Dictatorship Was A 'Very Good' Period, Says Brazil's Aspiring President NPR sat down with Jair Bolsonaro, who is in the lead ahead of other (eligible) candidates for the Brazilian presidency.
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Dictatorship Was A 'Very Good' Period, Says Brazil's Aspiring President

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Dictatorship Was A 'Very Good' Period, Says Brazil's Aspiring President

Dictatorship Was A 'Very Good' Period, Says Brazil's Aspiring President

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Brazil will elect a new president in October, and a far-right candidate has emerged as a front-runner in that race. Among his biggest supporters are young Brazilians, as NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portuguese).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This crowd has come to meet the man they want to be their president. Jair Bolsonaro is about to land.

(CHEERING)

REEVES: Several thousand people are waiting in the airport to welcome him. Most are men, many are young.

UNIDENTFIED CROWD: (Vocalizing).

REEVES: They rehearse a song, a Brazilian World Cup soccer chant rewritten to celebrate Bolsonaro.

UNIDENTFIED CROWD: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: A retired Army captain who, at 63, is the champion of Brazil's far right. We're in Fortaleza in northeast Brazil. Bolsonaro's come to this city to drum up support.

(CHEERING)

REEVES: He arrives and, grinning broadly, dives into the crowd for hugs and selfies.

UNIDENTFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portuguese).

REEVES: Hugo Edwardo, a software engineer, is wearing a T-shirt with Bolsonaro's face printed on it.

HUGO EDWARDO: I have six T-shirts like that. Every day, I go to the gym with a different T-shirt.

REEVES: Bolsonaro is particularly popular among males between 16 and 34. Edwardo is 31.

EDWARDO: He defends all that I believe as well, you know?

REEVES: Edwardo says his uncle, a police officer, was shot dead by criminals and that he himself was once kidnapped and robbed. One reason Edwardo likes Bolsonaro is because Bolsonaro believes in arming the public.

EDWARDO: I don't have the right to protect myself, to protect my wife, my family. Every criminal has his guns, and I don't. If you don't have security, you have nothing.

REEVES: Brazil's presidential election is in October. Polls show the former leftist President Lula da Silva has a clear lead, followed by Bolsonaro. But Lula's imprisoned for corruption and likely ineligible to run. Though a congressman since 1991, Bolsonaro presents himself as an outsider. Inside a Fortaleza hotel in a big hall, Bolsonaro is preparing to address a full house.

UNIDENTFIED CROWD: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: The crowd sings Brazil's national anthem and Bolsonaro launches into his speech.

JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He lampoons the left as communists and calls for a crackdown on crime. Braga Martins is 34 and owns a small business that's repeatedly been robbed. He's pleased with what he's hearing.

BRAGA MARTINS: The politicians here in Brazil - they don't speak the truth. And with Bolsonaro, I feel that he speaks my language. He speaks the way we speak in the streets. And that's why I like him.

REEVES: Bolsonaro's language has in fact caused much outrage over the years. He once told a congresswoman she didn't deserve to be raped by him. He's made a disparaging remark about black Brazilians and said he could never love a gay son. Martins thinks Bolsonaro didn't really mean it.

MARTINS: About what he said in the past, we know he was just making fun.

REEVES: Roberto Rabelo has a different explanation.

ROBERTO RABELO: Fake news.

REEVES: He's a student, age 24.

RABELO: The media doesn't help us with correct information - just fake news. There's a lot here. You have to take a lot of care.

REEVES: Later back at the airport, I run into Bolsonaro by chance as he's preparing to leave town and ask about his offensive comments.

BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "None of that is true," says Bolsonaro. "The media takes half sentences out of contexts and invents others. And then there's a massive repercussion," he says. Bolsonaro does seem to regret that offensive remark about rape...

BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...Claiming it was his reflex reaction during an argument, although he later repeated the remark. Bolsonaro also approves of Brazil's dictatorship that ended in the mid-1980s and is widely seen as repressive.

BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "The military regime was very good," says Bolsonaro. He thinks it stopped Brazil falling under the sway of the then-Soviet Union.

ERICO FIRMO: I feel that the hate explains Bolsonaro today.

REEVES: Erico Firmo covers politics for O Povo newspaper. He's 36.

FIRMO: We've got a lot of division in society. We are losing the capacity to dialogue, to accept the difference. So I think that Bolsonaro capitalized this.

REEVES: Firmo believes rifts between young Brazilians of differing political views are deepening, fuelled by squabbles on the Internet. Like President Trump, Bolsonaro uses the Internet all the time to spread his message. He has nearly 5 1/2 million Facebook followers. Although far more popular among young men than women...

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: ...Bolsonaro does have some female supporters. Maria Pinheiro is 24 and has a 4-year-old daughter. Pinheiro was raised in Brazil's evangelical church where Bolsonaro has strong links. She likes that Bolsonaro is a fierce critic of sexuality and gender diversity education in schools.

MARIA PINHEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I'm totally against that," she says. Pinheiro says she moved her daughter to a Christian school because she was so worried government teachers would, as she puts it, pervert the child's mind. Polls say a large portion of Brazilian voters haven't yet decided who to vote for as their next president. Many have lost faith in politicians, partly because of a huge corruption scandal that embroiled many of the nation's leaders. Political analysts aren't ruling out a victory by Bolsonaro, the self-styled outsider. He has many opponents, though, many also young who dread that outcome.

ITALO LAREDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "This goes against everything we stand for," says Italo Laredo, a gay rights activist. "We can't let Bolsonaro win." In Brazil, black and LGBT people are frequent targets of prejudice and sometimes violent attacks. Many of them view the far right as a threat.

UNIDENTFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portuguese).

REEVES: This doesn't deter those young Brazilian men who are determined to see a former Army captain reach the highest office in the land. Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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