Bolsonaro celebrates Brazil’s independence with a dead emperor’s heart and the armed forces

President Jair Bolsonaro in an event for Brazil's independence bicentennial in Brasilia, the country's capital since 1960| Image: Alan Santos/Presidency of the Republic/CC 2.0

The tale of Brazil’s independence goes — more or less  — like this: Don Pedro I, a Portuguese royal who defied his family and decided to stay in South America instead of returning to Europe, proclaimed “Independence or death,” marking the process that made the country become an empire of its own. It was not until 67 years later that Brazil would be a Republic.

This September 7, during Brazil’s bicentennial independence celebrations, the speech of President Jair Bolsonaro of the Liberal Party (PL) talked more about himself and his government than the history of the country. He mentioned comparisons between First Ladies and his wife Michelle, recommended to a large crowd of supporters that single men should look out for princesses, and led a chant of “imbroxável,” a word that the New York Times translated as “never limp,” while The Guardian opted for “unfloppable.

In the middle of a presidential campaign, with Bolsonaro running for re-election, the general feeling seems to be that the official celebrations with the presence of the Armed Forces were hijacked. The crowds were made up of mainly Bolsonaro’s supporters, while the official stages were missing representatives from other powers.

The head of the Brazilian Senate, senator Rodrigo Pacheco, explained his absence by saying it wasn’t clear to him where the official celebrations ended and where Bolsonaro’s campaign started. The president skipped the National Congress session in honor of the bicentennial, a day after attending events in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro.

Congratulations to everyone for promoting on this September 7, 2022 one of the greatest and most beautiful festivities ever seen in the last 200 years in the entire planet! You showed to the world the beauty and greatness of our country. INDEPENDENCE OR DEATH! YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOR ALL ETERNITY!

Less than two weeks away from the general elections, Bolsonaro is still behind former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT, Workers’ Party) in the polls by nearly 16 percent.

Bolsonaro’s government has also been struggling on the economic front. Despite recent GDP growth, the number of people in hunger has increased during his term and inflation has increased– he has been lowering gas prices and promising to keep financial aid as an attempt to reverse the polls.

Some opposition parties denounced the mix between Bolsonaro’s campaign and the official event to the Electoral Court, and justices have forbidden the president to use the event's images in his campaign. They evaluated that Bolsonaro should be there as head of State, not a candidate, and it hurt isonomy principles. Among the crowds, Bolsonaro’s supporters running for Congress and state government were seen campaigning in several cities.

President Jair Bolsonaro in an event for Brazil's independence bicentennial with his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro | Image: Estevam Costa/PR/CC 2.0

Fear of coup

With Bolsonaro's recent speeches attacking the Supreme Court, electronic ballots, and the transparency in the elections — he even invited foreign ambassadors to present a case (without evidence) that the elections could be rigged — people feared that a coup could be attempted this September 7. Last year bolsonaristas tried to invade the Supreme Court building, which led to reinforcement in security measures this year.

The outcome was a demonstration of the president's force, with thousands in the streets, igniting his base. There was no coup, but Bolsonaro managed to add another layer to his narrative that counts on discrediting poll numbers as well.

As The Economist stated in a cover issue titled “The man who would be Trump” this month, many actions suggest that “[Bolsonaro] seems to be laying the rhetorical groundwork to cry ballot fraud and deny the voters’ verdict.”

Global Voices’ partner Agência Pública affirms that, while in Brasília, tractors used in the demonstrations were brought and paid for by business people from the agricultural sector. In Rio, the buses that drove people to the event were sponsored by conservative Christians who have been campaigning for Bolsonaro inside churches.

With reporters in the streets, Agência Pública also registered 52 different posters and canvas used by protesters, 23 of them had messages that were pro-coup or attacked the safety and transparency of the electoral process. One of the messages, Agência Pública reports, said: “We want president Bolsonaro in power. Military intervention in the Judiciary, Legislative, and a new Constitution, criminalizing communism. Right away!!!”

Their reporters met Jason Miller, a former spokesperson to Donald Trump, who was promoting his social media platform Gettr during the event in Copacabana, Rio. He denied being a Bolsonaro supporter, and affirmed that Brazil is its second market. “Gettr is not political, it's about free speech, even though many politicians do use it”, he claimed.

Arrival of the relic with D. Pedro 1st's heart at Brasilia | Photo: Estevam Costa/Presidency of the Republic of Brazil/CC 2.0

Hijacking Independence Day

In preparation for the date, Bolsonaro’s government brought Don Pedro’s heart, which has been preserved in a jar and kept in a church in the city of Porto, Portugal, following the late emperor/king’s wishes. It echoed something done during the military dictatorship — a regime often defended by Bolsonaro — to celebrate the 150th independence anniversary in 1972 when Don Pedro’s bones were brought to Brazil to be buried here.

Anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz, who published a book about the “hijacking” of Independence Day imagery, told Deutsche Welle the celebration seemed nostalgic of a past not always recounted accurately and emptied of content related to the citizens themselves. She says:

A coincidência dos 200 anos da Independência com o período das eleições é terrível para a República, sobretudo sob o jugo, sob o mando de um governo retrógrado e pretensamente populista e nacionalista. (…) São duas datas capitais numa República: a celebração de sua formação enquanto nação soberana e o momento quando o povo pratica sua soberania diante da República.

The coincidence between 200 years of Independence and the elections period is terrible for the Republic, especially under the rule of a retrograde government, allegedly populist and nationalist. (…) These are two capital dates in a Republic: the celebration of its formation as a sovereign nation and the moment when the people practice their own sovereignty in front of the Republic.

Reporter Lola Ferreira, from news outlet UOL, captured an image that showed how the day was not just a celebration of Bolsonaro's government but also included many that oppose it.

Bolsonaro went from Aterro to Copacabana by motorbike. The route was marked mainly by his supporters in the streets, of course. But people opposing the president also protested from buses and windows.

In UOL: https://t.co/BjXDKZdc57 pic.twitter.com/pFunJQ4C3c

While people on motorbikes headed to the place where Bolsonaro would appear in Rio, young Black men in a public bus shouted at them. Ferreira later reported that the group was stopped and frisked by the police only ten minutes after she took the picture. A recent poll shows that Lula has a lead over Bolsonaro among Black voters.

Contrary to bolsonaristas’ narrative that the historical date had been forgotten until he took office, the date has been remembered since 1995 in a now traditional protest called “The Cry of the Left Out Ones” (Grito dos Excluídos), which also held acts throughout the country, organized by social movements like the Landless Workers Movement.

September 7 | Independence is a Brazil without hunger!

At the 28th Cry of the Left Out Ones, social movements, organizations and militants went to the streets to show the strength of their voices.

In contrast to the president's electoral speech, on the 200th anniversary of Brazil's independence, people living in the streets in São Paulo, the most populated city in Latin America, the same place where independence was declared two centuries prior, reflected on the meaning of said independence:

Belisa de Souza, a 32-year-old woman in São Paulo told the BBC:

Primeiro, porque o nosso governo hoje em dia não deixa a gente independente. A gente não tem como lutar por nós mesmos. As pessoas aqui precisam de barracas para dormir, entende? Eu não tenho barraca. Eu durmo no chão. Então, como eu sou independente?

First of all, our government today does not let us be independent. We do not have a way to fight for ourselves. People here need tents to sleep, you get it? I do not have one. I sleep on the ground. So, how am I independent?

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