Military Faction in Brazil Revives Coup Mentality

Rubble is still being cleared from the destruction caused after hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters invaded the Supreme Court in Brasilia by force, with the hopes of triggering a coup d’etat in response to their upheaval, on January 8th.  Photo: Valter Campanato / Agencia Brasil

By Mario Osava (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – The nature of the relationship between the Armed Forces and former president Jair Bolsonaro is slowly unravelling, including their attempts to suppress democracy in Brazil with a coup d’etat, using his most extreme supporters or other methods.

There is evidence of military conspiracies against the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the leftist leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), who was sworn in on January 1st, after governing the country between 2003 and 2010.

However, no authority has dared to publicly accuse Army generals of being complicit in coup attempts, the last of which took place on January 8th when hundreds of Bolsonaro extremists stormed the three democratic Powers in Brasilia.

The Army’s leadership stopped the Federal District police from removing the Bolsonaro supporters camp that had been set up on a restricted area in front of the Army’s Headquarters since November 1st, asking for a military intervention to stop Lula from taking power and being removed from office.

That’s where most of the vandals came from, who invaded and partially destroyed the heart of the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, on January 8th. The military didn’t allow the police to remove that mob even after this attempt at a coup.

The Federal District governor, Ibaneis Rocha, who was stripped of his functions by the Supreme Court given signs of his neglect or collusion with the violence on January 8th, said that he ordered for the camp to be removed on December 29th, but the Army blocked him.

The former Commander of the local Military Police, Fabio Viera, who was arrested and also stripped of his position, verified his former superior’s statement and stated that his three attempts to remove Bolsonaro supporters from the camp were thwarted by the Military’s veto, who didn’t allow them to arrest the ones responsible for storming and damaging public buildings.

Videos that went public revealed that an Army colonel blocked the arrest of violent mob members inside Planalto Palace, when the Military Police managed to gain control of the destruction in the Presidential building and tried to arrest the invaders red-handed.

Many retired officers and relatives of high-ranking military leaders were identified among those who invaded the three powers of State.

In the evening of January 8th, the Army deployed reinforcements of soldiers and combat vehicles to protect the Bolosonaro supporters camp, when the Federal District police tried to arrest people who had taken part in the invasion there.

Flavio Dino, the Minister of Justice and Public Security, the Government’s strongman at the moment, with Brazil’s political stability resting on his shoulders and actions, after Bolsonaro extremists stormed the nerve center of the country’s three powers in Brasilia, in a clear attempt to stage a coup d’etat, on January 8th. Photo: Tom Costa / MJSP

Coup incubator

The police were only able to dismantle what the minister of Justice, Flavio Dino, called “an incubator of terrorists”, i.e. the camp, the following morning, after it conspired against democracy for 70 days, calling upon the military to “intervene to stop Lula from becoming president, before and after he was sworn in.

A total of 1,398 people were arrested in Brasilia, while the elderly who took part in the riot were released. However, hundreds of others were interrogated and filed as suspects of criminal acts. Videos, recorded and disseminated by the mob themselves, allowed the police to identify them.

It’s expected that complaints, countercharges and attempts to blame others will intensify as the Supreme Justice – especially Judge Alexandre de Moraes, from the Supreme Federal Court -, tries to identify the people funding, mobilizing and the brains behind the January 8th coup attempt.

Brazilian authorities backed against the wall

Federal District authorities were left in a more vulnerable situation, as its police force is responsible for safeguarding Brasilia, especially in the areas surrounding the three democratic powers.

Former secretary of Public Safety, Anderson Torres, who had been Bolsonaro’s minister of Justice up until December 31st, has been under arrest ever since he returned from the US on January 14th, just like the former Military Police captain. The governor was only suspended from his functions for 90 days, but he will have to answer to many investigations.

However, the Armed Forces are the crux of this political crisis. They were always a key power component in Bolsonaro’s government, and were decisive in his 2018 electoral win. There is a symbiosis between the institution and the far-right leader, who is a retired Army captain himself.

Bolsonaro’s great advantage in the 2018 elections, winning 57.8 million votes in his favor, and 58.2 million in the second round of elections in October 2022, with a discourse that was clearly similar to that of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, was redemption for the Armed Forces.

He rescued their dignity that had been trodden on for over three decades of redemocratization, a victory for the resentment that had been stewing.

However, the Military has an atavistic way of exercising its power, never taking a clear position. It is the “Camouflaged Power”, the title of journalist Fabio Victor’s book, which was published in November, and talks about the Military’s political actions since the end of the dictatorship in 1985.

They almost never exercise power openly or take a clear position. Their actions are always ambiguous, hidden. They try to evade restrictions on their political role, avoiding disciplinary sanctions, expressing themselves through retired colleagues, or speeches in code.

Bolsonaro’s turbulent Government forced them to take a lot of risks. That’s how thousands of military leaders took positions within the government and a General became the Health Minister at the worst time in the COVID-19 pandemic, a reckless mission for someone with no knowledge of epidemiology.

Worse still for the Armed Forces who suffered the effects of the health crisis, made worse by Chloroquine buyers and distributors, which was a drug that fraudsters recommended for fighting COVID-19.

The Army took on a completely inappropriate role for the military in the October elections, when it questioned the credibility of Brazil’s electoral system, which has been electronic since 1996, internationally recognized and has never been suspected of even fraud in the past.

One of the institutions that assessed the system, the group of Army officers began to twist things by not publishing an evaluation after the first round of elections on October 2nd, unlike the other guest organizations. It only published its findings after the second round, thereby causing tension.

At the end, it issued an inconclusive comment, that fraud hadn’t been identified but the system is vulnerable. Thus it left a window open for Bolsonaro backers to continue attacking Lula’s electoral win as fraud, and as justification for coup attempts and camps of conspirers outside Army headquarters.

New Navy Commander, Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen, at a simple inauguration ceremony for military insignia, alongside Minister of Defense, Jose Mucio Monteiro. The former Commander didn’t want to take part in the ceremony. Passing on leadership in the three branches of the Armed Forces became a rebellious act, because the dismissed leaders didn’t want to salute President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Photo: Marina de Brasil / Fotos Publicas

Far-right mold

The Armed Forces are the mold for the far-right, especially because of the power they held in the last dictatorship, when Brazil experienced a rapid process of economic growth, urbanization and growth of the middle classes.

It consolidated a deep anti-Communism sentiment in the population, a belief that extends to any social policy, fight against injustice or inequality today. Still today, generals celebrate the 1964 coup d’etat as a feat of democracy, overthrowing Communism.

Their absolute rejection of Lula, which they justify with the corruption scandal that put the president behind bars for 580 days between 2018 and 2019, is a guise for the intolerance they have for any left-wing leader. There may be exceptions, like there are in their affinity for Bolsonaro, but it’s a general sentiment that has been cultivated over almost two centuries of military history.

The Armed Forces were born as political players in Brazil, and led the coups and attempts at coups that followed. The Republic itself was born after a military coup was staged in 1889. Ever since then, many political groups spread within the barracks, until the far-right united together after the 1964 coup.

Bolsonaro represented an opportunity to give the forces that led that dictatorship their power back. Their attempt to do this in a democratic context, with institutions, led to the current tragedy and the disaster we’ve seen over the past four years.

The problem here is how do you deactivate a bomb that has been built for over a century, that wasn’t a reserve power, but a last resort power, which has been historically anti-democratic unlike the Armed Forces in the USA, for whom democracy is a keystone for the nation and its international projection.

That’s the way it is, even if the US military it has committed countless atrocities around the world in the name of freedom. But what strength would the US have without democracy at home?

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