Brazil’s Bolsonaro Launches Re-Election Bid Against Leftist Frontrunner: ‘Do You Want to Give the Presidency to an Ex-Convict Drunkard?’

24 July 2022, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during the
Fernando Souza/picture alliance via Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro officially launched his re-election campaign in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday with a fiery speech condemning communism, “stay at home” Chinese coronavirus protocols, and his top rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom he referred to as an “ex-convict drunkard.”

Da Silva, a far-leftist who first served as president in the mid-2000s, has been rumored to abuse alcohol for decades. In a 2004 article, the left-wing New York Times newspaper called Lula’s “fondness for a glass of beer, a shot of whiskey or, even better, a slug of cachaça” a “national concern.”

The self-identified conservative Bolsonaro, who won the 2018 presidential election while Lula was in prison on corruption charges, is currently trailing the far-left former president by nine points, according to a poll published Monday, though he appears to be narrowing Lula’s lead. His official campaign launch under the banner of the new Liberal Party (in much of the world, “liberal” is used to denote small-government conservatism) served to both reanimate enthusiasm for the president and debut a new vice presidential candidate, former defense minister General Walter Souza Braga Netto.

Bolsonaro filled the Maracanãzinho arena in north Rio de Janeiro with campaign supporters and allies in government, such as congressional leader Arthur Lira. Wife Michelle Bolsonaro, who does not often make public remarks, delivered a speech prior to Bolsonaro’s headliner.

Outside the Maracanãzinho stadium, supporters donning the colors of the Brazilian flag, yellow and green, flooded the streets. Vendors sold t-shirts with Bolsonaro’s face on them and slogans such as “My party is Brazil.” Some supporters hung Israeli flags outside the venue; Bolsonaro invested much of his term in office into improving ties with the Mideast nation.

Conservative lawmaker Daniel Silveira was also in attendance to lend Bolsonaro his support. Silveira became a national icon for conservatives after the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), the leftist-appointee-controlled top court, sentenced him to eight years in prison for publishing political commentary on YouTube. Bolsonaro pardoned Silveira, prompting leftists to demand laws to constrain presidential pardon powers.

STF Minister Alexandre de Moraes, the judge in charge of the court’s “fake news” probe, declared during the Silveira affair, “The Constitution does not guarantee freedom of expression,” galvanizing conservative sentiment in the country against the top court.

Congressman Daniel Silveira gives his thumb up during the Liberal Party (PL) national convention where President Jair Bolsonaro was officially appointed as candidate for re-election, at the Maracanazinho gymnasium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 24, 2022. (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP) (Photo by MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Congressman Daniel Silveira gives his thumbs-up during the Liberal Party (PL) national convention, where President Jair Bolsonaro was officially appointed as candidate for re-election, at the Maracanãzinho gymnasium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 24, 2022. (MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Bolsonaro spoke for an hour, condemning, among others, Lula, the Brazilian left, the STF (“deaf people in black cloaks”), and other institutions he deemed corrupted by leftists in power. He particularly condemned local and state government officials who imposed Chinese coronavirus lockdowns in their respective regions – Brazil is a federal system, so Bolsonaro could condemn the lockdowns but not interfere to stop them – and argued that his position as one of the few world leaders vocally condemning lockdowns earned him the votes of his peers.

“Everyone is suffering the consequences of that policy that I opposed: ‘Stay home and we’ll see about the economy later,'” Bolsonaro told the audience. “All of you are suffering from that. Not just you Brazilians. The entire world suffered with that. We found measures to minimize the suffering of our people. … In 2020, when many forced everyone to stay home, I said, ‘Let’s fight the virus and also make it so that our economy isn’t destroyed with the obligation to stay at home.”

Bolsonaro reserved his harshest words for his opponent, Lula, who was president at the height of what later became known as the “Operation Car Wash” corruption scheme in which Brazilian government officials overpaid private contractors for government contracts with taypayer funds, then received some of the excess money in the form of kickbacks. Lula was convicted of having used some of those illicit funds to buy luxury beachfront property in a years-long criminal process. At its peak in 2019, Lula’s sentence totaled 25 years in prison. In contrast to the harshness of the sentence against lawmaker Silveira, the STF overturned Lula’s convictions last year, allowing him to run against Bolsonaro despite a “clean slate law” meant to keep corrupt politicians from running for office.

“A rich country isn’t worth anything if the people choose a bandit as the president of the republic,” Bolsonaro told his audience on Sunday. “Do you want to give the presidency of the republic to an ex-convict drunkard? What I’m saying is not an attack. It’s an observation.”

Bolsonaro attacked Lula for, among other issues, claiming that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be resolved “at a bar table,” urging both sides to share a beer; for proposing the legalization of abortion in majority-Christian Brazil; and for promoting the legalization of drugs.

The president also repeatedly referenced communism, stating that he prays every morning “to God that the Brazilian people never experience the agony of communism.” He also spoke extensively regarding the economic misery and political repression in neighboring Venezuela and Cuba.

“Does anyone think that the Cuban or Venezuelan people don’t want freedom? They want freedom. Do they have it? No. How did they get here then? Wrong choices,” Bolsonaro said, erroneously suggesting that Fidel Castro rose to power in an election. “They believed in easy talk.”

While socialist Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez came to power in an election, Fidel Castro never won an election in his life and violently usurped power after President Fulgencio Batista fled the country in 1959.

Notably absent from Bolsonaro’s criticism of communism were any words of condemnation for the world’s largest communist state, China, with which Bolsonaro maintains friendly relations. Bolsonaro has falsely referred to China as “capitalist.”

Bolsonaro also had no ill words for Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a key patron state of Cuba and Venezuela. Instead, he campaigned on making deals to buy Russian fertilizer.

“When I decided to go to Russia in February, I was criticized by a large part of the media, by a considerable number of heads of state from other countries,” Bolsonaro said, claiming to have spent three hours with Putin “without a [coronavirus] mask.”

“Negotiation is in the interest of our peoples. Two months later, 26 ships with fertilizer arrived in Brazil,” Bolsonaro boasted.

While Bolsonaro has maintained neutrality on the Ukraine war and kept in contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in addition to visiting Moscow, Lula has enthusiastically supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and dismissed Zelensky as a “nice comedian.”

Bolsonaro concluded by asserting that his supporters “are the majority” and will not flee confrontation with the left, asking supporters to “take to the streets” during election season.

The election will take place on October 2, 2022.


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