By Nayara Batschke and Alba Santandreu
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sep 7 (EFE).- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the nationwide mass protests called by the ultraright on Tuesday to once again threaten the judiciary and other democratic institutions.
Emphasizing “freedom” and the defense of conservative values like respect for the flag, the ultrarightist leader headed the demonstrations on Independence Day but delivered an anti-democratic message.
Among the signs displayed by the more radical rightist groups during the march were ones calling for “military intervention with Bolsonaro in power,” the “dissolution of Congress” and even “prison for the Supreme Court” justices.
In remarks to the crowd, Bolsonaro once again attacked Brazil’s high court, which is investigating him for spreading fake news in a case that has already landed numerous ultrarightist activists in jail, and he directly criticized Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who has authorized probes of Bolsonaro and various associates.
“We cannot accept more political prisoners in our Brazil,” Bolsonaro told the massive throng of demonstrators in Brasilia. If the court does not take action against De Morae, “that branch could suffer something that we don’t want,” he said, issuing a clear, if vague, threat to high court.
The president, a reserve army captain who is nostalgic for the 1964-1985 military dictatorship that governed Brazil, promised his followers that starting on Tuesday “a new history” is being written in Brazil and asked God to give him “the strength and courage to make good decisions.”
After his speech before the crowd in Brasilia, Bolsonaro flew to Sao Paulo, where another huge demonstration was under way and where thousands of his followers had arrived in buses from other parts of the country to show their support for him.
The demonstrators, the great majority of them not wearing facemasks despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still raging in Brazil and shouting slogans against what they called the “health dictatorship,” jammed into a large stretch of the iconic Avenida Paulista wearing green and yellow shirts and waving Brazilian flags, amid a heavy police deployment.
Bolsonaro told the huge Sao Paulo crowd. “We will no longer accept that people like Alexandre de Moraes continue to lash out at our democracy and disrespect our constitution.”
He added that only God would remove him from the presidency and reiterated, in a dramatic tone, that there are only three possibilities: “Getting arrested, dying or victory.”
“(I want) to tell the riffraff that I’ll never go to jail. My life belongs to God but it’s the victory of all of us,” he declared.
In addition to Brasilia and Sao Paulo, where the demonstrations transpired without serious altercations, there were also large gatherings in at least another dozen state capitals around the country, including in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, where protesters occupied the area along Copacabana Beach.
The Brazilian left also convened anti-Bolsonaro marches on Tuesday in various cities around the country, although attendance was less than for the ultrarightist rallies.
Bolsonaro was seeking a show of force by his supporters at a time when his popularity is on the decline, with his approval rating between 25-30 percent and surveys indicating that leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, his main political rival, should handily win next year’s presidential vote.
The demonstrations also came after assorted reversals for Bolsonaro in the judicial and legislative spheres, all of which have created significant institutional tensions and which the opposition fears could motivate Bolsonaro to stage the “coup” that his most radical supporters have been demanding.
The tensions have grown over the past year, heightened now by the lack of confidence sown by Bolsonaro in the electronic voting system that Brazil adopted in 1996 and which since then has not been accused of a single instance of voting irregularities, but which the president endlessly claims could lead to fraud.
Following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has raised the specter of fraud in the 2022 presidential election to anticipate Lula’s potential triumph, after the Worker’s Party icon returned to the political scene earlier this year after his corruption sentences were nullified due to a procedural error and he was released from prison.