Brazilian Presidential Election, Military Coup in Burkina Faso, and Escalating Insecurity in Haiti
Brazil: Lula and Bolsonaro to Compete in Late October Runoff
Brazil’s presidential election will go to a second–round runoff after no candidate reached an absolute majority of the vote on Oct. 2, fueling concerns of rising political violence. While nine other candidates were included on the ballot, the race was dominated from the beginning by right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and left-leaning Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who secured 43.2% and 48.4% of the votes, respectively. Popularly known as Lula, Bolsonaro’s opponent governed Brazil between 2003 and 2010 before being convicted on charges of money laundering and corruption under Operation Car Wash in 2017. In March 2021, the Supreme Court nullified his convictions on procedural grounds, restoring Lula’s political rights. Since its kick-off in August, the presidential campaign has been marked by widespread, politically motivated violence targeting elected officials, public employees, and supporters of rival candidates. According to a Brazilian independent journalism agency, 75 cases of political violence have been registered since the beginning of the campaign. Of those 75 incidents, eight cases involved firearms, and two resulted in fatalities. Compared to the campaign period, relatively little political violence was recorded during the first round of voting: two of the reported incidents targeted police officers guarding polling centers in São Paolo and Rio Grande do Sul; one of the officers was killed while two others sustained injuries. Two other reported attacks involved a stabbing and a shooting of civilians in Santa Catarina and Bahia states; one of the victims succumbed to his injuries. Nevertheless, relative stability on election day hardly indicates a low likelihood of political violence in the weeks ahead, particularly if Lula secures a win in the second round. Bolsonaro has publicly questioned the integrity of the voting process in recent months and urged his supporters to take radical action in the event of an election loss, which suggests violence could escalate in the days leading to the runoff scheduled for Oct. 30 or immediately after the final results are announced.
Burkina Faso: Junta Overthrows President in Second Coup Since January
Burkina Faso’s military junta ousted the country’s leader, former Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, on Sept. 30, marking the country’s second successful military coup since January. New military leaders appointed Captain Ibrahim Traore as interim president, closed land borders, and imposed a 2100-0500 curfew; the curfew has since been lifted, and borders reopened on Oct. 4. Damiba offered his resignation following two days of unrest in front of the French embassy in Ouagadougou, where Traore loyalists burned French flags, threw stones, and set part of the building on fire. Supporters of the new military regime also launching separate attacks on a French cultural institution and a French military base in Kamboinsin, claiming Damiba was planning a counterattack from the site — an allegation both Damiba and the French military denied. Following Damiba’s resignation, Traore called for peace and announced a complete overhaul of the military in order to improve its capability to combat the growing extremist threat in Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel region. According to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Islamist armed groups allied with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) control approximately 40% of the country’s territory. The most recent attack targeting a 150-vehicle military-escorted convoy – claimed by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), a regional Al-Qaeda branch – killed at least 11 soldiers and injured 28 people in Soum Province on Sept. 28. France has historically played a major role in counter-terrorism operations in West Africa, but its recent military drawdown has decreased its capabilities and contributed to anti-France, pro-Russia sentiment among the Burkinabe public. Damiba’s close ties to French authorities and his indecisive stance on counter-terrorism collaboration with Russian mercenary groups – whose presence in West Africa has increased in recent years – were key drivers of the Sept. 30 coup. While the most recent military power seizure triggered international condemnation, the majority of the population in Burkina Faso has embraced the change in leadership. However, civil unrest and protracted political instability are likely in the long term if the new regime fails to deliver on counter-terrorism initiatives.
Haiti: Security Situation Continues to Worsen Amid Unrest, Gang Activity
The security environment in Haiti has continued to deteriorate in recent weeks due to escalating civil unrest and gang activity in response to an ongoing fuel crisis and the rising cost of living. While anti-government demonstrations are common in the country, an announcement by Prime Minister Ariel Henry to nearly double fuel prices has prompted large-scale unrest across Haiti since Sept. 12. The price hike also triggered retaliation from the G-9, a federation of nine of the strongest criminal groups in Port-au-Prince. Gang members linked to the organization blocked access to the Varreux Fuel terminal in the capital, which holds 70% of the nation’s fuel resources, leading to nationwide fuel shortages. Activists affiliated with labor unions also organized a strike over the hike in fuel prices between Sept. 26-28; business and road closures, public transportation disruptions, and looting and arson attacks against government buildings were all reported amid the three days of demonstrations. While the strike ended on Sept. 28, anti-government protests have continued, impacting overland travel in most cities. In addition to civil unrest, escalating gang activity – targeting both security forces and civilians – has also hampered operations of local and international businesses and triggered closures of schools, medical facilities, NGO offices, and foreign embassies. Reports of gang-related homicides, kidnappings, and hijackings have increased nationwide and will likely continue to climb as gangs expand their control over key highways across Haiti. The protracted unrest and organized crime threat have exacerbated preexisting issues in the Haitian healthcare sector amid a cholera outbreak, as hospital staff has been unable to reach certain facilities and gang-operated roadblocks – particularly in the southern region – have interrupted supply chains for medical goods. Looting of humanitarian aid has also become more frequent; the UN Security Council estimated that approximately USD 5 million in food aid has been stolen in attacks on UN Food Programme warehouses in Port-au-Prince since the protests erupted. In the absence of stronger political leadership – which is unlikely to emerge until elections are held – nationwide protests calling for Henry’s resignation are expected to persist. A further deterioration of the overall security climate in the country is likely in the short-to-medium term due to civil strife, the ability of gangs to act with impunity, and limited access to basic services.