Brazil's Bolsonaro seeks show of strength, risking backfire
Thousands of demonstrators started arriving at the central plaza in Brazil's capital on Tuesday for Independence Day celebrations to support embattled President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to issue an ultimatum to the Supreme Court.
Massive participation in rallies scheduled across the country would reinforce the right-wing leader's push to prove he is a strong candidate for reelection — despite slumping poll ratings — and recover momentum after a string of setbacks.
He also seeks support in his feud with the Supreme Court, which has been probing his allies for allegedly organizing anti-democratic acts and spreading false information.
But the demonstrations carry the risk of violence that could be perceived as stemming from the president's influence. Critics say they fear Bolsonaro could be preparing a tropical version of the January 6 riot in Washington, where supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol alleging he had been robbed of a reelection victory. Already, Bolsonaro has said he might reject 2022 election results if he loses.
The mood Monday at the Brasilia campsites was of anticipation, with bottles of beer passed around portable grills, but a general reluctance to speak with journalists reflected underlying tension. On Monday evening, supporters broke through police lines set up to block vehicles and halt early pedestrian access to the capital's central mall. Video on social media showed trucks advancing while blaring their horns as hundreds of people dressed in the national green-and-yellow colors walked alongside and cheered.
By morning, dozens of honking trucks were parked on the mall, where only pedestrians were supposed to be allowed. Regina Pontes, 53, stood atop a truck that advanced toward the police barriers preventing access to Congress and the Supreme Court.
“We just want to be in our home; You can't close the door to keep the owner out,” she told The Associated Press.
Security around the court was reinforced early Tuesday at its request, according to the press office of one of its justices, Luiz Fux.
Bolsonaro's government has been beset by crises that his critics say were at least somewhat self-inflicted. The nation's COVID-19 death toll of more than 580,000 is the second highest in the world, and eighth highest on a per capita basis; a congressional investigation of the government's response has produced a drumbeat of accusations of wrongdoing.
Inflation — traditionally the Brazilian boogeyman for presidential approval ratings — is approaching double-digits, with higher costs for mainstays like food, gasoline and electricity. And power prices are expected to rise more due to dwindling hydroelectric reservoir levels that were ignored for months. There may be energy rationing in store, further hamstringing any economic rebound. The result has been a slide in Bolsonaro's approval ratings, accompanied by a steadily climbing percentage of people saying they would never vote for him. Polls show his nemesis, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could trounce him in a runoff next year if he enters the race. Bolsonaro has set out to prove them wrong with Tuesday's demonstration, whose organizers promised: “Sept. 7 will be gigantic!” Bolsonaro said Sunday that he plans to address 2 million people in Sao Paulo — a crowd that size hasn't gathered there in five years, when people demanded then-President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment.
Tuesday's demonstrations “may show that he has millions of people who are ready to stand up and be with him even when Brazil's economy is in a bad situation, inflation near 10 per cent, the pandemic, and all that,” said Thomas Traumann, a political analyst.
Some centrist allies have implored the president to rein in his rancor when addressing crowds to avoid jeopardizing support from moderate voters and lawmakers.
Bolsonaro said last week that “no one need fear September 7,” but the next day he portrayed it as a make-or-break “ultimatum.” Days earlier, outside an evangelical church, Bolsonaro said the only options for his future are to be victorious or die trying.
He has repeatedly claimed the Supreme Court is too powerful, violating constitutional limits, raising fears among critics of a man who has frequently expressed nostalgia for the nation's past military dictatorship.
On the eve of Tuesday's protest, Bolsonaro signed a provisional measure sharply limiting social media platforms' ability to remove content, restrict its spread or block accounts.
A 69-year-old farmer from Minas Gerais state, Clever Greco, came to Brasilia with a group of more than 1,000 others. He told the AP that Brazil's conservatives back Bolsonaro's call for the removal of two Supreme Court justices by peaceful means. In another breath, however, Greco likened his trip to deploying for war.
“I don't know what day I'll go back. I'm prepared to give my blood, if needed,” Greco said. “We're no longer asking; the people are ordering.”
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)