Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro faces former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Sunday’s presidential election. Lula, a former union leader, was in office from 2003 to 2010. He’s running on a leftist platform to uplift Brazil’s poor, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities, and is supported by a broad, grassroots alliance, explains Brazilian human rights advocate Maria Luísa Mendonça. While polls show Lula is ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls, it is unclear if the latter will win enough votes to avoid a runoff. This is because Bolsonaro and his party seem to be trying to stage a coup if they lose the election, reports Michael Fox, ex-editor of NACLA and host of the new podcast “Brazil on Fire.” Despite fear over a coup, Fox says people in Brazil “are really hopeful that they’re going to see change on Sunday.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We begin today’s show in Brazil, where Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro faced off against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Thursday night in the final debate ahead of Sunday’s presidential election. While polls show that Lula is ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls, it remains to be seen if Lula can win the 11-way race. A runoff will take place October 30th if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote.
Lula, a former union leader, was president of Brazil between 2003 and 2010. Lula was a former union leader and served as president of Brazil between 2003 and 2010. He helped lift millions of Brazilians from poverty during that time. He’s been running on a platform to reduce inequality, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities.
In 2018, he was jailed on trumped-up charges, paving the way for the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a retired military officer who’s often praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship. Brazil is concerned that Bolsonaro could try to stage a coup if the election is lost. Earlier in the campaign, Bolsonaro said, quote, “Only God will remove me [from power]. … The army is on our side. It’s an army that doesn’t accept corruption, doesn’t accept fraud,” he said.
During Thursday night’s debate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticized Bolsonaro’s efforts to keep secret many of his government’s actions, including his handling of the COVID pandemic.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I’m going to do something for you. I’m going to make a decree to end your 100-year secrecy, to know why you want to hide so much for 100 years. I’m going to do it. I’m going to make a decree and sign it, to know what this man wants to hide for 100 years. And I’m going to stop here, because I want others to participate in the debate. President, please lie less when you appear here.
AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday’s debate, Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, accused Lula, the former president, of lying.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated]An ex-convict claimed that I had decreed the secrecy for my family. Which decree? Give me the decree’s number. He claims that I delayed the purchase vaccines. No country bought a vaccine by 2020. Stop lying. When you speak of hunger, I gave 600 reais in aid to Brazil. You gave very little to the most vulnerable. You used the lowest income to win votes.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Sunday’s vote in Brazil, we’re joined by two guests. Michael Fox is a Brazilian freelance journalist who was previously editor of NACLAand host of the New podcast Brazil on Fire. He’s joining us from São Paulo, Brazil. Here in New York, Maria Luísa Mendonça is the director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil and a visiting scholar at City University of New York Graduate Center.
We are happy to welcome you both. Democracy Now! Maria Luísa Mendonça, let’s begin with you. Talk about what’s at stake in Sunday’s election.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: [inaudible] Bolsonaro of having a far-right government that —
AMY GOODMAN: Maria Luísa, if you could begin again? I didn’t catch the beginning of what you said.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes. Thank you. Yeah, this is a very important election in Brazil, because after four years of having a far-right government represented by Bolsonaro, voters in Brazil are about to send a strong message and say that we don’t want a far-right government. And I think it’s important also for people to understand that Bolsonaro only won elections four years ago because Lula was in jail and based on false charges. There was no evidence against him, but he was put in jail anyway so he couldn’t run four years ago. There was also a 2016 parliamentary coup against President Dilma Russoff. This was the environment that gave Bolsonaro the chance to be elected. Now, as you know, there is a wide alliance in society that supports Lula’s candidacy. You can see that there is a lot more activism. The campaign involves many artists. This allowed Lula to create a broad alliance for the election.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Michael Fox, what about the threats of Bolsonaro, similar to Trump, not to accept the results of Sunday’s election? Talk about the polls, what they’re showing right now. It’s not just between the two of them, of course, and there’s like, what, more than — there’s close to a dozen candidates. To be a true victory, one must reach 50%.
MICHAEL FOX: That’s right. This means that Lula is currently 14-17 points ahead of Bolsonaro. He’s hovering around 50% of the valid votes, according to the latest polls. So, even though all those other candidates, they have less than 10% — they’re minor candidates. Ciro Gomes would be the one who has the most; it’s around 6 or 7%. The big question now is: Can Lula hit the 50% mark? Is he going in with the right mindset to win it in his first round? And that is the thing that everyone’s asking themselves.
Now, like you said, the potential for Bolsonaro to come out and say that, “No, I don’t respect these results,” that is absolutely — and most people think that he’s going to follow down Trump’s path, he’s going to do that. He’s been setting the scene for that for the last year and a half. His party, the Liberal Party, released a document stating that they had audited and found potential for serious fraud in the electoral system. The electoral court quickly responded, placing this in an inside investigation into fake news and calling it absurd. In fact, they now want to know who paid the invoice from the Liberal Party. Who was responsible for financing this document? Because they think what is happening here is trying to set the scene for, then, Bolsonaro to come out later on and say, “Oh, well, see, I told you it was fraud.” That’s what we’re already seeing. So, this is kind of the general playbook that we’re already expecting. Brazil is expecting this.
The truth is that the majority of Brazilian society isn’t on board with the idea of a coup. They don’t want that. Three-quarters of Brazilians said in a recent poll that they want democracy and they’d like to stick with this. And I think that, well, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping that’s what happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Maria Luísa, we’re talking about the, what, sixth- or seventh-largest population in the world, Brazil. This election is of great significance. Think about what Lula stands for.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes. Brazil is very fond of Lula because of the real change in people’s lives during his presidency. For the first time in Brazilian history, I believe there was a lot of investment in education, healthcare, and job creation. There was also a lot support for culture and the arts. So, I think people saw, in very concrete terms, what — you know, the results of his government. His administration also had the zero hunger program as one of its main programs. You also know that Brazil was once again on the so-called Hunger Map after Bolsonaro’s presidency. This meant that there was a significant increase in poverty and hunger in Brazil.
So, also President Dilma, who was also with the Workers’ Party, after Lula, was a very popular president in her first term, before the orchestration of a parliamentary coup. The only way right-wing parties can gain power is to orchestrate these kinds of coups. So, that’s why there is a real fear right now.
But I think at the same time Brazilians — the majority of Brazilians understand that their lives were much better before, and they want those kinds of changes and investments in education, healthcare, culture and the arts.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Brazil’s presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking Monday to his supporters.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Never before in the history of this country have so many parties, popular movements, unions, trade unions, associations of classes, workers and entrepreneurs, liberal professionals, artists, intellectuals, athletes, people of different colors and religions, sexual orientations and political preferences come together in the first round of an election to say, “Enough with so much hatred, so much destruction, so many lies, suffering and so many deaths.” We are going right now, on the 2nd of October, to rebuild the country.
AMY GOODMAN:Michael Fox, could you please take cues from Lula? Talk about the Brazilian rainforest. Talk about Amazon, the protection of it, and what happened to it under Bolsonaro.
MICHAEL FOX: Well, absolutely. The organizing for Lula’s support has been incredibly important and unique. In fact, many different social movements even joined forces to create what they’re calling these popular committees, these grassroots committees, in neighborhoods around the country. It kind of takes over the work that was taking place under the pandemic to respond to rising hunger, where people were organizing, bringing food, and working together in solidarity. Well, they’ve now built these grassroots committees, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 around the country, to organize for Lula and then to continue organizing regardless of what happens. It is an important election. It is an important election that everyone sees as such.
And I just want to say for a second that it’s not just on the presidential election, but also on like the very local level. You have different social movements, Indigenous peoples, women, Black movements who have an unprecedented number of new candidates that they’re putting out there. This is a crucial issue at the local legislative level.
Bolsonaro has decimated the Amazon. Just one thing: I recall protestors from all over the globe protesting the massive fires that were raging in 2019. The fires this year were even worse. They’ve been worse consecutively each year. And deforestation in the Amazon is the worst we’ve seen in a decade. Bolsonaro was elected with the promise to promote development in Amazon. He destroyed agencies, state agencies and Indigenous agencies that had in the previous defended Indigenous territories, and protected the environment. He came in and gutted everything.
And his own violent rhetoric of trying to open up the Amazon for development really let loose landowners and miners and loggers and narcotraffickers, and said, “You have carte blanche to do whatever you need to do in the Amazon.” And that’s what they’ve done. The invasions of Indigenous territories spiked 150% just in the first three months of Bolsonaro’s government. And under COVIDThey basically pulled the rug out. Because everything was so isolating, everyone backed away. And that’s — the illegal forces really took advantage of that to really move into the territories. Violence spiked. And this is the destruction that’s happening in the Amazon right now.
Now, it’s really important to understand that if you look back just 20 years ago, when Lula came into power, deforestation in the Amazon was even worse than it is today. With the help of Marina Silva (his environment minister), he was able to pass a number of new policies that cut down Amazon deforestation by half in just two years. So, there is obviously hope that if Lula is able to win, if he’s able to come back into office, you know, he might be able to reimplement some of these things to push back on the devastation that’s happened in the Amazon up ’til now.
AMY GOODMAN:Jair Bolsonaro launched his reelection campaign officially in August by attacking Lula. This is what he stated.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated]Our country is not willing to take steps back. We don’t want gender ideology in schools. Our country doesn’t want to legalize drugs. Our country respects human life from its conception. Our country is not looking to become an ally of communism in other nations; a nation that wants a president that defends private property and a country where more people are encouraged to have their children free to choose their own parents. We will be discussing politics today so that tomorrow no one will stop us believing in God.
AMY GOODMAN: Maria Luísa Mendonça, touch on these themes. Talk about what he’s getting at.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes. Bolsonaro is part this global far right movement, and also has a lot to thank the evangelical church in Brazil. And he dismantled several policies and institutions that protected women’s rights, that fought against racism in Brazil, and, you know, the arts, the culture. He dismantled Brazil’s Ministry of Culture and human rights institutions. He also promotes violence. He spreads fear, fake news, and hate. This is another reason we see in Brazil.
What we see is a broad coalition. A broad coalition also includes musicians and artists. Brazil’s most well-known artists are speaking out and campaigning for Lula. There is a wide coalition.
This is a critical moment for Brazil. International solidarity is also needed. We need to consider the role of foreign corporations in the destruction and recovery of the Amazon. We are not talking about the development of Brazil. We are talking about destruction, destruction of the land, destruction of Brazil’s natural resources. This destruction is a benefit to many corporations in America, including financial and agribusiness companies. So, I think it’s very important for us to build international solidarity, because we will need that, moving forward.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed to resolution calling on Brazil to ensure the election is conducted in a, quote, “free, fair, credible, transparent and peaceful manner.” Senator Bernie Sanders sponsored the resolution.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:It is vital that the U.S. Senate makes it clear through this resolution that they support democracy in Brazil. It would be unacceptable that the United States recognize a government which came to power undemocratically. It would send a horrible message to the world. It is crucial that the people of Brazil know we are on their team, on the side for democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Fox in São Paulo, your final comments, leading into Sunday’s election in Brazil?
MICHAEL FOX:Just wanted to say that the Senate resolution was so important. You can see that the United States gave greenlight to the 1964 coup in Brazil. That is a powerful, profound statement by the U.S. Senate. It is very important to the military. It is a huge benefit to the business sector. It is very important in Brazil. And I just want to say that the mood on the ground is one full of excitement. It’s one of tension. And people are really hopeful that they’re going to see change on Sunday.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Fox, journalist in São Paulo, Brazil, we want to thank you for being with us. And, Maria Luísa Mendonça, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, thank you so much for being with us, from the CUNYHere’s a Grad School in New York City.
Next up: A cinema dedicated to documentary films opens in New York City at DCTVTonight, the lobby of the firehouse will be dedicated in memory of Brent Renaud (documentary filmmaker, who died in March while covering the war in Ukraine). We’ll speak to Jon Alpert and Brent’s brother Craig, as well as the filmmaker Reid Davenport, whose new film about how he sees the world as a person with a disability opens at the Firehouse today. It’s called I Didn’t See You There. Stay with Us
AMY GOODMAN: “Fire in Freetown” by the Somalian musician K’naan, performing in 2009 in Democracy Now!’s firehouse studio.