Curitiba (Brazil) (AFP) – Brazil’s former leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday denounced violent protesters during his presidential campaign tour and vowed he’d return to power anyway.
In a day that laid bare the raw divisions in Brazil ahead of October presidential elections, Lula angrily told a crowd of several thousand in the southern city of Curitiba that all along his 10-day bus tour of the region he had been dogged by anti-democratic opponents.
Late Tuesday, his convoy was shot at, he said, with three bullets hitting two buses, although no one was injured. Earlier, people had thrown stones and eggs at his buses and while he was on stage.
“I only know that they’re not democrats. They’re more fascists and Nazis than anything else,” he said.
Even as Lula spoke to his red-shirted supporters, opponents positioned in buildings overlooking the square tried to drown him out by banging pots and letting off fireworks. Large numbers of police stood by, separating the rally from a smaller counter-protest held by a right-wing group.
Lula — who easily leads in the polls despite fighting to avoid having to serve a 12-year prison sentence for corruption — was defiant.
“Save your rockets for January 1, when I am sworn in,” he said.
Hours earlier, his closest rival, right-wing former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, met nearby with several hundred cheering supporters in Curitiba.
Denouncing Lula as a “scoundrel,” Bolsonaro told the crowd: “We can’t accept elections without Lula being locked up.”
Bolsonaro, who has praised torture and Brazil’s two-decade-long military dictatorship, didn’t mention Tuesday’s shooting incident.
Instead he repeated his campaign promise to loosen gun laws and get tough on crime. “I want a… police that shoots to kill,” he said.
However, many other major politicians denounced the apparent attack on Lula.
Center-right President Michel Temer expressed “regret” and said: “We need to reunite Brazilians. We need to pacify the country. This wave of violence, this climate of ‘us against them,’ cannot continue.”
For 27-year-old university professor Leticia Mreuz, who turned out in Curitiba to hear Lula speak, the harassment during his campaign swing spelled trouble.
“I think Lula is the victim of political persecution. This is a time of fear,” she said.
– Divisive Lula –
When Lula left office after two terms at the start of 2011, he was Brazil’s most popular president on record, having presided over a commodities-fueled economic boom and winning plaudits for his social policies.
However, he inspires equally passionate opposition and is blamed by the right and many in the center for Brazil’s slide into the mammoth “Car Wash” corruption scandal that has shaken the country over the last four years.
Although dozens of other top politicians, including Temer, have also been charged or convicted, right-wing opponents see Lula as the graft scandal’s biggest culprit. On the left, Lula is seen as the victim of politicized judges.
On Monday, a court rejected his latest appeal against a 12-year-and-one-month prison sentence for taking a luxury apartment as a bribe.
That left him depending on a Supreme Court decision expected on April 4 if he is to remain free, let alone be allowed on the presidential ballot. Even then, he faces another six corruption cases.
Despite the daunting legal situation, Lula is a runaway favorite in opinion polls, with around 35 percent of voter intentions, followed by Bolsonaro with around 17 percent.
A veteran right-wing congressman, Bolsonaro is running as an anti-politician, often taking a leaf out of US President Donald Trump’s book.
He has frequently lauded the dictatorship that ended in 1985, insulted gays and even told a fellow politician she wasn’t “worth raping.” The more extreme Bolsonaro gets, the more it seems he thrills his supporters.