OOn September 9, a farm 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 armed the hodgepodge invaded a child’s birthday party and executed the child’s father in front of his entire family. Footage of the crime, recorded by a security camera, shocked the country.
There are also cases where violence is avoided only because of luck or lack of opportunity. A few days ago, while campaigning in the street, I and my colleague Edian Maria from the Party of Socialism and Freedom were threatened by an armed man who declared himself a supporter of Bolsonaro when we handed him a pamphlet from our election campaign. The incident took place in São Bernardo do Campo, a city in the state of São Paulo, and is now being investigated by the Ministry of Public Elections.
These episodes scattered across Brazil are nothing new: they are just the latest in a long list of acts of political violence spawned by President Bolsonaro and his aggressive rhetoric towards those who disagree with him.
Long before reaching the presidency, Bolsonaro was already known in Brazil for his right-wing positions and his ideological attachment to the military dictatorship established by the 1964 coup that ousted leftist Joao Goulard and supported by the US government. Defending the shooting of left-wing opponents during the 2018 election campaign and declaring in 2014 that he “wouldn’t rape” a female colleague “because she didn’t deserve it” are just a few examples that illustrate the authoritarian personality of Bolsonaro, a former a soldier.
Aware of this history, Brazil’s economic elite nevertheless chose to support Bolsonaro in the 2018 election, supporting the fraudulent arrest that year of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, which would have disqualified him from the race. In doing so, they cleared the way for the election of a man they believed they could control for the next four years.
But since arriving at the Palácio do Planalto, Bolsonaro has become even more brazen in his authoritarian exaggeration. His aggressive and irresponsible speeches escalated an atmosphere of violence and encouraged millions of supporters across Brazil to violently confront those who disagreed with them. In this climate, Lula, who has since been acquitted of corruption charges and is Bolsonaro’s main challenger in the upcoming general election in October, recently had to beef up his security with snipers for a campaign rally after identifying the hodgepodge threats.
After four years of attacks on our institutions and values, it seems unsurprising that Bolsonaro is now threatening Brazilian democracy itself. In this, he is an image of his idol, former US President Donald Trump. 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 acclaimed electronic voting machines and said he would only accept the election result if it was “clean”; in other words, if he wins.
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Unlike Trump, however, Bolsonaro receives support from some sectors of the military, many of whose members serve in the president’s administration. Few people are still downplaying the risk of a Bolsonaro coup, although some still believe his alarmist statements are just a big bluff. My fear is that Bolsonaro, once defeated at the polls, as polls predict, will try to destroy our democracy – and use violence to do it. The question is whether he will have enough support to make it happen. Today, by all accounts, he wouldn’t. But that shouldn’t make us underestimate the risk.
In recent weeks, Bolsonaro’s allies in the armed forces succeeded in forcing the Supreme Electoral Court to allow them to carry out a “parallel review” of the electoral process, opening up the possibility for them to question, within a weakened institutional framework, the Oct. 2 vote against the president.
At the same time, Bolsonaro and his sons are doubling down on his strategy. They have the strengthened their ties with criminal militias, according to Brazilian newspapers. (Bolsonaro denies any ties to militia groups.) And they also appealed to the president’s supporters to arm themselvesto unite in the streets and oppose the defeat in the vote, which Bolsonaro tried to sow doubt.
If that happens, there is one thing that can ensure democracy and prevent violence: social mobilization in the streets. We will have to lead and redouble the peaceful protests until Bolsonaro leaves the presidential palace.
The streets are also key at this point in increasing Lula’s victory, which will make it harder for Bolsonaro to spread lies about the legitimacy of the vote. 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, not bullets.
Only then will we return Brazil to the path of democracy and social justice. Only then will the Amazon and our biodiversity be safe from the ravages of deforestation. Only then will Brazil be respected and admired on the international stage again. There are only a few weeks left until the most important elections in our country.
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