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Brazil anti-Bolsonaro protest

Members of opposition parties and social movements protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling on unemployment and hike fuel prices in downtown São Paulo on April 9, 2022. (Photo: Cris Faga/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over 800,000 Brazilians Sign Pro-Democracy Manifesto Amid Bolsonaro Coup Threat

"We face the risk of having to live through a dictatorship once again—and this is inconceivable," one of the proclamation's authors warned.

Brett Wilkins

More than 800,000 Brazilians have signed a pro-democracy manifesto ahead of nationwide demonstrations this Thursday and amid growing fears that right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro—who is trailing by double-digits in recent polling—may attempt a coup if he is not reelected in October.

"There is nothing more important than defending democracy and elections."

The proclamation, published by the University of São Paulo School of Law, asserts that "the solution to the immense challenges facing Brazilian society necessarily involves respect for the results of the elections. In civic vigil against attempts at ruptures, we cry out in unison: Democratic rule of law, always!"

The letter, which never mentions Bolsonaro by name, is set to be read on Thursday—National Student's Day—at what's being billed as a national mobilization across Brazil in defense of democracy and free elections and against cuts in education spending.

Groups including Unified Workers' Central (CUT), the country's main national trade union center, plan to hit the streets in at least 21 of Brazil's 26 state capitals, as well as in the national capital Brasília.

"There is nothing more important than defending democracy and elections," CUT president Sérgio Nobre told Reconta Aí. "CUT will support all initiatives, manifestos, and actions taken in defense of democracy, the electoral system, and electronic voting machines."

Bolsonaro has often cast baseless aspersions upon Brazil's electronic voting system, which has been in use since 1996 without evidence of irregularities.

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—a member of the leftist Workers' Party—leads Bolsonaro by 10 points in aggregate polling for the first round contest, which will take place on October 2. Da Silva's aggregate lead rises to a formidable 17 points in runoff round surveys.

Democracy defenders fear that Bolsonaro and his running mate, former Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto, will be true to their threats to reject the results of the election if they lose under the current electronic voting system.

"We are going through a moment of immense danger to democratic normality, of risk to the institutions of the republic, and of insinuations of contempt for the results of the elections," the new manifesto warns.

The publication continues:

Groundless attacks unaccompanied by evidence question the fairness of the electoral process and the democratic rule of law so hard won by Brazilian society. Threats to other powers and sectors of civil society and the incitement to violence and the breakdown of the constitutional order are intolerable.

We have recently witnessed authoritarian rants that have jeopardized secular American democracy. There, attempts to destabilize democracy and the people's confidence in the fairness of the elections were unsuccessful. Here, they won't be either.

"Imbued with the civic spirit that underpinned the 1977 Letter to Brazilians... we call on Brazilians to be alert in the defense of democracy and respect for the election result," the document's authors implore. "In today's Brazil there is no more room for authoritarian setbacks. Dictatorship and torture belong to the past."

"We have recently witnessed authoritarian rants that have jeopardized secular American democracy."

Brazilian lawyer and former Justice Minister José Carlos Dias helped write both the new manifesto and the 1977 Letter to Brazilians, a denunciation of the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that had ruled the country since seizing power in a 1964 coup supported by the CIA and the administration of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who ordered a naval task force to Brazil for possible intervention.

The dictatorship—during which Bolsonaro, an army paratrooper, rose through the ranks—ruled through state terror and torture, which was taught by U.S. agents using political prisoners as test subjects. Victims included future leftist President Dilma Rousseff, whose torturer, as well as the dictatorship itself, have been praised by Bolsonaro.

Just as the 1977 letter added fuel to the flames of resistance that eventually brought down the dictatorship and ushered in a transition to democracy, Dias believes the new manifesto can make a difference today.

"I lived under one dictatorship and I do not want to live under another," the 83-year-old told The Guardian. "Brazil is in intensive care. We have an utterly deranged president who… pays homage to torturers and dictators. We face the risk of having to live through a dictatorship once again—and this is inconceivable."

"The polls show [Bolsonaro] will be defeated. But there's no doubt that he's laying the groundwork for a coup," Dias asserted.

"It's my belief that he wants to repeat what happened in the Capitol in the United States," he added, a reference to the deadly January 6, 2021 insurrection spurred by then-U.S. President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats.

The new Brazilian proclamation follows a July 26 manifesto signed by more than 3,000 business leaders including some of the nation's wealthiest people defending the country's electronic voting system.

Earlier in July, a group of Brazilian Jewish academics, jurists, and politicians published a proclamation calling on voters to "defeat Nazi sympathizers" by voting for da Silva in the first round, for "if there is a second round, [Bolsonaro] points to the possibility of a military coup."

Bolsonaro has dismissed signatories to the manifestos—who include da Silva, Rousseff, and many of Brazil's most popular and respected figures—as "cock-faced" and "without character."

"I won't use other adjectives," he said during a speech to bankers on Monday, "because I'm a very polite person."


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