They’re taking back the streets, left until now in the hands of the Bolsonaro-supporting extreme right. And they’re taking them back despite the pandemic, of which Brazil is the new world epicenter, surpassing even Italy in the number of deaths. Because, while COVID-19 is scary, the authoritarian escalation of the Bolsonaro government is even more so, responsible for a healthcare, economic, political, environmental and social crisis all in one.
This is why, after last Sunday’s protests in defense of democracy, repressed by the military police with tear gas, on Sunday the country has once again prepared to witness the anti-government demonstrations convened all over the country—from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, from Belo Horizonte to Salvador—by anti-fascist groups linked to organized soccer fans, the Frente Povo Sem Medo led by Guilherme Boulos and the Afro-Brazilian movements.
According to Bolsonaro, they’re all “outlaws,” “terrorists,” “stoners” and “slackers.” He asked his supporters not to take to the streets and suggested the use of the national security force to deal with any riotous behavior.
The great concern about the possibility of clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters, a reprise of those that took place last Sunday, was shown by the decision of the Court of Justice of São Paulo, which, after unsuccessful attempts to persuade organizers on both sides to demonstrate on separate days or in different places, has ordered a ban of all acts of protest on Avenida Paulista for Sunday.
However, this is not a unified demonstration by the opposition; on the contrary, the latter is largely distancing itself from it, for both health reasons—at a time when there is one COVID death every minute—as well as political reasons.
Not without internal dissent, the PT has chosen to support the protests, while issuing a note recommending that all protesters wear masks and keep a safe distance, and also that they shouldn’t give in to provocations and isolate any infiltrators.
“Democracy cannot be intimidated,” the PT said, reaffirming its commitment to the Constitution and democratic institutions and rejecting any attempt to criminalize the movements in defense of democracy in order to “normalize the neo-fascist and authoritarian project of the current government.” If this were to happen, the PSOL leader Guilherme Boulos stressed, “soon we would never be able to leave home.”
This came in response to the heartfelt article by anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, who, recalling the words of Eduardo Bolsonaro—“the break has been decided, just waiting for the opportunity”—warned against the risk that the protests could be used by the infiltrators to provoke acts of violence such as to justify military intervention. This concern was shared by the moderate and right-wing opposition in the Senate, which called for the protesters not to give the government “exactly what it is looking for”: an environment conducive to authoritarian actions.
In addition, the promoters of the pro-democracy manifestos that have been circulating in the last few days will not participate either, determined to avoid mass gatherings in the middle of a pandemic, while the debate remains heated around the most well-known of these initiatives, the Manifesto Juntos. Lula’s refusal to sign has highlighted the limits of a proposal that not only fails to mention Bolsonaro by name, but also fails to mention the ongoing dismantling of workers’ rights. Lula complained: “They’re only trying to re-educate Bolsonaro, but they don’t want to re-educate Guedes,” the ultra-neoliberal Economy Minister.