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Brazil’s Highway Police try to explain widespread road blockades

The executive director of Brazil’s Federal Highway Police, Marco Antônio Territo, on Tuesday said the force has yet to determine why hundreds of demonstrators are blocking roads across Brazil — despite the fact that the protesters overtly support President Jair Bolsonaro and question Sunday’s electoral results.

“Since we were not able to identify leaders, we also can’t verify their platform,” Mr. Territory said in a press conference.

Pro-Bolsonaro groups began obstructing highways across the country on Sunday night, after the election was called in favor of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It was the tightest runoff election in Brazil’s democratic history. Demonstrators are calling for a military coup to prevent the transition of power over the next two months.

Several of the demonstrators wear yellow T-shirts or Brazil’s national football jersey, which over the past few years have become associated with Mr. Bolsonaro supporters. Some of them bear flags or banners with photos of Mr. Bolsonaro or have pro-Bolsonaro stickers on their cars. Videos show groups protesting Lula’s election.

Despite this, Mr. Territo said the Highway Police is still investigating “possible platforms” by the demonstrators. The Highway Police’s intelligence director said the force had “no elements” to suspect that the crisis would be so widespread. “The crisis escalated very quickly,” he said.

The Federal Highway Police added that it acted to remove obstructions at 306 points, with 267 demonstrations remaining. It also imposed 182 fines but did not disclose any number of arrests.

Opposition Senator Alessandro Vieira said that the press conference shows that all top-level members of the Federal Highway Police should be fired. “The only question is how deep incompetence runs and where complicity begins,” he wrote on Twitter.

The union representing Federal Highway Police agents published a statement saying the election’s results must be respected. “The decision by President Jair Bolsonaro to remain silent after the election,” they say, “ends up making it difficult to pacify the country, encouraging part of his followers to block Brazilian roads.”

Over 40 hours after the election was called, the president has yet to make a public statement on the results.

On Election Day, the same Federal Highway Police conducted an unusually large number of operations — roughly half of them in the Lula-leaning Northeast region.

Lula’s campaign accused the chief electoral government of reaching voter suppression, but Brazil’s justice Alexandre de Moraes said recipients were not prevented from reaching the polls.

Since taking office, President Bolsonaro has pandered to truckers with a multitude of stimulus programs specifically focused on the group. In 2018, a few months before being elected president, Mr. Bolsonaro endorsed the large national trucker’s strike which is estimated to have cost the Brazilian economy BRL 75 billion (USD 14 billion).

In 2021, following Independence Day celebrations filled with putschist undertones, groups of truckers tried to stage blockades in multiple states, but they failed to disrupt transportation infrastructure in the country.

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