Day 3 – snapshot of the Brazilian economy in one minibus ride

We are not going to become experts in the local economy in a few days of lounging by a pool, not even if we studied for a lifetime in fact, yet the journey to the airport reveals much about the country and I am too much of an amateur geographer to let it pass.

Join us for a tour of low quality images.

We start with the title photo which used to be a coconut plantation and now has been slowly sold off as the local beach becomes a resort. The chicken is a nod to the name of the place after slave smugglers in the 19th Century pretended to be importing crates of Chickens rather than African slaves that filled their ships.

Next we see the sugarcane fields

The whole North East of Brazil was driven by sugarcane and brazilwood. The Portuguese seized upon it and the slave trade grew to provide labour to harvest the cane. Although today it is still an industry but less important, the history of sugar surrounds as in this part of the country.

A more modern invention hits us next: fuel shortages. The truckers have been blocking roads to protest at the diesel prices leading to most of the garages being shut and a few open with very long queues of cars with their engines switched off.

Historically Petrobas, the infamous state oil company, distributed diesel at subsidised prices as the Government wanted to avoid inflation (I’m sure its more complex than that). Now Petrobas has moved prices in line with the global oil market and 1000s of small trucking companies struggle with the volatility and hit to their margins. Haulage has more importance in Brazil where the railway carries less frieght. Negotiations last Thursday between the unions, the Government and Peteobas led to a supposed reduction in prices for 15 days, but it seems that the strike is still on. The FT has a good article which says that 70 million chickens have been culled due to feed not arriving. It says the truckers want to cause chaos, namely the removal of the politicians who they do not trust. So this could get very ugly in a country struggling with post-recession growth, little faith in the elite and deep corruption.

The privatisation of the roads is next, a private toll road. I think the UK has experimented with these and they can be very effective: roads are built – and crucially maintained – at a net profit to the Government who receive a royalty and risk only the blame if the roads fail.

Speaking of Petrobas, they have a very large refinery turning oil into plastic. The port of Recife is nearby for exports.

Brazil went on a tear from the mid 90s until the shockwaves of the financial crisis hit, leading to sights like this: a half built factory, left for dead or perhaps ligitation.

Brazil seems to be good at making stuff. China has landed here too and this photo taken at low speed is Shineray cars; not a brand most of us know but they have chosen to build cars in North East Brazil.

No major commentary here beyond it being a nice photo looking north to Recife. The land behind the beach is a large private village essentially, with security on the roads and all the services: schools, shops, etc.

Even though when you drive through it, nobody is there. Deserted.

Finally, back to the past. This is the Atlantic rainforest which lined the coast. Much of it still intact though some of it has become oil refineries and Chinese car factories.

The conclusion: no conclusion, it is just rare that a country so reveals its past present and future along one short car ride. The relaxed roadblocks scared the children but at least they are starting to learn about strikes, bottom-up grassroots campaigning and supply chains :). Thanks to our wonderful guide Baruque for educating us.

We fly to Fernando de Noronha later and the blog will resume with more fun shots of beaches and children.

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