Thousands of slum dwellers and activists took to the streets of Rio to express their support for the left-wing frontrunner to become the next president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Addressing a sea of supporters in one of Rio’s largest slums, Complexo do Alemão, Lula vowed to give his far-right rival, Jair Bolsonaro“a crushing blow” when South America’s largest democracy holds its second round of presidential elections at the end of October.
“We will win this election,” declared the 76-year-old former president, who failed to secure an outright victory over Bolsonaro in the first round 10 days ago.
Lula, who rose out of 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 ruled since 1500 that the metalworker will fix this country once again.”
Lula told activists during a meeting at das comunidades win, a favela news group that organized his rare visit. “I promise this country will change – and it will change for the better.”
Residents from more than 30 slums flocked to Complexo do Alemão Wednesday morning to defend a politician hoping to end Bolsonaro’s turbulent four-year rule, during which Covid has killed nearly 700,000 people and plunged millions into poverty.
“Putting Lula’s foot in the slums is an act of resistance. It shows we are not alone — there is hope,” said Douglas Viana, a 30-year-old activist from another sprawling working-class community, Complexo da Mare. “This is a historic moment for the country. “We’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” Vianna added.
René Silva, founder of Voz das Comunidades, expressed optimism that social change was around the corner under Lula, who used his two-term presidency to help millions escape poverty and enroll in higher education with the proceeds of a regional commodity boom.
Lula represents hope – the hope of reducing hunger and reducing inequality. “We’ve taken a lot of steps back during Bolsonaro’s four years in power – and it will take a long time to rebuild all of this,” said Silva, 27.
Anil Franco, the activist whose political sister Marielle Franco was assassinated in 2018, said she hopes Lula’s victory will help secure justice for her murdered brother.
“Lola symbolizes the return of the humble, the poor, the blacks and the northeasterners from the favela to the presidency—everything we don’t have under this government,” Franco said.
Fighting the ‘government of hate’
Lula won the first round of the elections In the area around Alemao, a wide range of red-brick dwellings in northern Rio with tens of thousands of residents, as well as in other major slums such as Rosinha and Mare.
But the left lost in Rio as a whole, with Bolsonaro receiving 51% of the vote to Lula’s 40.7%, and Lula campaigned here before the October 30 confrontation with the far-right incumbent.
Carlos Lupe, the Labor leader who helps run Lula’s campaign in the second round, said Wednesday’s event aims to raise awareness in slums about the urgent need for political change.
“This is the government of hate and anger – and we have to defeat it,” Lupi said as crowds streamed through one of the main arteries in Alimão with banners denouncing the hunger crisis plaguing Brazil’s poor. “We need to wake up this community to the damage this government is doing.”
Not all locals were convinced, as many evangelical slum dwellers remained loyal to Bolsonaro, whose allies had falsely accused Lula of plotting to close churches.
Valmir da Silva, a 51-year-old driver, came to the Alimão rally holding a towel with Bolsonaro’s image on it and his national motto: “Brazil above all, God above all.”
“He has done more in two years than Lula has done in eight,” Silva said of the far-right extremist, adding, “Lula is not interested in the poor. All he thinks about is staying in power.”
Silva insisted that the crowd of Lula supporters around him did not represent the working-class area where he was born and raised. He said: “The slums are divided.”
But when slum leaders addressed young Lula, they united in their call for better health care and education – and an end to the government neglect and police violence that kills hundreds of black people every year. “We’re tired of dying,” said local activist Alan Broome Lula.
Boba Aguiar, an activist from a community called Akari, told the former president that the only way to beat Bolsonaro and his far-right movement was to join the slum voices, where about 20% of Rio’s citizens live.
“There is no way we can stop tyranny or stop Bolsonarismo, without the leaders who are here today,” Aguiar said. “Only with our help will we be able to get Brazil back on the right track.”
Additional reporting by Alan Lima