São Paulo Rally

Bolsonaristas in São Paulo and the Political Future of Brazil

Bolsonaristas in São Paulo and the Political Future of Brazil

All around São Paulo last Sunday afternoon, swarms of people returned back from Avenida Paulista on the buses and metros wearing Brazilian hats and shirts, national soccer team jerseys, and Brazilian and Israeli flags.

If you didn’t know there was a rally of 700,000 on the biggest street in São Paulo, you might have thought there was a Brazil World Cup game. The intersection of nationalism, conservatism, and evangelicalism was very evident in São Paulo on Sunday, and could point to changes in a Post-Lula Brazil. 

These rally attendees are loyal followers of ex-president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a Brazilian politician and retired military officer, serving from 2019 to 2022 when his seat went up for election. He has described himself as an advocate of far-right politics, but his supporters say his views are more aligned with traditional right-wing conservatism, giving voice to many different sectors of conservatism.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also known as Lula, was sworn in January 1, 2023 and is the target of many attacks by Bolsonaristas (supporters of Bolsonaro). A member of the Workers Party, Lula focuses on bridging relations between the Global South and Global North, and helping to alleviate poverty for 71 million Brazilians. While Lula and his policies are well-received, Bolsonaro’s base remains strong as demonstrated by Sunday’s events. 

The protest, featuring figures like Jair and Michelle Bolsonaro and the São Paulo governor, Tarcísio de Freitas (Republican) was held to clear the air surrounding Bolsonaro’s alleged coup d’état after Lula’s victory in the 2022 elections. Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s government headquarters in an attempt to overturn election results in 2023, and the threat of violence was evident on Sunday as well. 

When talking about the coup, Bolsonaro said “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.” Sunday’s demonstration was reinvigorated by the conflict in Israel and Palestine as well, with many supporters sporting Israeli flags sold by vendors on the street. 

After Lula was criticized for comparing the conflict in Gaza to the Holocaust, protesters took a pro-Israel stand, especially the evangelical sector supporters of former First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro’s strong sense of religious purpose, especially in her role as head of PL Mulher. On Sunday she said “You can’t help but get emotional seeing the army of God in the streets, the army of patriotic men and women who don’t give up on their nation.”

There were of course many symbols of Brazilian national pride, especially as Jair Bolsonaro often utilized national symbols during his rise to power and throughout his presidency. Before Bolsonaro’s rise to power these symbols, like the national soccer team jersey and flag, were initially used in protests against the left-wing Workers Party in 2013. 

This uniform identifies Bolsonaristas, and videos circulated the internet on Sunday of anti-Bolsonaro chants on the metro and Bolsonaristas dressed in yellow and green being barred from the metro by leftist Paulistas. Easily identifiable and associated with a history of violent political protest, residents of São Paulo are wary of Bolsonaro supporters. 

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Sunday’s protest was the presence of São Paulo State governor, Tarcísio de Freitas. As Bolsonaro stands in a legal limbo not uncommon among disgraced Brazilian politicians, Bolsonaristas wonder where the future of conservatism rests one year into Lula’s presidency. 

While not an obvious choice, having worked in Workers Party governments in the past, de Freitas was integrated into Bolsonaro’s presidency as infrastructure minister and has continued to work well with Lula in his current role as governor. His financial policies have been very well received in São Paulo as well, especially on Avenida Farias Lima, Brazil’s Wall Street. 

While Sunday’s parade remained a logistical annoyance for most Paulistas, its events hinted at some major shifts in Brazil’s political future. While Lula’s policies continue to be well-received, the pendulum may swing back into the conservatism, nationalism and evangelism of Jair Bolsonaro, maybe through Tarcísio de Freitas, maybe through Michelle Bolsanaro. 


Anna Hobbins | Latin American Correspondent

Hello everyone! My name is Anna Hobbins, I’m a junior at Tulane University studying Latin American Studies, Legal Studies in Business and Spanish & Portuguese. This spring, as a Latin American Correspondent for Latina Republic, I hope to tell the stories of the people I meet in São Paulo, Brazil and beyond while I study abroad. I would love to highlight African tradition, migration, and community support for new migrants and refugees. Coming from a business background, I’m interested in the environment of innovation in Brazil, especially favela startups, and how these burgeoning businesses may support immigrant populations. I have delved into history, culture, music, language of Latina America and want to raise awareness about it, hoping it also may help ease xenophobia and improve conditions for migrants from the area living in the U.S. I have more recently taken up photography, which I hope to incorporate into my storytelling with Latina Republic.