As Brazil struggles to understand an attempted coup d'état, it's clear that challenges to Latin America's largest democracy remain.

The political history of Brazil will forever include Sunday, January 8, 2023. Congress, the Planalto Palace (the seat of the Executive Office), and the Federal Supreme Court were targeted by Bolsonaro-affiliated militants in Brasilia. Firearms were taken from safe rooms, works of art were damaged or stolen, and one of the three official copies of the 1988 Constitution was lost.

This violent attack was intended to spark a coup d'état: the military intervention sought by Bolsonarists following Lula da Silva's election victory. Investigations are still ongoing, but it is already clear that the objective was to create institutional chaos and that the Armed Forces, Bolsonaro's allies since the beginning of his term, would be forced to intervene to guarantee "The Law and the Order" since the new government would not be able to respond quickly enough. A few weeks earlier, three Bolsonaristas attempted to detonate a bomb-laden vehicle at the airport for identical reasons but were thwarted by anonymous tips. Since November, supporters of the now-ex-president have camped in front of army facilities around the nation, demanding an armed intervention that did not acknowledge Lula's win. Bolsonaro aided these movements by fleeing to Florida before the end of his tenure, refusing to acknowledge Lula's triumph, and refusing to participate in the ceremonial transfer of the presidential sash on January 1.

Despite the fact that the administration of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was able to alleviate the crisis of January 8 with a civil intervention in the security of the capital, the news was rife with similarities to the takeover of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Bolsonaro has spent the past several years declaring that he would not accept an election loss, and his son, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, has previously said, with some exasperation, that "with more organization, the assault on the Capitol in the United States might have been accomplished." Comparisons were further fueled by the fact that Bolsonaro spent a significant portion of his term praising Trump and describing the Republican administration as a model to be emulated.

Additionally, the far right of the two nations has a deep link. Steve Bannon, for example, has been making almost daily statements about the situation in Brazil, promoting use of the hashtag #BrazillianSpring to portray the violence in Brasilia. Bannon has personal connections to the Bolsonaro family and is even suspected of paying demonstrators in the United States to harass Brazilian Supreme Court judges attending a conference in New York.

The comparison between the two scenarios, however, obscures opportunities for sophisticated analysis and ignores the particular circumstances that established Bolsonarismo's existence. Bolsonarism is a phenomenon that is part of a global trend toward the extreme right, but it is also the result of a nation's history that has long flirted with extremism. The differences with the United States are illuminating in this context. The first is unquestionably related to the timing of the invasion: in the United States, coup violence was intended to delay ratification of Joe Biden's victory, thereby keeping the prospect of a Trump victory alive. In the case of Brazil, the 8th of January occurs after all the significant dates of the electoral system have passed: confirmation occurred on the 19th of December, and the inauguration ceremony was held on the 1st of January. Bolsonaro's silence on the day of the attack has been interpreted as implicit support, although his trip to Florida also represents a preventive escape before the end of his presidential immunity, which could bring the former president to justice.

The participation of the military and security forces in the coup movement is the most significant distinction between the two scenarios, and one that will keep Brazil unstable for the next several years. In the United States, the non-adherence of military leadership was vital for the containment of anti-democratic actions. In Brazil, however, the military was directing this movement and backing the encampments, even without direct commands. The perpetrators of the assaults included a diverse group united by a belief that the Armed Forces would intervene to"rescue the nation." The Army's imaginings of a rescue were not idle fantasies: the Armed Forces comprised a record number of jobs in the Bolsonaro administration, including key ministerial positions and over 8,000 positions across all sectors. After the former president left, generals allowed far-right marchers to camp in front of the barracks and made no public remarks to discourage such behavior. As the police forces are subordinate to the army, they become a site of action on these fronts as well. On the day of the assault on Brasilia's power centers, for example, news photographs show police officers directing coup protestors without preventing chaos. Police are seen purchasing coconut water and snapping pictures as a swarm of demonstrators moves toward the Federal Supreme Court, intent on damaging rooms and documents.

With Lula's reelection, the conflict with the military, which has always seen itself as a moderating force in Brazilian civic activities, shows no signs of abating. There are also indications that the Armed Forces influenced the appointment of the new Minister of Defense while simultaneously signaling to the press that an inquiry would not be tolerated. When it comes to producing references to global right-wing extremism, Brazil serves as a sort of microcosm for the global extreme right. While far-right attacks and protests in Brazil have been inspired by foreign influences, the country's history has also impacted its current direction. The nation is engaging in a new worldwide wave of extremism; yet, it would be misleading to see it as only an importer and propagator of this global agenda.

Article or Event Link
Jan 26, 2023
Public Policy


Public Policy

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