Hundreds of thousands rally in São Paulo to support Bolsonaro amid coup investigation

By February 26, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – A tourist visiting São Paulo, Brazil on Sunday could be forgiven for thinking that the country was in the midst of a World Cup soccer final. Blue, green and yellow Brazilian national team jerseys donned by thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro swarmed the city’s metro on their way to a rally in which the former president — who has been barred from holding office for eight years — was the guest of honor.

Organized by evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, and promoted by Bolsonaro on his social media, the event reportedly drew 750,000 people in support of the right-wing politician. The rally was called amid an investigation into his alleged involvement in plotting a coup ahead of the October 2022 presidential elections in which he lost to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Read more: Brazil’s Bolsonaro remains silent during police questioning over coup plotting allegations

Riding the metro to Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s main avenue where the rally was to be held on Sunday, legions of Bolsonaro supporters crowded into the train cars, chanting slogans and singing songs. But unlike a soccer match, their chants weren’t directed at an opposing team, rather at their current president.

“Lula should be machine-gunned in a public square. It’s the least he deserves!” shouted a man who appeared to be in his sixties.

Despite Bolsnonaro’s calls for a peaceful protest, the atmosphere felt aggressive and the rhetoric was at times violent. (Just over a year ago, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s government headquarters in an attempt to overturn election results; many that were on the ground have been arrested and investigations are ongoing into the intellectual organizers of the attacks.)

Arriving at Avenida Paulista, thousands gathered in front of a stage where Bolsonaro and his supporters were set to speak. Hundreds of Brazilian flags lined the avenue, and dozens of Israeli flags were also scattered along the thoroughfare. (Relations between Israel and Brazil strengthened under Bolsonaro and he was even awarded a national prize by Israeli leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, tensions have increased between Brazil and the Middle Eastern country following President Lula’s criticism of Israel’s bombing of Palestine.)

Read more: Blinken, Lula discuss Israel amid tensions between Lula and Netanyahu governments

The rally was peppered with vendors, hawking clothing and tchotchkes bearing Bolsonaro’s likeness. A Bolsonaro-themed wine with the slogan “the patriot’s right choice” was offered by Southern Matogrossense House of the Brazilian Right, a sympathetic political group from Mato Grosso do Sul on Brazil’s western border with Paraguay.

Bolsonaro’s remarks

Bolsonaro arrived at the rally accompanied by his wife Michelle. Atop a sound truck, he was greeted by governors from São Paulo, Goiás, Santa Catarina, and Minas Gerais. Federal deputies, senators, and the mayor of São Paulo also attended the demonstration.

During his 20-minute speech, Bolsonaro spoke about his years as president of Brazil, extolled Christian religious values, and claimed to be suffering political persecution, without mentioning from whom.

“I spent four years persecuted also while president of the Republic, and this persecution increased in strength when I left the presidency,” said the former president.

Bolsonaro waves to the crowd during a demonstration in São Paulo (courtesy of Silas Malafaia’s Facebook)

He also hit back at accusations that he helped to promote a coup d’état in Brazil.

“A coup is tanks in the streets, it is weapons, it is conspiracy. It’s bringing political and business classes to your side, that’s what a coup is,” said Bolsonaro.

“None of this was done in Brazil. And besides that, why do they keep accusing me of a coup? Now the coup is because there’s a draft of a defense state decree. Coup using the constitution? Have some common sense,” he said, referencing a draft decree that investigators say he edited which outlined alleged coup plans.

In June, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court banned Bolsonaro from holding public office for eight years for abuse of power and misusing public media for the elections.

Read more: Jair Bolsonaro banned from holding office in Brazil for 8 years

Despite his disqualification, Bolsonaro remains a leading figure in Brazilian politics, and is considered the main opponent to President Lula.