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Trucker blockades in Brazil increase in wake of Bolsonaro election loss

By Ana Mano, Roberto Samora and Andre Romani

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Truckers who support Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro escalated their protests on Monday, blocking roads in 16 states in an action that could affect agricultural exports in one of the world’s top food producers.

Bolsonaro lost Sunday’s election to leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but has yet to concede defeat to his fierce ideological rival.

He is expected to speak to the nation later on Monday, but his complete radio silence so far has raised concerns about the orderly handover of power and how long the blockades could last.

Brazil’s Federal Highway Police (PRF) said on Monday that truckers have partially or fully blocked roads in 16 states, up from 12 states earlier. Truckers are one of far-right leader Bolsonaro’s key constituencies, and they have been known to cause economic chaos in Brazil when they shut down highways.

Video footage showed some truckers demanding “military intervention” and saying they would not accept Lula as president.

The highest number of blockades was in Santa Catarina, a state where Bolsonaro has a massive support base, and Mato Grosso do Sul, an important grains-growing and cattle state, according to PRF’s national branch.

Santos port, from where much of Brazil’s grains are exported, told Reuters the protests have not affected cargo movement yet. Paranagua’s port authority said one of the main roads giving access to its port was being blocked by protesters, but that there was no immediate disruption to cargo movement.

However, Normando Corral, president of farm group Famato, said the roadblocks in Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest farm state, could disrupt agricultural shipments if they persist.

One of the state’s main exports this time of year is Brazil’s winter corn crop, which is planted after soybeans are harvested.

“It’s too soon to say if it’s going to interfere with the flow of production, because the blockades started yesterday,” Corral said. “I don’t know how long it will last.”

Rota do Oeste, a toll road operator that administers an 850-km (530-mile) stretch of the BR 163 highway that cuts through Mato Grosso said at around 2.30pm local time there were blockages in the regions of Nova Mutum, Sorriso, Sinop, Lucas do Rio Verde and Rondonopolis.

Evandro Lermen, a member of grain cooperative Coacen in the Brazilian ‘soy capital’ Sorriso, told Reuters corn shipments were not being disrupted by the protests.

He said trucks had not been not loaded with corn over the weekend because of a Nov. 2 national holiday.

“We are not worried,” he said, adding that shipping schedules showed no delays.

Rumo, a leading rail company that operates Latin America’s biggest grain terminal in Rondonopolis, said none of its operations in Brazil had been affected so far.

(Reporting by Ana Mano, Roberto Samora, Alberto Alerigi and André Romani; Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O’Brien)

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