The president of the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, José Mauro Coelho, presented his resignation on Monday after strong pressure from President Jair Bolsonaro and his parliamentary allies. The board of directors appointed Fernando Borges as interim president, a technical profile until the Executive makes a definitive appointment. Coelho is the third president of the state company to leave office during Jair Bolsonaro’s administration and the one who has lasted the least in office, just over two months.
His departure comes after growing pressure from Bolsonaro and government allies, who lament the company’s pricing policy, aligned with the international oil market for six years. Last Friday, Petrobras announced a new price increase: 5.2% for gasoline and 14.2% for diesel. The shares fell 7% on Friday and this Monday, more than 1%.
Shortly after, Bolsonaro went to Twitter to complain about the company, following the trend of recent months: “Petrobras can plunge Brazil into chaos. Its president, directors and advisers know what happened with the truckers’ strike in 2018, and the disastrous consequences for the Brazilian economy and the lives of our people”, he stated. He also criticized the “exaggerated profits” of Petrobras in the midst of the world crisis, and remarked that the government is against any increase in fuel prices.
In 2021, the company recorded a record profit of more than 19,875 million dollars (18,880 million euros), an increase of more than 1,600% compared to the previous year. Criticism of Petrobras from within the government itself has increased in recent days, to the point that Bolsonaro proposed a parliamentary commission to investigate Petrobras executives.
In a certain way, the president decided to oppose his own administration, since he has the power to indirectly change the price policy of the oil company, which was aligned with the international price of oil in 2016, during the administration of then-president Michel Temer, after the losses and damage caused by the corruption scandals uncovered by Operation Lava Jato. A few days ago, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticized Bolsonaro’s attitude, saying that if he were brave he could change the price policy “at the stroke of a pen.” That is to say, appointing a related president who would bend to his demands and have the board of directors approve them.
As a backdrop to the new earthquake in Petrobras are the presidential elections in October, for which Lula is the clear favorite. Bolsonaro knows that inflation is today his main source of attrition. In the last 12 months, prices have accumulated a rise of 11.73%, according to official data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Fuels are among the main culprits and nervousness is starting to creep in even among the most loyal voters. The truckers’ union, a former Bolsonarist stronghold, accumulates disappointment after disappointment and last Friday, after the last rise in diesel and gasoline prices, it once again threatened a strike that would paralyze the country.
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