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Local Brazilians devastated, not surprised by weekend political uprising

The political insurgency over the weekend in Brazil bears a striking similarity to the January 6th uprising at the U.S. Capitol. Brazilians living in San Diego tell KPBS reporter Alexander Nguyen they were shocked but not surprised by what happened.

Thousands of Brazilians attacked their seats of power Sunday. Many demanded that far-right ex-President Jair Bolsonaro be restored to power and newly inaugurated leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva removed.

It was a scene reminiscent of the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol two years ago.

Here in San Diego, local Brazilians said they’re devastated by what happened, but not surprised.

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"It’s a sad moment for Brazilians overall," said Roberto Rocha, a visiting economics professor from Brazil at San Diego State University. He said the rise of the far-right movement in South America is worrisome.

“It's a populism, and it's a threat to Latin America overall and we need to keep an eye on it," he said. "And doing this — happening this in Brazil — it could pave the way to some other countries. Yeah, that's for sure.”

Kristal Bivona, the associate director of the Center for Brazilian Studies at SDSU, said the images on Sunday were shocking but not unexpected. She said right-wing groups have been publicizing their plans on social media.

“We know that people who are involved in the international far-right movement, like Steve Bannon, have been involved in coordinating with Brazil," Bivona said Monday. "And so, I guess it was surprising that it happened yesterday because many people expected an event like this would happen either before the inauguration, as an attempt to intervene in Lula coming to power.”

Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the attack on Brasilia after swearing in the U.S.' newest ambassador to Brazil.

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"Well, let's be clear, this was an obvious and clear attack on a democratic process and we condemn it, of course," she said. "I will also say that — as I've said to the ambassador, Ambassador (Elizabeth) Bagley — that I'm very confident in her ability to represent the United States and to extend to President Lula all that we mean in terms of the work that we will do together as allies on some of the most important issues facing our world.”

Abner Sotenos is a visiting Ph.D. student at UC San Diego from Rio de Janeiro who focuses on Latin American History, especially Brazilian history. He said he hopes the Brazilian government will act swiftly to hold the insurrectionists accountable.

“I hope that Supreme Court, the Parliament, the president and media agree that we cannot have this situation again in Brazil," he said. "I expect that the law will be put in practice.”