By Carlos A. Quiroga
Nearly 80,000 workers of the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras went on strike Friday, to protest the company’s plans to sell assets worth 15.1 billion dollars that will go to a fund to pay its overall debt of 120 billion dollars.
The strike and the debt are the most recent headaches Petrobras has led to President Dilma Rousseff, just days after an independent survey revealed that the majority of Brazilian voters disapprove the work of the leftist president.
In the strike, which affected refineries and operations on the coast and offshore, participated little more than 90 percent of the 86,000 employees of Petrobras, according to the union.
The union also opposes changes in legislation that would remove Petrobras the right to be the sole operator in the huge reserves in Brazil’s southeastern coast.
Petrobras is involved in a corruption scandal involving, according to prosecutors, at least 800 million dolars in bribes and other illegal funds, some of which have gone into the coffers of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Supposedly, Petrobras executives received bribes in exchange for contracts with private companies including the giant Odebretch, whose executives are now under investigation in Switzerland .
The problems of Petrobras, the largest company in Brazil, have had a huge political cost for Rousseff, who began in January his second four-year term and has been unable so far to revive the economy, mired in falling production and growing devaluation and debt.
The disapproval of 53 percent of voters have given strength to voices that call for an big political change, including the resignation of the president who succeeded the popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Lula has also been punctuated by the allegations of corruption in Petrobras, the biggest buyer of Bolivian natural gas.