Newspaper article International New York Times

In 'Bullet Caucus,' a Sign of Brazil's Shift to the Right

Newspaper article International New York Times

In 'Bullet Caucus,' a Sign of Brazil's Shift to the Right

Article excerpt

Politicians with backgrounds in law enforcement or the military have been winning elections in a society fed up with violent crime.

Paulo Telhada rolls his eyes, denouncing Brazil's support for the leftist government of Venezuela. He frowns, grumbling about gun control measures.

But when the subject turns to how many people he killed as a police officer on Sao Paulo's streets, he gives a broad smile.

"More than 30," said Mr. Telhada, 53, a rising star in Brazilian right-wing political circles, having recently won a seat in Sao Paulo's state legislature in a landslide.

"I feel no pity for thugs," he added, emphasizing that he did not enjoy working in a fancy office. "But I know my future lies in politics now."

Across Brazil, politicians like Mr. Telhada, with backgrounds in law enforcement or the armed forces, have been winning elections. In Congress, about 21 legislators now form what is called the bancada da bala, a "bullet caucus" seeking to bolster gun ownership and repeal laws keeping teenagers from being tried and sentenced as adults, among other conservative measures.

Their rising influence points to a major shift in Latin America's largest democracy. While Brazil is governed by President Dilma Rousseff -- a former leftist guerrilla who promotes the sway of state-owned companies, affirmative action and social welfare projects to reduce inequality -- the insurgents of Brazilian politics now largely come from the right.

The movement is national in scope, with figures like Moroni Torgan, a high-ranking leader of the Mormon Church in Brazil and a former police investigator. He received more votes in October's elections than any of the other candidates who won seats in the lower house of Congress for the northeast state of Ceara, campaigning on a platform of cracking down on drug trafficking.

Others in the congressional bullet caucus, like Waldir Soares, a police investigator in the central state of Goias, are vowing to overhaul laws allowing criminals to avoid long prison sentences.

Political analysts attribute the rise of these conservative figures to a society fed up with violent crime. Drug gangs have expanded their reach across the country, and Brazil now ranks as the world's second-largest cocaine-consuming country after the United States. …

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