AVENER PRADO FOR “THE WORLD”
ReportageThe Workers’ Party candidate for mayor of Rio Branco only obtained 4% of the vote in the municipal elections of November 15, in this former bastion of the left which voted overwhelmingly for Jair Bolsonaro in 2018.
The huge poster greets visitors as they leave the airport, appearing in the tropical dampness. “God, homeland and family. Rio Branco believes [en Jair Bolsonaro] “, says the slogan of the sign installed prominently at the entrance to the capital of the Brazilian state of Acre. The president poses there all smiles, green tie, a finger raised towards the sky, like a prophet in his country. Or a messiah in front of his followers.
It did not take less to celebrate the “myth” Bolsonaro, as his supporters call him. Because it is here, in this state of the extreme western Amazon, on the Bolivian-Peruvian border, that the leader of the extreme right achieved his best score in the presidential election of 2018: 77.2% in the second round (against 55% nationally). In Rio Branco, he obtained more than 82% of the votes. A real plebiscite.
Hard to believe, but the region was for two decades a bastion of the left, considered impregnable. Former President Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) held all the levers of power there: governor, deputies and senators, mayors, local assemblies… all swept away by the surging Bolsonaro. In the municipal elections of November 15, the PT candidate for mayor of Rio Branco, Daniel Zen, was drastically ejected from the race in the first round, with only 4.01% of the vote …
“We had everything, and we lost everything”, sighs Jorge Viana, former charismatic leader of the local left. At 60, the man is handsome, with his tall stature, his carefully disheveled gray hair and his telenovela smile. For a long time, Acre was his thing, his home: he embodied it successively as mayor of Rio Branco (1993-1997), governor (1999-2007) and finally senator in Brasilia (2011-2019).
It is customary to say that Jorge Viana has “Invented Acre”. This is not entirely wrong. Poor, isolated in the far west of the Amazon, Acre was for a long time a marginal land, the fallen homeland of syringeiros, latex collectors, refuge for exiles, place of all kinds of trafficking… But everything changed in 1999, with the arrival of the PT to power: Viana then inaugurated the “government of the forest” and gave Acre its importance across Brazil.
“We dreamed big here”
Under his rule, the Amazon becomes a “green gold” to be protected. The government invests in tourism and sustainable industries, such as latex or nuts, and deforestation fell by 65% between 1998 and 2007. Better still: with the victory of “comrade” Lula in the 2002 presidential election, Acre benefited full of social programs from the left: during the 2000s, the state’s GDP tripled, life expectancy jumped from 66 to 71 years. “We have proven that we can combine economic growth and environmental protection”, supports Viana.
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