A posse of mule-riding cowboys and cowgirls, Brazilian flags aloft, trot along the vast parks that are the centre of Brasilia, the country’s capital.
It’s quite a sight as they are cheered on by thousands of anti-lockdown protesters who are in the city for their now weekly rally.
The numbers vary and the count is always contested but by any standards large numbers of people flooded the roads in their cars, horns honking and vuvuzelas blaring out a deafening cacophony. Many have travelled from towns and cities hundreds of miles away.
Image: The rally is noisy and raucous and utterly defiant
It is noisy and raucous and utterly defiant. Forget social distancing, forget staying safe. In fact, forget COVID-19.
These are the faithful supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro, who continues to pour scorn on the pandemic and is willing to ignore the crisis engulfing the country.
The number of people being infected every day is in the tens of thousands but the crowds seem utterly oblivious to the fact that these types of gatherings are potentially lethal.
Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters call him “Legend”, they chant it constantly, and they come here to see him.
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His arrival is pure theatre. Circling the crowd time and again, he waves from the open door of a military helicopter to his adoring supporters on the ground shouting and urging him on.
Finally he appears outside the presidential palace surrounded by guards, but walking the lines of supporters, shaking hands as they chant his name and mainly scream.
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It is crazy but it probably sounds familiar: Donald Trump is his hero and this is pure Trump.
A populist politician soaking up the adoration of the faithful, but it isn’t always like this.
A few days earlier I stood outside the Palace of Justice where a small group of maybe 20 supporters had gathered to see him.
He emerged looking tired and frankly quite ill.
Image: Supporters have set up camps around the capital which they man 24 hours a day
He is facing allegations of misconduct in office, his son is being investigated by prosecutors for peddling fake news, and whatever he says, Brazil is now one of the worst-hit coronavirus countries in the world.
He waved at the group and got into his car. After a few seconds he got out and walked towards them. He didn’t engage and said nothing as they proclaimed him their saviour, then he turned on his heels and returned to his car, ignoring the waiting press, and the presidential motorcade drew away. It wasn’t a great look.
Those supporters have set up permanent camps in different spots around the capital which they man 24 hours a day.
They are from all walks of life. They don’t deny COVID-19 but they think the infection rates and the numbers of dead are inflated and part of a communist plot to undermine the president – that includes Chinese and Brazilian communists, in fact anyone who doesn’t support Mr Bolsonaro.
Image: Odair Mello, a data analyst from Sao Paulo, is convinced COVID-19 is a plot
I met Odair Mello at one of the camps, he is a data analyst from Sao Paulo but has been staying in Brasilia for three weeks. He is intelligent, articulate and speaks perfect English. He, like so many others, is absolutely convinced it is all a plot.
“We are here to support our president because our president since the beginning has been really tough, really strong,” he told me resting on his bicycle.
“He’s trying to expose the truth about COVID-19 but he is up against so many people, so many institutions that they’re not interested in telling people the truth, they’re interested in boosting the numbers up and keep people hiding at home.
“Businesses are failing, going under, people are losing their jobs, and our president said, since the beginning, we understand that there is a health crisis but we have to also try maintain our jobs, our incomes.
“If we lose that then the second wave of death is gonna be much, much worse.”
Image: Odair Mello and Suzyanne Eryka at the rally in Brasilia
Co-supporter Suzyanne Eryka chimed in.
“You have other types of people who have died, for example with heart [problems], or other things and it’s all in [the] Covid count,” she said.
“This is true, that there is sick, it’s true, I believe it, of course, I’m not stupid, but it is not this size,” she added stretching her arms out wide.
Image: Paolo Goncalves Zexerre says the pandemic is a set up
We are at a camp opposite the presidential palace set up by Paolo Goncalves Zexerre, he is an engineer and social worker and he is absolutely convinced the whole thing is a set up.
“They are inflating the number [of deaths] precisely to create panic, to maintain the narratives of lockdown and to break the state, ” he told me.
“I think it’s fake. I have demonstrated three times in front of the Chinese embassy. We understand that China is doing this to break the world economy.”
Some of the president’s most vocal supporters are controversial in their their own right.
Image: Some of the president’s most vocal supporters are controversial in their their own right
Sara Winter has set up the so called “300” camp – as in the Spartans movie. She faces possible arrest for spreading fake news and she is now applying for asylum in the United States.
Her point, like her president’s, is that COVID lockdown is as bad as the disease.
“We need to choose between dying because we don’t have money to buy some food, or we need to choose [to] die because of the virus, so it’s not a good choice, any of them,” she told me outside a few tents erected outside the Justice Ministry.
Image: Those at the rally think the infection rates and the death numbers are inflated
‘We don’t believe in lockdown. We are studying a lot of different research, scientific research, that concludes the lockdown is not good for the people.”
“Here in Brazil the levels of domestic violence and suicide they are high, getting higher day by day and that’s not good, and people are inside their houses and they are getting sick with coronavirus, so we are not understanding,” she said.
Brazil is now hugely divided.
Those who support the president and those staring at a nightmare spread of the coronavirus.
All the time the number of people becoming infected keep rising – every day.
Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email email@example.com
Source : Sky News