Violence reached an unprecedented level in Brazil's 2022 election, says survey

Image: Agencia Publica/Used with permission

This article, written by Anna Beatriz Anjos, Caio De Freitas Paes, Clarissa Levy, Giulia Afiune, José Cícero, Júlia Rohden, Karina Tarasiuk, Laura Scofield, Mariama Correia, Matheus Santino, Nathallia Fonseca, Rafael Oliveira and Yolanda Pires, was originally published by Agência Pública, on November 3, 2022, and is republished here under a partnership agreement with Global Voices, translated by Liam Anderson.

Pedro Henrique Dias Soares, 28, was murdered in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, while celebrating Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's presidential victory on October 30. He was with family members in the garage of his home when a masked man broke in, firing a gun. He was one of four — including a 12-year-old girl — killed during Lula's victory celebrations.

These deaths were the culmination of an extremely violent campaign, in which there have been at least 324 cases of electoral violence, an average of four per day, according to a survey by Agência Pública.

In 40 percent of cases, the attackers were supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula supporters carried out seven percent of the attacks. In 57 percent of the cases, the perpetrators could not be identified. On October 30 alone, the day of the second round of voting, there were 36 recorded cases of political violence, with at least ten involving the use of firearms. Over the whole election period, there were at least 15 murders and 23 attempted murders.

The second round was significantly more violent. The weekend of the vote saw 14 incidents with firearms, 23 physical assaults, five attempted murders, and five murders. On the weekend of the first round’s voting, there were no reports of murders. 

“I cannot express the pain I am feeling to see a dear friend, such a young person, with a big journey ahead, murdered in cold blood because of his political choice,” said a friend of Dias Soares on social media. 

A 36-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. He was registered as a CAC — Collector, Sports Shooter, and Hunter — a group that benefited from Bolsonaro government measures that made access to weapons more flexible. Before the crime, according to the news outlet O Tempo, the man shouted “Bolsonaro” in the streets and reportedly posted on social media that, if the president lost his re-election, he would end up causing “a disgrace” in the streets, which could indicate premeditation of the crime.

In one of the most violent elections in the country's history, Agência Pública's report mapped and verified attacks against voters, candidates, journalists, and workers at research institutes. The data, which were collected from the official start of the campaign on August 16 until the run-off on October 30, relied on news reports in local and national media, social media, and a questionnaire that was open to the public. The survey included only face-to-face attacks, excluding attacks by phone, email, and social media.

According to a survey by human rights organizations Terra de Direitos (Land of Rights) and Justiça Global (Global Justice), in the two months leading up to the first round of this year's elections, the number of cases of political violence almost equaled those recorded in the first seven months of the year. Between August 1 and October 2, 121 cases of political violence (or two per day) were recorded. Giseli Barbieri, political advocacy coordinator at Terra de Direitos, noted:

O acirramento da violência é crescente e segue um padrão consolidado antes mesmo do período eleitoral. Existe um discurso público contra determinados grupos de pessoas, vindo principalmente da autoridade máxima do país, que incentiva outros atores a reproduzirem a violência política e eleitoral. […]

Nós percebemos uma concentração de casos contra candidaturas que atuam na defesa dos direitos humanos. Ou seja, a violência está cada vez mais sofisticada, intensa e direcionada a determinados grupos de pessoas, que já estão apartados dos espaços de poder e decisão

The escalation of violence is increasing and follows a distinct pattern even before the electoral period. There is a political rhetoric [directed] against certain groups of people, mainly coming from the highest authority in the country, which encourages other actors to reproduce political and electoral violence. […]

We have noticed a concentration of cases against candidates who work to defend human rights. In other words, violence is increasingly sophisticated, intense, and directed at certain groups of people, who are already distanced from the spaces of power and decision-making.

Barbieri also warned that due to underreporting, instances of political and electoral violence may be much higher than surveys show.

She also pointed out that “in over 70 percent of cases where it is possible to identify the attackers, they are white cisgender men and many are political agents.”

Of all the cases of electoral violence mapped by Pública, 51 percent (166) were motivated by political disagreement; 125 were cases of violence against women, 19 involved racism, and eight LGBT-phobia.

Violence against campaign committees and researchers of polling institutes was also common. Following Bolsonaro's questioning and criticism of polls that predicted his electoral defeat, Publica recorded 99 cases of attacks on researchers from Datafolha, one of the country's most established polling institutes.

The survey also logged at least 49 cases of property violence, including attacks on cars and houses, since the beginning of the elections.

One of the most blatant firearm attacks was carried out on the eve of the second round by Carla Zambelli, the re-elected federal deputy who is a member of Bolsonaro's party. Following an argument, she chased a Black, pro-PT (Workers’ Party) journalist through the streets of São Paulo in broad daylight.

Unprecedented election violence

The study “Political and Electoral Violence in Brazil,” produced by Justiça Global and Terra de Direitos, noticed an uptick in violent incidents.

“While, until 2018, one person was a victim of political violence every eight days, as of 2019, cases of violence have been recorded every two days. In 2022 alone there have already been 247 cases recorded – that is, one case of political violence is recorded every 26 hours,” the study reported.

Case numbers in 2022 (247) are five times higher than those recorded in 2018 (46) when the previous presidential election was held.

Violence tends to become more frequent as voting day approaches, according to a 2019 survey about violence against political leaders, conducted by the Electoral Research Group of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro state. Between July and September 2022, which includes the electoral campaign before the first round, 212 cases were registered country-wide — an increase of 110 percent compared to the previous quarter. 

Political scientist Felipe Borba, who coordinates the group, agrees the 2022 election saw “an unprecedented climate of violence.” For him, hate speech was also fuelled by claims of electoral fraud, which have gained traction among Bolsonaro supporters

Essa polarização política, que existe no Brasil desde 1989 [ano da primeira eleição presidencial após o fim da ditadura], tem sido alimentada por um clima de ódio, que diz que o adversário não é apenas um adversário, uma pessoa que pensa diferente, mas é acima de tudo um inimigo que pode ser eliminado

This political polarization, which has existed in Brazil since 1989 [when the first presidential election after the end of the dictatorship took place], has been fuelled by a climate of hatred, which holds that the adversary is not just an adversary, a person who thinks differently, but is above all an enemy that can be eliminated.

Violence in churches

Repeated violent attacks against priests, pastors, and followers — based on political disagreements — also formed part of the radicalization of violent acts this year. Publica recorded at least four attacks that took place in churches, the most emblematic of which occurred on October 12, when Bolsonaro supporters harassed journalists and booed the priest leading a traditional mass celebrating Brazil's patron saint at the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida. President Jair Bolsonaro's presence at the event attracted crowds of supporters.

Police violence

At least 12 of all the recorded incidents involved police. Of these, four involved the use of firearms, and three were murders or attempted murders. 

On October 17, twenty-seven-year-old Felipe Silva De Lima was shot by police officers who were providing security for then-candidate Tarcísio De Freitas, elected governor of the state and Bolsonaro's former minister of infrastructure; he died on the way to the hospital.

According to a report by The Intercept Brasil, which spoke to four witnesses, a military police officer who was guarding the candidate fired at the young man, who was unarmed. None of the weapons seized by the Civil Police were owned by De Lima. A week later, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo released an audio recording in which a member of the governor-elect's security team, a licensed agent of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), demanded that a cameraman who was covering the event erase recordings of the shooting. In a document, the group Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again) stated that “there were strong indications that there was an execution” and demanded transparency about the progress of the investigations.

In a video posted on social media, Freitas said the reports accusing his team of having murdered the unarmed young man were “fake news.”

In a statement, the São Paulo Department for Public Security said that both officers involved and witnesses are being heard and that the investigation's details are not being made public.

More than half the incidents of police violence recorded by Publica happened on the run-off voting day. In the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, the president of a polling station said a military police officer hit her in the face with a mobile phone and took her to the police station after she complained about the behavior of a group of officers. That same night, a military police officer hit a woman wearing red — the color of the Workers’ Party — in Minas Gerais state. The Minas Gerais Military Police were contacted but did not respond.

Violence, however, has not ended since Brazil's election results were announced. Disconcerted over Lula's victory, Bolsonaro supporters have been blocking roads and setting up camp in front of military bases across Brazil for the past month, calling for a military intervention to overturn the election results. On Monday, Dec. 12, the day of the certification of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s election win by Brazil’s electoral court, pro-Bolsonaro protesters took to the streets in Brasilia, vandalized, and set vehicles on fire. Lula will take office in January.

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