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Bolsonaro remains silent on election loss as power transitions in Brazil


Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, promised over and over that he would never go quietly, which is why his silence for two days after he lost the presidential election was so strange. Finally, late yesterday afternoon, the far-right populist leader briefly appeared before cameras. He took another shot at his opponents and Brazil's electoral system, but he acknowledged that there would be a transition of power, and he urged his supporters to act peacefully. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Rio de Janeiro, joins us now. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Brazilians are waking up to this news that Bolsonaro is indeed going to leave office.

KAHN: Yes, we finally heard from him since he lost the election to his rival, leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It was so uncharacteristic of him to go for so long without speaking. And it just fed - his silence fed worries that after years of criticizing Brazil's electoral system, he was not going to concede.

MARTIN: So did he? Did he actually concede and congratulate Lula?

KAHN: Explicitly, no, he did not. He never even mentioned the election, nor da Silva's name. He talked for two minutes, attacked his opponents, told supporters he understands their, quote, "indignation" and sense of injustice because of the vote.


PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: He said he's always been labeled undemocratic, but unlike his accusers, he respects the Constitution. Then, right after he was done, his chief of staff took the mic and said he'll lead the transition of power. So that was the most definitive word that Bolsonaro had accepted the results.

MARTIN: So what about his supporters? Are they accepting the results?

KAHN: There have been hundreds of truckers and Brazilian-flag-waving Bolsonaro supporters protesting and blocking major highways in many states throughout the country since Sunday. I went to one outside of Rio de Janeiro.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Portuguese).

KAHN: A couple dozen protesters there shouting federal intervention. They want the military to come in and keep Bolsonaro in power. Forty-eight-year-old Carlos Alberto Neves told me he was a truck driver and says the election was stolen just like it was in the U.S.

CARLOS ALBERTO NEVES: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: But he said, unlike in the U.S., Brazilians will do something about it. He wouldn't go into detail about what that was. And in his quick speech late yesterday, Bolsonaro did ask the protesters to act lawfully.

MARTIN: Well, are security officials under the Bolsonaro government doing anything about all these roadblocks?

KAHN: Yeah, they are. The Supreme Court has intervened and ordered the federal highway police to break them up or face big fines. I talked to this truck driver stuck at a highway gas station outside Rio. His name is Mario Guimaraes, and he's 57. And he says he's been stuck in Rio for hours because of the blockades.

MARIO GUIMARAES: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: He said he voted for Bolsonaro but that he lost democratically, and it's time to respect the vote. He was lamenting how much money he was losing.

MARTIN: OK. So now that Bolsonaro has said there will indeed be a transition of power, what is Lula da Silva saying?

KAHN: He's moving forward, preparing for the transition. He named the head of his transition team, his vice presidential running mate, who is a centrist and signals that da Silva is not going to be making any radical moves. He does take office on New Year's Day.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting from Rio de Janeiro. Thank you so much.

KAHN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.