Right-wing candidate woos Brazil voters with guns 'to end violence'

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 10 2018 01:29 AM

Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL). Ricardo Moraes, Reuters/file

Jair Bolsonaro topped the poll in the first round of Brazil's presidential elections, having seduced tens of millions of voters with simple -- though radical -- solutions to eradicating violence in one of the world's deadliest countries.

For many, Bolsonaro has the answer to the question that has preoccupied them for years -- how to lower the crime rate in a country with more than seven murders an hour?

"Give guns to good people," the former paratrooper insisted during campaign meetings.

"If one of us, a civilian or a soldier, is attacked... and if he fires 20 times at the assailant, he should be decorated and not have to go to court," the far-right candidate told a campaign meeting in the northern Rio neighborhood of Madureira in August.

It was a simple speech that hit the mark for Jamaya Beatriz, a manicurist from this violent suburb of Rio De Janeiro.

"I live in a dangerous neighborhood," the young woman said. "If someone breaks into my home, I want to be able to defend my children."

- Hate crimes -

Sara Winter, a right-wing candidate for the National Assembly, finds it positive that Bolsonaro wants to arm women "so they can defend themselves, increase penalties for rapists and introduce chemical castration."

Bolsonaro himself became a victim of violence during the campaign, when he was stabbed by a leftist sympathizer on September 6 and had to spend the last several weeks convalescing in hospital.

Just before the attack, he had called for "shooting" members of the Workers Party in the state in which he was campaigning.

Brazil is awash with weapons. Not only those of narco-traffickers who cross the porous Bolivian and Colombian borders, but also guns sold on the black market by crooked policemen or soldiers.

Nonetheless, a key Bolsonaro campaign pledge is to loosen gun control. "Guns are tools that can be used to kill or save lives," depending on who's handling them, he said.

Many see Bolsonaro as a kind of tropical Donald Trump but for some analysts the comparison with the US president is chilling, given the levels of Brazil's violence. 

Trump's arrival in the White House caused "a considerable rise in hate crimes because people who are behind this kind of act are legitimized by someone like this," said sociologist Glauber Sezerino.

The risk is that the far-right will be emboldened to attack "black, homosexual, transgender or even left-wing supporters," warns Sezerino.

Bolsonaro's pledge to loosen gun laws "could be inspired by the United States, where you can buy small arms at Wall-Mart," said Sezerino.

The far-right leader can also count on a powerful gun lobby in parliament.

- "Hunting season" -

Bolsonaro has also said he would lower the threshold for background mental health checks needed to purchase a gun, as well as cut waiting times for the right to carry a weapon, which can sometimes be a year.

Sezerino fears that if Bolsonaro becomes president, his slogan, "a good bandit is a dead bandit" could set off "hunting season" on criminals in Brazil's favelas or other dangerous areas.

And he would only have to claim presidential prerogative to call in the army and the security forces.

Brazil's police appear to need no encouragement. Last year 5,144 people were killed by police, an increase of 20 percent and a figure deplored by Amnesty International.

But violence is not simply an urban problem in this vast country.

Bolsonaro's view is that "the big landowners must have easier access to carrying arms to deal with the movement of landless peasants" claiming land, such as indigenous people, said Sezerino.

"They will expel people who occupy properties," said Szerino. The inference is clear -- by force.