Independência da Bahia

Forrest Hylton

Before the railroad arrived under Emperor Dom Pedro II, Periperi was a Tupinambá village on the outskirts of Salvador, on the edge of the Bahia de Todos os Santos, and then a sugar plantation. The word means sugarcane (or reed) in Tupi, and the area is crisscrossed by streams. But it became a railroad workers’ neighbourhood from the 1860s, and then, because of the beauty of the setting and the discovery of petroleum nearby in 1939, a suburb where Salvador’s men of wealth and power built second homes during the 1940s.

Among them was the great communist writer Jorge Amado, and his novel Home is the Sailor (1961) is set in Periperi. An aged mariner arrives in the neighbourhood at the end of the First Republic and regales the locals with stories of his adventures around the world, until doubts about the veracity of the stories and the identity of the mariner surface.

In 1980, the Carnival bloco Ara Ketu formed there. They were champions three years in a row, from 1981-83, then became a band that put out several key samba reggae records in the late 1980s and 1990s. For the past twenty years, the reggae band Ativos Resistentes has kept local history alive. Eighty-five per cent of residents identify either as pardo (‘mixed race’) or preto (‘black’).

Today, families have to bury their dead in the morning and evacuate the cemetery by noon when Bonde de Maluco (BDM), the largest, most violent drug trafficking ‘faction’ in Salvador, moves in. The workers who maintain the cemetery need police protection to keep them from being robbed. Few will speak to reporters, and only on condition of anonymity.

Bonde de Maluco has expanded its reach coming out of the pandemic. At Salvador’s best swimming beach, Porto da Barra – where the Portuguese built their first settlement, Vilha Velha, and where Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa smoked marijuana in the 1960s – the facção now advertises its presence with strategically placed graffiti. There is a permanent police presence at both the main entrances to the beach, which does nothing to deter petty cocaine sales or marijuana consumption.

On 2 July, Bahian Independence Day, both Bolsonaro and Lula held campaign rallies in Salvador. The far-right incumbent addressed supporters at the Farol da Barra, where the Portuguese and the Tupinambá built the city’s first fort at the turn of the fifteenth century, and went from there by motorcycle cavalcade along the shoreline to Boca do Rio. The left-wing challenger appeared at Dois de Julho, a popular market in the city centre, where the Independence Day parade set off for Campo Grande. The floats commemorated Bahia’s tenacious armed resistance to the Portuguese nearly two hundred years ago: enslaved and free people of colour, indigenous people, caboclos and mestiços, as well as planters and slaveowners, and Maria Quitéria, who disguised herself as a man in order to enlist.

Salvador’s mayor, Bruno Reis, has been unable or unwilling to mobilise an effective official response to the deterioration of public safety and the expansion of organised crime. He appeared in the 2 July parade alongside his predecessor and mentor, ACM Neto, who is expected to win the Bahia governor’s race in October. Neto reminded supporters that since 2011, the state has led the country in violent deaths, ranked last in educational quality, and currently has the highest unemployment rate. The third-way presidential candidate Ciro Gomes also put in an appearance. But it was Lula who drew the biggest crowd: a massive, festive procession of people dressed in red, waving PT (Workers’ Party) and MST (Landless Workers Movement) banners in the streets of the historic city centre. It stretched for blocks.

Projected to get about 6 per cent of the vote, Ciro has no chance of making it through to a second round in the autumn. By staying in the race and slinging mud, especially at Lula, he hopes to force a run-off (Lula v. Bolsonaro) in which he can play kingmaker. Fittingly enough he hurt his foot in the parade and had to withdraw almost as soon as it had begun, to much mirth among the Lulistas on the beach at Porto da Barra.

Bolsonaro and his son Eduardo arrived in Salvador fresh from interviews on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, who was in Brasília to help US viewers understand how the Chinese Communist Party is taking over Latin America and alert them to the dangers of the same thing happening in the US. Eduardo Bolsonaro claimed that loosening gun laws has helped Brazil bring down its homicide rate. There are now four million guns in the country. The number of gun clubs has tripled, and Bolsonaro pai warned his followers that Lula would close them in order to open libraries.

Bolsonaro filho neglected to mention that Brazil is among the ten most violent countries in the world, and stands out for rape and femicide especially. Women’s support for Lula – currently around 49 per cent – is expected to be decisive. He is also the preferred candidate among the young (54 per cent of voters aged 16 to 24 support him), in the Northeast (58 per cent) and among people who identify as Afro-Brazilians (61 per cent).

Bolsonaro has made no significant gains, as Lula has maintained a poll lead of 10-15 points since last November, and the economy continues to deteriorate, with fuel, milk and food prices soaring. With leads in Rio and São Paulo, many of Lula’s supporters are hopeful of a first-round victory, but it is unclear if they can convince Ciro’s voters to defect.

Bolsonaro seems to know he will lose even if he makes it to the second round; his Hail Mary is a one-time emergency welfare payment of 200 reais that may or may not make it through Congress (polls suggest those eligible plan to vote for Lula regardless). On his recent trip to Los Angeles for the ninth Summit of the Americas, Bolsonaro asked President Biden to help throw the Brazilian elections his way. He got no response. Before heading back to Brasília, he organised a motorcycle rally in Orlando, FL, for his supporters in the US. (State and local police, along with Brazilian diplomatic personnel, were unclear about security protocol.)

As in Orlando, the turnout at the motorcycle rally from the Farol da Barra on 2 July was unimpressive. On the campaign stage, Bolsonaro looked anaemic and weak, especially compared to the revving of the motorcycle engines and the cries (themselves underwhelming) of ‘the myth, the myth’. Unlike in 2018, after he was stabbed on the campaign trail, the wind is not at his back. Not even the evangelicals are solidly behind him, as Lula has divided them: only 33 per cent intend to vote for Bolsonaro.

Most of the ‘Barons of the Asphalt’ Harley Davidson club members from the neighbourhood were older men, lighter rather than darker skinned, wealthier rather than poorer. One was wearing a leather Iron Maiden vest and a pea-green helmet emblazoned with the phrase ‘Don’t follow me, I’m lost’ in English. Another man had a T-shirt advertising the Pro-Weapons Foundation. A number of the motorcyclists wore camouflage and paramilitary pants. It was easy to imagine them carrying weapons, but it still looked like cosplay.

After promising to safeguard unspecified liberties (perhaps the freedom to bear arms?) Bolsonaro complained: ‘They gave me shit for a motorcycle – son of a bitch, man!’ Not a strong showing, but Bahia has always been a PT stronghold. Even Bolsonaro’s ostensible allies refuse to associate themselves with him in state gubernatorial races across the country.

Bolsonaro’s strategy does not centre on winning, but on crying fraud in order to mount a coup (following the failed Trump model). Lula addressed this directly during his event at Fonte Nova Stadium, which, unlike the rally at the Farol, featured tens of thousands of supporters. He told the Brazilian military to respect the democratic process, and told supporters to stop spreading rumours of a coup. He spoke of defending democracy, equality (especially gender equality), sovereignty and peace. ‘Who will dare mount a coup?’ he asked.

He outlined his programme: tax the rich, support the poor; remove ceilings on social spending (health and education); restore labour laws, generate employment, raise the minimum wage. He emphasised that education and culture were the keys to the country’s future development, and recognised the crucial role played by Bahians in fighting for Brazil’s independence.

Yet during the parade, many people wondered aloud: ‘What independence is this?’ With ACM Neto, one of Bolsonaro’s former allies, headed to the governor’s mansion, will anything be done to check Bonde de Maluco’s rise in Salvador, so that people in Periperi can bury their dead without fear?

Paramilitary militias from Rio, with which Bolsonaro and his sons have long been affiliated, are looking to move into São Paulo, where the PT’s Fernando Haddad looks set to become governor; Haddad has said that nipping militias in the bud will be his biggest challenge should he win. Though the right runs on the idea that Lula will turn Brazil into Venezuela, the real challenge is to keep Brazil from turning into Colombia.


  • 10 July 2022 at 1:35am
    nlowhim says:
    Really interesting article. Loved the comparison of reality to the point of the celebration. Sometimes people do just want personal safety. After all isn’t that freedom? Unfortunately people will try to grab that freedom by any means. Even the barrel of another’s gun. I do want a little clarification on the claim about having more guns and lowered violence. Not that they would be connected but the following fact does not clarify the point.

  • 14 July 2022 at 3:17pm
    Drew North says:
    Forest, I don’t know if you read your comments, and I’m not exactly sure how to reach you “privately”.

    I really admire your work on Brazil and Colombia, for people who are interested in Latin America you provide an X-ray read like a Radiologist. There is Alma Guillermoprieto, and then everyone else, I’m sure you would agree.

    I don’t know the limits of your remit, or time, or interest, but I’m sure readers would love to know your thoughts on the following:

    1) The persistent and crescendoing protests in Ecuador and Panama
    2) The growing insurrection in the south of Chile
    3) The effect of climate on the Andes

    Please keep up the good work you do, and I can’t wait for your next article.