Petrobras and the pre-salt

Image: Jan-Rune Smenes Reite
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By CARLOS TAUTZ*

Liberal-fascists have agreements against the state company and the Brazilian reserves. But, what does Lula, the favorite for October, think?

The main candidates of liberal-fascism (JairBolsonaro and JoãoDoria) have already made public a great and common certainty for the October presidential elections: the only strategy to overcome strong nationalist resistance and succeed in privatizing Petrobras – the jewel in the crown that energetically and symbolically structures the Brazilian nation – would be to slice up the company and then hand it over in tatters and cheaply to international capital.

Campaign planners for both candidates are very clear that oil is power on the highest scale. For this reason, they anticipate closing agreements in this area. And, even if the polls already indicate that Dória, a fascist in defense of the extreme market, is unfeasible, it is emblematic that the candidate from the epicenter of national capitalism in São Paulo hastens – following the example of what Bolsonaro also did – to reveal what he plans to oil, the most important area of ​​the real economy.

In the liberal-fascist strategy, the sale of the state-owned company becomes necessary to achieve the true final objective: the control of the pre-salt layer by companies headquartered in wealthy countries – among them, Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron (USA), BP (England ) and perhaps some Chinese and French state-owned companies.

International oil brokers (in Brazil, nicknamed “importers”) are also interested in this megamamata. They are controlled by financial funds linked to the worst interests – from international arms smugglers and traffickers to carnivorous dictatorships, such as the Saud dynasty, which since 1932 controls Saudi Arabia with an iron fist and US support.

The financial fund lobby is well articulated. The Brazilian Infrastructure Center (CBIE), which belongs to Adriano Pires, is under contract. Gentle lobbyist always on standby Globonews for whoever best remunerates his opinion, Pires recently almost reached one of the most important positions in the Republic.

In early April, Bolsonaro wanted to impose the “independent” Pires as president of Petrobras, but gave up half an hour after the oil sector compliance of the company to reveal the long record of the element. In the parallel universe of Bolsonarism, there was a version that Bolsonaro’s intention, when choosing Pires, was to “force the company to lower the price of fuel”. In fact, there is another explanation and it has to do with the connections between the oil sector in Brazil and international interests.

After all, due to its absolute centrality in the hegemonic way of producing and accumulating, on a global level, the series of industrial and financial complexes condensed in the extensive and deep oil chains – whether in the Middle East, in Russia or in Brazil – it is the sector of the internal bourgeoisies that most clearly expresses class projects for economic growth and the consequent international insertion peculiar to the countries where they are headquartered.

This situation is explicit, for example, in some of the main energy-financial circumstances of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Thus, despite the successive sanctions imposed on it by the US and the European Union (EU), Russia – which has a smaller GDP than Brazil – uses the most modern military equipment and finances the war through growing exports by some countries. of its main products: mineral coal, natural gas and oil to the carbon-dependent countries of the EU itself – in front, England, the alpha ally of the USA.

 

The jump in front of Bolsonaro and Dória

Around here, Bolsonaro's and Doria's candidacies have probably already closed agreements and jumped ahead regarding the alienation of state control over Petrobras. The full delivery of the company would complete a process that began in 2016, after the coup was consummated, with the progressive and accelerated downsizing of the company.

Petrobras lost part of its preference in pre-salt exploration; ran out of two refineries; and saw its recently fired president and general Luna e Silva perpetrate the perverse delivery to shareholders of BRL 101 billion of the BRL 106 billion earned by the company in 2021.

The distribution of so many dividends on profit goes against even the standard self/refinancing logic in the oil sector. Had we been in a democratic regime of law, close to 70% of the profit generated by the company would have been reinvested. Thus, Petrobras could sustain the high scale it needs to remain a fundamental element in guaranteeing Brazil's internal energy security.

To get an idea of ​​the importance of the company in the backbone of the Brazilian economy, and how the 2016 coup also meant a death attack on the company, just recall a survey carried out in 2020 by the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies at the Single Federation of Oil tankers (Dieese-FUP).

The research showed that Petrobras' participation in Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF, that is, the most relevant type of investment in a complex economy) in Brazil has been falling annually, with a tendency to have decreased at most in 2021. In 2014, it showed Dieese, Petrobras alone represented 7,6% of all GFCF in the country. But, this percentage collapsed to 3,8% in 2020.

In other words: the coup established a regime in which it was possible to remove from Petrobras the power of self-sustainability and potential gains among the largest in its history (see the recent spike in oil prices due to the war in Ukraine).

The scammers who are now rushing to put the state-owned company up for sale first broke its legs by weakening its vertical production structure (from the oil well to the electricity pole). This verticalization guaranteed the Brazilian state-owned company the impressive scale to compete many times in superiority with any other energy companies on the planet.

“It's very simple”, taught economist Henrique Meirelles with that traditional tucana arrogance during a recent convescote financed by Bradesco. At the event, according to Folha de São Paulo, Doria's plan to sell Petrobras, Banco do Brasil and Caixa Econômica Federal was presented, in the rare case that the candidate Lancoste manages to be elected.

“Divide the company [Petrobras] into three or four, privatize these companies, and they will compete. Then the market determines”, prescribed Meirelles, who was Finance Secretary of São Paulo in the Dória administration, where he privatized everything from airports to roads. Outside the government, he now coordinates the pre-candidate neotucano program for the Planalto.

Former president of BankBoston, Meirelles is one of those politicians who cultivate an aura of technical impartiality as a way of moving about in any government. Insisting on this lie and counting on the complicity of those who accept it, he presided over the Central Bank in both Lula's terms (2003/11) and was Minister of Finance for coup leader Michel Temer (2016/18). In 2018, he ran for President on the MDB.

 

Institutional pre-salt protection

Today, the excitement of the privatists on the eve of the election does not happen by chance. They know that full access by multinationals to the pre-salt layer will only happen if, first, Petrobras is taken out of the way.

Through the legislation of the oil sharing regime (the last act signed by Lula at the end of his second term, on December 22, 2010, destined to govern pre-salt exploration), the state-owned company is, in fact, a barrier institutional support to the denationalization of the main Brazilian reserves. By forcing the relevant participation of the state-owned company in pre-salt exploration, the Law guarantees that the fortune derived from oil spreads throughout the economy and is directed towards meeting the needs of the Brazilian people, the real owners of this natural wealth.

Thus, Bolsonaro and Doria supporting privatization means fulfilling the role of mercantile agents of destruction of Brazilian nationality. It is understood. History shows that the largest mass movement ever organized in this country forced the most nationalist of presidents, Getúlio Vargas, to enact the 2004 law, in 1953, to create the state oil monopoly and Petrobras. A structuring and long-lasting act of national sovereignty, the Petroleum Law was only destroyed in 1997. It was revoked by the anti-Getúlio Vargas rage of the extremely vain neoliberal Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB).

 

What about Lula?

In this scenario, it is urgent to know the position of Lula, the candidate from the popular and democratic camp, favorite in polls, the only one capable of beating Bolsonaro, who has been talking frequently with bankers and other central figures of capitalism in Brazil.

How will oil and Petrobras issues be handled if he is elected? Will there be a repeal of the rules that allowed the coup leaders to privatize parts of Petrobras, handed over to speculative capital since Temer? Will the sharing legislation be redone and expanded, as happens for example in Norway, the country whose oil legislation inspired Brazil? Will these themes be dealt with in the government program that Lula promises to release by the end of April?

In a meeting recently held in Rio de Janeiro, at the headquarters of the Single Federation of Petroleum Workers – a very strong ally of Lula and the PT –, the candidate was subtly but clearly asked to take a stand – which he did not do on the occasion. “The problem we have is neither geological nor economic,” geologist Guilherme Estrela, who led the Petrobras team that discovered the pre-salt layer, told Lula and Gleisi Hoffman, president of the PT. “If it were, me and (José Sergio) Gabrielli would solve it”, said Estrela, referring to the economist and professor at the Federal University of Bahia, who directed (2003/05) and chaired (2005/12) Petrobras in the PT governments .

“We lost Brazil. Brazil and Petrobras are no longer ours”, warned Estrela to Lula. “This is the problem we have to face. We lost national sovereignty. Why are Petrobras and Eletrobrás important? Because energy is a basic element of the sovereignty of nations. The nation that does not have complete sovereignty over energy production is not sovereign. This is the challenge we have: recovering national sovereignty. Petrobras was born in the streets, it has the soul of the Brazilian people. Petrobras 'needs' to be destroyed because then these guys destroy our sense of sovereignty, self-esteem and confidence”.

To all, in his eternal speech of savior of the devastated homeland, Lula wraps in seductive packaging the supposed need to form a broad front, which even includes those who supported the coup just six years ago, to defeat Bolsonaro. So, how will this very broad front be positioned, full of people representing anti-national sectors and contrary to the sovereignty defended by Estrela?

Only the de facto owner of the PT himself knows the limits of the agreements reached to guarantee victory in October and, afterwards, what he calls the viability of his probable government. Nobody knows anymore if this governance imagined by the PT party – which in its first administrations was nationalist about oil – may, in times of crisis, come to pass through more privatization of assets of Petrobras, the largest company in the southern hemisphere; the great inducer of Brazilian development; finally, the icon of Brazilianness stained with the blood of those who even lost their lives for defending the maxim “oil is ours”.

There is a huge question mark about what strategy will be adopted and the range of maneuver allowed to the PT in the face of the enormous political – and eventually even institutional – crisis that will result from taking strong positions, along the line defended by Estrela – which is far from being a radical.

 

Operation calms banker

The fact is that the operation calms down the banker, operated so far by Lula, includes accepting a notorious coup leader as vice-president of Lula: the resurrected toucan with a soul, Geraldo Alckmin. PSDB leader until 15 minutes ago, unfeasible in the party under the control of the neo-Tucano Doria, Alckmin will forever carry the brand of the ex-governor of São Paulo in whose government teachers and students were cruelly beaten by the cowardly PM from São Paulo. Even though he has now been blessed by the PT's babalorixá, Alckmim will never cease to be the unforgettable commander-in-chief of the massacre of the homeless in Pinheirinho (2010).

Furthermore, although Alckmim has formally left the PSDB – a party that has always defended the burning of Petrobras in the public square – it is not rational to assume that he and his peers (José Serra and Aloysio Nunes, for example, who bless the alliance with Lula) changed their minds so much overnight.

After all, in the eyes of these people who were born in Brazil, but who love and think like American and European capitalists, the "heresy" that the largest Brazilian state-owned company has committed for 69 years has been the fact of always finding and making viable the exploitation of growing reserves of great quality oil, even though the oil is in some of the most inhospitable parts of the Earth.

A political, technological and economic feat that, if used well, can still lead this Nation to accumulate sufficient strength and capital to become part of the great international game. However, there it is no longer a US backyard, a condition to which the PSDB of FHC, Alckmin and the ex-chancellors Serra and Nunes, who always exercised power under Washington's inspiration, submitted us.

It is possible that Lula's program still does not contain the answer to some doubts raised in this article. But, it is already necessary to make it clear that the condition of the only candidate capable of beating Bolsonaro does not give Lula a blank check for neoliberal daydreams.

*Carlos Tautz is a journalist and a doctoral candidate in contemporary history at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

 

 

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