It all started with an audio message published on the newspaper’s website newspaper End of March. We hear Milton Ribeiro, evangelical pastor and then Minister of Education of Brazil, declare: “My priority is to help the cities that need it most, and then all of Pastor Gilmar’s friends. » A will that came directly from President Jair Bolsonaro himself, he says.
As highlighted in the Ministry of Health at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conservative newspaper Estao had already exposed pastoral lobbying within the Ministry of Education and the existence of a parallel cabinet of ministers.
In the absence of an official political function, pastors — Gilmar Silva Santos, quoted in the record, and Arilton Moura — themselves negotiated with municipalities to obtain public federal funds for schools, sports or technology equipment.
Bibles for Scholarships
“If you want to get the 7 million reais for your school, buy me a thousand Bibles, that’s 15,000 reais (€2,800, editor’s note) (…). That’s how it works in Brazil.”, Pastor Moura would have demanded, for example, from the mayor of Bonfinópolis, a small town in the west-central part of the country, in January 2021. Other recent testimonies show that this practice is as common as assumed. general, “Under Bolsonaro it has become very common for pastors to be political actors even without a mandate,” assures Paulo Ramirez, political scientist at the ESPM of São Paulo, an institute for higher studies.
→ READ. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro maneuvers so as not to offend the evangelical church
And this reality is added to a strong presence of evangelical pastors among the elect. “After the 2018 elections we saw that in Brasilia there were more elected pastors than unionists”, states the political scientist. This brings the Brazilian Congress to 84 Evangelical MPs (up from 73 in 2010), nine of whom were the best-elected in their states. For Paulo Ramirez, they are the promoters of conservative ideas. “This ranges from fighting the teachings at the school of Marxian philosophy to defending the carrying of arms”he summarizes. “It is fitting for evangelicals to combine these spiritual and political functions. »
An embarrassing scandal for Bolsonaro
But six months before the presidential election, the education minister controversy falls badly for Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate for a second term. After it became known that the pastor had asked a mayor for a kilo of gold for subsidies for his city, he had to accept his resignation on March 28th. But for journalist and political science professor Leonardo Sakamoto, “This minister was just a ventriloquist in the hands of the President”who is directly involved with it.
Strongly backed by evangelicals in 2018, polls today show Jair Bolsonaro only wins over 38% of them, versus 34% for the election favorite, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. While the election is scheduled to take place on October 2nd, the evangelical votes are distributed almost equally between the two main candidates. But even if the education minister is overthrown, the ambivalent relationship that Jair Bolsonaro maintains with the evangelical lobby remains intact.