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29 May protest in Brazil

29 May protest in Brazil. Photo: Lilian Hill

Orlando Hill and Lilian Hill analyse the impact of the growing movement against Bolsonaro in Brazil

It is estimated that roughly 450,000 people in 213 towns and cities across Brazil took to the streets on Saturday 29 May to demand the speeding up of the vaccination programme, an emergency monthly welfare payment of R$600 (£81) until the end of the pandemic, more beds for their national health service (SUS) and the impeachment of Bolsonaro and his vice-president Hamilton Mourão.

Along with the demands there were protests against public cuts to education, welfare reforms and privatisations promoted by the federal government. The demonstrations were called by trade unions, social movements and political parties on the left. 

"It was the social movement, the trade unions, the political parties, but also a significant portion of society that has no organic link with movements or entities, these people were also voluntarily answering the call", pointed out Débora Nunes, from the National Coordination of MST.

There were also acts of solidarity in 14 countries including in London.  

With over 460,000 deaths due to Covid, the demonstrators took precautions and wore masks and kept social distance, in contrast to the recent demonstrations organised by supporters of Bolsonaro. 

Taking to the streets was the only way of stopping the president's actions and omissions in fighting the pandemic. Being on social media has not been enough. Remaining silent and letting Bolsonaro take his course would cause more pain and suffering.

But the argument of whether to take to the streets was only won once the crowds had taken to the streets. Although the Workers’ Party (PT) was one of the national organisers, the branch in the state of Bahia (where they hold the state government) published a note on Instagram informing that they were “against any agglomeration. We will not answer Bolsonaro in his currency: insanity.” Instead they called for “virtual activities, on social networks, or symbolic acts, with few people”. However, on the day they changed their tune and asked for people to send in posts of the marches and rallies.

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Photo: Lilian Hill

Most of the marches and rallies were conducted peacefully without the intervention of the police. The exception was Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil. There protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. City councillor Liana Cirne Lins (PT) was physically assaulted and had pepper spray shot directly in her face.

Daniel Campelo da Silva, 51, and 29-year-old Jonas Correia de França were hit by rubber bullets losing sight in one of their eyes. What made matters worse is the government of the state of Pernambuco is a coalition of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), both organisers of the demonstrations. 

The police in Brazil that function like the Met police in London is the military police (PM) and is under the command of the state governors. The vice-governor, Luciana Santos on the same day condemned the brutal act of the military police and denied that the order to repress the demonstration had come from the governor Paulo Camara. She identified herself as a “militant”. 

According to Gabriel Valdetaro, biologist and member of the PC do B of the state of Rio de Janeiro, this is very worrisome. Bolsonaro has started referring to the army and the military police as “my army and my police”. Valdetaro argued that

“it is very serious when the police releases itself from the authority of the governor and starts to act independently. Our duty now is to put pressure on the governor to sack the commander of the military police”

The governor Camara has withdrawn the commander and four police officers from their duties while and investigation is being carried out. 

It is clear that it is urgent to relaunch and strengthen the campaign to demilitarise the police. It was a banner that was missing in the demonstrations. 

There is a discussion among the left of what to do now. On one side there are those that defend letting Bolsonaro bleed and wait for the presidential elections of 2022. Lula is ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls. Bolsonaro’s approval rating is falling. Keep the boat steady and win the elections. 

On the other side of the debate are those who defend strengthening the campaign to impeach not only Bolsonaro but also his vice-president Hamilton Mourão. It is the government that has to be impeached and not just the president. 

There are 120 requests for impeachment. But since the congress is under the control of Bolsonaro’s allies the assessment is that they would only have a chance to prosper if people went massively and systematically to the streets. 

On Wednesday 2 June, Bolsonaro delivered a speech on national broadcast apologising for the deaths from the new variant of Covid, but defending his government's policy. He stressed that the Federal Government was against the lockdown and always said that it was necessary to fight unemployment and economic slowdown as much as the new strain of coronavirus.

While he spoke, Brazilians went to their windows to beat on pots and pans and shout out “where is the vaccine” and “fora Bolsonaro!” 

The two fronts that organised the demonstrations, Povo sem Medo and Brasil Popular, sat down to analyse the impact of the demonstrations. According to the journalist Leonardo Sakamoto a sequence of acts of this magnitude is unlikely at this time of the pandemic.

However, faced with the enormous participation and support for the #29M demonstrations, it was decided to call for another national act on 19 June. On social media, #19JForaBolsonaro (#19JBolsonaroOut) is already trending among users. 

The Brazilian people are taking the fight to Bosonaro and need maximum solidarity. Here in the UK, an online event has been organised to decide how to mobilise international support with the demonstrations.

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