[09-24-08] MST Informa #153: Brazil’s Oil Should Belong to Us!

Brazil’s civil society needs to start having a major discussion: a discussion about the exploration, production, and use of oil found in the pre-salt layer. The management of our natural resources – our oil, our minerals, our water, our land, and the like – should be controlled by the people, and administered on the basis of national interests.

Rich discoveries in the pre-salt layer have the potential to produce between 50 and 100 billion barrels of oil. The most optimistic experts place the estimate at more than 300 billion barrels. Previously, Brazil had 12 billion barrels of oil reserves, the 16th ranking in the world.

The nation’s new jump into the oil field is so huge that it imposes a responsibility on governments, the Brazilian state, and society itself: to guarantee that our oil contributes to national development, and to the fight against poverty and social inequality. President Lula, in his September 7th announcement on radio and television networks, made a clear promise: “Resources from the pre-salt deposits will be directed, as a priority, towards education and the eradication of poverty. Let us use this great supply of resources to pay the immense debt that our country owes to education.”

We hope that the President’s statements about the pre-salt petroleum do not remain mere words. We hope they do not enter into the collection of unfulfilled promises that the government has already amassed, such as the promise to carry out agrarian reform. It is our duty, as we reaffirmed in the final letter of our 5th National Congress, to struggle for popular sovereignty. The Brazilian people needs to take a position with regard to this discovery— or risk losing another portion of our collective national wealth.

The first step is for us to mobilize, in great numbers, in support of a new regulatory system for the oil sector. The Petroleum Law, approved in 1997, remains one of the worst legacies of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government. This law increased the influence of private corporations, both Brazilian and foreign, and submitted a fundamental source of wealth to the rules of the international market, thus undermining national sovereignty.

In 10 years, the federal government turned over more than 500 blocks of oil to 72 economic conglomerates, half of them foreign. Moreover, in comparison to similar nations, Brazil receives the lowest percentage of royalties and benefits from its oil. The Brazilian state currently gets 54%, while Libya takes 95%; Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and Angola more than 80%, and Norway 78%.

We cannot continue with this model. Merely by changing the rules of the oil sector, the whole Brazilian people can enjoy the benefits of our country’s natural resources. The National Forum in Defense of Oil, which brings together unions, organizations, and social movements like the MST and Via Campesina, has formulated concrete proposals. The Forum is currently engaged in a campaign entitled “Oil Should Belong to Us!”

The government should immediately halt auctions of oil blocks for exploration. The export of crude oil should cease, so that value can be added to oil and national industry can be developed. The regulatory process should be changed so as to guarantee national sovereignty… and to create a constitutional fund that ensures oil revenues get invested in education, health, housing, and agrarian reform.

Brazil is the world’s eighth-greatest consumer of oil. With the pre-salt layer, we have the capacity to guarantee the energy we need for our social and economic development over the long term. We need to think towards the future, and to build a plan for our country. The uncontrolled export of oil may leave us, twenty years down the road, in a position where we have to return to importing oil. For this reason, the rate of oil extraction must be controlled.

This discussion about oil cannot happen in an isolated manner. We need to use this opportunity to open a great debate on the management of our natural resources, and on our national development.

National Directorate of the MST