Brazil’s Bolsonaro to Supporters: ‘I Know You Are Sad,’ but Stop Blocking Highways

Aerial view showing supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro, mainly truck drivers, blocking

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a message to his supporters on Wednesday night urging them to stop blocking highways and threatening supply chains in protest of his electoral defeat, urging more protests “in plazas” and other “legitimate” locations.

Bolsonaro narrowly lost – by less than two percentage points and about 2 million votes – Sunday’s presidential election against hardline socialist and convicted criminal Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula, who had already served two terms in office from 2003 to 2011, managed to eke out a victory through high levels of support in Brazil’s impoverished northeast. In the country’s major cities, which typically vote conservative, Bolsonaro won by closer margins than would have been necessary to secure a second term.

Tens of thousands of conservatives nationwide have been protesting the election results since early Monday, led by truckers blocking major highways and preventing shipments of groceries and other necessary goods from transiting.

Protests have also flooded squares in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and other major cities. Bolsonaro supporters claim the election was fraudulent because Lula, as a convicted felon, should not have been eligible to be on the ballot. Some supporters are calling for a military intervention to prevent a third Lula term.

Lula was convicted in 2017 of receiving bribes during his presidency that he then used to buy a luxury beachfront property. He was allowed to run for president after the nation’s supreme court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), overturned his conviction alleging that the court that first found him guilty – he was also found guilty on multiple appeals – did not have jurisdiction to handle the case. The STF never presented any exonerating evidence for Lula or challenged the facts that led to his conviction.

Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro block the Castelo Branco highway, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 1, 2022. (CAIO GUATELLI/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Brazilian law, convicted criminals are not allowed to run for public office.

Lula’s conviction was part of a much larger police initiative known as “Operation Car Wash” that resulted in the imprisonment of dozens of politicians. In 2016, Brazil impeached and removed Lula’s predecessor and protege, Dilma Rousseff, as millions of Brazilians took the streets for peaceful protests against the corrupt left.

The pro-Bolsonaro protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful this week, with the glaring exception of a car-ramming attack in which a man drove into a crowd of conservatives, injuring at least 16 people. One victim was identified as a 12-year-old girl. They have, however, resulted in hundreds of roadblocks in nearly every state in the country, angering locals and threatening supply clains.
“Brazilians who are protesting for Brazil, I know you are upset, you are sad,” Bolsonaro said in a video posted to social media on Wednesday night. “You expected something else, me too. I am as upset, as sad as you, but we have to keep our heads in place.”

“Protests, marches are very welcome, they are part of the democratic game and, throughout the years, Brazil has done much of this,” he continued. “But this is something that is not ok: the closing of highways in Brazil hurts the right of people to come and go. It is there in our constitution, and we have always been within those four lines [within the rules].”

“You have to respect the right of other people who are moving, in addition to the damage [you are causing] to our economy,” he urged. “I know the economy is important, no? I know that you are giving more importance to other things now. It is legitimate. But I want to make an appeal to you: clear the highways.”

“That is not part, in my understanding, of these legitimate protests. We will not lose, us here, that legitimacy of ours,” Bolsonaro asserted.

The president went on to emphasize that the protests were “spontaneous,” meaning he had nothing to do with planning or organizing them, and that he was working with Brazil’s federal highway police to clear blockades. He lamented that “the difficulties are enormous” in removing his supporters from the roads.

“Please, don’t think ill of me,” the president implored. “I want what is good for you. Throughout this time I have been in the presidency, I collaborated to restore patriotic sentiment, the love of country, our green and yellow colors, the defense of the family, the defense of freedom. Let’s not throw this away. Let’s do what needs to be done.”

“I am with you and I am sure that you are with me. The request is: highways, let’s unblock them for the good of our nation and so that we can continue struggling for democracy and freedom,” he concluded. “Thank you very much to all of you. God bless our Brazil.”

Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrate during a blockade on Castelo Branco highway, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 1, 2022. (CAIO GUATELLI/AFP via Getty Images)

The statement was Bolsonaro’s second since Sunday’s election. The president kept his silence for two days, only surfacing on Tuesday afternoon to make a similar request to supporters to remain peaceful and not block roadways.

“The current popular movements are the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice about how the electoral process went about,” Bolsonaro said on that occasion. “Peaceful protests will always be welcome, but our methods cannot be those of the left.”

Bolsonaro notably has yet to publicly concede the election, congratulate Lula, or make any statement acknowledging Lula’s existence. His chief of staff has confirmed, however, that a presidential transition process is ongoing, suggesting Bolsonaro will not contest the results.

Wednesday saw the largest protests against Lula yet, flooding the squares of major cities in support of Bolsonaro. Some protesters are simply objecting to Lula returning to power given his criminal record; others are actively demanding a military intervention to prevent Lula from taking office.

In Sao Paulo, estimates suggest about 30,700 people convened on Sargento Mário Kozel Filho Avenue on Wednesday to protest Lula.

In Rio de Janeiro, which Bolsonaro served as a lawmaker prior to becoming president, hundreds surrounded the local armed forces command center asking for a military intervention to stop Lula. The crowd prayed and chanted anti-communist slogans; a man on a megaphone reportedly shouted, “only the armed forces can save Brazil.”

Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, the president’s son who has been the most vocal in the family since the election, issued a statement on social media on Wednesday thanking his father’s supporters.

“Standing ovation for all the Brazilians in the streets protesting, spontaneously, against the moral bankruptcy of our country! Trust in the captain!” he wrote. Jair Bolsonaro was a captain in the Brazilian military before running for office, so his supporters often refer to him affectionately as “captain.”

As of Wednesday morning, transit police have documented 86 roadblocks still standing in 11 of Brazil’s 26 states.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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