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Marcelo Crivella, Evangelical Bishop Running for Mayor of Rio de Janeiro [PROFILE]

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Marcelo Crivella, 59, has a varied professional background. He’s been a taxi driver, evangelical bishop, minister of fisheries, gospel recording artist, senator, engineer, missionary in Africa and book author. Now he is in the final running for Mayor of Rio de Janeiro. He won the first ballot of the elections on October 2 with 27.78% and will now face a runoff on October 30 against Marcelo Freixo of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), who got 18.26% of the valid votes.

Even though Crivella attempts to tone down his evangelical rhetoric, having lost votes from the center in the past, his political career is inextricably tied to his church career. Evangelical Christians are gaining power in Brazil: one in four Brazilians is an evangelical Christian today. Their churches are wealthy institutions with powerful media networks and have a huge impact on the political agenda. One of the most controversial and influential figures is Bishop Edir Macedo, billionaire founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, owner of Brazil’s second-most popular television network Record, and Crivella’s uncle.

Macedo encouraged his nephew to go into politics when Crivella was already a successful bishop within the Universal Church. In 2002, Crivella was elected as a federal senator from the state of Rio de Janeiro on a Liberal Party (PL) ticket and was reelected in 2010 for the 2011-2019 term. He ran for Rio de Janeiro state governor in 2014, losing to Pezão.

Crivella with trade union leaders last week

In the Brazilian Senate, Crivella was president of the Permanent Subcommittee for the Protection of Brazilian Citizens Abroad and fought for the rights of the huge Brazilian diaspora, for example regarding the treatment of Brazilian immigrants in the USA. He was also responsible for a public housing program named Cimento Social (Social Cement) launched in 2007, which was criticized for preferential treatment of Universal Church members. In June 2008, Crivella sent armed forces to supervise construction works on the program in Morro da Providência which led to three people being captured, tortured and killed.

Crivella was a leading figure in the fight against a law for the legalization of abortion in 2011.

In 2012, President Dilma Rousseff appointed Crivella Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in her cabinet. The appointment was a political move–Crivella publicly admitted that he knew little about the area–to recognize the church’s influence and gain the support of Crivella’s new party, the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB). Nevertheless, Crivella voted for Dilma’s impeachment this year.

Crivella on the campaign trail

The PRB, which Crivella founded in 2005 together with fellow evangelical Christian leaders, has gained popularity in recent years. During the municipal elections this year, the PRB saw the greatest increase in vote share of any of the ten major parties, achieving 3.8 million mayoral votes in the first term elections across Brazil–a 51% increase on the 2012 vote share for the party.

The party is regarded as a base for evangelical pastors and bishops to run for political office. The new electoral law, which prohibits companies from donating money and reduces the time for electoral campaigns, can be said to play into the hands of church-based politics: preachers tell the faithful to donate to specific faithful politicians. “A lack of financial contribution from companies favors church candidates. They have a huge mobilizing force,” says Brazilian philosopher Renato Janine.

That said, the PRB remains a small party and, as is the case with Freixo’s PSOL, both hold a minority within the City Council with which either, once elected, will have to work. This may make policy-making difficult at times, though a recent survey found most city council members–a notoriously corrupt bandhave declared support for Crivella. In fact, a report today says Rio’s political parties are already maneuvering around Crivella, presuming his victory and requesting favors and appointments in his administration.

Crivella’s core support base is among communities where the evangelical church is strongest, and geographically his base in strongest in the city’s vast, poorer West Zone. Appealing to those with strong religious convictions and conservative values, Crivella’s ideology–as demonstrated in the biography on his website–espouses the evangelical narrative by which faith and commitment to the church are rewarded with material prosperity.

Crivella during his 2016 mayoral campaign

Policy proposals

Crivella’s political beliefs are conservative: he is against the legalization of abortion, gay marriage and cannabis and favors the privatization of education. He has also preached that “women should obey men more, since they are a piece of them!” referencing Adam and Eve, and that “gays may be the result of an unsuccessful abortion (by their mothers).” In his election campaign however, he presents himself as a moderate and tolerant Christian, and uses the paternalist slogan “the time has come to take care of the people.” He met with members of the LGBT movement in public, reassuring them several times that the state should remain secular and laws for minorities will not be touched.

In his policy proposalstotaling 8 pages, he focuses on the themes of urban mobility, security, education, and health, with health and mobility being his focus.

With regards to healthcare, shown to be cariocas#1 policy concern, Crivella proposes investing R$150 million more per year and creating 20 new Specialists’ Units across the city by 2020, and restructuring 14 UPAs and 8 emergency hospitals in the city. He pledges to end waits for those seeking medical care for life-threatening emergencies and to increase the number of hospital beds by 20%. He also plans to establish a meritocracy-based pay scheme.

Within his education proposals, Crivella promises to create 20,000 new municipal day care slots and 40,000 for preschools through a public-private partnership whereby the private sector builds the schools and the City provides educators and meals. By 2020 he says 50% of primary school-aged children will have full-day schooling.

Regarding security, Crivella plans to reestablish the objectives of the Municipal Guard, which currently focuses on caring for municipal buildings and issuing fines across the city. His intent is that the Municipal Guard becomes a security force, providing community policing of areas with high incidents of assault and theft. Crivella also wishes to increase the number of public surveillance cameras by 20% and create a public-private partnership to modernize Rio’s street lighting.

Finally, an engineer by training, Crivella likes to emphasize his commitment to improving mobility and transport across the city, with a range of proposals, including: completing the North Zone-based TransBrasil BRT (bus rapid transit) line which he says will reach the Ilha do Governador island in Rio’s North Zone by 2020; a 20% increase in the number of buses serving the BRT systems citywide; reversing the controversial and exclusionary changes to Rio’s bus lines; increasing Rio’s Single Ticket (Bilhete Único) system to allow for a three hour commute; and recover the van system serving the West Zone of the city.

With all this said, Crivella is explicit about his belief that a smaller government would be better for the economy.

Proposals for favelas

Asked what he would do in his first 100 days in power to improve the situation in the favelas, Crivella first mentions the improvement of health services and later sanitation:

“Favela residents are the ones that suffer most from the lack of health. Research indicates that this is their main complaint. My first day of government will be marked by a task force of health. I’ll call on my health secretary, doctors, and health workers so that we begin to end the queues for an exam, a consultation, a surgery. Works were done and now let’s take care of the people. Another serious problem in communities is the lack of sanitation. We will work to stop the open sewage in all communities.”

He says he also wants to strengthen the Municipal Guard, training them in “leading without using violence” and “bringing them closer to the people.”

In general, Crivella is conducting an appeasing, tempered campaign, trying to avoid controversy and not risk his leading position. He not only avoids conflicts, but also public events and open debates with Freixo, giving rise to the Twitter hashtag #NãoFogeDoDebateCrivella (#Don’tHideFromDebateCrivella), though he ultimately changed his tune and has since agreed to open debate.

Controversial details of his past have emerged in the media in recent weeks, challenging his image as a purified conciliator. For example, a book he wrote during his mission in Africa surfaced, in which he accused Catholics of exercising “demonic practices” and condemned homosexuality. He has since been cited for corruption in the federal “Operation Carwash” investigations. A militia member’s daughter went public with her support of his campaign. And it turns out of the 84 construction projects he worked on as an engineer, 75 were churches. Moreover, the current Rio de Janeiro edition of rightwing Veja magazine (apparently Veja and other powerful outlets are against Crivella’s rise due to his family’s ownership of media competitor Record, Brazil’s second largest TV network) features a mugshot of Crivella from a 1990 arrest for attempting to threaten and forcibly evict a family from Universal Church land. According to Veja, the investigation and mugshots have been hidden from the public for the last 26 years. This revelation has led to further potential scandals for the candidate.

The third and final mayoral debate will take place on TV Globo this Friday night, October 28, starting 10:30pm. The civil society network Meu Rio will be doing live fact checking. The election will take place this Sunday, October 30.

Read our profile of Marcelo Freixo here.

For videos of this year’s prior debates between Crivella and Freixo, click here or watch below: