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Front-Runner In Brazil's Presidential Race Hospitalized After Being Stabbed

Sep 7, 2018
Originally published on September 7, 2018 6:58 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Brazil has a presidential election in just one month amid growing political turmoil. Yesterday the front-runner in the race was stabbed and seriously injured at a campaign rally. The far-right candidate survived that life-threatening attack and is now in stable condition. NPR's Philip Reeves went out to gauge the reaction.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's Independence Day, when Brazil celebrates the end of Portuguese colonial rule some two centuries ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAND MUSIC)

REEVES: The Brazilian Armed Forces parade through the center of Rio de Janeiro in front of a big holiday crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Normally this is a festive occasion. Today anxiety hangs in the air.

BRUNO GRADIN: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Bruno Gradin is 32, owns a bar and is a supporter of Jair Bolsonaro. Gradin says when he heard Bolsonaro had been stabbed at a rally and had life-threatening internal injuries, he felt...

GRADIN: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...Really shaken up.

GRADIN: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "It's an attack on democracy," says Gradin. Investigators suspect Bolsonaro's attacker was mentally unstable. Many Bolsonaro supporters are not buying that.

MARCIA DA CONCEICAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "This is a political act," says Marcia da Conceicao, who's 40 and a teacher. She cites reports that the attacker once had links to a leftist party. He didn't act alone, she alleges. The stabbing of Bolsonaro is deepening hostilities in Brazil between the far-right that he represents and its enemies. Many fear this could mean more violence. There was condemnation of the stabbing even from those who don't support him. Edilaine da Silva is a student, age 29.

EDILAINE DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "The attack was a shock," she said. "Regardless of politics, he's a human." She added, "we know we shouldn't react to violence with violence." Today Bolsonaro was flown from Juiz de Fora, the city where the attack happened, to hospital in the city of Sao Paulo. One of his friends spoke to Bolsonaro and posted a video online.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Bolsonaro explains he expected such a day would come. He says he knew he was taking risks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Can humans really be so evil," he asks. "I've never done any harm to anyone," he says. As Bolsonaro begins a recovery that'll last weeks if not months, Brazilians are wondering about the political fallout of all this. Polls consistently show Bolsonaro has around 20 percent support. He's the front-runner, yet the race is wide open.

Bolsonaro's supporters see this attack as more proof Brazil's in deep trouble and needs radical change, a feeling underscored Sunday when Rio's National Museum was destroyed by fire. Yet Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, has many opponents. They will continue to be repelled by his hard-line views and his record for offensive remarks about race, women and homosexuality.

Some things have changed, though. It'll likely now be harder for his rivals in the presidential race to mount an all-out offensive against him. And Bolsonaro's now getting a lot more TV time than he was expecting. At today's parade, his supporters seemed in no doubt that Bolsonaro will stay in the race and emerge stronger.

CONCEICAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "People who were undecided will now vote for him," says Marcia Da Conceicao.

CONCEICAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Conceicao's convinced that Bolsonaro will be the next president of Brazil. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.