Jan 09, 2023 at 5:14 PMUpdate: 15 minutes ago
Exactly two years and two days after the storming of the Capitol in the United States, another attack on democracy took place, this time in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro denies involvement, but everything indicates that the former president was the driving force behind Sunday’s events.
At first glance, the storms in Brasilia and Washington have many similarities. “I think the biggest similarity is that both storms tried to attack the democratic system,” says Fabio de Castro. He is an expert on Brazil and a professor at the Center for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA) of the University of Amsterdam.
But if you zoom in further, according to De Castro, there are mainly differences between the American and Brazilian storms. He points to the strange timing of yesterday’s storming. “Everyone was afraid that something would happen on the day of the inauguration (January 1, ed.). But nothing happened. The reaction only came a week later,” he says. “They may have waited until after the inauguration because then security would be less good.”
“What is also typical about the Brazilian storming is the connection with the army,” says De Castro. By this he refers to the demonstrators who have been camping for weeks in front of the army headquarters. “They tried to pressure the army to bring Bolsonaro back to power through a military intervention.”
‘Storm as a result of four years of Bolsonaro’
That begs the question: was the former president himself out for a violent storm? According to journalist Marjon van Royen, who lives and works in Brazil, there is no doubt about that. “This is the result of four years of phantom politics by Bolsonaro, in which democracy has been continuously accused, burned, spit on and ridiculed.”
During the storm, rioters invaded the presidential palace of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as well as the parliament and the Supreme Court. “During Bolsonaro’s presidency, the Supreme Court and parliament were constantly called ‘idiots’,” explains Van Royen. “He constantly threatened coups. He repeated every time: ‘I am the constitution’.” According to Van Royen, it is therefore not surprising that it eventually led to a storm.
In addition, Bolsonaro attracted the army during his presidency. De Castro: “The army should have nothing to do with politics. Yet a group within the army got involved in politics.” For example, Bolsonaro appointed generals in the government. “In the end, his government became the most military government in the history of the country,” says De Castro. Even more than the military dictatorship of the 1960s.
“He was convinced that the army would stand behind him,” says Van Royen. “But that turned out to be a miscalculation.”
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Bolsonaro fueled protest in the background
The Bolsonaristas, as supporters of the former president are called, counted on the army to stage a coup. According to De Castro, the army is quite divided. But Bolsonaro enjoyed enough support to misuse the military for his own ends. “So much so that the army command did not dare to do anything against the tent camps with Bolsonaro supporters in front of the headquarters. They were very lenient.”
According to Van Royen, the police in Brasilia were also very passive. “They were on the side of the protesters. Or terrorists, as they are called here,” she says. Van Royen is talking about the agents of the state of Brasilia. That state was led by a governor who supported Bolsonaro. As a result, the federal police had to intervene together with units from other states to put down the storm. Meanwhile, the governor of Brasilia has been suspended.
Van Royen sees Bolsonaro’s influence reflected in Sunday’s events. “This has been planned and financed by entrepreneurs who are on the side of Bolsonaro.” By this she refers, among other things, to the tent camps in front of the army headquarters. “Food was distributed there and chemical toilets arranged.” All financed from Bolsonaro’s corner, says Van Royen.
In the background, the former president continued to fuel distrust. De Castro points to social media groups where a lot of fake news about fraudulent elections circulated. Bolsonaro himself was also active in this. “He made them feel disadvantaged and urged them to get up and do something,” he says. There is no evidence of electoral fraud or wrongful results.
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Bolsonaro denied any involvement in the storming. He said the violence went too far, but no verdict was reached. For example, he made skewed comparisons with mobilizations of left-wing politicians in 2013 and 2017. “They were completely different,” De Castro explains. “It wasn’t about military intervention or undermining democracy. It was more of a social movement.”
According to De Castro and Van Royen, we should therefore take Bolsonaro’s statements with a large grain of salt. In their eyes, the former president did play a role in Sunday’s events. But whether he will actually be called to account remains to be seen.
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