Brazil’s Supreme Court orders removal of pro-Bolsonaro roadblocks

Brazil’s Supreme Court has ordered police to remove roadblocks erected by supporters of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who still has not publicly acknowledged his election defeat to left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Tuesday called on the Federal Highway Police to disperse the blockades, which were organised primarily by truckers, a key Bolsonaro constituency.

The highway police said truckers had blocked highways at 271 points, partially or fully, as part of protests that have spread to 23 of Brazil’s 26 states in the wake of Bolsonaro’s loss to Lula in Sunday’s election.

The police force said another 192 roadblocks had been cleared.

Bolsonaro made a brief public statement on Tuesday afternoon after nearly two days of silence, but he did not acknowledge his narrow defeat in the run-off, which saw him garner 49.1 percent of the vote compared with Lula’s 50.9 percent.

Instead, he thanked his supporters and said he would follow Brazil’s constitution, which stipulates that the new government will come into office on January 1. Bolsonaro’s chief of staff said the former army captain had “authorised” the transition.

His silence – both in public and on social media – and refusal to immediately concede defeat had spurred concerns that Bolsonaro could be seeking ways to contest the results.

For months, Bolsonaro has falsely claimed that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud. Critics said the allegation was part of a plan to contest his likely defeat and similar to tactics used by former US President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro has emulated.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, said many of the far-right leader’s allies have acknowledged Lula’s victory.

Some, including his chief of staff Ciro Nogueira, have already begun to establish contact with the Lula camp to discuss a transition while others, including the speaker of the lower house of Congress, have publicly said the Bolsonaro government should respect the election result.

Still, Yanakiew described Bolsonaro’s silence as a “very loud” one that was complicating what should be a smooth transition.

Meanwhile, pro-Bolsonaro protesters have blocked roads across the country, including outside Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, the country’s main international air hub, as well as in Rio de Janeiro. A banner reading “Lula No!” hung off a bridge in Sao Paulo.

But the state with the most roadblocks was Santa Catarina in the south, where almost 70 percent of voters backed Bolsonaro.

“I hope that I can go back home,” real estate agent Rosangela Senna, 62, told the AFP news agency at a bus station in Sao Paulo, where she was unable to take her bus back to Rio.

“I could afford to pay for a day to sleep in a hotel here, but many people had to wait right here at the bus station,” she said.

Supporters of Bolsonaro block Presidente Dutra federal highway in Jacarei, Sao Paulo state, on October 31, 2022 [Roosevelt Cassio/Reuters]

Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision, which was backed by a majority on the 11-member court, ordered police to take “all measures” needed to free the roads.

The ruling also set fines on highway police Director General Silvinei Vasques if he fails to clear the roadblocks. Vasques had come under fire for posting an Instagram story on Election Day urging Brazilians to vote for Bolsonaro.

During his address to reporters at the presidential palace in Brasilia, Bolsonaro described the protests as the fruit of “indignation and a sense of injustice” over the vote, but said the demonstrators should avoid destroying property or “impeding the right to come and go”.

The president, whose mantra was “God, family, country”, had campaigned on his conservative values, including his opposition to legalised abortion and drugs while falsely warning that Lula’s return would lead to the persecution of churches.

Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, had pledged to support working-class Brazilians and reinstate environmental protections, especially in the Amazon, after a surge of deforestation during Bolsonaro’s administration.

Numerous international leaders have congratulated Lula on his victory, including US President Joe Biden, who in a call to the president-elect on Monday also “commended the strength of Brazilian democratic institutions following free, fair and credible elections”.

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