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Over 100 Protesters Oppose Brazilian Election in Harvard Square, Drawing Counter-Protest

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Draped in Brazilian flags and holding signs alleging fraud, more than 100 protesters gathered in Harvard Square Sunday to oppose the results of the Brazilian presidential election.

Leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the Oct. 30 election with 50.9 percent of the vote, replacing far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who garnered 49.1 percent after serving one term in office. Protests have erupted across Brazil and the United States, with some Bolsonaro supporters alleging the election was fraudulent and calling on the military to stop the transition of power.

There is no evidence to suggest the election was illegitimate. Brazilian military officials, who helped supervise the election, said they have not found any signs of voter fraud.

Sunday’s protest was organized by Congresso Conservador Brasileiro, a conservative Brazilian group based in Framingham.

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The protesters questioned the integrity of electronic voting machines, through which nearly all Brazilian voters cast their ballots.

A group of Harvard students counter-protested Sunday’s demonstration, calling the display an attack on democracy.

João Pinheiro ’23-’24 and Helena Mello Franco ’24, co-presidents of the Harvard Undergraduate Brazilian Association, said the organization did not condone the Bolsonaro supporters’ actions.

“It's an attack against democratic values — an attack against the electoral system in Brazil,” Pinheiro said.

“We also felt like it was an invasion of our space as well to have these protesters here in the middle of Harvard Square, many times confusing the students at Harvard who could be thinking that these people were affiliated somehow with us,” said Mello Franco, who attended the counter-protest.

Mello Franco described Sunday’s counter-protest, which was not organized by HUBA, as a demonstration in support of democratic institutions.

“The protest was not necessarily pro-Lula,” Mello Franco said. “I think the protest is more accurately described as a protest pro-‘respect electoral results and democratic institutions.’”

Lula, who is set to take office at the start of next year, previously served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. In July 2017, he was convicted on charges of money laundering and corruption and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. Brazil’s Supreme Court annulled Lula’s sentence in March 2021, and he was released after spending 580 days in prison.

At Sunday’s demonstration, protester Fatima Heath said she was “upset” that someone who was previously imprisoned was elected president of Brazil.

“We don't want a bad guy,” Heath said. “If the left [has] another good guy, we will respect. We will respect it, because we support the democracy.”

Heath, along with several other protesters at the event, advocated for military intervention in Brazil.

“We want, we call, we need, we ask for our army [to] resolve that,” Heath said.

Pinheiro, HUBA co-president, drew comparisons between Sunday’s protest and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election.

Mello Franco said she hoped Sunday’s demonstrations would shed light on Brazil’s political climate, which she described as “polarizing.”

“I hope that in a way this event also makes people more conscious of how important it is right now to support Brazilian democracy and to leads fights to make sure that democracy is upheld — that the results are upheld,” she said.

Mello Franco also called for compassion toward Brazilian students.

“Try to be as comforting and as compassionate as possible because it's very tough for us to see something like this happening to our democracy and with us being so far away from it as well,” she said.

—Staff writer Sarah Girma can be reached at sarah.girma@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahGirma_.

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