Whether cocking finger guns, vowing to put a gun in every house, or working to gut arms controls, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has spent his entire 33-year political career trying to become his country’s top gun.
I want everyone to be armed,” he berated his cabinet at a 2020 meeting that went viral. He plagiarized the National Rifle Association, adding that “an armed people will never be enslaved”.
This is not just political theatre. Bolsonaro’s call to arms threatens Brazil’s security, the unity of its citizens, and perhaps even democracy itself. The stakes are particularly high now, in the bitter run-up to the Oct. 2 presidential election, the most intensely contested since the end of military rule 37 years ago . That Bolsonaro, a defunct army captain who has a crush on men in epaulettes, uses every opportunity to praise his country’s 21-year military dictatorship only adds to the concern.
Bolsonaro has militarized the government and filled his cabinet with more top executives, both former and active, than any leader since the dictators came to power. He deployed troops, tanks and fighter jets to celebrate Brazil’s Independence Day as if it were a victory in war (it wasn’t). By evangelizing assault rifles and handguns, he also seems intent on militarizing the future. This is grim news for a country that records more than 40,000 homicides a year, most of them gun-related.
Research by the think tank Igarapé Institute and other civil society organizations shows how pervasive the gun cult has become. Accelerated by about 40 presidential weapons decrees and standards, the number of civilian-owned small arms nearly tripled from 2018 to 2021, Igarapé noted. By July, Brazil’s total inventory of privately owned guns in circulation had reached 1.9 million, according to Freedom of Information data. This includes guns in the hands of presumably well-meaning civilians who genuinely care about their safety, but also many with owners who adopt the official tone that good guys with guns are the answer to crime.
This conceit is supported by declining trust in the police and the lack of the rule of law in Brazil’s crime hotspots. Perhaps nowhere are these shortcomings more evident than in the Amazon, which has become a new frontier for Brazil’s arms race.
If arming well-meaning citizens were the solution to criminal violence, the region — where the total number of registered guns more than doubled from December 2018 to November 2021 alone — should be a haven of legality and security. Instead, a multitude of scourges—more guns, metastasizing criminal networks, and flawed governance—have turned the world’s largest tropical forest into a battlefield.
If he loses the election to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (as polls suggest), don’t wait for Bolsonaro to shoot or for the armed forces to stage a coup
Nowhere in Brazil has the rate of fatal gun violence increased so sharply, rising 78 percent in the Amazon from 2010 to 2019 while falling 10 percent in the rest of the country. according to Igarapé’s review of Ministry of Health data.
Fatal shootings increased over the same period in three critical Amazon border states: Acre (253 percent), Amapá (125 percent), and Amazonas (55 percent). Not coincidentally, these areas are also emerging deforestation hotspots, where rampant migration, ransacking, land grabs and dysfunctional governance occur.
The spike in gun-related homicides in the Amazon is just one indication that Bolsonaro and his cronies are missing the mark. Even with more citizens than ever, polls show that Brazilians don’t feel safer. Less than a third of Brazilians polled by national pollster Quaest said they would buy a gun if given the chance. Almost 7 in 10 said they fear being around people with guns and that wider access to guns means putting young people at risk.
Doesn’t matter. Bolsonaro’s mission to proliferate guns, lower the age for gun permits and limit oversight has only energized his armed base. It would be foolish to dismiss his bullying as rampage.
If he loses the election to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (as polls suggest), don’t wait for Bolsonaro to shoot or for the armed forces to stage a coup. After four years of useless governance and disastrous pandemic management, neither the president nor the military have the cachet to pull off such a stunt.
But Bolsonaro has also given no indication that he would contain outraged loyalists in the event of defeat. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s most devoted Latino student has relentlessly encouraged his supporters to distrust the polls and condemn the electoral system while he keeps them gripping heat.
While a tropical version of the Jan. 6, 2021 US insurgency is unlikely, risks lie ahead. Whoever wins Brazil’s elections will rule a country not only confronted with food inflation, rising poverty and hunger and a fiscal hole, but also poisoned by partisan choler and – more than ever – armed to the teeth.
Mac Margolis, advisor to the Brazilian Igarapé Institute, writes regularly about Latin America. He is the author of The Last New World: The Conquest of the Amazon Frontier.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/trigger-happy-jair-bolsonaro-wants-brazilian-voters-armed-to-the-teeth-as-he-fires-up-loyalists-ahead-of-election-41998747.html Lucky trigger Jair Bolsonaro wants Brazilian voters armed to the teeth as he cheers on Loyalists ahead of the election