LATIN AMERICA

Death of Socialist presidential candidate in plane crash shocks Brazil

Eduardo Campos and six other people died after their aircraft went down in São Paulo Province

Firefighters inspect the area where the aircraft came down.
Firefighters inspect the area where the aircraft came down.getty

A tragedy has shaken up Brazil’s election season. Eduardo Campos, the presidential candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), died in an airplane crash on Wednesday near Santos, a city on the east coast of São Paulo Province. Campos was traveling to Santos to hold a campaign event. All seven people aboard – two pilots and five passengers, including a Campos advisor and a photographer – died in the crash.

The circumstances of the accident are still under investigation but the first signs suggest that bad weather was the primary cause of the tragedy. There were strong winds along the coast of São Paulo early that morning and, according to Fernando Estriga, the owner of a newsstand around 50 meters from the site, it was raining heavily when the plane crashed. “We got very scared and people started to run all over the place. We could hear the impact of the crash three streets away. It was a very shocking scene. There were many curious onlookers, many people who wanted to help.”

The Brazilian air force said the plane was going to land at the airport of a nearby town, Guarujá, after the flight was aborted because of the bad weather. Soon after, the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers.

All of Brazil is in mourning. Today we have lost a great Brazilian” President Dilma Rousseff

Campos was science and technology minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration until 2006 and he was twice elected governor of his home state, Pernambuco. Campos would have completed his second term later this year but he resigned in April so that he could run for president. His approval rating was 80 percent when he left office and it turned him into a leader in national politics.

Pernambuco, where former president Lula da Silva was born, has 8.8 million residents – a small sector of this nation of 200 million people. When Campos left Pernambuco, his greatest task was to make himself known on the national stage in order to challenge his adversaries, Social Democrat Aécio Neves and President Dilma Rousseff.

Campos made a shrewd move when he teamed up with environmentalist Marina Silva to form an alliance that focused on sustainable development. Silva received 20 million votes in 2010 when she ran on the Green Party ticket. She came in third and Rousseff won in the run-off. Silva created a new party and, together with PSB, pulled in 9 percent of prospective voters, trailing Neves, who received 22 percent, and Rousseff, who led with 38 percent as of last Saturday.

The 49-year-old father of five was born into a household of leftist politicians. Campos was the grandson of Miguel Arraes who served as governor of Pernambuco for three terms. He died on the same date as Campos, August 13, back in 2005.

The first signs suggest that bad weather was the primary cause of the air tragedy

Campos’ unexpected death shocked political circles in Brazil. “All of Brazil is in mourning. Today we have lost a great Brazilian, Eduardo Campos. We have lost a great comrade,” President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement. She saw Campos for the last time at the funeral of writer Ariano Suassuna, who had endorsed Campos’ campaign, on July 23.

“I received the news of the death of the former governor and my friend, Eduardo Campos, with immense sorrow,” Neves said in an official statement. “Brazil has lost one of its most talented politicians, one who always fought for what he believed in with idealism.”

“We have all been touched by Eduardo Campos’ death, by the plane crash that happened this morning,” Marina Silva said on a social media platform.

It’s too early to say what Campos’ death means for the country and for this election, but the rumor among analysts is that Silva may present her candidacy. Meanwhile, Brazil tries to process the tragedy.

Translation: Dyane Jean François