Pen­te­costal mayor pre­pares to take over in Car­ni­val cap­i­tal

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAUL AMES AND ALVARO PADILLA

RIO DE JANEIRO | In this city renowned for bac­cha­na­lian ex­cess and tiny biki­nis, the elec­tion of a con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cal bishop as mayor stands out as yet an­other sur­prise in a year of global elec­toral earth­quakes.

Marcelo Criv­ella’s vic­tory four weeks ago marked a right­ward tilt in Brazil­ian pol­i­tics and showed the grow­ing power of evan­gel­i­cals in the world’s largest Catholic na­tion, a coun­try shaken by a long-run­ning cor­rup­tion scan­dal that led to the im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff in Au­gust. When he for­mally takes of­fice Jan. 1, he will be the first Pen­te­costal politi­cian to govern one of the coun­try’s largest cities.

“Within the ide­o­log­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion Brazil is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, Criv­ella’s elec­tion is not an iso­lated event, it’s part of a gen­er­al­ized pat­tern,” said Clemir Fer­nan­des, a re­searcher at Rio’s In­sti­tute of Reli­gious Stud­ies. “Criv­ella did some­thing unimag­in­able. He man­aged to unite the most an­tag­o­nis­tic reli­gious groups in Brazil­ian cul­ture — the evan­gel­i­cals and the Catholics.”

Mr. Criv­ella’s vic­tory in Brazil’s

sec­ond-largest city Oct. 31 marked a break­through for the evan­gel­i­cals, but their in­flu­ence in the coun­try was al­ready surg­ing. In Congress the Evan­ge­list Par­lia­men­tary Front ac­counts for al­most 90 of the 513 mem­bers of the lower house, nearly a third more than in the leg­is­la­ture’s pre­vi­ous ses­sion.

Work­ing with Congress’ con­ser­va­tive agri­cul­ture and law-and-or­der lob­bies, they form the so-called “BBB” — for Bible, bull and bul­let — bloc, the group that took a lead in Ms. Rouss­eff’s ouster.

The po­ten­tial reach of that al­liance has Brazil’s lib­er­als and civil rights groups wor­ried.

“As a fem­i­nist ac­tivist, po­lit­i­cally on the left, I’m watch­ing the cur­rent situation with con­cern,” said Manuela Ar­ruda Galindo, direc­tor of the women’s rights group Leave Her Alone. “They are seek­ing not only to oc­cupy ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive posts, but to push a ret­ro­grade agenda on women’s rights, the LGBT com­mu­nity, those who fol­low re­li­gions with African ori­gins, etc.”

Mr. Criv­ella, 59, a gospel singer who spent 10 years as a mis­sion­ary in Africa, has backed away from writ­ings pub­lished in a 1999 book that de­scribed ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a “ter­ri­ble evil,” de­nounced Catholi­cism as “de­monic” and claimed “evil spir­its” formed the base of African-rooted re­li­gions fol­lowed by many Brazil­ians.

Al­though in his for­ties when they were pub­lished, Mr. Criv­ella has put the views down to an er­ror of youth and apol­o­gized to Catholics and others. He’s pledged to con­tinue fund­ing gay pride pa­rades and not to re­strict the city’s leg­endary Car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions.

Disil­lu­sioned with the left

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Criv­ella reached out to Catholics, par­tic­u­larly those in poor neigh­bor­hoods. His strat­egy won over vot­ers disil­lu­sioned with the left-wing Work­ers’ Party, which held the Brazil­ian pres­i­dency un­der Ms. Rouss­eff and her pre­de­ces­sor, Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, since 2003.

Mr. Lula, once a hero of Brazil’s work­ing class and one of the con­ti­nent’s most vis­i­ble and pow­er­ful left­ist po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, is one of dozens of se­nior politi­cians fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges in con­nec­tion with a sprawl­ing kick­back scan­dal linked to the state-owned oil com­pany Petro­bras. Al­though politi­cians across the spec­trum have been im­pli­cated, the scan­dal has hit the Work­ers’ Party hard­est.

Booted out of govern­ment in the sum­mer, the party was bat­tered in Oc­to­ber’s lo­cal elec­tions, win­ning just one state cap­i­tal.

In Rio the Work­ers’ Party didn’t even make it to the sec­ond round. Mr. Criv­ella won with 59.4 per­cent against Marcelo Freixo, a well-known hu­man rights cam­paigner. As with other elec­tions in the U.S. and around the world, Mr. Criv­ella ben­e­fited from deep voter dis­sat­is­fac­tion and dis­trust with main­stream elites.

“Peo­ple are look­ing for a change based on prin­ci­ples, on new val­ues for fam­ily life, for a life with God. This is a good frame­work for co­ex­is­tence in so­ci­ety. It’s a good po­lit­i­cal project,” said Ri­cardo Sousa, a pas­tor in Mr. Criv­ella’s Universal Church of the King­dom of God, which now ranks as Brazil’s sec­ond-largest Protes­tant sect. “It’s go­ing to mean a change for the bet­ter in the city. The new mayor will care for peo­ple.”

Rio’s new mayor is no po­lit­i­cal novice, how­ever.

A founder of the Brazil Repub­li­can Party, he has been a sen­a­tor since 2002 and has run un­suc­cess­fully sev­eral times for mayor and for the gov­er­nor­ship of Rio de Janeiro state — at times with the back­ing of Mr. Lula da Silva and the Work­ers’ Party. Mr. Criv­ella also served as a min­is­ter in Ms. Rouss­eff’s govern­ment from 2012 to 2014.

Evan­gel­i­cal politi­cians are not im­mune to Brazil’s scan­dals ei­ther. For­mer House speaker Ed­uardo Cunha, a lead­ing con­ser­va­tive evan­ge­list, was ar­rested in Oc­to­ber on charges of ac­cept­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes in the Petrobas af­fair.

But Mr. Cunha’s ar­rest seems to have done lit­tle to slow the evan­ge­lists’ rise. Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer, who re­placed Ms. Rouss­eff, has brought two evan­gel­i­cal pas­tors into his govern­ment.

Al­though 65 per­cent of Brazil­ians iden­ti­fied them­selves as Catholics at the last cen­sus in 2010, their numbers have been in free fall, down from 92 per­cent in 1970. Mean­while, Protes­tants — mostly evan­gel­i­cals — have risen from 5 per­cent to 22 per­cent of the coun­try’s 200 mil­lion peo­ple.

Mr. Criv­ella’s Universal Church was founded in 1977 by his un­cle, Edir Macedo. To­day it has an es­ti­mated 8 mil­lion fol­low­ers. Mr. Macedo is one of the world’s rich­est reli­gious lead­ers, ac­cord­ing to Forbes, con­trol­ling a me­dia em­pire that in­cludes Brazil’s sec­ond­largest tele­vi­sion net­work, RecordTV.

Lib­eral Brazil­ians fear that the com­bi­na­tion of Mr. Macedo’s reli­gious and me­dia em­pire and Mr. Criv­ella’s break­through vic­tory in Oc­to­ber could bring more evan­gel­i­cals to power.

“The im­pli­ca­tion is that from Rio de Janeiro, they can plan a more au­da­cious project that takes them to Brasilia, takes them to other cap­i­tals,” said Celso Sanchez, an ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor at Rio de Janeiro Fed­eral Univer­sity. “Their mono­lithic think­ing threat­ens an es­sen­tial part of Latin Amer­ica, the recog­ni­tion of our so­cial and cul­tural di­ver­sity.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

HAL­LELU­JAH: Marcelo Criv­ella, set to be mayor of Rio de Janeiro, em­bod­ies the grow­ing power of evan­gel­i­cals in the world’s largest Catholic na­tion.

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