RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came out in public to support a small protest Sunday that defended military intervention, prompting strong criticism across the political spectrum while also infringing his own ministry’s recommendation to maintain social distancing.
On the day Brazil celebrates its army, Bolsonaro made an appearance at the protest held in front of the army’s headquarters, in the capital city of Brasilia. There, dozens of tightly-packed protesters, many of whom were not wearing masks, were calling for the Supreme Court and Congress to be shut down.
“I am here because I believe in you. You are here because you believe in Brazil,” said Bolsonaro, a former army captain who waxes nostalgic for the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship.
Since being sworn in on January 1 2019, Bolsonaro has asked the defense ministry to organize commemorations of the two decade-long military dictatorship, paid tribute to Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, the military strongman in neighboring Paraguay, and backed changes in schools’ history curriculum that would revise the way children are thought about the 1964 military coup.
But for some, Bolsonaro crossed a line Sunday.
“The president of the republic crossed the Rubicon,” wrote Felipe Santa Cruz, president of the Brazilian Bar Association, on his official Twitter account. “Time for Democrats to unite, to overcome difficulties and disagreements, in the name of a greater good called FREEDOM!”
O presidente da república atravessou o Rubicão. A sorte da democracia brasileira está lançada, hora dos democratas se unirem, superando dificuldades e divergências, em nome do bem maior chamado LIBERDADE!
— Felipe Santa Cruz (@felipeoabrj) April 19, 2020
Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, focused his criticism on protesters.
“It is frightening to see demonstrations for the return of the military regime, after 30 years of democracy,” he wrote on Twitter.
Só pode desejar intervenção militar quem perdeu a fé no futuro e sonha com um passado que nunca houve. Ditaduras vêm com violência contra os adversários, censura e intolerância. Pessoas de bem e que amam o Brasil não desejam isso.
— Luís Roberto Barroso (@LRobertoBarroso) April 19, 2020
Many Brazilians were also angered at Bolsonaro’s defiance of the stay-at-home measures introduced by several states governors. Bolsonaro has multiplied public appearances in recent weeks, meeting with supporters, protesters, passersby or business owners.
On Saturday, hundreds of people denouncing pandemic restriction measures opposed by Bolsonaro snarled traffic in major Brazilian cities.