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Unrest in Brazil


WORLD Radio - Unrest in Brazil

Supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro forced their way into the country’s congress, supreme court, and presidential palace

Forensic investigators are framed by a cracked window damaged when supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian Supreme Court building, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023 Associated Press Photo/Eraldo Peres

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: unrest in Brazil.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: On Sunday, January 8th, thousands of supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro forced their way into the country’s congress, supreme court, and presidential palace. Some broke windows, set carpets on fire, and vandalized the highest seats of power.

Bolsonaro lost the recent presidential election to Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva—who is commonly known as Lula. But Bolsonaro’s supporters claim the election was stolen.

Many have drawn comparisons between January 8 in Brazil and January 6, 2021 in Washington.

But how similar are these two events?

REICHARD: Emma Freire is a senior writer at World who used to live in Brazil. And she joins us now. Good morning, Emma!

EMMA FREIRE, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: Well, give us your take on what exactly happened on January 8th.

FREIRE: Around 3,000 to 4,000 supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered for a protest in the capital of Brasilia. They went on a square called The Square of the Three Powers, which is where the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential residence are all located. And then at that point, things got very badly out of hand. Some of the protesters started vandalizing the government buildings. They broke windows and furniture and they set fire to carpets and broke artworks.

REICHARD: And what led up to the riot? How did we get here?

FREIRE: So, Lula won the election by less than 2%. That's a very, very small margin. Brazil has 100% electronic voting and even during the election campaign, Bolsonaro had been questioning whether or not the result might be stolen. So his supporters were already ready to protest if the result went against them. I have been talking to many Bolsonaro supporters in the past couple days who were very perplexed by this development. There were protests after the election and up until Lula's inauguration on the first of January, but the protests all stopped once the inauguration took place. They acknowledged that they had lost. So it seems strange that there would be a violent protest after everything had already been lost, and some Bolsonaro supporters say that maybe Lula supporters agitated Bolsonaro supporters into engaging in the vandalism.

REICHARD: Lula, the current president, has blamed former President Jair Bolsonaro for inciting the riot. But you say there’s reason to believe that Bolsonaro absolutely did not want this to happen. Why so?

FREIRE: Well, this does absolutely nothing for him. He's lost. Lula has been inaugurated and the only thing this does is open him up to potential prosecution. And Brazilian authorities are already investigating him to see if they can charge him with anything in connection to this riot. He's currently in Florida. He was going on vacation, but it looks like he'll come back early. But unfortunately, he's been hospitalized there. During his first presidential campaign, he was stabbed in the abdomen by a extreme left wing activist. He's had five surgeries connected to that stabbing—it was very serious and it's been bothering him again. But I imagine that as soon as he is released from the hospital, he'll be returning to Brazil.

REICHARD: And how did Lula respond to the riots? Was he at the presidential residence when it happened?

FREIRE: No, Lula was not in Brasilia on January 8th. He was actually visiting a different state where there had just been heavy rains and flooding. But he gave a press conference right after the riot, and he blamed Bolsonaro directly for what happened. Lula used very strong language he called Bolsonaro "um genocida," which means an agent of genocide. And Lula said that twice. He said at first, because he claims Bolsonaro hadn't left sufficient public funds to deal with natural disasters. And then he also called Bolsonaro an agent of genocide again for inciting the violence on January 8th. Lula also criticized the police. He said the police in Brasilia had acted with "incompetence, malice, or bad faith." Now, that does sound about right. This is a massive failure by law enforcement. Protests are pretty common in Brazil. And it's never resulted in this level of vandalism before. And also, the protests on January 8th had been widely announced on social media, so the police were aware that this was going to happen and they weren't ready for it. Now, a few days after the riot Lula gave another press conference and this time he struck a more conciliatory tone. He said that the vast majority of Bolsonaro voters are decent people and there were just a small number of vandals that engaged in this really bad behavior. So it seems like Lula has maybe made a strategic decision to focus his criticism directly at Bolsonaro and to be a little bit more conciliatory to Bolsonaro's voters.

REICHARD: What will happen next?

FREIRE: President Lula has declared a public order emergency which was quickly approved by the Congress. That allows him to appoint an official to take over Brasilia and possibly send in troops if needed, though it doesn't seem like that's necessary. Around 1,500 people who participated in the protests are being detained in indoor facilities and some of them had children with them. So I'm seeing a lot of images on Brazilian social media of children in detention facilities, which is obviously a very bad look for Lula and is feeding into Bolsonaro supporters' fears that they're going to be rounded up and put in camps. I suspect a lot of these people will be facing pretty heavy prison sentences. The Brazilian law allows for sentences of up to 12 years for vandalizing government buildings. And the Supreme Court of Brazil has also removed the governor of Brasilia for a period of 90 days, and it's likely that Lula will use this event to call for more laws censoring the media because that's something he had been running on during his election campaign.

REICHARD: I’m glad we have you to keep an ear on all this. WORLD senior writer Emma Freire. Emma, thanks so much!

FREIRE: It’s been a pleasure, Mary.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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