By Tanupriya Singh / Peoples Dispatch
As millions of Brazilians celebrated the return of Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to the presidency on Sunday, October 30, supporters of outgoing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro began blocking roads across the country in the latest attempt to undermine the historic election. The actions caused major disruptions throughout Monday, ultimately forcing the Supreme Federal Court (STF) to intervene.
Lula, of the Workers’ Party (PT), emerged victorious securing 50.9% of the votes against Bolsonaro’s 49.1% share. However, the far-right incumbent refused to officially concede defeat, canceled a press statement and isolated himself in the presidential palace, even as major allies accepted the election result.
Amid this arguably very deliberate silence, given Bolsonaro’s previous open threats to not recognize the electoral results and unsubstantiated claims of fraud, groups of Bolsonaristas began to shut down key highways in rejection of Lula’s victory, with some calling for a coup. The actions escalated throughout Monday, October 31, with scenes of protestors burning tires.
By 11PM local time, the Federal Highway Police (PRF) had reported approximately 342 total or partial blockades in 25 states, including the Federal District. Santa Catarina, where Bolsonaro has major support, recorded the most disruptions, followed by Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.
Bolsonaro’s absence was interpreted as tacit support, with Bolsonaristas reportedly sharing messages on WhatsApp saying that the president was silent because he was “organizing” with the Armed Forces.
In one of the recordings circulating online, a protester could be heard threatening that they would only leave the streets “when the Army takes over the country”.
“It is the position of the president that will determine the direction of the protests… We are waiting for him to speak,” a protester told BBC News Brasil. “Either Bolsonaro goes to war, or he will disappear from the political scene, because then he is not the leader we thought.”
One of the major blockades took place on the Via Dutra highway, the main connection between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. People stranded in the area reported facing harassment and violence at the hands of Bolsonarista protestors. Speaking to Brasil de Fato, a teacher said that people who were trying to hitchhike were being harassed, and that the windows of a car stationed where people were taking refuge were broken.
The protests were further bolstered by Bolsonaro-allied elected officials and politicians who have taken a hostile and combative stance against Lula. “The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva needs to know the terror of having us an opposition,” declared São Paulo councilor Fernando Holiday. Others called on the protesting truckers to not get “discouraged”.
Meanwhile, the National Confederation of Transport and Logistics Workers (CNTTL) strongly condemned the protests as “anti-democratic”. It added that the Confederation defended “above all, democracy, that is, it respects the sovereign results of the polls.”
In a separate statement, the organization added the protesting groups, which were allegedly being supported by sections of the Agribusiness sector, were “spreading the false claim that this demonstration is by truck drivers.”
The CNTTL stressed that the movement was not organized by workers, and that self-employed truck drivers and CLT workers were “victims of these blockades, since these [Bolsonarista] groups had hired truck freights with stones and earth to make it difficult to pass on the highways, a fact that constitutes a crime!”
The demonstrations were also opposed by the National Transport Confederation (CNT), stating that while it respected every citizen’s right to demonstrate, its exercise must not harm other people’s rights.
“In addition to economic upheavals, work stoppages create difficulties for people to move, including the sick, in addition to hampering access to the transport of basic necessities for the population, such as food, medicines and fuel,” it said in a statement.
The current governor of the state of São Paulo Rodrigo Garcia, who supported Bolsonaro in the second round, gave a press conference on the morning of November 1 wherein he affirmed that “We have a president-elect and that is president Lula.” He announced that there would be a R$100,000 per hour fine for anyone taking part in the road blockades and stated that: “The election is over. São Paulo respects democracy.”
The PRF had maintained that it had adopted “all measures for the return of normal flow” on Monday, including “prioritizing dialogue” while recognizing the “right of manifestation of the citizens”. However, videos circulating online have shown police telling protesters that “we are all in the same boat” and the “only order we have is to be here with you”. The CNTTL also accused police of “turning a blind eye” to illegal roadblocks”.
Police could also be seen diverting cars as groups of Bolsonaristas blocked a lane on the main access road to São Paulo.
The PRF stated that it had approached the Attorney General’s Office (AGU) for a court order to halt the protests and resume traffic flow.
Finally, late on Monday night, the Minister of the Supreme Federal Court, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered the PRF to immediately clear all obstructed roads. The decision was issued in response to a request filed by the CNT and the deputy electoral attorney general, Paulo Gonet. Moraes stated that if the order was not complied with by 12:00 AM on Tuesday, then the director general of the police, Silvinei Vasques, would face a fine of R100,000 ($19,302) per hour, a possible removal from office, and even arrest.
He also warned that protesters would face a similar fine if they did not clear the roads as ordered. Moraes had also summoned the justice minister, the attorney general of the Republic as well as the attorney generals in the states, and the commanders of the military police.
Meanwhile, several reports have suggested that Bolsonaro might finally make a statement on Tuesday, November 1.
Amid the attempted provocations, president-elect Lula has continued to receive messages of solidarity and support, and also met with Argentinian president Alberto Fernández on October 31.