On Sept. 9, a rural worker was fatally stabbed during a political discussion with a supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right President, in the midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. A little over a month ago, in the southern state of Paraná, an armed Bolsonarista invaded a children’s birthday party and executed the child’s father in front of his entire family. A security camera captured the shocking images.
Sometimes violence can only be avoided through luck or lack of opportunity. While campaigning in public, Ediane Mari of Socialism and Liberty Party and I were attacked by an armed man. The attacker claimed to have been a Bolsonaro sympathizer. We gave him a leaflet we had collected from our campaign. The incident took place in São Bernardo do Campo, a city in the state of São Paulo, and is already under investigation by the Public Electoral Ministry.
These aren’t new episodes. They are only the latest example of the political violence President Bolsonaro uses against anyone who isn’t his friend.
Long before reaching the presidency, Bolsonaro was already known in Brazil for his right-wing positions and for his ideological alignment with the military dictatorship installed by the 1964 coup that ousted the left-wing João Goulart, and which was backed by the U.S. government. Defending the shooting of left-wing opponents on the campaign trail in 2018 and saying in 2014 he “wouldn’t rape” a female colleague “because she didn’t deserve it” are just a couple examples that illustrate the authoritarian personality of Bolsonaro, an ex-soldier.
Aware of this history, Brazil’s economic elite still chose to back Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections, supporting the fraudulent arrest that year of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that would bar him from the race. They opened the way for the election to a man they believed they could control the next four year.
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But since arriving in the Palácio do Planalto, Bolsonaro has only become more brazen in his authoritarian overreach. Bolsonaro’s irresponsible and aggressive speeches have created a dangerous climate and spurred millions of Brazilian supporters to fight back against those they disagree with. In this climate, Lula, who has since been acquitted of the corruption charges and is Bolsonaro’s main rival in the upcoming October general elections, recently had to reinforce his security detail with snipers for a campaign rally, after identifying Bolsonarista threats.
After four years of attacks on our institutions and values, it doesn’t seem surprising that Bolsonaro now threatens Brazilian democracy itself. He is a mirror image of Donald Trump, the former U.S. president. More than just an inspiration, Trump is the ideological north star of Bolsonaro’s political movement. Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability of our internationally praised electronic voting machines, and said that he will only accept the result of the elections if they are “clean”; in other words, if he wins.
Unlike Trump, however, Bolsonaro commands backing from some sectors of the military, many members of which serve in the President’s administration. Bolsonaro could be a coup threat, although few still doubt his worrying claims. I fear that Bolsonaro, once he is defeated at the ballot box as polls expect, will seek to rupture our democracy—and resort to violence to do so. But the real question here is whether or not he’ll have sufficient support to do it. Today, by all indications, he wouldn’t. This should not mean that we underestimate the risks.
In recent weeks, Bolsonaro’s allies in the Armed Forces have managed to force the Superior Electoral Court to allow them to do a “parallel inspection” of the electoral process, opening the door for them to question, within a weakened institutional framework, a vote against the President on Oct 2.
Bolsonaro’s sons and daughters are also doubling down their strategy. Brazilian media reports that they are increasing their connections with criminal militias. Bolsonaro has denied that he is connected to any militia organizations. And they have also called on the President’s supporters to arm themselves, to unite in the streets and resist defeat in a vote that Bolsonaro has tried to sow doubt over.
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Social mobilization on the streets is what can guarantee democracy and stop violence if that occurs. To ensure Bolsonaro’s departure from the Presidential Palace, we would need to organize and intensify peaceful protests.
The streets are also key, at this moment, to increasing Lula’s margin of victory that will make it harder for Bolsonaro to spread lies about the legitimacy of the vote. By talking face to face with undecided voters, we will fight for victory—victory for a democratic and anti-fascist country, where differences are resolved through dialogue and not with bullets.
Only then can we get Brazil on the path to democracy and social justice. The Amazon and biodiversity will be protected from deforestation only then. Brazil can only be respected internationally again. The most crucial elections of Brazil are still only two weeks away.
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