads of state from Mercosur, the Latin American and Caribbean Summit (CALC), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in attendance.

In addition to protests, others, such as the oil workers, may strike at that time.  United in this campaign are Via Campesina, Assembléia Popular, Unified Workers’ Confederation (CUT), Confederation of Workers of Brazil (CTB), National Coordination of Struggles (Conlutas), United Federation of Oil Workers (FUP), National Oil Workers’ Front (FNP), among other groups.

Emanuel Cancella of the FNP, secretary-general of the Oil Workers’ Union of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Sindipetro-RJ), feels that this discussion could serve to unify disparate groups of leftists.  “These are groups that do not come together on other questions,” he added.  For him, three factors explain this unity.  First is the importance of the “O Petróleo É Nosso” (Oil Is Ours) campaign of the 1950s in the memory of Brazilian workers.  The international importance of oil, its responsibility for wars and coups d’état, has also contributed to the left’s unity.  Finally, Cancella called attention to the national conjuncture.  “Here, we have a law that panders to transnational corporations and seeks goals at odds with those of all social movements that defend workers’ interests,” he said.

João Antonio de Moraes, the general coordinator of the FUP, concludes, “What we need is to transform this into mobilization.”

Thus the first challenge is to stop the 10th Round of Bidding promoted by the National Petroleum Agency (ANP).  As Moraes notes, this immediate struggle has a great symbolic aspect.  “At a moment when the entire country is discussing a change in the law, a change to enable the use of resources to pay the social debt, a new round of bidding is being planned.”

According to the FUP chairperson, the auction cannot be the only goal: “Its very conception is mistaken.”  Currently, Brazil sells petroleum blocks to the business that pays the most, using the collected money to run a primary surplus (government budget surplus to pay interest on the public debt).  “It is time to re-discuss previous auctions, too,” he added.

Within the social movements, there is a consensus on other points as well, such as changing the regulatory framework.  According to them, the oil should again be exclusive national property, which has not been the case since 1997, when ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso approved Law no. 9,478, conferring possession of the resources on the company that extracts them.

Moreover, the tax rate on those companies is extremely low, between 0 and 45 percent, and must rise to at least 80 percent — the world average.

The movements also agree on a number of other points, including the idea that crude oil, which has a very low added value, should not be exported; the need for the creation of a sovereign fund to spend the resources on health, education, and other social arenas; respect for affected populations; the search for alternative sources of energy; and the establishment of relationships characterized by respect for and integration and solidarity with other countries.

Luís Brasilino is on editorial staff of Brasil de Fato, a weekly newspaper with national circulation of 50,000 copies, which was launched at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre on 25 January 2003.  The original article “Primeiro grande desafio da campanha do petróleo será impedir um novo leilão” appeared in Brasil de Fato.  Translation by Max Ajl.  Ajl is a writer and activist from Brooklyn.  He has written on Latin American politics and economics for the Guardian and the New Statesman and has also written about the development of the sub-salt fields for NACLA.