Photo: Protesters in 2021 carrying signs accusing Bolsonaro of genocide for his handling of COVID-19. Credit: Parzeus/Wikimedia Commons
Brazilians will go to the polls in a pivotal election on Sunday to choose a new president. Support for former President Lula da Silva of the Workers Party, the main candidate of the left, is surging. The most recent polls suggest Lula may be able to secure a first-round victory over the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. But Bolsonaro, an avowed admirer of the fascist military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1984, is threatening a coup to remain in office.
Taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Bolsonaro has long been spreading rumors that the election will be rigged, a completely baseless allegation. Under such a scenario, Bolsonaro’s supporters argue “military intervention” would be warranted to overturn the election and keep Lula out of office. On Sept. 25, Bolsonaro tweeted, “Will [Lula] win in the first round? … It is impossible. Impossible and full stop!” and said on Wednesday, “we could not zero out the possibility of fraud.” Bolsonaro has even gone as far as to claim that he could only be removed from office by God.
Bolsonaro has mobilized his supporters to carry out acts of violent intimidation amid the campaign, including murder. In July, a Workers Party activist was killed at his own birthday party by a Bolsonaro supporter, and earlier this month another Bolsonaro supporter murdered his co-worker because they supported Lula. Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair’s son and a member of Congress, called on armed supporters of his father’s campaign to form “volunteers for Bolsonaro” militia groups. High-ranking military officers have been given senior positions throughout Bolsonaro’s administration, including the vice-presidency.
The working class of Brazil has suffered immensely during the past four years of far-right rule. While he postures as a populist taking on the elites, in fact Bolsonaro is a servant of the ultra-rich and corporate interests.
One of Bolsonaro’s first major initiatives in office was to carry out a massive pension “reform” that slashed benefits for workers. Under the leadership of ultra pro-corporate Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, the government continued to give handouts to the rich, like the partial privatization of electrical company Eletrobras, the largest power utility in Latin America. Guedes even pledged on Monday to eventually privatize state oil company Petrobras, the most important publicly-owned enterprise in the country.
Bolsonaro’s administration has also facilitated the destruction of the Amazon. It has effectively given the green light to major agribusiness corporations to set massive fires to clear the way for farming, often targeting Indigenous people’s land. Bolsonaro has been rewarded with huge campaign donations by some of the richest agribusiness capitalists in the country.
Bolsonaro employs every form of bigotry imaginable. He frequently uses homophobic slurs to insult opponents, denigrates women, and promotes vile racism against Indigenous and Afro-Brazilians. This is reflected in hate crimes and harassment carried out by his most fanatical supporters.
The criminal mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Bolsonaro administration has led to nearly 700,000 deaths in the country, one of the worst death tolls in the world. Bolsonaro cast doubt on even the most basic public health measures and spread wild conspiracy theories that undermined the fight against the disease. A congressional panel set up to conduct an inquiry into this disaster recommended last year that Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity for his role.
Throughout all of this, the Brazilian people have resisted in huge numbers. Through mass demonstrations, general strikes, and a whole host of other forms of struggle, the people have fought back in defense of their rights. The groundswell of support for Lula is another expression of this resistance. But as Bolsonaro’s coup threats show, the struggle will need to continue beyond this Sunday’s election to ensure that the country is not plunged into all-out dictatorship.