‘Lula represents hope’: Brazil presidential frontrunner takes his message into Rio’s favelas

Thousands of favela residents and activists have taken to the streets of Rio to show their support Luiz Inacio Lula da SilvaLeft front candidate to be Brazil’s next president.

Addressing a sea of ​​supporters in Rio’s largest favela, Complexo do Alemão, Lula vowed to give his far-right rival Jair Bolsonaro “A shocker” as the second round of presidential elections takes place at the end of October in South America’s largest democracy.

“We are going to win these elections,” declared the 76-year-old former president, who thrashed Bolsonaro outright in the first round 10 days ago.

Lula, who rose from rural poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002, said he was determined to return to power “to prove to the elites who have ruled since 1500 that once again a metal worker will fix this country”.

“The only reason I’m running for president again is because I believe we can change things,” Lula told activists during a rally at the headquarters. The Voice of Communities, organized his rare visit to the favela news group. “I promise you this country is going to change — and it’s going to change for the better.”

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva greets supporters during a campaign rally in Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

More than 30 favela residents came to the Complexo do Alemão on Wednesday morning to champion a politician they hope will end Bolsonaro’s tumultuous four-year reign, during which Covid has killed nearly 700,000 people and plunged millions into poverty.

“Setting foot in the Lula favela is an act of resistance. It shows we’re not alone — there’s hope,” said Douglas Viana, a 30-year-old activist in another sprawling working-class community, Complexo da Mare. “This is a historic moment for the country. We have never seen anything on this scale,” Viana added.

Rene Silva, founder of Voz das Comunidades, expressed optimism that social change was around the corner under Lula, who used his two-term presidency to lift millions of people out of poverty and access higher education with regional commodity booms.

“Lula represents hope – hope for less hunger and less inequality. In Bolsonaro’s four years in power we have taken many steps back – and it will take a long time to rebuild it all,” said Silva, 27.

A supporter of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flashes the letter L for 'Lula' during a campaign rally in the Complexo do Alemao favela.
A supporter of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flashes the letter L for ‘Lula’ during a campaign rally in the Complexo do Alemao favela. Photo: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Campaigner Anil Franco, whose sister Mariel Franco, the politician, was assassinated in 2018, said she hoped Lula’s victory would help bring justice for her murdered sibling.

“Lula symbolizes the return of humble, poor, black and northeastern people from the favelas to the presidency – something we don’t have under this government,” Franco said.

Fight the ‘Government of Hate’

Lula won the first round of the election A wide area of ​​red brick houses in the region around Alemão, with tens of thousands of residents in northern Rio, as well as in other major favelas such as Rosinha and Mare.

But the left as a whole was defeated in Rio state, with Bolsonaro winning 51% of the vote to Lula’s 40.7%, and Lula ramping up his campaign with far-right incumbents ahead of the October 30 showdown.

Workers’ Party leader Carlos Lupi, who is helping Lula’s run-off campaign, said Wednesday’s event was designed to raise awareness of the urgent need for political change.

“This is a government of hate, of anger – and we must defeat it,” Lupi said as the crowd streamed down one of the main arteries of Alemão and held up banners denouncing the hunger crisis facing Brazil’s poor. “We need to wake up this community to the damage this government is doing.”

Not all locals were convinced, with many evangelical favela residents remaining loyal to Bolsonaro, whose allies have falsely accused Lula of plotting to close the church.

Valmir da Silva, a 51-year-old driver, arrived at the Alemão rally carrying a towel with an image of Bolsonaro and his nationalist slogan: “Brazil above all, God above all.”

Supporters of Brazil's former president (2003-2010) and presidential candidate of the leftist Workers' Party (PT), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R), attend a rally at the Complexo do Alemão favela in Rio de Janeiro
Lula rose from rural poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002. Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

“He has done more in two years than what Lula did in eight years,” Silva said of the right-wing extremist. “Lula is not interested in the poor. He only cares about staying in power.”

Silva insisted that the crowd of Lula supporters around him did not represent the working-class area where he was born and raised. “The favela is divided,” he said.

But when young favela leaders addressed Lula, they were united in their pleas for better health care and education — and an end to government neglect and police violence that kills hundreds of mostly black people every year. “We are tired of dying,” local activist Alan Brum told Lula.

Buba Aguirre, an activist from a community called Acari, told the former president the only way to defeat Bolsonaro was to join forces with the voices of the favelas, where about 20% of Rio’s citizens live, for his far-right movement.

“Without the leaders who are here today, there is no way we can stop the dictatorship or stop Bolsonarismo,” Aguirre said. “Only with our help can we get Brazil back on track.”

Additional reporting by Alan Lima

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