‘Lula represents hope’: Brazil presidential frontrunner takes his message into Rio’s favelas | Brazil


Thousands of favela residents and activists have hit the streets of Rio to voice their support for the leftist frontrunner to become Brazil’s next president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Addressing a sea of supporters in one of Rio’s largest favelas, the Complexo do Alemão, Lula vowed to give his far-right rival, Jair Bolsonaro, “a thrashing” when South America’s biggest democracy holds the second round of its presidential election at the end of October.

“We’re going to win these elections,” proclaimed the 76-year-old ex-president who fell just short of an outright victory over Bolsonaro in the first round 10 days ago.

Lula, who rose from rural poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002, said he was determined to return to power “to prove to the elites who have governed since 1500 that once again a metalworker will fix this country”.

“The only reason I’m running for president once again is my belief that we can change things,” Lula told activists during an assembly at the headquarters of Voz das Comunidades, the favela news group that organised his rare visit. “I promise you that this country is going to change – and it’s going to change for the better.”

Brazil’s former president and presidential candidate for the leftist Workers party (PT), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro State.
Brazil’s former president and presidential candidate for the leftist Workers party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro State. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Residents from more than 30 favelas had flocked to the Complexo do Alemão on Wednesday morning to champion a politician they hope can end Bolsonaro’s tumultuous four-year reign, during which Covid killed nearly 700,000 people and millions were plunged into poverty.

“Lula setting foot in the favela is an act of resistance. It shows that we’re not alone – that there’s hope,” said Douglas Viana, a 30-year-old activist from another sprawling working-class community, the Complexo da Maré. “This is a historic moment for the country. We’ve never seen anything on this scale,” Viana added.

Rene Silva, the founder of the Voz das Comunidades, voiced optimism that social change was around the corner under Lula, who used his two-term presidency to help millions escape poverty and enter higher education with the proceeds of a regional commodities boom.

“Lula represents hope – hope of less hunger and less inequality. We’ve taken so many steps backwards during Bolsonaro’s four years in power – and it will take a long time to rebuild all of this,” said Silva, 27.

A supporter of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, , flashes the letter L for “Lula” during a campaign rally with him in the Complexo do Alemao favela in Rio.
A supporter of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, flashes the letter L for ‘Lula’ during a campaign rally with him in the Complexo do Alemao favela in Rio. Photograph: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Anielle Franco, a campaigner whose politician sister Marielle Franco was assassinated in 2018, said she hoped a Lula victory might help secure justice for her murdered sibling.

“Lula symbolises the return of the humble, the poor, the black and the north-easterners from the favela to the presidency – everything that we don’t have under this government,” Franco said.

Fighting a ‘government of hatred’

Lula won the election’s first round in the region around Alemão, a vast sweep of redbrick housing in north Rio with tens of thousands of residents, as well as in other major favelas such as Rocinha and Maré.

But the leftist lost in Rio state as a whole, with Bolsonaro winning 51% of the vote to Lula’s 40.7%, and Lula has stepped up his campaigning here ahead of the 30 October showdown with the far-right incumbent.

Carlos Lupi, a Labour party leader who is helping run Lula’s second-round campaign, said Wednesday’s event was designed to raise awareness in the favelas about the urgent need for political change.

“This is the government of hatred, of anger – and we must defeat it,” Lupi said as the crowds streamed down one of Alemão’s main arteries with banners denouncing the hunger crisis blighting Brazil’s poor. “We need to wake this community up to the harm this government is causing it.”

Not all locals were convinced, with many evangelical favela residents remaining loyal to Bolsonaro, whose allies have falsely accused Lula of plotting to close churches.

Valmir da Silva, a 51-year-old driver, came to the Alemão rally carrying a towel featuring Bolsonaro’s image and his nationalist slogan: “Brazil above everything, God above all.”

Supporters of the Brazilian former President (2003-2010) and presidential candidate for the leftist Workers Party (PT), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R), attend a rally at the Complexo do Alemao favela in Rio de Janeiro
Lula rose from rural poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

“He has done more in two years than Lula did in eight,” Silva said of the right-wing radical, adding: “Lula isn’t interested in the poor. All he thinks about is staying in power.”

Silva insisted the throng of Lula supporters around him didn’t represent the working-class area where he was born and raised. “The favela’s divided,” he said.

But as the young favela leaders addressed Lula, they were united in their plea for better healthcare and education – and an end to the government neglect and police violence that claims hundreds of mostly black lives each year. “We are tired of dying,” local activist Alan Brum told Lula.

Buba Aguiar, an activist from a community called Acari, told the former president the only way of overcoming Bolsonaro and his far-right movement was to join forces with the voices of the favela, where about 20% of Rio’s citizens live.

“There’s no way that we can stop authoritarianism or stop Bolsonarismo, without the leaders who are here today,” Aguiar said. “It’s only with our help that we’ll be able to get Brazil back on track.”

Additional reporting by Alan Lima



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