Today marks the bicentenary of Brazil’s independence. Alongside the annual military parades, the preserved heart of Dom Pedro I, who shook off Portugal’s colonial claim over the country, will be on display. Yes, his actual heart. When the emperor died in Porto in 1834, it was embalmed in a jar of formaldehyde and donated to the city’s church of Our Lady of Lapa, where it is usually kept. You can see the loaned organ today in Brasília’s Itamaraty building, which also houses the foreign ministry.
Negotiations with Portugal to bring the heart to Brazil proved complex and its “state visit” is seen as a coup for Brazil’s government. That matters because this Independence Day might be one of the most political in the country’s recent history. It provides a chance for Jair Bolsonaro to bring crowds of his supporters onto the streets – and he loves nothing more than a military parade full of tanks and military paraphernalia.
Bolsonaro is lagging behind former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the polls but the 2 October election will most likely go to a run-off. There are also concerns that Bolsonaro might challenge the results if he loses; he has already cast doubt on Brazil’s electronic voting system, which is one of the world’s most efficient and respected.
That’s why today is a day of both celebration and anxiety. With Bolsonaro’s followers out in force, Lula’s campaign and his supporters appear eager to avoid clashes but will mobilise for their own rallies later in the week. As I arrive home in Brazil, I fear that what was supposed to be a celebration of 200 years since the country gained independence has become extremely political, complete with an enlarged heart that is being treated like a visiting dignitary and an election-year trophy.
Fernando Augusto Pacheco is Monocle 24’s senior correspondent and producer. Hear his reports from Brazil across our radio station and podcasts over the next month.