June 24, 2024 10:41 am

Supporters of Brazil’s Bolsonaro stage huge demonstration to defend him amid investigations

Tens of thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro rallied in Brazil’s biggest city Sunday to defend him against legal challenges that could put him in jail.

The far-right leader said in a speech that he seeks “pacification to erase the past,” taking a more conciliatory tone than when he was in office.

Bolsonaro is seeking to show his base is resilient as he is being investigated by federal police over his alleged role in the Jan. 8, 2023, attacks on government buildings by his supporters over his election loss. He wants the dozens of people still in jail for those incidents to get pardons.

Bolsonaro is also accused of illegally receiving jewels from Saudi Arabia during his presidency.

Six blocks of Paulista Avenue filled with Bolsonaro supporters, many of them saying that he is being persecuted by Brazil’s Supreme Court and that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva unfairly won his narrow victory in the 2022 election.

Some also carried Israeli flags as a show of defiance to the current president, who has received widespread criticism at home for comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust.

“What I seek is pacification, it is erasing the past,” Bolsonaro said in a speech as he held an Israeli flag himself. “It is to seek a way for us to live in peace and stop being so jumpy. Amnesty for those poor people who are jailed in Brasilia. We ask all 513 congressmen, 81 senators for a bill of amnesty so justice can be made in Brazil.”

Bolsonaro denied that he and his supporters attempted a coup when rioters assaulted government buildings a year ago.

“What is a coup? It is tanks on the streets, weapons, conspiracy. None of that happened in Brazil,” he said.

Bolsonaro is barred from running for office until 2030 due to two convictions of abuse of power, but he remains active in Brazilian politics as the main adversary for left-of-center Lula. As this year’s mayoral elections loom, candidates have split between the two leaders.

Some of Bolsonaro’s allies aiming to unseat Lula in the 2026 elections also attended, including influential governors Tarcisio de Freitas of Sao Paulo state and Romeu Zema of Minas Gerais state. But other key politicians and business executives who aligned with him during his 2019-2022 presidency did not show up.

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, predicted the pro-Bolsonaro event would not help the former president’s legal situation.

“The fact that Bolsonaro doesn’t yield any power now reduces what he can do. Beforehand, we feared he could use the force of the armed forces. Now that is ruled out,” Melo said. “This new reality does not favor him with unpredictability and drama.”

The event showed, though, that Bolsonaro’s message still resonates with many Brazilians, some of whom evidently favor any coup attempt that would put him in charge. One man paraded wearing a military hat and shouted: ”Brazil, nation, hail our forces. The armed forces didn’t sleep!”

Federal police investigations also include military generals among those who are alleged to have plotted a pro-Bolsonaro coup with the riots in the capital city of Brasilia last year.

Other Bolsonaro supporters believe Brazil faces the risk of radicalism under Lula, who also governed for two terms in 2003-2010.

“It is a country that was taken over by a communist party,” hairstylist Simone da Silva Sampaio said, in a reference to the president’s Workers’ Party. “We’re living terrible days in this place, where we are silenced. We don’t have the right to speak about the truth that happens here.”

Workers’ Party chairwoman Gleisi Hoffmann was one of the few high profile adversaries of the former president to make comments about the pro-Bolsonaro event in Sao Paulo.

“When he speaks about amnesty for those sentenced for the riots of Jan. 8, Bolsonaro aims at his own impunity. He cannot defend interests that are not his own,” Hoffman said on her social media channels. “We should not have any complacency with coup mongers, starting from their boss.”

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