Thousands of favela residents and activists have taken to the streets of Rio to express their support for the left-wing favorite to become Brazil’s next president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Addressing a sea of supporters in one of Rio’s largest favelas, the Complexo do Alemão, Lula vowed to give his far-right rival, Jair Bolsonaro“a beating” when the largest democracy in South America holds the second round of its presidential elections at the end of October.
“We are going to win these elections,” proclaimed the 76-year-old former president, who 10 days ago was on the verge of an absolute victory over Bolsonaro in the first round.
Lula, who rose from rural poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002, said he was determined to return to power “to show the elites who have ruled since 1500 that once again a metalworker will fix this country”.
“The only reason why I am running for president once again is because I think we can change things,” Lula told activists during an assembly at the headquarters of Voice of the communities, the favela newsgroup that hosted his rare visit. “I promise you this country is going to change, and it’s going to change for the better.”
Residents of more than 30 favelas flocked to the Complexo do Alemão on Wednesday morning to defend a politician they hope could end Bolsonaro’s tumultuous four-year reign, during which Covid killed nearly 700,000 people and millions fell. in poverty.
“Lula setting foot in the favela is an act of resistance. It shows that we are not alone, that there is hope,” said Douglas Viana, a 30-year-old activist from another sprawling working-class community, Complexo da Maré. “This is a historic moment for the country. We have never seen anything on this scale,” added Viana.
René Silva, the founder of Voz das Comunidades, expressed optimism that social change was just around the corner under Lula, who used his two-term presidency to help millions escape poverty and enter higher education. with profits from the regional commodity boom.
“Lula represents hope, the hope of less hunger and less inequality. We have taken many steps backwards during Bolsonaro’s four years in power, and it will take a long time to rebuild all this,” said Silva, 27.
Anielle Franco, an activist whose sister-in-law, Marielle Franco, was murdered in 2018, said she hoped a Lula victory could help secure justice for her murdered brother.
“Lula symbolizes the return of the humble, the poor, the black and the northeastern from the favela to the presidency, everything that we do not have with this government,” Franco said.
Fighting against a ‘government of hate’
Lula won the first round of the elections in the region around Alemão, a large expanse of red-brick housing in northern Rio with tens of thousands of residents, as well as in other large favelas such as Rocinha and Maré.
But the leftist lost in Rio state as a whole, with Bolsonaro winning 51% of the vote to Lula’s 40.7%, and Lula has stepped up his campaign here ahead of the Oct. 30 showdown with the incumbent of extreme right.
Carlos Lupi, a Labor Party leader who is helping run Lula’s runoff campaign, said Wednesday’s event was designed to raise awareness in favelas of the urgent need for political change.
“This is the government of hate, of anger, and we must defeat it,” Lupi said as crowds streamed down one of Alemão’s main arteries with banners denouncing the hunger crisis plaguing Brazil’s poor. “We need to wake up this community to the damage this government is doing to them.”
Not all locals were convinced, and many evangelical favela residents remained loyal to Bolsonaro, whose allies falsely accused Lula of plotting to shut down churches.
Valmir da Silva, a 51-year-old driver, arrived at the Alemão rally with a towel bearing the image of Bolsonaro and his nationalist motto: “Brazil above all, God above all.”
“He has done more in two years than Lula did in eight,” Silva said of the right-wing radical, adding: “Lula is not interested in the poor. The only thing she thinks about is staying in power.”
Silva insisted that the crowd of Lula supporters around him did not represent the working-class area where he was born and raised. “The favela is divided,” he said.
But when young favela leaders turned to Lula, they were united in their call for better health care and education, and an end to government neglect and police violence that claims hundreds of mostly black lives each year. year. “We are tired of dying,” local activist Alan Brum told Lula.
Buba Aguiar, an activist from a community called Acari, told the former president that the only way to defeat Bolsonaro and his far-right movement was to join forces with voices from the favela, where about 20% of Rio’s citizens live.
“There is no way that we can stop authoritarianism or stop Bolsonarism without the leaders that are here today,” Aguiar said. “Only with our help can we get Brazil back on track.”
Additional reporting by Alan Lima