Millions of Brazilians will flock to polling stations on Sunday in places like Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. Thousands will also make their way to polling stations locally, in Providence, Boston and Framingham, where expatriates are expected to vote in large numbers in the most contentious Brazilian presidential election in decades.
The leading candidate is former Army Captain Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken glowingly of the military governments that ran the country in brutal fashion until the mid-1980s. He faces Fernando Haddad, a former education minister and candidate from the Worker’s Party (PT).
Many political pundits believe that Bolsonaro — who won 46 percent of the vote in the first run-off election this month — will be the next president of Brazil, and a majority of Brazilian immigrant voters here in Massachusetts are expected to cast a ballot for the controversial right-wing legislator.
Polls seem to back up this prediction, with some recording over 60 percent support for the evangelical former military man in Brazil. Informal polls in Framingham show his support here to be much higher.
At the entrance to Pao Brazilian Bakery on Waverly Street on a recent day, locals were walking out with Beijinho pastries and loaded with opinions about who they plan to vote for. Only one person among the 15 interviewed by WGBH News said he or she would be voting for Haddad.
One Framingham resident explaining his plan to vote for Bolsonaro said, “You need something extraordinary, something different.”
“Extraordinary” is precisely how many supporters describe Bolsonaro. But others use the term “extremist” for a man who has openly disparaged gays and blacks and insulted women. In one famous remark, Bolosonaro described traditional Afro-Brazilian communities as lazy, saying, “I think they don’t even manage to procreate anymore.” In response to a female legislator who accused him of encouraging rape he said, “I wouldn’t rape you, because you don’t deserve it.”
Brazilian journalists have dubbed him, “Trump of the Tropics.” And when indisputable proof of past remarks was presented to Bolsonaro supporters in Framingham, some responded with a familiar refrain.
“Fake News!,” said one man, standing outside Pao Bakery. “I think they lie about him. That's all media. They're just trying not to get him elected, which is not going to happen.”
Brazilians around the world can vote back home as long as they were born in Brazil, and regardless of immigration status where they live. Most Brazilians in Massachusetts come from two relatively politically conservative areas in the country: Minas Gerais and Espirito Santos. And a clear majority of them in Framingham — as well as in Brighton, Somerville, Everett, Edgartown, Fall River and elsewhere — cast votes in the primary earlier this month for the Social Liberal Party’s Bolsonaro.
At ABR a Brasil—WSRO-AM in Framingham, which dubs itself America’s only 24-hour Portuguese language station, afternoon announcer Pastor Fernando Cicada of the Revival Church for the Nations in Framingham, said evangelicals like him are leading the charge for Bolsonaro. Cicada said Bolsonaro is bringing new ideas, but says that his main motivation for supporting him is predicated on an old point of division: Bolsonaro’s anti-abortion stance. Many also believe that corruption by Workers Party operatives and their allies over 12 years in office has contributed to Bolsonaro’s support among Brazilians in Framingham.
Marcelo Leite, an award-winning columnist for Folho in San Paulo said, “Mr. Bolsonaro is tapping into a big pocket of resentment about corruption and also what we call the cultural wars.”
Leite said many Brazilian immigrants see themselves as self-made here in the U.S., and Bolsonaro is exploiting resentment over Brazilian government programs for the poor.
“Many immigrants, working very hard to make a living, think that having a government that's very much in favor of giving help to the poor people and this kind of thing is a waste. They would vote for minimum government. This kind of ideology is very widespread among Brazilian immigrants in the U.S.”
Poor, including many Afro-Brazilian and Amerindian families in the north of Brazil, benefited under the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva starting in 2003, when he was first elected. The economy expanded by 50 percent and a significant percentage of revenue was spent on social welfare programs and education, known as Bolsa Familia. Extreme poverty decreased by 50 percent.
But Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center in Boston, said that also sparked anger among other Brazilians, including many here in the United States. “They are resentful of the poor in Brazil,” she said.
Tracy said the same class and racial stereotyping rampant in Brazil is evident among Brazilians in the Boston area. She said even some of her clients at the Brazilian Worker Center — immigrants who face possible deportation by the Trump Administration — plan to vote for the far-right wing candidate, Bolsonaro, who wants to reduce government spending on the poor and who has been quoted as saying, “Haitian immigrants bring diseases to Brazil.”
“They tell me that Trump is the devil,” said Tracy. “And then they turn around and they say we're voting for Bolsonaro. And I say, ‘What about the racism and discrimination and promoting violence?’ I mean, I don't understand why people are not able to see that the two people are very similar in [their] message and [their] ideology.”
Tracy added that Haddad is far from perfect, and with the Worker’s Party Leader, Lula de Silva, behind bars, Haddad is now the torch bearer for a political party riddled with corruption.
“I'm not for corruption either. But I'm also not for fascism. And I'm very afraid of the outcome of this election,” said Tracy.
Tracy, like thousands of Brazilians in the Boston area, will be voting Sunday at Brighton High School and other locations.
Meanwhile, in Framingham, WSRO radio station announcers are mapping out live coverage from expat voting sites across the state. Cicada predicts Brazilians in Massachusetts and Rhode Island will mark the day with celebrations when their man, Jair Bolsonaro, tops the ticket.