Lula Supporter Marcelo Arruda Is the Latest Victim of Far-Right Violence in Brazil

Over the weekend in Brazil, a leftist official backing Lula’s presidential bid was killed by a supporter of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. It’s a chilling reminder of the far right’s willingness to use violence to fight the Left.

Workers’ Party (PT) president Gleisi Hoffmann (center) pays last respects to PT member Marcelo Arruda during his wake in Foz do Iguaçu, Parana, Brazil, on July 10, 2022. (Christian Rizzi / AFP via Getty Images)

Last weekend, a man named Marcelo Arruda held a party in the southern Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu. Arruda was celebrating both his fiftieth birthday and the leftist candidacy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and front-runner in the October presidential election against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Images of Lula blanketed the party, adorning everything from the walls to Arruda’s T-shirt. The outpouring of love for the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Workers’ Party) wasn’t just for show — Arruda was the treasurer of his local PT branch and the party’s deputy mayor candidate in 2020.

But Arruda’s celebration was cut short by a visit from a pro-Bolsonaro prison guard named Jorge José da Rocha Guaranho. Enraged at Arruda’s ardent support for Lula, Guaranho confronted him at the party, only leaving after a heated argument. Twenty minutes later, wielding a gun and still ranting about Bolsonaro, Guaranho returned. A shoot-out between the two men ensued. Arruda died; Guaranho is currently in the hospital.

In response to this politically motivated killing, the PT has demanded a federal investigation into the murder and its perpetrator, whose social media is littered with right-wing memes. For his part, Bolsonaro has denied any responsibility for the killing and even took the opportunity to claim the Left is more violent than the Right, seemingly hoping people will forget his comments during his first run for president urging supporters to kill PT members.

Brazilians are unfortunately familiar with political violence. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the country’s right-wing dictatorship murdered thousands of people and forced many others into exile. Since Lula’s presidency ended in 2011, a major wave of partisan violence — overwhelmingly committed by the Right — has plagued the country. At least eighty-two candidates were killed in the 2020 election cycle alone.

The highest-profile political killing in recent Brazilian history is the murder of Marielle Franco in 2018. Franco, a nearly lifelong resident of Maré, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, was a socialist, a queer activist, and a staunch critic of the Brazilian government’s crackdown on impoverished areas. Like Marcelo Arruda, Franco ran for local office on a pro-worker ticket — in her case, the Socialism and Liberty Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade) — and won in 2016. She spent the next two years advocating for the poor, for women, and for LGBTQ people until she was assassinated by two men in 2018. Both men were part of a local right-wing militia, and both had had their pictures taken with Bolsonaro (one was even his neighbor); members of their families worked for Bolsonaro’s son as well.

Franco’s assassination seems to have been directed by local or even national right-wing leadership. But partisan violence like Arruda’s murder is more commonplace. His killing, for instance, resembles the 2018 slaying of Moa do Katendê in Salvador by Paulo Sérgio Ferreira Santana, a Bolsonaro supporter. Witnesses noted that Ferreira Santana engaged his victim in a heated political argument, left, and then came back with a weapon (a knife).

Bolsonaro’s reaction to Katendê’s murder, much like his reaction to Arruda’s, was to deny any possible responsibility for his supporters’ brutal actions. Yet Bolsonaro hasn’t just turned a blind eye to his supporters’ violence — he has actively promoted it, going so far as to call on them to “shoot the PT scum” while pantomiming holding a rifle.

Bolsonaro’s bloodthirsty rhetoric brings to mind former US president Donald Trump, who famously called for violence against protesters at his rallies. But despite the fractious political atmosphere in the United States, Brazil remains far more deadly for the Left. Only a day before Arruda’s murder, one of Lula’s events was bombed with a homemade device. No one was killed or injured, but the scare prompted Lula to wear a bulletproof vest in public for the first time in his long political career.

The killing of Marcelo Arruda is a tragic reminder that it is dangerous to be a leftist in Brazil, whether one is a local party official, a rising politician, or the leading candidate for the highest office in the country. Readers outside Brazil should take note — not just for what this kind of brutality means for solidarity work, but for what it reveals about the far right’s willingness to unleash violence to stay in power.