NEWSMAKER-Brazil minister faces uphill fight to fix battered energy sector

lunes 23 de mayo de 2016 14:20 GYT

By Jeb Blount and Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO May 23 (Reuters) - Interim President Michel Temer has given one of the biggest jobs of his administration to the youngest and least known of his cabinet members: Mines and Energy Minister Fernando Coelho Filho, 32.

Trouble in the oil, electricity and mining industries is responsible for nearly a third of last year's 3.8 percent economic decline, deepening Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s.

Sliding crude prices and a corruption scandal have rocked state-run oil company Petrobras, which may need government help to deal with its $130 billion of debt, the largest in the world oil industry. The scandal has also hit state-run utility Electrobras, which this month had its shares delisted on the New York Stock Exchange and also may need a bailout.

Coelho, the baby-faced son of a powerful political family, was handed one of the government's biggest portfolios on May 12. Hoping to pay the debt without huge bailouts, the Temer government wants him to speed the sale of Petrobras and Eletrobras assets and open the oil sector to more foreign investment.

These moves will likely offend the deep nationalist feelings of many Brazilians, including suspended President Dilma Rousseff, who is still respected by many for expanding social programs that lifted millions from poverty.

Leftist and union groups are fighting her impeachment and impending Senate Trial. Believing the state must direct all energy development, they have also promised to fight Temer's more free-market oil, electricity and economic policies.

"The previous government ... killed the goose that lays the golden eggs," said Edmilson dos Santos, an energy policy professor at the University of Sao Paulo. "Rousseff was warned her policies would end in disaster, but she refused to listen."

Ceolho's experience in the energy sector is slim, beyond bills to cut taxes on hybrid and electric cars and to support farmers making ethanol from manioc, a staple root vegetable.   Continuación...