By Shasta Darlington and Manuela Andreoni
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil is roaring back, at least according to President Michel Temer.
That was the message Mr. Temer’s government sought to convey in a series of upbeat statements issued over the past couple of weeks leading up to a foreign investment forum that begins Tuesday in São Paulo.
Yet a weeklong standoff between striking truck drivers and the government has provided a stark counternarrative, illustrating the shaky recovery of Brazil’s economy, Latin America’s largest, and the widespread disdain Brazilians have toward their ruling class.
Hundreds of trucker roadblocks sealed off highways across the country as a protest against rising fuel prices ground Brazil’s economy to a halt in recent days. Gas stations from São Paulo, the financial capital, to Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon, have run out of fuel.
Dozens of flights have been canceled, fresh food supplies in supermarkets have dwindled and millions of chickens and pigs have been culled because of a lack of animal feed. On Monday, many schools and universities suspended classes.
An announcement by Mr. Temer on Thursday that he had struck a deal with the strike leaders proved premature. Roadblocks were maintained through the weekend and oil workers announced that they intended to go on strike this week, raising the prospect of a deepening crisis that has laid bare the weakness of Mr. Temer’s lame-duck government ahead of a presidential election in October.
Over the weekend, Mr. Temer issued an order authorizing the military to clear roads using force, if necessary, a move that drew condemnation from human rights groups.
But after that threat failed to bring the strike to an end, Mr. Temer appeared weary as he announced in a televised statement on Sunday that the government would subsidize the cost of diesel to drop the price at the pump by 12 percent. He also said truck drivers would pay less in tolls and get more government contracts. The measures were striking concessions by a government that has sought to rein in spending as Brazil emerges from a long, crippling recession.
“Our fundamental and correct concern is with the truckers and I understand their difficulties,” said Mr. Temer, the most unpopular president in modern Brazilian history, according to polls. “We all understand the natural difficulties of truckers in their work.”
Fuel costs have soared in Brazil as oil prices have risen globally, and the real, Brazil’s currency, has depreciated. Under the current policy, the price of diesel fuel has fluctuated on an almost daily basis. As part of the latest agreement, diesel price adjustments will occur on a monthly basis.
Union leaders have urged drivers to accept the latest deal. But on Monday, as fuel tankers escorted by police officers and soldiers began to restock some gas stations, many protesters held firm.
“The government has now met all of the demands in relation to diesel prices, and at a very high cost to public coffers,” said Laura Barbosa de Carvalho, a professor of economics at the University of São Paulo, who pointed out that taxpayers would ultimately pick up the tab. “But the big question is: Is this movement still focused on the price of diesel or does it have a bigger component that wants to destabilize the country?”
Mr. Temer’s speech on Sunday night prompted Brazilians frustrated by what they see as a failed government to honk their horns and bang pots from their windows in protest in many cities across the country. It was a sign of the mistrust and outright hostility many Brazilians feel toward the president.
A poll published by the Globo website on Monday showed that 55 percent of Brazilians disapproved of the strike, but a full 95 percent disapproved of the way Mr. Temer has handled it.
The strike has been the most disruptive period of unrest since Mr. Temer helped lead an effort to impeach his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, in 2016. Since then, Mr. Temer has spent much of his political capital fending off accusations of corruption and obstruction of justice stemming from the wide-ranging graft scandal known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash.
On Monday morning, roughly one hundred protesters gathered at an oil refinery on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, which has been one of the focal points of the strike. Truckers were a minority at the demonstration. But scores of unemployed oil workers, motorcycle couriers and public transportation workers said they wanted their grievances addressed as well.
“This started with the truckers, but it reached millions,” said Alexsandro Faria, 39, an unemployed scaffold builder who worked at the refinery for seven years before being laid off in 2016. “This is the best moment to call attention to our demands. If we only stay on our sofas, complaining about corruption, it won’t work.”
Several strikers have voiced support for a military intervention, arguing that the country was safer and more orderly during the dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985. While support for a step that drastic is by no means widespread among strikers, calls for the military to step in have riled up crowds at protest sites over the past week.
“It isn’t just about the truckers anymore,” said Antonio Marcos Rocha, a proponent of a military intervention who was wearing a Brazilian flag around his waist as he distributed free sandwiches to a crowd outside the refinery. “It’s against corruption.”
As the protests have struck a chord with many Brazilians, politicians across the political spectrum have taken aim at the increasingly isolated and weakened president.
Leftist leaders, who have traditionally championed workers’ rights, and right-wing politicians both sought to portray themselves as champions of the truck drivers as the government threatened to prosecute business leaders who have backed the strike.
Marina Silva, a center-left presidential contender and a former environment minister, criticized the government’s response.
“Once more, the Temer administration uses the military to hide its incompetence,” she wrote on Twitter. “With the increase in fuel prices, society is paying prices that are too high for the mistakes of a government that does everything to save its own skin and keep itself in power.”
The timing could hardly be worse for Mr. Temer as he sets out to promote Brazil’s economic recovery before would-be foreign investors while defending the legacy of his two years in office.
Mr. Temer was recently mocked for unveiling a slogan that suggested that Brazil had advanced 20 years in the span of two. Critics were quick to point out that a slight variation in punctuation made the slogan convey that Brazil had in fact regressed two decades in two years.
But Mr. Temer sought to strike a bullish tone on Monday as investors arrived in São Paulo, where fuel trucks have needed police escorts to resupply airports.
“Brazil is opening to the world and the world is reconnecting with Brazil,” he said in a statement prepared for the event. He noted that on his watch, inflation has dropped and interest rates have fallen to 6.5 percent from 14.25 percent, and investor confidence has begun to grow in his market-friendly policies.
The economy has pulled out of recession, but the recovery has been tenuous. The value of the currency has slumped to a two-year low, in large part because of uncertainty over Brazil’s political future. Voters have turned their backs on the traditional parties mired in the corruption investigation.
Mr. Temer is set to leave office having failed to pass critical structural changes he pushed for, including an overhaul of the bloated pension system.
While truck drivers weigh their options, oil workers unions have announced a three-day strike starting on Wednesday to demand, among other things, a reduction of fuel prices and the firing of Pedro Parente, the president of the state-run oil company, Petrobras.
“The government has tried to sell this idea that it solved the country’s economic problems,” Ms. Carvalho, the economics professor, said. “This crisis is evidence that it was never true.”