Jair Bolsonaro’s rapid rise to become front-runner in Brazil’s Presidential election is being accompanied by a wave of violence. His far right supporters have brutally attacked the left, women, Black people, LGBT people and journalists. If Bolsonaro wins the Presidency on Sunday 28 October – as Brazil’s leading pollsters are currently predicting – the situation facing the left, the labour movement, the working class and the oppressed in Brazil will be extremely dangerous. It is therefore vital that the working class movement and all those supporting democracy outside Brazil are fully aware of the full extent of the wave of violence Bolsonaro’s supporters are unleashing and which his entire campaign encourages. The events described below are simply a small part of the violence unfolding in Brazil.
Romualdo Rosairo Da Costa was stabbed to death in a bar after proclaiming his support for the Workers Party candidate Haddad just hours after polls closed in the first round of voting in the early hours of Monday 8 October. A women carrying an LGBT flag and wearing an anti-Bolsonaro t-shirt had a swastika carved into her skin by a gang of men. A transgender woman was beaten in the street by Bolsonaro supporters.
The website ‘Map of Electoral Violence 2018 – Real People, Real Stories’ is powerfully documenting the wave of hate crimes. According to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, reporters are also being targeted- more than 60 journalists have been physically attacked “in a political, partisan and electoral context.”
The left’s Presidential candidate, Haddad, holds Bolsonaro responsible for this outpouring of violence: He said: “My adversary foments violence, including a culture of rape… In my opinion, the big threat to the continent is Bolsonaro.”
When questioned about the wave of violence his supporters are committing, Bolsonaro said he refused to become a “peace and love” character to win votes.
The dangers of a Bolsonaro victory
If Bolsonaro wins the second round of the election on Sunday 28 October the dangers for the Brazilian people are very grave.
Alongside his plans to ramp up austerity with a harsh programme of neo-liberal reforms and privatisation that will impoverish the Brazilian people, Bolsonaro intends to pursue a vicious and violent campaign of internal repression under the guise of ‘law and order.’
In a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world – there were over 63,000 homicides in 2017 – Bolsonaro’s solution to rising crime is to liberalise gun laws. More guns in the hands of Bolsonaro supporters would fuel further far right violence – there is already a present danger that extreme right death squads will be formed to target their left wing political opponents in the event that Bolsonaro wins the Presidency.
Another central plank of Bolsonaro’s programme is to encourage state violence. He wants to give Brazil’s armed police force ‘carte blanche’ to shoot and kill people, to an even greater extent than they already do. For Bolsonaro a police officer should be rewarded for killing people. He said: “if he kills 10, 15 or 20 with 10 or 30 bullets each, he needs to get a medal and not be prosecuted.”
Brazil’s police force – particularly in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – is infamous for being one of the most deadly and murderous in the world. They are killing poor, black, young people at a rapid and increasing rate.
In 2016 the police killed 4,224 people nationwide according to the Annual Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security – and 76% of the victims were black, with 80% between the ages of 12 and 29. The number of people killed by the police in 2016 rose by more than 26% compared to 2015 – continuing a trend which has been present for several years.
The police make a large contribution to the overall homicide rate in Brazil. For example, the police in Rio de Janeiro were responsible for one in every five killings, whilst in Sao Paulo they were responsible for one in four in 2015.
Bolsonaro has been cultivating political support within the ranks of this deadly military police force that he is proposing to give greater license to kill.
For example, according to a report El Pais, on 31 March 2017 Bolsonaro attended a graduation of 992 sergeants of the Sao Paulo military police. At the ceremony “from the crowded stands echoed the shouts ‘Bolsonaro, warrior, Brazilian pride’ and ‘one, two, three, four, five, one thousand, we want Bolsonaro president of Brazil.’”
The support for Bolsonaro within the ranks of police officers was also evident at protest in November 2016 in Rio de Janeiro state against austerity measures which police officers participated in as protesters. Ten thousand public security employees – including police, firefighers and prison guards – joined the protest against pension reforms which ended with hundreds of armed police protesters invading and occupying the Legislative Assembly for three hours whilst they chanted slogans in support of the state’s federal deputy Bolsonaro.
A greater role for the military?
Bolsonaro’s high regard for Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964-1985 has led to speculation that as President he would increase the role of the army within the state internal security apparatus.
Over the past few months the military has taken over security operations within the state of Rio de Janiero – which is been treated as a “laboratory.” In February of this year, 2018, coup President Michel Temer decreed a federal intervention in the law enforcement of Rio de Janeiro, giving Army General Walter Souza Braga Netto absolute powers over the state’s civil (investigations) and military (patrolling) police forces and the prison system. The military has been empowered to overrule any decisions by elected officials, including the governors and mayors. The military has the powers of arbitrary mass detentions and to conduct house-to-house searches. There are serious concerns that Bolsonaro would expand this ‘experiment’ to other states in Brazil.
Bolsonaro has strong support within the army. He is himself a former Captain, having served during the dictatorship in the 1980s. His running mate is a retired army General who last year spoke about the possibility of a military coup in Brazil. Bolsonaro has cultivated support within the rank and file of Brazil’s army. According to El Pais, during 2017 Bolsonaro participated in at least 11 events inside military institutions, where he gave political speeches to receptive audiences.
The ‘law and order’ agenda is about repression not combating crime
Bolsonaro’s ‘law and order’ policies are not designed to target criminals they are designed to attack the Brazilian people. The ground is being prepared for intense internal repression of the left, the labour movement, the working class and all oppressed layers of Brazilian society in the event of Bolsonaro winning the Presidential election.
Bolsonaro’s harsh neo-liberal policies will fail to restore growth to Brazil’s economy and will entail an all-out assault on living standards. Bolsonaro intends to rely on the police and the army to physically crush any resistance to the savage attacks on the population that he has in store should he win on Sunday 28 October.