Brazil cannot afford to let Bolsonaro off the hook

‘I have nothing to do with your son’s eye. Take a plane and go. You can’t get through here.” Here’s what a supporter of Brazil’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, told a desperate father who begged him to end the roadblock between the central Brazilian cities of Sorriso and Cuiabá so that his nine-year-old son could undergo crucial surgery to repair his cornea. wouldn’t miss.

The father’s pleas fell on deaf ears. His son and the 24 other patients in the same medical transport van all missed their appointments.

Unfortunately, this is Brazil’s new reality.

Since Bolsonaro lost his bid to secure another term as Brazil’s president in October, thousands of his most zealous supporters have taken to the main roads across the country demanding — despite no evidence of fraud — that the elections be held. destroyed or that the army intervenes to keep the far-right leader in power.

At first, these roadblocks were troublesome but largely peaceful. But as the weeks passed and no real path appeared for Bolsonaro to stay in power, the protests gradually turned violent. Especially in states where the president has a large following, such as Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso and Rondônia, ‘Bolsonaristas’ started using home-made bombs and fireworks to stop traffic. They blocked roads with burning tires, garbage cans and tree trunks. They set trucks and in one case an ambulance on fire. Truck drivers across the country reported being assaulted and robbed.

The violence of Bolsonaro supporters is not limited to roadblocks either. In Rondônia, supporters of the president allegedly attacked a water pipeline and shot at the building of a newspaper critical of his government. In Santa Catarina, they attacked Federal Highway Police officers with stones. In Brasilia, they shot at a bar known to be frequented by the left.

In Santa Catarina, Paraná and other states, business owners suspected of supporting President-elect Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) received abusive phone calls and negative reviews on social networks. Their names, phone numbers and business addresses have been shared by supporters of the outgoing president in WhatsApp and Telegram groups and some have received death threats as a result. Some Bolsonaristas have even suggested “marking” the doors of PT voters’ homes and businesses with stars — in reference to the PT logo — in a tactic reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Of course, none of this is at all surprising or unexpected.

Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has been preparing the country for this moment. Over the past four years, he has repeatedly incited violence against leftists, human rights activists, feminists, LGBTQ communities, the poor and anyone who does not blindly support his government. He made sure that the most violent elements in his rank and file had easier access to guns.

His government also embarked on a process to weaken democratic institutions and fill the country’s security forces with his far-right supporters. He strengthened the most dangerous sectors of Brazilian society, from violent groups linked to agribusiness to evangelical fundamentalists and other right-wing extremists.

All of these efforts resulted in the 2022 election being the most violent in Brazil’s recent history, with numerous incidents of election-related intimidation, abuse of power, aggression and even some murders being recorded across the country. And as Bolsonaro lost the election definitively, there is no sign that the chaos and violence that engulfed the country will soon come to an end.

While his supporters are wreaking havoc across Brazil in his name, Bolsonaro has uncharacteristically faded from the spotlight, retreating to his presidential palace since the second round of elections.

Some believe this is a sign that he has finally accepted defeat, but there is likely another – and much more sinister – explanation for his absence. Shortly after Bolsonaro’s defeat, the computers in the Planalto Palace, the seat of the presidency, were empty cleared under the pretext that a “threat” had been detected. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that the president will spend his last days in office at home with his most trusted confidants, destroying any evidence that could incriminate him in a future investigation.

In a country that has always been very violent, roadblocks and other forms of political violence are of particular concern as they can lead to the disintegration of the state. Brazil already struggles with drug gangs and militias, but for Brazil, continued political violence perpetrated by Bolsonaristas could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Some argue that Brazil must begin a process of reconciliation to prevent further chaos and bring Bolsonaristas back into the national fold. But since the president and his supporters are clearly not interested in participating in democracy and living peacefully with others in Brazilian society, reconciliation will get the country nowhere. What Brazil needs today is a process of de-radicalisation, which can only be successfully completed if Bolsonaro and those who fund and promote acts of political violence in his name are punished.

Such a process has already begun. Late last month, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, head of the country’s electoral court, fined Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, as well as his former coalition partners Progressive and Republican parties, 22.9 million reais ($4.27). million) for pushing for a “bad faith” lawsuit against the election results.

No fine can be a sufficient punishment for a president and political movement that have brought Brazil to the brink of collapse, but this is still an important step in the right direction. Brazil cannot move forward and leave the political violence behind without holding Bolsonaro and his cronies accountable for the pain they have inflicted on the people.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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