March 24, 2023

BARRETOS, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro headed to Latin America’s largest rodeo — a bubble of staunch support — before voting in October Connect with voters from the countryside.

On Friday night, the far-right leader rode a horse with outstretched arms and a cowboy hat as he greeted supporters draped in the Brazilian flag while playing his campaign ad, “Captain the People.” He joked with them, and together they prayed for the future of the country. All major polls show Bolsonaro well behind former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but at the rodeo scene in Barretos, São Paulo, people won’t know that .

“This event has become part of our history. Moved by the work of agribusiness and rural men and women, Brazil is projecting itself onto the global stage,” Bolsonaro told the crowd, which chanted the word “legend” to refer to him. “Our motto is God, Country, Family and Freedom. Yo Yo Yo!”

The multi-day event drew tens of thousands of attendees, mostly white and middle-class. Many wore the national colours of green and canary yellow, which Bolsonaro has turned into a symbol of support for his government. The packed arena roared when Bolsonaro was introduced to the tune of DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” which his supporters use in hundreds of videos to paint him as provocative.

Outside, a vendor sold towels with the faces of Bolsonaro and da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party, and displayed a board showing the number of purchases by each candidate. Hardly any work featuring Da Silva sold, which attendees saw as a sign that their candidate would win the vote. Elsewhere in Brazil, this towel sales scoreboard points in the opposite direction.

Despite Da Silva’s lead in the polls, a dozen farmers, ranchers and rodeo enthusiasts in Barretos told The Associated Press that Bolsonaro doesn’t need to reach many moderate voters. Ilva has publicly attempted to do so — most notably, by picking a center-right opponent to become a running mate.

“The last poll didn’t say Bolsonaro would win,” said Guarte Silvera, 57, who owns a small farm. ”This year is the same. I see him walking around. Lula did not. How could Bolsonaro fall behind? “

Daniel Tales, a 43-year-old businessman who wears the Brazilian flag as a scarf, said his mustache got goosebumps after seeing Bolsonaro in person. The proud cowboy from neighboring Minas Gerais said he believes his candidate needs a runoff with Da Silva to get a second term.

“But he doesn’t need to change anything. He doesn’t need to do anything else or less,” Tales said. “He has a strong personality, he’s a man of the moment, he’s here to make a revolution.”

When asked how Bolsonaro brought hesitant voters to his side, he replied: “He needs to be himself. That’s it.”

Four years ago, Bolsonaro won nearly 74 percent of the vote in the second round of voting in Barretos, beating the Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad after Da Silva was declared ineligible. The president is well-liked in the region for promoting conservative values ​​and defending farmers, as well as for establishing a National Rodeo Day in 2020 and relaxing Brazil’s rules for such events. Friday wasn’t his first time at the Barretos rodeo. He was president in 2019 and also came to help his son run for Congress three times during his career as a lawmaker.

This time, Bolsonaro brought in cabinet ministers, politicians running for office and some business leaders whose properties were raided by police earlier this week Because they allegedly participated in a private chat group that included comments in support of a possible coup and military involvement in politics. One of them, Luciano Hang, wearing his usual yellow shirt and green pants, did his best to anger the crowd.

Bolsonaro and his allies have routinely scoffed at the polls, sometimes saying the president will not just win the election, but do so in the first round without need for a run-off. A more accurate way to measure the upcoming results, they say Watch the turnout for Bolsonaro’s rally.

Bolsonaro supporters who spoke with The Associated Press said they were ready to heed his call and take to the streets on Independence Day, Sept. 7.Some politicians and analysts have expressed concern that this could turn violent.

“We’ll see you on Independence Day,” emcee Cuiabano Lima said as Bolsonaro left the rodeo. Lima also said Da Silva was a thief belonging to a prison, and the crowd chanted in agreement.

Da Silva, who ruled from 2003 to 2010 and is popularly known as Lula, was barred from running in 2018 after being jailed for corruption and money laundering, in a case the Supreme Court later found biased. That clears the way for him to run in 2022.

Silvana Cunha, 47, worries about the possibility of Da Silva returning to power. She works with cattle farmers and says Bolsonaro’s time in power has improved her life due to higher beef prices. Although she believes he will win in October, she acknowledges the challenges he faces.

“It takes time to organize everything as he wishes,” said Cunha, an avid Catholic who has attended the Barretos rodeo for years. “Whoever wins, it will be very difficult. We need strong hands. After this pandemic, getting the country back on the growth track is a difficult task. We need to be very careful. We either suffer setbacks or evolve .”

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