Brazil, Tensions Escalate, Spill Out Onto The Streets

On 31 May, pro-democracy demonstrators in Brazil clashed with supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro and with the military police (PM) while protesting in São Paulo.
Brazil Tensions Escalate against President Bolsonaro


Yesterday’s demonstrations, the first public acts against President Bolsonaro since the start of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, capped a weekend of escalating tensions, both at institutional level and on the streets. Already fraught relations between the federal executive and the judiciary, notably the supreme court (STF), have been further strained recently over separate investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by Bolsonaro and his allies, and over the government’s botched response to the pandemic. The clashes in São Paulo are indicative of the divisions in the country and the worsening political crisis, exacerbated by the struggles Brazil is facing in its management of the coronavirus outbreak, which continues on a steep upwards curve. The country now has over half a million confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has overtaken France and Spain to become the country with the fourth highest number of deaths.  

  • Fans from different football clubs came together to march in São Paulo city yesterday in defence of democracy. The demonstration turned violent after pro-democracy and pro-Bolsonaro protesters clashed on the Avenida Paulista. The PM intervened, responding to rock-slinging demonstrators with tear gas. The police are investigating whether the altercations between opposing demonstrators were sparked by some ‘bolsonaristas’ sporting a “neo-nazi flag”, according to a PM officer.
  • Rio de Janeiro saw similar demonstrations yesterday, both in support of and against Bolsonaro. In Brasília, in what has become a weekly occurrence, pro-Bolsonaro supporters gathered to criticise the isolation measures implemented to contain Covid-19, as well as the country’s democratic institutions, notably demanding the closure of the STF. Some demonstrators called for a military intervention.
  • Bolsonaro appeared at the rally in Brasília yesterday. Flouting the Federal District’s rules on wearing a mask, the president greeted supporters and posed for photos before parading through the demonstration on horseback.
  • On the evening of 30 May, a small group of bolsonaristas marched to the STF carrying torches and demanding the court’s closure. Earlier that day, Bolsonaro had posted a series of tweets listing actions by the STF and other institutions against his allies, including one of his sons (federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro) and the education minister, Abraham Weintraub, with the heading “everything points to a crisis”.
  • According to reports in the Brazilian press yesterday, the dean of the STF, José Celso de Mello, sent a private message to fellow STF magistrates, expressing his concern that bolsonaristas are pursuing an authoritarian agenda with the aim of imposing a military dictatorship.
  • On 30 May, prominent public figures published a manifesto calling for a unified broad front in defence of “life, freedom and democracy”. The movement, dubbed ‘Estamos Juntos’ (we are in this together), brings together celebrities, religious representatives, and political figures, including members from traditional political rivals, the centre-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) and the left-wing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).
Looking Ahead:

Yesterday’s pro-democracy demonstrations could be the start of a wider protest movement against Bolsonaro and his government, both in spite of and because of the pandemic.