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SÃO PAULO – Amid an unprecedented tension between the Bolsonaro administration and th judiciary powers in Brazil, the celebration of the South American country’s Independence Day, on September 7, is being seen as a decisive moment by both the president’s supporters and his critics.
Over the past weeks, President Jair Bolsonaro, who may run for another term next year, has elevated his criticism of the Supreme Court, especially two of its justices, Luis Roberto Barroso and Alexandre de Moraes.
Barroso, who also heads the Electoral Court, has been insulted several times by Bolsonaro for his defense of the current electoral system in Brazil, which is based on electronic voting machines. The president argues the machines are susceptible to fraud and says only printed ballots can secure a reliable election.
Bolsonaro’s backers claim that there is a conspiracy by the establishment against his re-election. The most recent electoral polls show that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would easily beat him, with 37 percent of voters preferring Lula, and only 28 percent choosing Bolsonaro.
Moraes is the justice in charge of an ongoing inquiry on fake news produced and disseminated by the Bolsonaro administration. He issued arrest warrants for some of Bolsonaro’s most fervent allies on the internet, including Congressman Daniel Silveira, who threatened the Supreme Court in a video.
In August, Bolsonaro handed the President of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, a request to impeach Moraes, claiming that his decisions in the case were unconstitutional and violated freedom of speech. Pacheco turned down his petition.
Bolsonaro has now turned to the streets in order to show political strength, and has been mobilizing supporters all over the country to demonstrate against the alleged injustices of the Supreme Court on the county’s independence day.
With a solid following among the armed forces, Bolsonaro has already made veiled insinuations that he may stage a coup d’état and close the Supreme Court, although most observers say the majority of active armed forces’ commanders would not support him.
Bolsonaro is still backed by a huge number of officers in the military and in the military police, which are managed by the state governors but still subordinate to the national military.
Brazil’s biggest association of military policemen declared support to the army in case of “internal rupture.”
As this is playing out, Catholic groups and other civil organizations will hold their traditional Cry of the Excluded demonstrations, which have been taken place every Sep. 7 since 1994.
The marches on Independence Day are the apex of a series of gatherings and activities carried out over the year focusing on the needs of the poorest in society and the insufficient public policies in Brazil.
The organizers of the The Cry of the Excluded often work with the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil’s (CNBB) Fraternity Campaign, a Lenten drive organized by the episcopate to collect funds for the Church’s social works.
This year, there are fears of clashes between pro- and anti-Bolsonaro protestors.
In São Paulo, Governor João Dória Jr. even tried to ban the Cry of the Excluded, but was stopped by the courts. In all cities where both movements will march on September 7, local governments have said the demonstrations must be held far apart.
According to Alderon Costa, one of the initiative’s national organizers, this is the first time that the Cry of the Excluded will have to share the streets with a right-wing demonstration.
“This is an exceptional moment for the country. Our idea is not to compete with them. We told the people to keep social distance, wear face masks, and take several security precautions, like avoid walking alone,” he told Crux.
According to Costa, several local organizers of the Cry of the Excluded have been threatened.
“Our national secretariat has been receiving menacing phone calls. We fear violence, including armed violence. But several institutions have been active in the effort to secure our right to freely demonstrate,” he said.
Marches of the Cry of the Excluded are scheduled to take place in more than 100 cities, and Costa admits the movement this year will directly protest Bolsonaro.
“The Church is giving us full support. What is at stake is democracy in Brazil,” Costa said.
An Independence Day statement released on September 3 by the CNBB’s president, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte, directly referenced the political climate in the country.
Azevedo denounced the atmosphere of “rage and intolerance” and said that “Christians must be agents of peace, and peace is not built with guns.” Alluding to Bolsonaro’s efforts to loosen gun restrictions in Brazil.
Azevedo also highlighted the growing number of people living in in abject poverty, attacks on indigenous groups, and the devastation to Brazil’s ecosystem, all of which have intensified since Bolsonaro assumed power in 2019.
“Do not be convinced by those who attack the legislative and judiciary offices. The existence of three powers impedes the existence of totalitarianism,” Azevedo said, in his most direct attack on Bolsonaro.
Father Antonio Manzatto, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, said that after almost three years of Bolsonaro’s administration, the Church is now aware of the risks it poses to democracy.
“His project since the campaign was to carry out a coup, using the armed forces to silence the opposition,” he told Crux.
Manzatto said that “Bolsonarism is an effort to divert attention from what really matters, a reality of high inflation, economic crisis, and growing unemployment.”
“That is why the Cry of the Excluded is important. Like the CNBB’s statement, it expresses that we Catholics are against all policies that generate exclusion and attack human dignity,” he said.
Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus told Crux that the Cry of the Excluded had ups and downs since its creation in the 1990s, but now it is gaining strength again with “so many exclusions that our people are suffering.”
“Labor unions and students’ organizations have been joining the Cry of the Excluded since last year. We need to keep nurturing a consciousness of transformation. We are worried with democracy itself,” he said.
Steiner said he thinks there will be no violence during the march. “If something happens, we will react with dialogue. It is a peaceful act,” he said.
Bishop José Valdeci Mendes of Brejo, who heads CNBB’s Transformative Social Action Pastoral Commission, said initiatives like the Cry of the Excluded have the goal of increasing popular participation in politics, something that is more important now than ever.
“Several social rights have been suspended both in the city and in the countryside. People will cry for justice, and it is important to gather the discontent,” he told Crux.
Mendes said he does not fear any confrontation with Bolsonaro’s supporters, given that “the Cry of the Excluded is a peaceful movement with very clear claims.”
“We do not want to confront those who are manifesting so much hate and arrogance,” he added.