RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil—On the left, tears of joy and deep relief. On the right, anger and indignation. On Sunday, Brazil elected former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once again as President.
Lula, the left-wing figure adored by millions of Brazilians, beat current far-right icon President Jair Bolsonaro by a narrow margin of less than 1 percent.
“We have defeated fascism, division and hatred and now is the time for Brazil to heal, unite, work for a more just society and protect the beautiful Amazon rainforest,” exclaimed Lula supporter Maxi Quaresma. as he celebrated in São Salvador Square. in the Laranjeiras neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.
São Salvador Square is a favorite hangout for left-wing Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro. But conservatives describe it as “a place for cramming fancy”.
Evangelical Juana Cuesta makes the sign of the cross hearing the name of the square. She prayed for Bolsonaro with dozens of her faithful all Saturday night until early morning and was completely exhausted. But determined not to lose this historic election, she went to vote for Bolsonaro. Cuesta is part of a fast-growing evangelical movement that sees Bolsonaro as a protector of his way of life and protects Brazil as a potential superpower.
“Mito is the only savior for our country,” she said Sunday morning, referring to Bolsonaro’s nickname — The Legend — among his die-hard supporters.
Cuesta spent Saturday night under the open sky in the makeshift church. Dozens of plastic chairs and a small altar did the trick. It was draped in a Brazilian flag, with several others wearing national soccer jerseys. This is because Bolsonaro identified his personality and movement as the core of the Brazilian nation.
“We are the real Brazil. Florist they just want to destroy this country to the ground by stealing, and Lula is the leader of their gang. They are crying out for help since the pandemic. And now with inflation it’s even worse. But we can’t keep giving them things for free. We will go bankrupt and end up like Venezuela,” Cuesta said.
For weeks on end, both political camps were at each other’s throats. In all the neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, shouting matches between Florist and Bolsonarian were exposed. Under the mute gaze of the huge Christ the Redeemer statue, overlooking Rio, perched atop a 2,300-foot mountain, neighbors growled at one another from their windows and balconies as they hurled curses, communist or fascist, until their voices were hoarse.
“We’ve never had this kind of polarization in Brazil,” said Tomas Trauman, who served for four years as a spokesman for Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president. He believes Brazil’s right wing is now following Trump’s playbook.
Just like Trump, Trauman predicts, Bolsonaro will never accept electoral defeat and will continue to claim that the left stole the vote in a rigged election. “I’m afraid we’re going to have our own version of January 6, 2021, when Trump’s people stormed the Capitol. The only difference is that our key date is November 15, when Brazil commemorates the founding of its republic.”
Politics this year has consumed the Brazilian soul. Even football, the pride of the nation, often compared to religion here in Brazil, has taken second place.
“This may be the first time that not even football could remove the pressure and stress from the troubled minds of millions of Brazilians,” said Professor Sergio Settani Giglio, who teaches at the State University of Campinas. Settani Giglio has written extensively about the phenomenon of Brazilian football and its influence on society.
He also borrows from current American politics when he says this election was a battle for the soul of the nation, recalling Joe Biden’s presidential campaign slogan.
Many on the left believed that four more years of Bolsonaro would turn the country into a police state dominated by evangelicals and big agribusiness.
“I don’t recognize this Brazil. The other day, a guy came up to me on Copacabana beach with a gun in his bathing suit just to threaten me,” said a middle-aged man who identified himself as Marcelo. Marcelo is openly gay and was at the bar with his boyfriend on Ipanema Beach.
Brazilians on the right despise people like Marcelo, but in their talks they insist the real threat is Lula’s massive government spending and corruption. His government, according to many of them, will destroy the dream of a truly great Brazil.
“Lula’s ambition is to compete with India at best. But our bar is much higher. We could be there with the US,” argued Juana Cuesta.
Donald Trump comes up again in our conversation, particularly his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Now with Lula in power? We’re more like ‘Make Brazil great one day,’” Cuesta concluded after a short pause.