Dom Phillips, The Guardian, September 7, 2018
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right frontrunner in next month’s Brazilian presidential election, is in a serious condition in hospital after being stabbed while campaigning.
Bolsonaro was taken to hospital in the town of Juiz de Fora, about 125 miles (200km) north of Rio de Janeiro, after he was stabbed by a man who rushed up to him while he was being carried through a crowd on the shoulders of a supporter.
He was in a serious but stable condition after injuries to his abdomen, surgeons at the Santa Casa de Misericórdia hospital said.
Bolsonaro’s son Flávio – himself a candidate for the Brazilian Senate – tweeted that his father was “almost dead” when he arrived at hospital, having lost a lot of blood.
In an especially unpredictable election campaign, Bolsonaro has polarised opinion with homophobic comments, calls for looser gun laws, attacks on the left and praise for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, which tortured thousands of its opponents and executed hundreds more. He faces trial before the supreme court for speech that prosecutors said incited hate and rape.
Yet rising violent crime, anger over repeated corruption scandals and an efficient social media operation have helped him build support, and he is second in the polls to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has been barred from running because of a criminal conviction for corruption.
Videos shared on social media showed the moment Bolsonaro was attacked. He can be seen waving to the crowd when he suddenly clutches his abdomen and cries out in pain before falling backwards into the arms of those around him. O Globo newspaper reported that he was wearing a bulletproof vest, but was wounded just below it.
A police spokesman confirmed that the alleged attacker – named as Adélio Bispo de Oliveira – was in custody. Local media said he was beaten up by Bolsonaro supporters.
The G1 news website printed a leaked extract from the suspect’s police interview in which he said he had been ordered by God to carry out the attack.
“The Minas Gerais police reacted rapidly. Uniformed officers who were there arrested the attacker,” said Maj Flávio Santiago, a police spokesman.
Santiago said attacks on high profile candidates were rare. “In Brazil we don’t have the culture of this type of attack, where someone can break through security and attack a candidate,” he said.
However, violence against politicians has risen in recent months. In March, Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro city councillor for the Socialism and Freedom party, was murdered along with her driver, Anderson Gomes. That same month, two buses in a campaign caravan for former president Lula were hit by gunshots. Lula was not with the convoy at the time.
Analysts said the incident could feed Bolsonaro’s narrative that Brazil is in chaos and needs a firm hand to steady it.
Paulo Baía, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said the attack would further polarise the election campaign.
“The attack strengthens Bolsonaro and practically guarantees him a place in the second round,” he said. “The campaign will be about passion. Any candidate who tries to use rationale will not win voters. The attack on Bolsonaro messes with all the political forces in the country, it is the most important event in the campaign from diverse points of view.”
Augusto Heleno, a retired military general and ally of Bolsonaro, described the attack as “an act of barbarity that hurts democracy”, and said Bolsonaro might not be able to continue his intense campaigning rhythm. “He has to recover, the consequences were serious,” Heleno said. “He will not be able to campaign in the way he has been doing, in the arms of the people, on top of sound trucks, it will be difficult in the short term.”
Bolsonaro’s political rivals were also quick to denounce the attack.
Fernando Haddad, who is likely to replace Lula as the Workers party presidential candidate, said the stabbing was a “shame” and a “horror”.
Marina Silva, an environmentalist and centrist candidate, said: “The violence against the candidate Jair Bolsonaro is inadmissible and is a double attack: against his physical integrity and against democracy.”
Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor as president, sparked anger when she suggested that Bolsonaro’s extremist views could have provoked the attack. “When you plant hate, you harvest thunderstorms,” she said in an interview with the Folha de S Paulo newspaper.
During the Congress session that began Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment proceedings, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote in favour of her suspension to a notorious dictatorship-era torturer. Rousseff was a member of the armed resistance to military rule and was herself tortured.
Bolsonaro recently said that members of her Workers’ party should be shot.