Attempted Coup Fails Thanks to People's Defence of Democracy

– Margaret Villamizar –

The manner of the storming of government buildings in Brazil on Sunday, January 8 seems to have taken its cue from the events which took place in Washington, DC two years year ago, on January 6, 2021. In the early afternoon on January 8 in Brasília, the capital city of Brazil, several thousand supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro were instigated to march from the Army's headquarters, where many of them had camped out since the end of October when the presidential election took place, to the Three Powers Square which houses the National Assembly, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court buildings. Most of the rioters arrived in the capital in caravans from all regions of the country. At least 170 chartered buses travelled to Brasília starting on Friday, January 6.

Most of those taking part in the riot wore yellow jerseys, like that used by the national soccer team, and many had Brazilian flags draped over their shoulders. They demanded that the military "intervene." They could be heard on videos shouting what sounded like "God, Country, Family, Freedom" (in Portuguese) as they approached the government precinct. Videos also showed police vehicles at the head of the march and some others accompanying it. Once they reached the government buildings, the mass of protesters ran up to the Congress building and easily penetrated the flimsy barricades erected by the small number of police that were on site who basically moved aside. They then broke into the buildings, smashing windows and doors with projectiles and sticks, mounted the roof, and generally conducted themselves in the style of those who stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC two years earlier. Reports indicate a good number of them would have been armed since the right for almost anyone to carry guns was a Bolsonaro mantra. No shootings were reported, however.

Thanks to the response led by President of Brazil Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva of the Workers' Party (PT), and of Supreme Federal Court (STF) Justice Alexandre de Moraes, the coup attempt was ended on Sunday: 40 buses were seized and 260 terrorists were arrested in the act. In addition, Lula ordered an intervention in the public security of the Federal District (that includes Brasília) until January 31, while the STF ordered the removal of Ibaneis Rocha as Governor of the Federal District for 90 days. By the end of the day, some 400 people had been arrested.

Protest against the coup attempt, Brasília, January 9, 2023.

In addition to the arrests in flagrante delicto, 1,200 Bolsonarists were detained by the military on the morning of Monday, January 9 and taken into custody of the Federal Police, without the use of force. They may be charged with a series of crimes, such as aggravated damage, crimes against cultural heritage, criminal association, terrorism, attack against the democratic rule of law, and coup d'état. If there is evidence that the invasions were premeditated and deliberately anti-democratic, the penalty can reach 30 years in prison. Businessmen who financed the attacks are also under investigation. State and municipal governments also cleared out coup encampments located near military barracks in other parts of the country.

In the late afternoon and evening of Monday, January 9, in response to a call given the day before by a number of social movements, including the Rural Landless Workers' Movement (MST), union centrals, the National Students' Union and others, large demonstrations attended by thousands were held in cities all around Brazil in repudiation of the attempted coup and its sponsors, against any of its perpetrators receiving amnesty, for the swift punishment of those who engaged in the criminal invasion and vandalization of the three government buildings, and in defence of democracy in Brazil. A high spirited rally was also held at noon inside the Faculty of Law at the University of São Paulo where the same demands were raised. Many more mobilizations have taken place internationally, including in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and other cities.

Porto Alegre (top) and Rio de Janeiro, January 9, 2023

There has been ample coverage on CBC and other international media of what took place in Brasilia, including the lack of resistance the coup forces met with from the police or military as they approached, swarmed and broke into the three government buildings where they proceeded to smash and trash everything in sight, destroying equipment, furniture, works of art and more. Water damage compounded the problem when the sprinkler system in one of the buildings was activated after someone apparently attempted to set a couch on fire. Participants in the mayhem and observers all seemed to be using cell phones to record what was taking place, with likely thousands of videos and photos posted on social media as proof.

Lethal and non-lethal weapons were reported to have been stolen from the Institutional Security Office of Planalto Palace. The Minister of Social Communication and a Justice Ministry official inspected the ransacked office and filmed what they found, saying someone surely knew there were weapons there and went for them.

As in the attempted coup in Washington, DC, there was an obvious lack of police presence or effort to prevent or stop what took place, especially given all that had been announced in advance by the Bolsonarists who had already spent two months calling for a military coup. Some of the police who were on duty when the buildings were stormed and trashed could be seen in videos just watching the action and even appearing sympathetic.

Lula was in São Paulo state assessing an emergency situation caused by heavy rains when the coup forces made their move. Those already camped out in Brasilia were reinforced by another few thousand bused in from other areas to be part of the action to press their case for the military to intervene against Lula's government, "get communism out of Brazil," and the like. Before flying back to Brasilia to deal with the situation, Lula held a press conference in São Paulo to denounce those he called fanatics and fascists who had invaded the government buildings, and to announce that he had ordered a "federal intervention" in the Federal District authorizing the mobilization of the special military National Security Force to take charge of security there until January 31, given the "lack of security" and "incompetence" of the district security forces and those in charge of them. The person he named as the federal intervenor, the current executive secretary of the Ministry of Justice, is answerable directly to the President of the Republic. He also said those responsible for what was taking place would be found and punished "in an exemplary way," adding everything was going to be investigated "very, very thoroughly and very quickly." He suggested that among those who backed the actions in Brasília were illegal miners, illegal loggers and agribusiness interests. He also said Bolsonaro would be held to account.

"Terrorists cannot be called protesters." "Another Brazil is possible -- imprison Bolsonaro."

Anderson Torres, the newly appointed chief of security for the Federal District was fired by the governor when on January 8, he was nowhere to be found, having left for a "family vacation" in Orlando, Florida, where Bolsonaro has also installed himself. His firing came a few hours before the governor, to whom he answers, was himself removed from his post for 90 days for dereliction of his duties by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. Torres, a Bolsonaro loyalist who served as the former president's Minister of Justice and Public Safety, has since returned to Brazil and been detained, with investigations into his role ongoing. 

Moraes also headed the Superior Electoral Tribunal during the election and was responsible for several rulings against the Bolsonarists, including by throwing out as frivolous the case they brought before the tribunal calling for the annulment of the majority of votes cast in the runoff election, which their candidate lost, based on the unfounded claim that over half the voting machines had a software flaw that made the results unreliable. He slapped them with heavy fines for the frivolous case.

Gleisi Hoffman, President of the PT and Luciana Santos, President of Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) and a Minister in Lula's cabinet and many other members of the new government, including the leaders of both houses of Congress, have said all those involved in the violent actions on January 8, and those who allowed it to happen, must be firmly dealt with and punished with the full force of the law. Hoffman tweeted that the actions of Bolsonaro supporters were not part of a mass movement or spontaneous, but were organized by "bandits, who have very clear interests: illegal mining, land grabbing, the release of weapons, militias and other things, all blessed by Bolsonaro."

Bolsonaro has tried to wash his hands of the attack on the government buildings, just as he did when supporters riled up by four years of his toxic rhetoric and lies set up hundreds of illegal roadblocks upon learning of his defeat, and others were caught carrying out or admitted to planning terrorist acts of different types. This time he rejected accusations by Lula and others, that he was among those responsible for the criminal acts, saying that peaceful demonstrations are a part of democracy but that any invasion of public buildings crossed the line.

It is generally believed that Bolsonaro fled to the U.S. before his term expired so he could still commandeer a government plane to take him and whoever went with him there, and access a special visa the U.S. provides to sitting heads of state, to evade arrest and likely charges he expected to have to face in Brazil when his presidential immunity ended.

There are several investigations already underway related to allegations entered with the justice system, and others that would surely come when those he incited went into action like they did on January 8. Some U.S. Congress members are saying the U.S. should stop giving Bolsonaro refuge and extradite him  to Brazil. Latest news is that the former president has now applied for a tourist visa to remain in the U.S. for six more months.

Government leaders, personalities and organizations of different types from around Latin America and the world have condemned the violent, undemocratic actions of Bolsonaro's supporters. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden and the head of European Union diplomacy Josep Borell in condemning the assault on Brazil's government institutions.

(Photos: Media Ninja, M. Diego.)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 1 - January 2023

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