Guns, God and fake news dominate Brazil’s presidential race


São Paulo
CNN

The thunderous sound of gunfire echoes through a room during a seemingly endless bombardment.

It’s just after seven in the evening and the G-16 weapons range in São Paulo is busy as customers file in to relax after a day’s work. Shooting ranges like the G-16 have thrived and expanded in recent years, gaining more members as gun and ammunition sales increase.

Credit, according to G-16 co-owner Daniel Pazzini, goes to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“He basically gave free publicity, encouraging people to buy guns and defend themselves that way,” Pazzini said, referring to Bolsonaro’s pro-gun message. Two large portraits of the President decorate the walls of his range, alongside a large number of pistols, shotguns and some large caliber rifles.

The number of Brazilians joining gun clubs like this has increased exponentially since Jair Bolsonaro became president.

Gun laws have become a key battleground, along with religion, ahead of Sunday’s presidential election runoff between Bolsonaro and his leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

According to research institute Datafolha, the two men took opposing sides in the gun ownership debate as they tried to court evangelical Christians, who are estimated to make up more than 30 percent of Brazil’s population.

While people of all political affiliations are welcome at his club, Pazzani says the choice of members will likely be simple. “Bolsonaro defends the rights of gun owners, for the good people, while Lula [da Silva] advocates disarmament,” he says.

During Bolsonaro’s presidency, between 2018 and 2021, the number of firearms registered in the country rose from 350,000 to more than a million, according to the Brazilian Federal Police.

Instead, Lula da Silva has pledged to strengthen gun control if elected. Under his proposal, ordinary citizens would still be able to own guns, but not carry them.

Pazzini says he doesn’t expect Lula da Silva to have a big impact on his livelihood, even if he becomes president, but he’s putting his chips on Bolsonaro.

In a campaign season that has focused more on social issues and culture wars than politics, a growing number of churches and religious leaders have begun openly preaching electoral salvation.

Both presidential candidates have recognized the impact and influence churches have on the electorate and have struggled to get as many religious groups as possible on their side.

The task seems easier for incumbent Bolsonaro, who regularly prays at his rallies and has socially conservative positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and gender that are more aligned with most churches.

At the Assembly of God of Victory in Christ, a Pentecostal church in Santo André, a suburban town on the outskirts of São Paulo, head pastor Odilon Santos is not shy about his political affiliation, saying that “he will vote to Bolsonaro because of the principles”. he defends.”

Pastor Odilon Santos prays with his congregation.  Churches like his have become increasingly political.

Not only does Santos think it’s right for the church to get involved in politics, he relishes the opportunity.

“We think this is excellent, it’s a privilege for us, because for many years the church would not take a position at such an important time for the nation,” he says. “I’m a church preacher but I’m also a Brazilian citizen, I fulfill my obligations, I pay my taxes. I think I have the right to take a position and influence others.”

Lula da Silva has also made efforts to court Brazil’s churches. The former president was already leading Bolsonaro 53 percent to 28 percent among Catholics, the country’s largest religious denomination, before the first round of voting earlier this year, according to a Sept. 22 DataFolha poll.

And last week, Lula also published an open letter to evangelicals, promising to safeguard religious freedoms and moving away from some of the most divisive issues, such as abortion.

“I personally am against abortion and I remind everyone that this is not a matter for the President of the Republic to decide, but for Congress,” Lula wrote.

But his words fell on deaf ears in Santos’ congregation, he says. “For us, this letter has no value.”

The mistrust has been exacerbated by a bitter campaign season, marked by intense campaigns of misinformation and insults by both sides.

Authorities in Brazil have stepped up efforts to remove inaccurate information from social media websites, even creating their own platform to debunk some of the allegations. But the effort prompted cries of censure from Bolsonaro’s supporters, who have faced more investigations for alleged disinformation than Lula’s supporters.

In October, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered a Bolsonaro-affiliated radio station to give Lula da Silva’s campaign the right to respond to some accusations, which the court deemed “false, distorted or offensive.” The decision has inflamed Bolsonaro’s supporters, who claimed that the station, Jovem Pan, was being unfairly suppressed.

Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro addresses one

“They say it’s fake news, anti-democratic acts. What is this? What’s the definition?” said Bolsonaro’s son, Rep. Eduardo Bolsonaro, at a rally in São Paulo on October 25 in support of Joven Pam. “It’s unbelievable. They’re just saying this is fake news. These are acts anti-democratic and they arrest you”.

With polls showing only a narrow margin between the candidates ahead of Sunday’s vote, it is difficult to predict who will come out on top. What is clear, however, is that the polarizing campaigns, which exacerbated Brazil’s many faults, will make the new president’s job more difficult.

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