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The devastation left in the wake of the riots at Brazil's government buildings


Authorities in Brazil have detained more than 1,000 people after yesterday's violent assault on the country's government buildings - the riots led by supporters of the country's former far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. They'd been calling on the military to restore Bolsonaro to power, even though he lost his reelection bid last October to current president, leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

We're joined now by NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn for the latest. Hi, Carrie.


SUMMERS: So, Carrie, Brazil's recent election was bitterly contested, and it left the country divided. The violence that occurred yesterday was a scenario that many had been fearing. What are you hearing from authorities?

KAHN: That was the message that we heard today from the newly installed justice minister. His name is Flavio Dino. He said that for the last four years under the former President Bolsonaro, there had been what he called the atmosphere of hate speech.


FLAVIO DINO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: He's saying that, what we've warned all these years were that - what we warned about was that words have power, and these words turned into hate and turned into the destruction that was seen yesterday. He said that, of course, the investigation into the crimes of the supporters, the vandalisms, those who committed the vandalism, the financing of these encampments that had been set up in front of the army barracks in Brasilia will all be investigated, and people who were involved will be prosecuted. But he also said that he's after the political actors who facilitated a political atmosphere that was so toxic that it came down to what he called a coup d'etat, an attempt to overthrow the government. And they should be held accountable to the Brazilian people.

Look, the last four years under Bolsonaro were very divisive for this country. Bolsonaro was a far-right nationalist, as he said. He was not shy to disparage racial groups, women. He was hostile to gay rights and environmentalists and Indigenous people, too. And Lula narrowly won the election last October. And that was a major shift for this country that is still very divided.

SUMMERS: As we've just heard, the cleanup is just beginning. But how widespread is the destruction of the government buildings there?

KAHN: It's amazing, Juana. I was - I just got back from walking through the expansive government complex here that's called the Plaza of the Three Powers. And housed there is the congress. There's a huge Supreme Court building and the presidential office - offices. And the destruction is just everywhere. I couldn't go inside, but from the outside, there's just - you just see the broken windows. There's furniture and artwork strewn and littered all around the buildings.

The Supreme Court looks like it was the most damaged, with graffiti over any - this huge glass panes in the front that were not totally broken, but broken windows are everywhere else. The rioters ripped up the stone walkways near all three buildings. They used the rocks to actually smash the windows and to vandalize the buildings. So all of this will need to be repaired. It's quite a different scene than - this is the same place, just a week ago Sunday, the entire esplanade was packed with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating Lula's inaugurations and celebrations. So it's just a stark difference from the - just one week ago.

SUMMERS: Wow. Carrie, I understand you've been at one of the sites of the Bolsonaro encampments there. What did you see there?

KAHN: Yes, I was there earlier today. And this is this encampment, and it's just in ruins. It was raining quite a lot today. And so everything was just a muddy mess. And it was an encampment that had swelled to thousands of Bolsonaro supporters right in front of the military barracks here in Brasilia. And there's just tents of all sizes, huge ones that were - there was a kitchen, there was medical areas, a speaker stage. Now it's just mounds of garbage, foods, deflated plastic.

And I met this one man out front. He didn't want to give me his name because he was afraid of being arrested. And he said he didn't march yesterday, but he said he spent several days and nights with the demonstrators here, and he said they are fighting against a stolen election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But once they committed crime destroying buildings and things that people were not supposed to do, they lost their reason.

KAHN: He didn't agree with the vandalism. And he said that he believes he - that he believes Bolsonaro's false and unproven claims that the election was rigged and stolen. And he said that protesters may have been arrested today or yesterday, but they will not stop fighting against President Lula.

SUMMERS: Carrie, in the couple of seconds we've got left, former President Bolsonaro remains in Florida. Have we heard any more from him today?

KAHN: He tweeted a little bit. He said he's not responsible for the violence, but he's also in the hospital. He has complications from a stomach - he was stabbed in the stomach several years ago, and he's in the hospital in Florida right now.


KAHN: It's unclear whether he will return to Brazil soon.

SUMMERS: NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting from Brazil's capital. Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. 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.