"I have just voted. I voted for him to ruin you, fucking faggot."
That statement shocked a dear friend of mine, whose name I prefer not to reveal. He was on his way back from a polling place in the Brazilian city of São Paulo last Sunday, along with his partner, carrying a rainbow flag, when a stranger spewed his bigotry at him.
“I did not respond. I was scared,” my friend told me. He had just returned from a conference about diversity in the United States.
Last week, a video recorded in a São Paulo subway station showed a crowd of sports fans chanting: “Be careful, you fairies, Bolsonaro is going to kill faggots!”
They were referring to presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who faces a run-off election against Fernando Haddad on October 28.
Elections are an exercise of democracy, special moments when citizens can reflect on the state of the country and peacefully choose the future they want. But this year´s campaign has been stained by threats and violence.
From January till last Sunday, when the first round of voting took place, 137 reporters were threatened or attacked while covering the elections, said the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism.
On Sunday, a man stabbed to death Romualdo Rosário da Costa, a 63 year-old master of “capoeira,” an Afro-Brazilian dance that incorporates martial arts movements, at a bar in Salvador. The Bahia state government said the alleged killer, who was later detained, was a Bolsonaro supporter who got angry when da Costa revealed he had voted for Haddad.
Bolsonaro himself was the victim of a violent attack during a rally that almost took his life last month. The alleged attacker, Adélio Bispo de Oliveira, said he stabbed Bolsonaro because he did not like him, and had followed "God´s orders." Federal police believe he acted alone.
All other candidates condemned the homicide attempt.
The attack occurred only five days after Bolsonaro said: “We will shoot Workers Party supporters,” during a rally in Acre state.
He also has a record of defending violent, illegal actions. Bolsonaro has said Brazil´s military dictatorship (1964-1985) made a mistake by torturing people when they should have killed them. He has repeatedly referred to one of the worst torturers of the dictatorship as a ¨hero,¨ and said police should have ¨carte blanche¨ to kill criminal suspects.
Candidates are not responsible for everything their supporters do. However, at the very minimum they have an obligation to make sure their words do not constitute incitement to violence. And when threats and violence occur, candidates should condemn them in the strongest terms.
Given the highly polarized environment in Brazil, there is risk of continued politically-motivated intimidation, threats and violence in the weeks leading up to the second round of voting. Both Bolsonaro and Haddad should speak up now against any kind of violence.