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Friday, December 1, 2023

Brazil: polarization and tense calm

The polls in Brazil opened at 8:00 a.m. and from that moment until closing time, people did not stop coming to cast their vote in a context of polarization and expectation. 

At the polling stations it was very easy to imagine how people voted: supporters of Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva were dressed in red, the color of the Workers' Party, which the candidate founded, and supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, the current president, wore flags, T-shirts or badges with the Brazilian flag. Bolsonaro has made the national flag almost a personal logo. 

ballot boxes in Brazil
Photo: Ingrid Sánchez. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, is flooded with buildings up to 20 stories high. Looking up it is possible to see red flags or Brazilian flags in the windows. Small touches of color amidst the concrete. 

"There was a very big expectation that there would be political violence, but it has been a very calm day. We come dressed like this and we have seen people with red or Brazil T-shirts, but it is very calm," says Mateo, dressed in a T-shirt that says "Lula" outside a polling station in Sao Paulo. 

Kirna, Ruth and Pilar are Chilean and have lived in Brazil for 37, 42 and 47 years, respectively. They have stalls selling shoes, handicrafts and souvenirs in the Parque República, in the center of the city. Their opinions are diverse. 

"The left and the right have been the same here. Whoever wins, tomorrow I will also have to go out to work," says Kirna, originally from Concepción. 

After a few minutes and observing the reactions to their increasingly adventurous comments, Pilar and Kirna confessed: "if they could vote, they would choose Bolsonaro". 

"It's that they didn't let him govern. It's not a dictatorship and he couldn't do anything. They blamed him for everything. If it rained, they said it was his fault and then Congress wouldn't let him do anything," Pilar questions with indignation. 

"They are all the same, although the left is worse, the left has been shitty," defends Kirna and shortly after she elaborates on her position: dictators are needed so that they can make changes in government because Congresses always prevent transformations. 

"She's a petista," Kirna says as she points to Ruth, sitting a little farther away and solving an alphabet soup. Kirna put a Lula sticker on the sole of her shoe so that when asked her opinion, she can stomp on the leftist's image. Ruth sends kisses to Kirna's foot as she lifts her leg to show off her mini performance while everyone laughs. 

But in other sectors or areas, political discussions do not end with kisses and laughter. Two men walk along Ipiranga Avenue, pass by a homeless man and as soon as he notices the stickers with Lula's face on them he starts shouting unintelligible swear words. 

Bolsonaristas also came out in massive demonstrations in different parts of the city and no one can say for sure whether Lula or Bolsonaro will win in Sao Paulo. 

ballot boxes in Brazil
Photo: Ingrid Sánchez. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

Among the homeless, opinions are also dissimilar. In "Cracolandia", as the area of the city where most of the homeless and crack addicts are congregated, spontaneous outbursts of shouts in support of Lula were heard during the day. 

"Lulala! 13! 13! 13! 13! 13! 13!" someone starts shouting and the reaction is immediate: the man rummaging through the garbage raises his head and waves his arm. A woman leans out of the window of a house that looks abandoned and waves a red cloth. Even crackheads stop to listen and some chant for Lula. 

When leftist governments have governed the city, policies towards the homeless population have been open arms: permanent shelters are set up where they are allowed to stay overnight, bathe and eat. Under the right, harsher operations of eviction and demolition of dilapidated buildings have been implemented to expel them from the areas where they loiter. 

Tension increases as the hours go by. Both Bolsonaristas and Lula supporters have gathered on Paulista Avenue to celebrate or demonstrate for the victory or defeat of their candidate. Meanwhile, the world watches.

This article was produced with the support of the organization Global Exchange in collaboration with Peninsula 360 Press.

You may be interested in: Symmy Larrat, the colorful candidate for federal deputy in Brazil

Ingrid Sanchez
Ingrid Sanchez
Journalist and Latin Americanist. He has worked on issues of social movements, gender and violence.


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