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Brazil Journey Friday, 27 September, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Truckers face potholes and bandits
Aracruz: An 87 year-old Tupiniquim Indian leader says he can't write and won't vote Canudos: Paulo meets island-dwelling Marciano, who follows a 19th Century messianic leader Salvador: Traditional street vendors want a president who will give them a monopoly on bean fritters Pernambuco: A community descended from escaped slaves fights for access to its own land Eldorado dos Carajas: Where land reform has brought soaring crime Serra Pelada: Small-scale gold diggers win a 10-year mining rights battle Brasil Novo: A remote jungle town longs for electricity and a surfaced road Santarem: Canvassing votes by river boat at the heart of the Amazon jungle Belém: The city where a councillor with one arm is spearheading the fight for disability rights Belém-Brasilia highway: Two days with a trucker on Brazil's damaged and bandit-ridden roads Brasilia: The scavengers who live off the capital's waste Sao Paulo: The city 'island' dwellers who will have to travel for four hours to vote

Report 10: Belém - Brasilia

As Brazil gears up for presidential elections in October, BBC Brasil's Paulo Cabral travels through remote mountains, arid countryside and deep jungle to find out what 21st Century politics mean in the Brazil that normally goes unreported.

Juliano Amaral - known as Frangão, which means "big chicken" - has been transporting heavy loads on the roads that link Belém to São Paulo for the last six years.

Every week he drives past Brazil's centre of political power.

Truck driver Juliano Amaral
Frangão has only spent one day at home since April
I caught a lift with him for 2,200 kilometres from Belém to the edge of the federal capital, and joined him in his truck along with the 6.5 metric ton load of bicycles he was transporting.

Frangão told me there is another kind of load he would like to take to Brasília.

"I would like to fill the truck with these crosses that we see on the edge of the roads, and place them all in front of Congress," he said.

"Maybe then these politicians would take note of how many people are dying because of the terrible state of these roads," he said.

Juliano is constantly on the road: he loads up in Belém, makes a quick stopover in Itumbiara - on the border of the states of Góiais and Minas Gerais - to see his wife, then drives on to São Paulo.

On arrival, he loads up the truck again and returns to Belém. He only stops for longer if the cargo happens to be late.

"I got married in January this year and spent 15 days at home. Since then, I have only been able to spend one day at home, and that was back in April," he tells me.

Long hours

I boarded Frangão's truck at 9pm on Monday.

He started driving and did not stop to sleep until 4am on Wednesday, 31 hours later.

He slept for four hours and then got back on the road.

Truck on Belem-Brasilia route
Some truckers drive for 48 hours with no sleep
"I have to keep on driving because the rates for transporting freight are very low and diesel is very expensive," he said.

"If I kept to the official working hours I wouldn't even be able to afford the loan for the truck."

Some truckers drive up to 48 hours non-stop if they are carrying fresh vegetables.

In order to get through such long shifts, many take heavy doses of appetite suppressants - known as "pick-me-ups" - to help keep them awake.

"Not to mention the drivers that take tranquilisers to help them cope with the tension caused by these terrible roads full of potholes and bandits," Frangão added.

Pothole risk

The condition of the roads and the security risks were the two main concerns among the truckers I spoke to during my two-day trip.

Potholes in the road
Pothole damage pushes up the cost of truck maintenance
And although we were not stopped by thieves, the potholes were very much in evidence.

There are stretches where the road hardly exists and the front of the juggernaut scraped the ground as it hit some of the larger craters in the road surfacing.

"The potholes are dangerous and push up the maintenance costs of trucks," Juliano complained.

Stone attacks

He also said the holes provided more opportunities for bandits when drivers were forced to slow down to negotiate rough patches of road.

Presidential election
First round: 6 October
Run-off: 27 October
Key candidates
Jose Serra - ruling centrist coalition
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - Workers' Party
Ciro Gomes - centre-left Labour Front coalition
Anthony Garotinho - Socialist Party candidate
"Here in the north and in the central west region they climb in through the windows to mug the trucker. In the south-west they stop the trucks to steal the cargo," he explained.

But the most feared attackers are those that use stones.

The bandits place themselves on a flyover or footbridge and throw a large stone, such as a paving stone, onto the windscreen of a passing truck to knock the vehicle over and steal its load.

It is not uncommon for truckers to die in this kind of attack.

To avoid such incidents - and to keep each other company - the truckers spend most of the day and night in radio contact with their colleagues around the country.

Optimism

As we drove, a trucker carrying a cargo of alcohol between Fluminense and Goiás relayed a message over the radio:

"There are bandits all over the BR 040 [Rio de Janeiro to Brasília]. There have been attacks all night around here," he said.

Juliano Amaral is hoping that the new government will help take care of the Brazilian roads, or that they will sell them to private companies.

"It's better to privatise and pay a toll than to continue driving on these roads," he said.

But despite all the problems, Juliano told me he felt optimistic.

"It has to get better, doesn't it? It couldn't get any worse," he said.


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20 Aug 02 | Americas
19 Jul 02 | Americas
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