By Isaac Risco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – He praises the dictatorship of decades past and has insulted blacks, women and sexual minorities, but right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro has a good chance of being elected on Sunday as president of Brazil.
Bolsonaro, a controversial former 63-year-old Army captain, is the favorite to win the second round of the election against leftist Fernando Haddad, 55, after winning the first round on October 7th, prompted by the protest vote of many Brazilians weary of corruption and crime in the largest and most economically powerful country in Latin America.
Although his lead contracted slightly in recent days polls, Bolsonaro reached 56 percent of the vote in the latest survey of the Datafolha institute, compared to 44 percent of Haddad, of the Workers’ Party (PT). More than 147 million Brazilians are called to the polls.
Bolsonaro, often described as the “Brazilian Donald Trump” for his aggressive speech against the institutions, capitalized in recent months on the anger and discontent of the voters, and was close to winning in the first round.
“The voters gave a very clear message that they want a change,” said political scientist Mauricio Santoro of the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro’s rise “is perhaps the inevitable result of a very hard political and economic crisis over the last five years,” he told the dpa news agency.
Brazil has been plunged for years in a strong institutional crisis by the multiple corruption scandals uncovered, especially by the case of “Lava Jato” (“car wash”), which broke in 2014, and that splashes virtually the entire political class.
Added to this are the effects of a severe recession, which led to a contraction of -7 percent of the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2015 and 2016, and a wave of insecurity.
Last year more than 63,000 people died violently in the South American country. Rio de Janeiro, the country’s second-largest metropolis, has been under military intervention since February due to violent clashes between criminal gangs and the security forces in the favelas.
Although he is a legislator since 1991, Bolsonaro managed to present himself as the “anti-system” candidate that represents renewal. His central proposals are to arm the population to fight crime, and put an end to corruption.
“There will be no more room for corruption here,” said the candidate of the previously unknown Liberal Social Party (PSL), which will have the second largest number of seats in the next Congress after the Workers Party (PT).
“It will be a cleaning never seen in the history of Brazil,” Bolsonaro added in a video broadcast by his team. The far right candidate did not campaign since mid-September, after being seriously wounded in a knife attack during a rally. His campaign then focused on social networks, a field in which he manages with dexterity.
The popularity of Bolsonaro is also based on the growing political strength of the evangelical churches, related to their rejection of abortion and homosexual rights, and the support of the powerful farm sector, which expects more facilities to exploit the Amazon.
The financial elites support him above all for his neoliberal economic program, although their interests may diverge from the traditional economic nationalism of the military.
Haddad, meanwhile, reached the runoff vote driven by the high popularity of charismatic former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), but faces a strong rejection of his party, which ruled for more than 13 years between 2003 and 2016, due to their corruption cases.
Lula, imprisoned since April for a sentence of 12 years in prison for the case “Lava Jato”, wanted to run again for the presidency, but the Superior Electoral Tribunal banned his candidacy in September.
“Between mistakes and successes, our governments changed the lives of millions of people, we are going to correct the mistakes and expand the successes,” promised Haddad, former mayor of Sao Paulo and a former education minister under Lula, in the final stretch of the campaign.
Rage, disappointment and desire for change
Many voters, however, do not forgive the corruption cases. “I worked in a company that was very corrupt because of the PT,” said Cristina Castro, a 57-year-old former worker at Petrobras, the state oil company that is at the center of the “Lava Jato” investigations. “My vote is for Bolsonaro because I am anti-PT,” she added.
“As a black man I love Bolsonaro and he is my future president,” said Gledison Rodrigues, a 22-year-old who wants to see a change in a “new Brazil.”
“I’m here because I do not want to be robbed anymore,” said Maria Eneida Santos, 65. “I want prison for Lula, he’s a thief.”
Even in the poorest neighborhoods, traditionally closer to the PT, many voters think about voting for Bolsonaro.
“Bolsonaro is very radical in the things he says,” said Antonia Luisa Oliviera, a 62-year-old housewife from the Maré favela, one of the most convulsive in Rio. “But I do not know if I believe in all the things he says about women and other issues, I like that he says he’s going to take care of the insecurity.”
We spoke with several voters to know their motivation to vote for one of the two candidates.
Glenio Ritter, conservative voter: the 52-year-old doctor believes that Bolsonaro would be a great president. “He’s an honest person, a patriot,” says Ritter, who took vacations in recent weeks to campaign for the candidate in Rio. “He has conservative ideas with which I identify myself, for example against abortion or in favor of arming the population, because the violence is very big in Brazil,” he adds. The criticism against Bolsonaro is exaggerated he believes and sees his political opponents as leftwing extremists. “I do not want communism here in Brazil,” he says.
Clara Alves, Bolsonaro does not support women, said the 33-year-old audiovisual producer who participated in a march in favor of Haddad in Rio, convinced that it is necessary to defend democracy. “I am in favor of democracy and against fascism, Bolsonaro has a hate speech, he represents everything that I am opposed to. He is homophobic, racist and, mainly, does not want to support the rights of women,” says Alves about the candidate who has repeatedly expressed himself disparagingly about women.
Elias Figueira, nostalgia for the dictatorship: the 57-year-old former plane mechanic, now unemployed, keeps a good memory of the last military dictatorship (1964-1985). “It was a regime of exception, it was not a dictatorship, it was a necessary evil,” says Figueira, who went to a march in favor of Bolsonaro in Rio wearing two shirts: one with the face of the candidate and another with that of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, the military man in charge of the apparatus of repression and considered responsible for the torture during the dictatorship. “Ustra and all the military men of the time freed us from communism, Ustra is a heroic past, Bolsonaro is the heroic present,” says Figueira.
Sueli Faria: the public school teacher, 61, of Rio is a follower of the PT. “I think the successes of the PT were much greater than their mistakes,” she says of the party that governed for almost 14 of the last 16 years, between 2003 and 2016. Above all, the two Lula governments (2003-2010) were celebrated by the solid economic growth and for removing millions of people from poverty with their social programs, before the outbreak of a severe recession under Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). “I vote proudly for Haddad for what the PT was and for what it is,” says Faria.
Ebert Clariano, gay and a voter for Bolsonaro: Clariano, 29, defines himself as black, gay, poor and a voter of Bolsonaro. “I’m tired of leaving my house at the corner, to take a bus, and being assaulted,” says the neighbor of the Baixada Fluminense favela a troubled area on the outskirts of Rio. “A president should not speak only for minorities, but for the citizens in general,” he believes. The criticism that Bolsonaro is homophobic or racist are inventions of the media. “The Globo network – the largest media group in the country – always manipulates. Now, thanks to social networks, Brazilians managed to wake up.”
Andrea Vianna recalls the “horror” of the dictatorship: the 57-year-old retired woman will vote for Haddad. “I was 18 when the dictatorship ended, I had relatives punished by the dictatorship, I feel horror for the dictatorship,” says Vianna. “Bolsonaro reminds me of that, he honored one of the greatest torturers, Ustra. That was enough for me, beyond the series of other atrocities that he says.” Although she believes it is difficult for Brazil to return a military regime as it was then, she fears a similar authoritarianism. “We can go back to a time to when you cannot express your ideas,” warned Vianna.
Cristina Castro, voted against the PT: Rio de Janeiro, 57 years old and middle class, Castro assures that her vote is above all against the PT of Lula and Haddad. “I am ‘anti-PT’ by definition, I worked in a company that was very corrupted by the PT,” explains Castro, who worked for more than 32 to years with Petrobras, the state oil company at the center of the Lava Jato corruption scandals, uncovered in 2014.” I do not want more corruption in Brazil,” she says and explains that she does not believe in the accusations against Bolsonaro and is willing to give him a vote of confidence.” I need to see him in power, I do not prejudge anyone.”
Joao Paulo Guedes, fear of Bolsonaro: in his first vote in a presidential election, the 19-year-old believes that voting for Haddad is defending democracy. “The other candidate is a danger,” he believes. “I feel threatened because I am black and I live in a favela,” he adds. “Bolsonaro says that we are marginal and I feel very offended because I work, I study and I am nothing of what he says,” says the neighbor of Niteroi, in Rio. Due to the climate of tension and polarization of recent weeks, Guedes does not want to see a photograph of himself in any news media.