Brazilian political leaders called for calm this week after the killing of a Labor member has given rise to fears that political violence in the polarized nation will erupt ahead of the October presidential election.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former left-wing president and Labor Party leader who is currently leading the polls for the October 2 vote, sent his condolences to the family of the dead man who belonged to his party, calling for “dialogue”. , tolerance and peace ”.
Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent right-wing extremist president who may be ousted in the run-up to the election, said he did not want backing from violent supporters but posted a series of tweets attacking the left for what he called its “undeniable story of violent episodes” “.
Bolsonaro has a history of truculence, and his supporters are behind a series of recent attacks that culminated last weekend in the assassination of the Labor Party’s treasurer in the western city of Foz de Iguaçu.
Marcelo de Arruda was killed at his own 50th birthday party Sunday morning when a Bolsonaro supporter invaded the event and shot him three times. Arruda, a municipal guard who had organized a Lula-themed party, returned fire before his death, leaving his assailant in a serious condition in hospital.
The attack came just two days after another Bolsonaro supporter threw a raw homemade device containing feces into the crowd at a Lula campaign rally in Rio de Janeiro. In another incident in the state of Minas Gerais three weeks earlier, a drone dropped what was reported to be raw wastewater, at a pro-Lula collection.
The attacks are in line with a polarization in Brazilian politics that took off in 2016 with the Supreme Court ruling against Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, and the imprisonment of Lula two years later for corruption crimes – convictions that were overturned in 2019 after It was found , that prosecutors had cooperated with the judge.
What has changed since then, according to experts, is the growing feeling, especially from the right, that political differences cannot be resolved through debate.
“This right-wing extremist group, many of whom, including the president, have fascist ideas, do not want to recognize institutions and the established rules of the game,” said Darci Frigo, president of Brazil’s National Human Rights Council. “Bolsonaro has made a decision to eliminate the left, and he has allowed his supporters to use violence to do so, to divide and hate.
“What happened in Foz de Iguaçu is not an isolated case, it was encouraged by the president’s rhetoric.”
Bolsonaro follows Lula with double digits in most polls, and the prospect of defeat lies behind much of his inflammatory language, experts said.
His warfare comes, though Bolsonaro himself is the highest-profile victim of political violence in recent years. The populist leader was stabbed a month before the 2018 election and spent weeks in hospital before it was time to win the presidency.
Even before that, Bolsonaro had accused extremist views against homosexuals, women and Afro-Brazilians, and most often against the left. In 2018, he imitated firing a machine gun and told a crowd in the state of Acre that he wanted to “punish” leftists and “run them out” of the state.
His rhetoric has not softened in office, and his disappointing polls cause him to embrace increasingly extreme positions designed to give energy to his hard base and scare opposition campaigners off the streets, said Felipe Borba, coordinator of a think tank for political violence at Rios. Unirio University.
“The use of violence against rivals is being stimulated as part of an election strategy … especially by President Jair Bolsonaro against supporters of former President Lula,” Borba said. “He also does it to shift focus away from the country’s real problems.”
Borba said the rise in violence comes at the beginning of what is expected to be some tense months of campaigning, not only for the president but also for Congress and 27 state governors.
A study conducted by his office showed that the number of politically motivated attacks so far in 2022 is higher than in the same period two years ago, prior to the local elections. The data are particularly serious as there are more candidates and races for local elections than national ones.
Even more worrying is the president’s possible endgame.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability of the electronic ballot boxes used in Brazil, even though there is little or no evidence that they are vulnerable, and he has openly warned that he may refuse to leave office if the result does not go his way.
“If Bolsonaro loses the election and you put it together with his intolerance and the perception that he was cheated, we could get large-scale violence after the election, something close to what we saw in the United States with the invasion of the Capitol,” he said. Borba.