The invasion and destruction of the three branches of the Brazilian State institutional headquarters, which reside in the capital Brasília, is a reproduction of what happened in Washington two years ago. It is a common strategy among far-right sectors from different parts of the world that seeks, by any means, to delegitimize democracy, and its institutions, and destabilize democratically elected governments.
Around midday on Sunday 8 January, when the capital had not yet returned to routine after the vacations, a mob of pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators entered public facilities. Like what happened in Washington, the violent far-right demonstrators had enough time to destroy the symbols of Brazilian democracy before they were removed by the police.
The complacency of the capital’s police forces in the face of a mob vandalizing the public patrimony evidences a chain of careless decisions that expose not only the incompetence of the police high command but also their connivance, which borders on prevarication and complicity, while, on the side of the rioting demonstrators, their framing is clearly subject to the anti-terrorism law in Brazil.
On the other hand, perhaps the greatest danger to democracy and the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is found in the relationship of submission of the Armed Forces to the figure of Jair Bolsonaro, an unprecedented physiologism in which privileges were given and in which thousands of positions in the public administration were handed over to the military; there were even some who earned stratospheric salaries.
Thus, from the threatening gestures in private circles, such as not giving continence to the head of State, it is also possible to believe that within the Armed Forces, there may be hidden and activated elements that could act deliberately and in parallel to the rule of law. This, with the objective of fomenting unconventional confrontations, in order to politically hit Lula’s government.
To this dangerous articulation are added the paramilitary militias that have been acting for a decade in some Brazilian cities and that have developed even under the public recognition of Jair Bolsonaro. This attitude of the former president, who is now in Miami, allowed the arming of far-right sectors under the deficient supervision of the Armed Forces and which could well act in terms of an increase in violence.
The political responsibility of former President Bolsonaro has to do with the non-recognition of his defeat in the elections of October 30, 2022. Since then and until Lula da Silva took office, Bolsonaro literally went into a catatonic state, with no capacity to react or to digest the defeat, which he did not contemplate; in the only two public events he participated, he cried impotently before losing control of his former allies.
The wave of frustration of his followers after the defeat was proportional to the violence that, by means of intimidation and persecution, including several politically motivated murders, settled on Lula da Silva’s voters and militants on a daily basis during the electoral campaign. The public spaces occupied by bolsonarists created an artificial atmosphere of victory in the face of the silence of an opposing electorate that avoided public demonstrations in order to face any reprisals.
After the defeat and the interpretation of Bolsonaro’s silence as a signal to act, thousands of Bolsonaro’s supporters occupied the fronts of military barracks in some Brazilian cities to demand a coup d’état. From prayers under torrential rains to zigzag marches, the fanatics, intoxicated with pseudo-patriotism and spurred by the national anthem, demanded the overthrow of the government. Brazil witnessed the most surreal and absurd images in the history of the republic and perhaps of Latin America.
During those weeks and before Lula took over the presidency, in the Bolsonarist camps set up in front of the barracks, violent plans began to be hatched, such as preventing the president from taking office on January 1. In this context, Bolsonaro left the country two days before the inauguration, and by not handing over the presidential sash, he endorsed, to a certain extent, the strategies of the encampments.
Faced with Bolsonaro’s abandonment of power, the president of the Electoral Tribunal and minister of the highest Court of Justice (STF), Alexandre de Moraes, one of the protagonists in defending the transparency of the electoral contest, sought to criminally accuse the sponsors of the organization of acts that conspired against democracy. A few supporters of Bolsonaro were imprisoned and others were fined. However, it was not enough.
The inauguration of Lula da Silva, in an atmosphere of normality with relevant symbolism, gave the sensation of a pacified political environment, and an episode similar to the one that happened in the Capitol of the United States after the defeat of Donald Trump was not expected. Therefore, the depredation and attempted destruction of the headquarters of the three branches of government by Bolsonaro’s supporters have shocked not only Brazilians but also a significant part of the international community.
Confronted with this horrifying scenario, it is not enough for the federal government to intervene in the public security area in Brasília or to remove the Federal District governor from power to affirm democracy. In fact, this may be just one episode in a series of events that may continue to occur. Therefore, it is necessary to apply the law and avoid impunity to finally pacify the country.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva