In 2006, the Brazilian government announced the discovery of oil and gas reserves in extremely deep ocean waters, beneath a layer of salt 2,000 meters thick, which they called “pre-salt” petroleum. These reserves will position Brazil to be the sixth-largest producer of petroleum in the world by 2035. The Fourth Fleet of the US Navy, inactive since after World War II, was re-established in 2008 and currently patrols the coasts of Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Brazilian coast. During his time in office, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed his concern: “We are very worried. We don’t need the Fourth Fleet; what we need is for our own navy to protect our platforms and our pre-salt deposits.”
Since the end of 2014, the publicly owned Brazilian oil company Petrobras has experienced heavy criticism, beginning with an operation called Lava Jato. Lava Jato was an investigation carried out by the federal police that identified a corruption network involving certain public officials and politicians with money laundering and organized crime. Meanwhile, in the halls of power and the media, as well as in academic spaces, a fierce debate has been unleashed regarding the topic. The discourse has become polarized between those in favor of nationalization and those who defend privatization as one of the solutions to the problem. As Luiz Ferreira, an economist and professor at the University of Sao Paolo, told Truthout, “one of the efficient ways of returning the company of Petrobras back to Brazilian society is through its privatization.”
On the other hand, there are those who defend the company, even after the Lava Jato investigation, such as former president Lula da Silva. On February 24, 2015, a campaign was launched called “To defend Petrobras is to defend Brazil,” where a statement was presented, part of which read, “We do not have the right to be naïve at this time: There are powerful opposing interests at play regarding the growth of Petrobras. They are eager to take over the company, its market, its advanced technology, and its immense oil and gas reserves in Brazil.”
On March 13, more than 70,000 workers belonging to various unions, social organizations and supporters of the Workers Party, who voted for President Dilma Rousseff, marched through Paulista Avenue, the financial capital of Brazil. They marched in defense of petroleum and above all for pre-salt petroleum. They are defending the mandate of the president, whose reputation has been damaged by revelations of corruption in Petrobras.
Among the diverse accusations being leveled, much is spoken about people who have been corrupted, but very little has been said about the companies that also fell into corruption in order to be able to implement their projects. “We have to be tough on corruption, but also on those who do the corrupting. This is a privatization strategy,” José María Rangel told Truthout. He is the president of the Single Federation of Oil Companies, which is also part of the campaign.