OCTOBER 28, 2018
EVERYONE WITH ACCESS to a television set or a computer remembers where they were on the night of November 8, 2016. What had loomed in the possible future, scarcely credible in its menace, suddenly became the actual here and now. A new era of cruelty and irrationality in public life had arrived, along with the re-embrace of a host of old horrors that had seemed beyond argument: institutional racism, police brutality, torture, gross ecological negligence, and thermonuclear brinkmanship, to name a few.
Progressives in Brazil have been living a recurrence of that nightmare this month that is in every respect more extreme. On October 7, the neo-fascist presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, narrowly failed to secure an overall majority and outright victory in the first round of the election. In the runoff, set for today, he faces the distantly trailing center-left candidate, Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT). A university professor and party stalwart, Haddad is standing in the stead of former president Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, whose own campaign ended in April, when he was imprisoned as part of a corruption investigation that has implicated much of Brazil’s political establishment. Since the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, some of the worst offenders in other parties, aided by a conservative Brazilian media, have decisively channelled public anger over corruption against the PT.
All the momentum is on the side of Bolsonaro, whose very wildness, like Trump’s, appears somehow a token of honesty. The arrow of recent world history also seems to point strongly in his favor. There is still hope — Brazilians are an inherently optimistic people — but barring some deus ex machina, Bolsonaro will be elected president tonight.
Bolsonaro and Trump both specialize in violent language. There are several examples of near-verbatim correspondence between the two.
It’s easy to imagine the current president of the United States nodding along, for example, with Bolsonaro’s leaden quip that International Human Rights Day should be renamed “the day of losers.” Where Trump spoke of “shithole” countries, Bolsonaro has referred to immigrants from the same places as “the scum of humanity.” As with Trump, the expansion of private firearm ownership among “good citizens” is one of Bolsonaro’s only consistent policy proposals. And, of course, immediately prior to the first round, Bolsonaro declared: “I will not accept an election result that is not my own victory.” (He duly blamed his failure to win a first-round majority on fraud.)
More often, however, Bolsonaro operates in a realm of authoritarianism, viciousness, and degradation at least one level further down from Trump — saying, overtly, things that Trump only hints at, or allows to rest entirely between the lines of his rhetoric.
Where Trump has promoted draconian criminal justice policies, encouraged police to rough up suspects, and generally failed to grasp the concept of due process, Bolsonaro has campaigned on an explicit platform of legal immunity for Brazil’s police forces — already the most lethal in the world.
“If he kills 10, 15 or 20, with 10 or 30 bullets each, [the officer] needs to get a medal and not be prosecuted,” he has said; “criminals shouldn’t have a single right.” Where Trump and his supporters have revelled in the dream of “locking up” his defeated rival, Hillary Clinton, Bolsonaro talks of killing political opponents. “We are going to gun down all these Workers’ Party supporters,” he offered at a rally in the northern state of Acre. On the streets of Rio, he handed out fistfuls of grass for PT supporters “to eat,” a play on a Brazilian idiom for dying.
Bolsonaro subsequently became a victim of violence himself, when he was stabbed during a campaign event by a man who claimed to be acting on divine instruction. His standing in the polls increased while he ostentatiously convalesced in hospital, blaming the violent atmosphere on his opponents.
Trump has routinely mocked the physical appearance of any woman that criticized him, and defended himself from some of his 20 sexual-assault accusers in the same terms: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you,” he said of Jessica Leeds; “Look at her,” he said of Natasha Stoynoff. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has repeatedly told Maria do Rosário, a fellow member of congress, to her face: “I would not rape you because you don’t merit that.” The first time was in 1991: as she reddened incredulously in a crowded hallway, he pushed her and called her a slut.
In 2014, unmellowed by the passage of time, he roared the same words at her across Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of congress. Rosário had been promoting a report on the crimes of Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964–1985, which included the use of rape as an instrument of torture. This challenged Bolsonaro’s sense of his own prestige, for he had served in the Army himself for some of that period. He proudly posted the videos of both incidents on his web pages, with the caption: “Bolsonaro puts Maria do Rosário in her place.”
The one area on which Trump and Bolsonaro might have to disagree is homophobia. Though he gives generous latitude to religious homophobes like Vice President Mike Pence, Trump himself is notably less homophobic, considering the strength and depth of his other prejudices. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is a homophobe’s homophobe: in his 30 years of public service, he has tirelessly given voice to that constituency that makes Brazil one of the most dangerous countries in the world for LGBT people. In 2013, he invoked his parliamentary immunity against hate-speech laws to declare, simply: “I am homophobic, yes — with great pride.”
Indianara Siqueira, a veteran transgender rights activist attending a recent protest, reeled off a list of recent incidents she’d either experienced or heard about. Shouting on the train (“Hey, you faggots, take care, because Bolsonaro is going to kill you all”). Lesbians being threatened with rape. Whispering in the street (“Soon it will be the end for you”). That day, a friend of hers had been elbowed by a stranger in a train station. Siqueira wryly pointed out that, while everyone else in Rio is told always to walk in groups for safety, “for LGBTI people, to walk in a group is actually more dangerous.”
Many people we spoke with recalled hearing the chanting of the candidate’s name alone — Bolsonaro! Bolsonaro! sometimes in the distance, sometimes up close — as an unambiguous form of intimidation. “Trump! Trump! Trump!” has, of course, been weaponized on the streets, sports fields, and playgrounds of the United States in exactly the same manner.
Where Trump campaigned on the promise of bringing back waterboarding for foreign terrorism suspects, Bolsonaro and some of his supporters fantasize about reinstituting torture domestically. “I am pro-torture, and the people are too,” he has declared.
This is Bolsonaro’s core statement, the one that unifies all the rest. When he basks in the history of the violent torture carried out within his former chain of command, we see him for what he is: with his sadistic comments about minority groups and other opponents, he exercises the torturer’s impulse — as Trump does — psychologically. As in the case of Trump’s supporters, it appears to contribute rather than detract from his appeal.
“I feel a tightness in my body, the tension in my neck,” said Camila Aventura, a 30-year-old teacher from Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone. “We who defend democracy have all been feeling a heaviness in our bodies, a general despondency. We try to come together to believe in turning it around, to believe that democracy can be secured once again. But we’re very anxious.”
We met Aventura at a demonstration, on a square in central Rio, where flocks of pigeons skimmed low under a gray sky. When Bolsonaro first announced his candidacy in 2016, Aventura continued: “It seemed ridiculous. But, somehow, he gathered strength. I personally don’t want to imagine a Brazil governed by Bolsonaro. Friends have said they will go into exile, and I’ve thought about that too.”
For the best part of three decades, Bolsonaro was considered an upsetting but irrelevant oddity: the reactionary wretch in the corner of the room, sounding off like a car alarm two blocks away, just one more clanging noise, amid the national cacophony, with which people had learned to coexist.
“The things he said were so absurd that we started to share them online, laughing,” said Giovana, 21, another teacher, at a small protest one rainy evening in Lapa, a landmark neighborhood of weekly street parties and samba circles, where grizzled Marxist old-timers mingled with bohemians, all clutching beer bottles and huddling under leaky tarpaulins.
Like many of the young people we spoke to, Giovana was hesitant to talk, carefully checked our credentials, and withheld her last name. Being openly queer made for a different order of worry.
“It’s very difficult to walk on the street at the moment,” Giovana continued. “The other day, a guy came at me on a bicycle, full speed. He almost hit us, skidded, and splashed a load of water in our faces, and took off laughing. Even if we don’t wear our political stickers, people just need to look at us to see which side we’re on.”
“So he started to rise in popularity because of us!” she said, her eyes widening. “We thought it could never happen. And then he started to grow, and grow, and grow. He took hold of a part of the population with great force! We only realized the danger we were in when the count started to come in. And then I started to cry, desperately.”
Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on the night of March 14, 2018, Rio city councillor Marielle Franco left an event in the city center. Sitting in the back seat of a white Chevrolet Agile, she traveled west, past the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, which hosts Rio’s annual carnival parade. Seconds later, another car drew level with hers. She was killed with four bullets to the head, fired from its back-seat window.
Michel Temer, the unpopular president installed after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, had recently signed a decree making the military responsible for Rio’s police operations. The head of the Army, General Eduardo Villas Boas, had demanded guarantees that soldiers would not face “a new Truth Commission.” Two weeks before she was killed, Franco had been appointed by the city council as rapporteur on the military intervention, and on the eve of her death had denounced a police killing of a young man in Rio’s North Zone.
Black, queer, feminist, born in a favela, and an outspoken critic of the militarization of public security, Franco was a rising star of the new leftist politics that inflamed the revanchist far-right movement already solidifying around Bolsonaro. Now she had become a nuisance to the military, and to the political establishment increasingly dependent on the military intervention in Rio for its projection of legitimacy. The absence of any proper investigation of the murder left no doubt about the alignment of interests involved. More than seven months on, there is still no answer to the question: “Who killed Marielle?” But in death, she has become a symbol of the struggle against fascism.
A few days before the first round of the election, three men running for office with Bolsonaro’s party whipped a crowd into euphoria by waving around pieces of an unofficial street sign dedicated to Franco, which they had broken. The demonstration we attended in the city center had involved replacing the sign — and handing out a thousand replicas.
“It’s impossible not to be moved by seeing Marielle’s wife replacing her plaque,” said Raíssa Leal, a 25-year-old student, as she left the event and headed home to her favela in the distant neighbourhood of Jacarepaguá. “Seeing somebody I helped to elect assassinated in that way shows that my political rights, especially as a black woman, are being increasingly diminished. And with such brutal force! People say that this guy isn’t a concrete threat — but his supporters are.”
At both protests we attended, there was a hyper-vigilance among the crowd. If a street vendor dropped a tray of cans, or a car blared its horn, people’s heads swiveled in that direction. The day after Bolsonaro’s first-round win, Moa do Katende, a renowned Capoeira teacher in the northeastern city of Salvador, had been killed with 12 stab wounds to the back, after a bar dispute with a raving Bolsonaro supporter. Raíssa Leal noted that Katende was black, a practitioner of an Afro-Brazilian art form, and a supporter of the PT in one of its regional bastions. “That says a lot about who exactly are the targets,” she explained.
Hours after that murder, a 19-year-old woman had a swastika carved into her skin by a group of men in the southern city of Porto Alegre. She had been wearing a T-shirt of the #EleNão (#NotHim) movement, the main, feminist-led mass-mobilization against Bolsonaro’s candidacy. Since September 30, more than 50 violent attacks and in-person threats have been perpetrated across the country in the name of Bolsonaro.
Wanting not to boost his presence online, or use the name that has become a profanity, opponents of Bolsonaro often refer to him as “the Thing.” As a figure of national nightmare, the biggest difference between him and Trump is that Bolsonaro — gallows humor aside — is not particularly laughable. He has nothing in him, as Trump does, of Homer Simpson (nor even of what one German newspaper headline, the morning after Trump’s election, memorably called “den Horror-Clown”).
Bolsonaro is a humorless petit-bourgeois mediocrity, an obscure captain in a Brazilian Army that never went to war except against its own people, a congressman who passed two pieces of legislation in 28 years. Wiry and limp-haired, with a black-eyed stare and an aura of quickness to some kind of savage yet impotent physical violence, he appears nothing like Trump. He might play a perfect Iago: the frustrated ensign, fuming in the shadows about “the beast with two backs” and “the daily beauty […] that makes me ugly.”
He lacks the diabolical manipulative genius of Iago. But nowadays, the internet is there to assist with that. A number of Brazilian digital marketing agencies have been using psychographic profiling and audience segmentation techniques to influence voter behavior, particularly through WhatsApp, a source of political information for 44 percent of Brazilian voters.
Using fake profiles, and telephone numbers obtained without consent from Facebook user accounts and other databases, they create insular groups for certain kinds of voters. Tailored information — much of it false — is then passed down through a pyramid distribution system, from the content producer to local activists, on to the groups, whose individual members forward the material to their family and friends. On October 18, Folha de São Paulo revealed that this activity has been financed by pro-Bolsonaro business interests, possibly constituting illegal campaign donations.
We joined several WhatsApp groups of Bolsonaro supporters. Each of these typically received an average of 500 messages per day, mostly in multimedia form. “Don’t ask questions here, this isn’t a group for debate,” wrote the administrator of one. “We need to focus on what we believe in.”
A common belief associates Nazism with the left: It is national SOCIALISM, stupid! (The German embassy in Brazil recently published a video on Facebook discrediting that idea; thousands of Brazilians posted angry comments in response, advising Germans to learn their real history.) Under the postmodern epistemology of the fake news environment, whereby what’s false can be believed, and what’s factual can be dismissed out of hand, all those who have denounced this movement — the U.N., Francis Fukuyama, The Economist, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, and the pope — are part of a communist plot to undermine Bolsonaro.
From this alternative reality, based on emotive belief, Bolsonaro emerges as the inexorable presidential candidate. He doesn’t participate in presidential debates, because they are “secondary.” He doesn’t speak about the economy, because he “doesn’t want to discuss topics on which he isn’t an expert.” He is as insubstantial as the internet memes by which his candidacy has been propelled. His supporters have nicknamed him “the Myth.”
Of the pro-Bolsonaro WhatsApp groups we joined, the most active by far was the one devoted to Evangelical Christians. This group received well over a thousand messages each day. In 1980, 6.6 percent of Brazilians self-identified as evangelicals; by 2010, that figure had risen to 22.2 percent.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Brazil’s main neo-Pentecostal denomination, has achieved a particularly pronounced growth in followers, and in wealth. It was founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, who is now the owner of the country’s second largest media conglomerate. His declaration of support for Bolsonaro, one week before the first round, seems to have contributed to a late gain in the polls.
The Temple of Glory of New Israel, in the neighborhood of Del Castilho, is the second largest temple of the Universal Church. It is the size — and general shape — of a small soccer stadium. It has its own food court, including a Domino’s pizza outlet, rather too expensive for many of its congregants, who come from the favelas that sprawl nearby. One morning this October, over 10,000 of them chanted, and shrieked, and waved quivering arms in the air. When the strutting pastor invited them forward to the altar to have their medical conditions salved — and to pledge their money in the cause of Christ — they surged down the aisles. They held aloft their plastic water bottles, whose contents were made holy with a stroke of the master’s hand.
“Here’s the thing,” said Gisele Felix, a housewife from Senador Camará, a poor area on Rio’s periphery, waiting out on the street after the service. “The majority of what comes out on social media is fake news. That he’s homophobic and against the LGBT community is all lies.” What she believed instead was that the Workers’ Party, in league with an LGBT lobby, “wants to create a system in which the children are being influenced, to involve children in bad things.” She was undoubtedly thinking of the so-called “Gay Kit,” a set of guidance materials for schoolteachers, which Bolsonaro has fulminated against, claiming they were designed to turn children into homosexuals.
If homophobic and political violence are the most ghoulish and insidious threats now hovering over Brazilian society, the mundane and impersonal terror of violent crime remains much more pervasive. From 2011 to 2017, the number of homicides in Brazil increased by approximately 20 percent; in Rio, it increased by more than 35 percent. By 2017, the murder rate in Brazil stood at 30.8 per 100,000 people. In the United States, where Trump and the Republican Party habitually scaremonger about crime, the rate is around five.
In an indignant mass consciousness, this genuine epidemic of violence has merged with the unprecedented revelations of official corruption into a single idea, expressed through rejection of the PT. This is what set the stage for the empty candidacy of Bolsonaro — a mimetic response to the rancor, depression, and nostalgic fantasies of a society in psychological breakdown. Fascism, as Walter Benjamin once wrote, offers the masses “not their rights, but instead a chance to express themselves.”
We talked to Rosane Nunes and Mauricio Paixão, who were in disagreement over the man they referred to, at first, only as “a certain candidate” as they left their Sunday worship. (Their circumlocutions here may have been owed to caution over Brazil’s law against political campaigning within churches.) Together they demonstrated the dilemma facing Brazil’s lower middle class:
Rosane Nunes: For me, it’s a moment of great desperation. The country has regressed a lot. We had economic growth; people were living better, with good jobs. Today, we have 13 million unemployed, even though we have every natural resource in Brazil, every possibility for growth. Brazil is a magnificent land. It’s absurd. On the one hand, I don’t want corruption, but I fear the very radical positions of the other candidate.
Mauricio Paixão: The point we’ve arrived at is a radical point. The worker gets up at four or five in the morning to go to work, and doesn’t come back. My wife was robbed at rifle-point going to work, on a crowded street. They took her phone. There’s no point in you having a job if you’re going to get shot at the bus stop! This candidate, I think he’s got such a rage in him against the insecurity in our country, that he revolts against it. So I think he’ll manage to do something about it, that’s what I hope.
Rosane Nunes: But it’s not with rage that you bring about the change you want. It’s rather with resolution, plans, and coherent thoughts. I think prejudice and discrimination are things that should have stayed in the past. Brazil has so much of this already. The Christian should vote with conscience and conviction, and I don’t look favorably on either of the candidates. I just don’t want more corruption, that stigma of so much that was taken from us …
Mauricio Paixão: Well, I think that after the discovery of so much corruption, the population woke up, and started to unite. If someone chooses the criminal life, he has to pay the price. Or he should wake up early and work and not take other people’s lives. We need to elect people who represent us, represent the family, protect the laws that protect our children and grandchildren. Why can’t a Christian take a position? I will vote for Bolsonaro.
Brazil has reached a similar crossroads within living memory. In the name of the family and religious values, 300,000 people took to the streets of São Paulo on March 19, 1964, in a “March of the Family with God for Liberty” organized by Catholic clergy, conservative women’s groups, and businessmen, and replicated across the country. Twelve days later, President João Goulart was overthrown in a military coup supported by Congress. For the next 21 years, Brazilians lived under dictatorship.
Newspapers and politicians had been claiming for more than a decade that Brazil faced the imminent threat of communist revolution and unfolding atheist degeneracy. On March 28, in a telegram to the State Department, the US ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, wrote that Goulart — a progressive reformer — was “now definitely engaged on a campaign to seize dictatorial power.” Gordon secured direct US support for the military plotters.
But it was the military coup itself that radicalized Brazilian politics. A guerrilla resistance movement rose in response, and grew after the Fifth Institutional Act of 1968 tightened censorship, closed Congress, and suspended the political rights of “subversives.” This act marked the beginning of the “Years of Lead” (1968–1974), the most repressive period of military rule, in which the government of General Emílio Garrastazu Médici waged a campaign of torture and assassination.
One victim, Crimeia Alice Schmidt de Almeida, was arrested in December 1972 when she was six-and-a-half months pregnant. Almeida recounted being beaten, electrocuted, threatened with death, and promised that her baby — were it to be born healthy, white, and male — would be taken away. She often felt it hiccupping in the womb during periods of particular duress.
The night she went into labor, she was placed in a cockroach-infested cell. “As the amniotic liquid ran down my legs,” she recalls, the cockroaches “attacked me in packs.” When finally taken to a military hospital, she was told she would have to wait until the following day for a caesarean section, because the obstetrician’s shift had finished. She pleaded that her baby could die. “That would be better,” the doctor responded: “One less communist.” She gave birth to a son, João Carlos. To this day, he has fits of hiccups when anxious.
The first person to torture Almeida was Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the head of the main torture unit during the worst years of the dictatorship. According to testimony, he would insert rats and cockroaches into the vaginas of captive women, and torture them in front of their infant children. In one of his memoirs, The Suffocated Truth, he writes that taking children to see their imprisoned parents was a benevolent act.
During a television interview in July, Bolsonaro was asked which book he keeps by his bedside. “The Suffocated Truth,” he replied with a look of lifted satisfaction. He and his sons — three of whom are politicians, prominent in his movement — have often publicly referred to Ustra as a national hero. In April 2016, in the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote in favor of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff to Ustra’s memory (Rousseff, a former guerilla, had been tortured under the dictatorship herself).
It is now a commonplace to point out that a country that fails to punish those responsible for state crimes is susceptible to their repetition. In Brazil, a National Truth Commission was belatedly set up in 2011, but the Amnesty Law of 1979 has generally secured impunity for the dictatorship’s torturers.
In a recent radio interview, Bolsonaro said that the objective of his government would be to take Brazil back 50 years — in other words, precisely to the beginning of the Years of Lead. His campaign imagines Brazil once again on the brink of communist rule, this time at the hands of the PT and its supporting social movements. In truth, during 13 years of government, the PT offered Brazil neoliberalism with a human face: it reduced poverty through progressive reforms, while banks and major corporations thrived like never before. But with his pretext defined, Bolsonaro now signals how he will deal with opposition.
“We will put an end to all types of activism in Brazil,” he said in a Facebook live-stream on the evening of the first round of the election. “The red outlaws will be banished from our country,” he declared two weeks later. “It will be a cleansing never seen before in the history of Brazil.”
Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow hell.
Private André Soares Wanderley stopped to speak briefly, on the Avenue along Rio’s Copacabana Beach, where thousands of Bolsonaro supporters had gathered for a rally, one week before the second round of voting. The demonstrators were a sea of yellow Brazil soccer jerseys and green national flags. Other T-shirts bore the movement’s unofficial slogan, which plays on the name Jair to read: “It’s better if you start getting used to it now.”
When a Military Police helicopter cruised low over the beach, the crowd turned to applaud. Wearing light physical-training uniforms and their maroon paratroopers’ berets, Wanderley and three colleagues gave the impression of being less than entirely off-duty. When we asked him what his uniform stood for, he replied: “Dignity, security, and Bolsonaro getting into power.”
When we asked him what Bolsonaro represented to him, personally, he replied: “Bolsonaro represents the military. The military doesn’t get involved in politics very often, but we support the idea that one of our members will take power, and do what the others didn’t do.”
We found a range of other answers to that latter question.
“Change,” said one; “Transparency,” said another; “Public security,” said a third. Several people told us that “Bolsonaro represents hope.” For Celso Emanuel Da Silva, a private security guard from the favela community of Caju, Bolsonaro represented reality.
“Bolsonaro signifies reality — reality without populist rhetoric, without trickery. He wants to unite everyone, poor or rich, black or white. He says himself that he’ll be completely even-toned. He’s against pitting LGBTs against heteros, the northeast against the south. We’re all Brazilians.” As for the large minority that fearfully reject Bolsonaro, “they don’t understand. The PT brainwashed them. Division in Brazil doesn’t exist, we’re all the same.”
Da Silva believed that “the parasitic and manipulating media suggest to Brazilians who don’t have much knowledge or culture that there was torture” under the military dictatorship, but that this was not the case. “During the time of the dictatorship — I mean, the intervention — Brazil became the third biggest economy in the world. Few people know about this.” Da Silva was agitated by the “devalued image” of Brazil in the rest of the world’s eyes. “The image of pornography, of beautiful, easy women, of prostitution, drugs, and violence. I don’t want that for Brazil.”
“Bolsonaro represents honesty, which has left this country,” said Laudelino Gatto, a 71-year-old federal judge from the affluent West Zone suburb of Barra da Tijuca, where Bolsonaro also happens to live, and draws vigorous support. He was attending the protest with several members of his family. “We have politicians trying to implement a pure communism. They don’t want liberty; they want their equality, not our equality. It’s a result of this that there is no more seriousness in this country.”
“The so-called military dictatorship that these idiots talk badly about provided me with quality public education,” Gatto continued. “I became a lawyer in a federal university. They remember that Ustra was a torturer, but tell me one leftist dictatorship that gave its opponents sweets and roses? There’s no need for a civil war, but the formula is very simple: get communists out of positions of power. This idea of making everyone equal is a fantasy of the mentally disabled.”
His wife, Maria da Gloria Furtado Gatto, chimed in with a point about government intervention in childhood gender identity.
“Lula, for those of you who don’t know,” Laudelino resumed, “is a certified pedophile.” As he took his leave, he asked us excitedly to “send a hug to Trump!”
Ben Rivers, 73, a retired graphic designer who, like Bolsonaro, had been an Army captain at the time of the dictatorship, also thought primarily in terms of a battle “between communism and liberty.”
“The young people have been corrupted. They think that communism is the answer. The country isn’t divided: 70 percent is in favor of Brazil, 30 percent is communist. As Henry Ford said, ‘Unanimity is for idiots.’”
He’d been a soldier in 1964, when “the people asked for the military” to intervene. “They didn’t kill one good person. It was only communists that they tortured and killed,” he said. “Unfortunately the communists are all still alive. If the dictatorship had been very violent, it would have killed Lula and Dilma. It didn’t kill them. It hardly committed any torture. It’s all lies. That won’t happen again. It never happened.”
He advised us to be careful with our possessions when we left the rally: “Here it’s okay, because there are no PT supporters or other criminals. If someone from the PT were here, they would be beating the elderly men — they are bloodthirsty, we aren’t.”
Another man in a maroon paratrooper’s beret stood atop a rig of loudspeakers. We relayed a request for an interview. He peered down at us, and gave us a military salute.
“Radical ideologies on both sides aren’t correct,” insisted Rodrigo Façanha, once he had climbed down. “I’m a centrist. So nothing of extremisms. Nothing! Today I try to maintain moderate language, because you can’t incite hatred.”
Façanha, now retired, had participated in military operations against the Araguaia guerrilla movement, in the early 1970s. But he distanced himself from the violence of that period. “I was mostly just an observer. I’ve always been radically against torture.”
Minutes earlier, he had addressed the crowd:
We’ve now reached the moment in which we turn things around, and return to reality. To cleanse this country. I fought against these bums on various fronts. These bums, who then took power and have been there for years! We have to be careful this week. They will try to be aggressive and do even worse things. And so the people have to be firm, so as to exterminate these rats! I continue in combat! Don’t believe this rhetoric of the disgusting PT. Let’s fight! Long live Bolsonaro!
As we await Bolsonaro’s likely victory, and embrace with Trump, the spirit of the torture chamber now circulates freely in Brazil.