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LATIN AMERICA | 27-10-2022 12:44

Key Brazilian state provides snapshot of divisive election

Candidates in Brazil's Minas Gerais state champion polar opposite visions of the country's future for their respective candidates, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Nikolas Ferreira is a young, ultra-conservative who preaches about politics in churches and on social media. Celia Xakriaba, an Indigenous activist, focuses on the climate emergency.

The two recently-elected lawmakers in Brazil's Minas Gerais state are fighting for polar opposite visions of the country's future for their respective candidates, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The stakes are high: Since 1989, no president has won an election without victory in Minas Gerais, home to the second-highest number of voters in the country of 215 million people.

 

Nikolas Ferreira: Rising influencer 

Ferreira, a baby-faced 26-year-old lawyer, was elected to Congress with 1.5 million votes in legislative elections held alongside Brazil's first-round presidential vote.

This represents more votes than any other legislative candidate in the country.

For months, he has declared himself "at war" with the "silent threat of communism" he claims a Lula victory will bring.

"Are we going to turn it around or not? Yes or no to abortion? Yes or no to the legalisation of drugs?" Ferreira said as he worked up an audience during a recent Bolsonaro rally in the state.

The two have appeared together at least three times during the campaign, during which both Bolsonaro and Lula have given outsized attention to Minas Gerais voters.

Dark-haired and articulate, Ferreira addresses his audience much like an evangelical pastor.

"There are believers who are voting for the devil. There are believers who are voting for Lula," he told the Jovem Pan radio station.

A graduate of a Catholic University in Minas Gerais, Ferreira claims that Brazilian universities are in the grip of a "Marxist ideology" out to destroy the traditional family.

He pushes his views in provocative speeches and videos shared with millions of followers on social media, a magnet for conservative youth.

Electoral authorities removed his content falsely claiming that Lula was pro-abortion and supportive of the legalisation of drugs. 

Local media has reported that Ferreira is under investigation after he exposed a transgender child for using the female toilet in a school.

"I am not controversial. I am just following what I believe in," he said in a recent interview.

 

Celia Xakriaba: Indigenous resistance 

Celia Xakriaba, 32, is convinced she is living through a "historic moment."

With more than 100,000 votes, she became the first indigenous deputy in Minas Gerais, as a candidate for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL).

"Our absolute priority will be environmental issues," she told AFP during one of her campaign appearances in support of Lula in Belo Horizonte. 

Originally from the Xakriaba territory in the north of the state, Celia is a teacher and is pursuing a doctorate in anthropology. 

With a headdress of green-yellow feathers and her face covered in bright red make-up, Celia smiles, dances, and takes photos with her hand in an L-shape, a sign of support for Lula.

But she gets serious when talking about her plans to confront the powerful agribusiness sector, which she blames for the alarming rates of Amazon deforestation seen under the Bolsonaro government.

"Indigenous peoples have known for more than 500 years what resistance is. How can we accept a president who says that he will not demarcate an inch of indigenous land?" asked Xakriaba, who was part of an Indigenous delegation that toured Europe in 2019, denouncing "serious violations" by the government.

She also took part in the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow at the end of 2021. 

Xakriaba said her supporters extend beyond Lula voters, and she attracts those concerned with gender equality and environmental issues.

Now, she wants to convince them that more is at stake than a battle between two populist figures who have polarised the country.

Many "do not see that this moment is a matter of life or death." 

"If the planet runs out for us, it runs out for you, for your children, for all of humanity."

 

- TIMES/AFP

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