‘A clash of two Brazils’: presidential election divides voters – even gangsters | Brazil

A bank robber, an arms dealer and a weed dealer sat in a square, surrounded by bodyguards armed with rifles and locked in a heated debate over the political future of their country.

“Life has been easier under Bolsonaro. It’s easier to have weapons. It’s easier to get ammunition,” the arms dealer admitted as he and his clique reflected on the battle for power between Brazil’s far-right president and his opponent, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“But the one who governed for the poor was Lula,” he said of the left-leaning former president whose social programs have helped millions escape poverty.

“For me and my family, Bolsonaro is better. But what about my roots? And the children here? he asked, pointing to the underprivileged favela that surrounded him.

“Bolsonaro is the rich man’s president, blud,” summed up the armed bandit. “He’s the president of the fool,” said another participant.

Still, not all of the debate mobsters agreed. “These guys are crazy,” said a dreadlocked bagman who voted for Bolsonaro in the recent first round of elections, that Lula won with 48% of the vote against 43% for Bolsonaro.

“Lula is an asshole – a SCUMBAG,” proclaimed the 37-year-old crook, denouncing the massive corruption scandals that marked the 14 years that Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) ruled. All criminal charges against former presidents dropped. “Why does he want to come back to power? Because he wants to continue to suckle the teats of the country.

The criminals’ conflicting views were a microcosm of a much wider fissure within Brazilian society as the South American country nears its most divisive election in decades.

The difficult choice between Lula and Bolsonaro has fractured families, circles of friendship, workplaces and religious congregations, with Lulistas convinced that Bolsonaro is an authoritarian extremist filled with hatred and Bolsonarists calling Lula a corrupt communist thief.

“We live in a state of total division,” said Felipe Nunes, the head of polling group Quaest, whose research suggests 50% of voters think Bolsonaro deserves a second chance and around the same number think Lula does. The number of voters fearing a third term for Lula was only slightly lower than the number fearing Bolsonaro’s return to power.

Nunes said the 2022 election is “much more than just a competition between two people”. “It’s a battle between two worldviews… and it’s unique in the history of Brazil – we’ve never had an election like this,” he said. “The country is divided.

Even Rio’s gangsters are divided on the best outcome for their country – not to mention their illegal trade.

The shooter said that when it comes to the latter, Bolsonaro is the best choice. President eases gun control for hunters, snipers and collectors – known in Brazil as “CAC” – had made acquiring large caliber firearms a breeze. “Over 60% of arms dealers now belong to the CAC,” he said, adding that he had such a weapon in his car.

The weed smuggler recalled how authorities began using unmanned drones to monitor Brazil’s western border during the two terms of Lula’s government – a blow to cross-border traffickers.

But on a personal level, the shooter viewed Bolsonaro’s four-year presidency – during which Covid killed nearly 700,000 people – as a disaster. “This president is no good. He pissed during the pandemic. People died,” he said of Bolsonaro’s sabotage of containment measures and vaccination.

An aerial view of police cars in the Jacarezinho favela, pictured during a large-scale anti-drug operation in January 2022, to occupy and secure parts of the slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photography: Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty Images

At a gang hideout in a nearby favela, a drug boss blasted Bolsonaro’s assault on the Amazon, which has seen deforestation surge. “The environment is screwed,” the capo said as a capuchin monkey scurried along the wall above the pool behind him and a group of colleagues sorted crack rocks into plastic bags.

“Lula can fly – but at least he puts food on people’s plates,” the trafficker lamented of the social crisis that has exposed millions of people to extreme poverty and hunger.

The shooter expressed his exasperation at the deluge of misinformation his employees were consuming on their cellphones. “This is fucking fake news,” he said after an accomplice falsely claimed that Lula had recently sold part of the Amazon to foreigners.

But the bagman remained impassive and insisted he would vote for Bolsonaro again when Brazil holds its crucial elections on October 30.

“He’s a genuine guy,” enthuses the criminal, who gets his news from Jovem Pan, a right-wing network similar to Fox News in the United States. “Who imagined having a president who says what he really thinks and feels?”

The gangster defended the president’s handling of the Covid: “It was something out of the ordinary that nobody knew how to handle.”

He also rejected claims Bolsonaro was a racist or bigot. “What has he done that is racist? asked the criminal, himself black. “What has he ever said homophobic? »

As night fell on the red-brick ghetto, the debate raged in a haze of marijuana smoke, though underworld etiquette ensured the discussion remained civil. No fists or firearms were raised, despite the powerful arsenal presented.

Yet there was no indication that the men were overcoming their seemingly irreconcilable differences over Lula and Bolsonaro – let alone agreeing on which man would prevail.

“I think Bolsonaro is going to win,” said the Bolsonarian bagman, who identifies as an evangelical Christian. “And if he doesn’t – God knows something out of the ordinary has to happen.”

Despite his violent line of work, the gunman said he feared a bloodbath as the bad-tempered political struggle entered its final days. “They are all radicals,” he said of the Bolsonarists. “Blud, if you speak ill of Bolsonaro to his supporters, you will get shot.”

Nunes, the pollster, called the bickering outlaws “the truest portrait” of an election that pitted Brazilians against Brazilians like never before.

“The word that captures the moment in Brazil is ‘division’,” he said, pointing to the deep social, religious, economic and cultural divides the vote revealed.

“You have the poor who vote for Lula and the rich for Bolsonaro. You have blacks voting for Lula and whites for Bolsonaro. You have women who vote for Lula and men for Bolsonaro. You have evangelicals who vote for Bolsonaro and Catholics for Lula.

“This”, he concluded, “is a clash between two Brazils”.

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