Outrage as Jair Bolsonaro appears to endorse Brazil anti-democracy protests

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Jair Bolsonaro’s apparent endorsement of protests designed to cow Brazil’s democratic institutions has sparked outrage across the political spectrum with one lawmaker warning of a return to the dark days of dictatorship if the demonstrations are not opposed.

Hardcore supporters of Brazil’s far-right president are planning nationwide protests on 15 March and have been flooding social media with propaganda videos and fliers attacking members of Congress – and even proposing a return to military rule under Bolsonaro.

One advert for the #SomosTodosBolsonaro (We’re all Bolsonaro) rallies urges Bolsonaristas to pile pressure on lawmakers by attending what it calls “Fuck You Day”.

Bolsonaro, a notorious admirer of authoritarian rulers such as the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, appeared to sanction the protests this week, sharing one such video with friends and associates on his personal WhatsApp account.

In the video Bolsonaro followers are told: “He is fighting the corrupt and murderous left for us. He endures smears and lies because he’s doing his best for us … Let’s show that we support BOLSONARO and reject the enemies of Brazil.”

Bolsonaro’s promotion of the anti-democratic mobilization – which some suspect is designed to undermine or intimidate Congress ahead of a potential attempt to impeach him – sparked fury in a country that only emerged from two decades of dictatorship in 1985.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil’s president from 1995 to 2002, said that if Bolsonaro was promoting protests against Brazilian democracy the country faced “an extremely serious institutional crisis”.

“To remain silent would be to concur,” Cardoso tweeted. “We must shout while we still have a voice.”

Another former president, Bolsonaro’s leftwing nemesis Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, urged citizens and politicians to take an urgent stance against the “authoritarian act”.

“Bolsonaro has never gotten on with democracy. He’s a false patriot who is surrendering our sovereignty to the US and condemning the people to poverty,” Lula tweeted.

São Paulo’s rightwing governor, João Doria, denounced Bolsonaro’s “deplorable” move: “Brazil fought so hard to rescue its democracy. We must vehemently reject any act that disrespects this country’s democratic institutions and pillars.”

Marcelo Freixo, a leftist politician from Rio de Janeiro, warned: “The last time they closed Congress we got 21 years of torture, rape, murder, squeezed wages, debt and a regime that broke the country. We will not allow a repeat of this tragedy.”

On Wednesday Bolsonaro – who is currently battling fresh revelations about his family’s ties to a recently slain hitman – dismissed the criticism as an attempt to “disrupt the republic”.

His politician son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, further fanned the flames, tweeting: “If an H-bomb landed on congress do you really think the people would shed any tears?”

Vera Magalhães, the journalist who first reported Bolsonaro’s sharing of the video, said his latest attack on democracy was of “unheard-of severity”.

Writing in the conservative Estado de São Paulo newspaper, Magalhães said it was time for Brazilian institutions to put the brakes “not just on the president’s tongue and his WhatsApp, but on his actions”.