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Tens of thousands rallied in São Paulo to support Bolsonaro amid investigations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Brazil's former far-right president now has the photo op he was hoping for. Tens of thousands of supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro filled blocks of a major boulevard in the country's largest city yesterday. It was the biggest demonstration Brazil's conservatives have mustered since Bolsonaro backers stormed the capital more than a year ago. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, it comes at a critical moment for this movement.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting, inaudible).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Protesters dressed in yellow and green, Brazil's national soccer team's colors, stretch down Sao Paulo's iconic Paulista Avenue.

TANIA COLBACHINI: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Tania Colbachini came to support Brazil and the former president. "Jair Bolsonaro is Brazil," she says. Many in the crowd waved Brazilian flags or draped them over their shoulders. Some sport green hats reading in English - make Brazil great again.

COLBACHINI: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "Bolsonaro likes everything that is right," adds the 64-year-old civil engineer, who says the left in Brazil is destroying the country and the world. Many in the crowd also carry Israeli flags, protesting recent comments by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who equated Israel's war in Gaza to Hitler's killing of Jews. Stepping up to address the massive crowd, Bolsonaro unfurled a huge Israeli banner.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS POPPING)

JAIR BOLSONARO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "You - the people of Brazil, you don't deserve living through these times," says Bolsonaro, who insists he's being persecuted. He's facing multiple investigations, including criminal allegations he plotted a coup, which he vehemently denies.

BOLSONARO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "A coup is tanks on the streets, weapons, conspiracy. Nothing like that happened in Brazil," he says.

BOLSONARO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Bolsonaro called his supporters to the streets as the federal probe gains momentum. Several close aides were arrested earlier this month and Bolsonaro had his passport confiscated. Concern is growing among conservatives about the future of Brazil's right, especially if Bolsonaro goes to jail.

DAVID MAGALHAES: At this moment, I can't imagine our right wing organized without Bolsonaro. It's difficult.

KAHN: David Magalhaes is an international relations professor at Sao Paulo's Catholic University. He says Brazil's political landscape is more fractious than the U.S. where Donald Trump has a strong party backing him, unlike Bolsonaro.

MAGALHAES: In Brazil - don't have such a party. So in absence of this party, Bolsonaro emerged as a charismatic leader.

KAHN: It's unclear if there is another in the wings. Several are talked about, including a young congressman with a large TikTok following, Bolsonaro's wife, who is popular with his evangelical base, and the governor of influential Sao Paulo state, Tarcisio de Freitas. He's a trusted technocrat who's actually served in both left and right governments...

UNIDENTIFIED CADETS #1: (Chanting) Brazil, Brazil, (inaudible).

KAHN: ...With strong military ties, another key conservative constituency.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CADETS #2: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Over the weekend, de Freitas visited a prep school for military cadets in Campinas. De Freitas declined NPR's request for an interview. He did briefly address yesterday's big crowd, praising his, quote, "friend" Bolsonaro for showing us the fight for family freedom and the homeland.

TARCISIO DE FREITAS: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "The only thing we can do is give thanks to Bolsonaro," he says to great applause. But de Freitas is seen more as a pragmatic politician. He was recently criticized for shaking hands with President Lula, and many believe he doesn't have the charisma needed to unite Brazil's disparate conservatives. But 22-year-old Alice Rodrigues says it doesn't matter. She'll follow whoever takes up the right's banner.

ALICE RODRIGUES: I hope we never get silenced. I hope, like, we keep fighting. We can never give up.

KAHN: Never, she says. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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