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LATIN AMERICA | 03-09-2022 16:43

Argentina assassination threat spooks Brazilian presidential candidates

Attack on Argentina’s vice-president has sent shock waves through the campaigns of Brazil’s presidential front-runners just weeks before October’s election.

The attack on Argentina’s vice-president has sent shock waves through the campaigns of Brazil’s presidential front-runners just weeks before October’s election.  

People familiar with the security teams of President Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that current protocols will be more strictly enforced after the incident in Buenos Aires Thursday night, when a man came within inches of Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, pulling the trigger of a loaded gun that did not fire.

While political violence is rare in Argentina, in Brazil such cases are much more common. Bolsonaro himself was stabbed when campaigning in 2018, and since then the political climate has only become more tense in the country. 

The president has two of his security guards constantly carrying a collapsible briefcase shield made of Kevlar to stave off close-range attacks, while Lula has been advised to not hug supporters, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive information.  

While neither shy away from public rallies and rarely bring up security concerns, backstage there are hundreds of federal police, military personnel and private security around the candidates. The federal police alone – Brazil’s akin to the FBI – has around 400 agents working in the protection of presidential candidates. 

Lula hired a private security team working together with about 40 federal police agents responsible for his safety, in addition to staff regularly assigned to former presidents, one person said. About a third of the 15 seats on the plane rented by his party for the campaign are taken by security agents, according to two people.

The left-wing leader usually resists wearing a bulletproof vest and often asks for exceptions to the no-hugging rule, but the attack on Argentina’s vice president may change his mind, the person said. 

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, frequently wears a vest when campaigning outdoors. He was also advised to avoid eating and drinking at events amid concerns he’ll be poisoned, according to a member of his staff who asked not to be named discussing private information. During the first TV debate on August 28, an agent tasted a sandwich before Bolsonaro ate it, the person added. 

 

Past incidents

In 2018, less than a month before the election, then-candidate Bolsonaro was stabbed in the abdomen at a campaign event in the state of Minas Gerais – undergoing multiple surgeries and hospitalisations since. Earlier that same year, a bus in which Lula was travelling through southern states was shot at. Both cases were considered serious but isolated incidents. 

This year, four episodes particularly worried Lula’s security team. In May, a man crashed the former president’s wedding party in São Paulo. A few weeks later, another man broke into a press conference where Lula and his running mate, Geraldo Alckmin, launched their government guidelines. 

The more serious incidents came when a drone dropped a foul liquid on Lula’s supporters gathered at a rally in Minas Gerais in June and then the following month, when a man threw a small explosive at another rally in Rio de Janeiro. In both cases, the former president hadn’t yet arrived at the events.  

Lula’s campaign said that, in all of those cases, suspects were quickly arrested and referred to authorities. Neither the federal police nor the institutional security office, which is responsible for Bolsonaro’s protection, responded to repeated requests for interviews.

 

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by Simone Iglesias, Bloomberg

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