Thousands of supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro flooded at least eight cities in Brazil on Saturday for rallies in support of his conservative agenda – drowning out the traditional Marxist events planned on May 1, known as “International Workers’ Day.”
Bolsonaro, a conservative who initially branded himself as an anti-communist firebrand but has expressed enthusiasm to work with communist China as president, has experienced a dip in popular support in the past year largely due to the damage the Chinese coronavirus pandemic has done to the country. Brazil is inching towards 15 million documented cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began and has documented over 407,000 deaths as of Monday. Brazil’s Congress authorized the beginning of an investigation into Bolsonaro’s policies and their impact on the death toll last week.
Bolsonaro has loudly opposed economic lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, encouraged mass gatherings, and stated he would not receive one of the available vaccine products against the disease, citing the fact that, as he already experienced a coronavirus infection, he still carries antibodies for the virus.
Bolsonaro is currently likely to face a re-election challenge in 2022 by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a far-left Marxist previously banned from running for any public office after being convicted of multiple corruption charges. Brazil’s Supreme Court, made up largely of Lula appointees, overturned his convictions in April. As the decision remanded the case back to lower courts, however, it is possible that by 2022 Lula will once again be convicted of corruption crimes and thus banned from running by Brazil’s “Clean Slate” law. Lula is 75 years old and will be 77 for much of his 2022 campaign, if it occurs.
In an attempt to refute the growing narrative that Bolsonaro has become too unpopular to win re-election, thousands of supporters organized rallies on Saturday, typically a holiday in which communists celebrate the genocidal legacy of their ideology. Participants wore the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag and brought homemade signs supporting the president.
Many expressed opposition to pandemic control lockdowns, which have caused significant economic damages in places like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where regional governors enacted them against the president’s advice. Some protested specifically against their governors while expressing support for Bolsonaro. Other reports noted chants with slogans such as “end communism” and mass Christian prayers dedicated to the victims of the pandemic.
While many events were crowded rallies where few wore masks or practiced social distancing, other Bolsonaro supporters organized caravans in their cars, which are naturally socially distant.
According to the left-wing Folha de Sao Paulo, São Paulo, Brasilia, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, and Fortaleza all witnessed mass Bolsonaro events. The largest of these events occurred in Brasilia and attracted about 5,000 people, according to organizer estimates. The president rode a helicopter over the Brasilia event to greet supporters and express gratitude.
Brasília LINDA!!! 🇷 pic.twitter.com/ICYAvq59dR
— Carla Zambelli (@CarlaZambelli38) May 1, 2021
Folha contended that the left-wing events on Saturday were far smaller than those by Bolsonaro supporters because the left has largely supported social distancing and lockdown measures. The far-left unions that regularly organize May Day events instead turned to online platforms to commemorate the occasion. Branding their events “May Day for Life,” union groups organized online and did get a small presence together in Sao Paulo. While the leftist presence on May Day was minimal, at least one leftist in Belo Horizonte was arrested, to applause, for hurling an egg at a pro-Bolsonaro caravan.
Bolsonaro addressed supporters on his Twitter account on Sunday, sharing a video of one of the largest rallies.
“We are together. Brazil above everything, God above everyone!” he wrote, recalling his 2018 presidential campaign slogan.
– Estamos juntos.
– Brasil acima de tudo!
– Deus acima de todos!
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) May 2, 2021
Brazil’s coronavirus response, and in particular its vaccine distribution, is currently the most prominent political issue in the country. The nation’s health regulatory agency, Anvisa, has approved vaccine products by the American firm Pfizer, the European company AstraZeneca, and China’s Sinovac Biotech for mass distribution. Brazil does not at press time possess any Pfizer doses, however, as the nation is still negotiating with the company to purchase them. It controversially rejected an application by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute for approval for its product, Sputnik V, last week, prompting Gamaleya to threaten legal action for “defamation.” Anvisa stated in its announcement of the rejection that experts expressed concern to the Russian pharmaceutical company over the lack of uniform quality control standards in the factories mass producing vaccine candidate doses and that Anvisa had found live adenovirus, a pathogen that causes respiratory infection, in some doses in Brazil.
Bolsonaro has largely abstained from commenting on the vaccine drive after issuing strident statements last year against Chinese-made vaccines. Insisting that Brazilians would not serve as “guinea pigs” to the Chinese, Bolsonaro vowed to prevent the approval of Sinovac’s product, “Coronavac,” but effusively thanked the Chinese government for doses of the product in January.