What’s next for Brazil after capital invasion

Months, even years, before Brazil’s 2022 presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro cast doubts on Brazilian democracy and electoral institutions. On Sunday, supporters of the right-wing former president proved the power of that message when they stormed government seats in Brasília.

The attack proved the strength of the right-wing movement helping Bolsonaro rekindle may outlast the man himself, even though Brazil’s democratic and judicial institutions have responded quickly and aggressively to the threat.

At least 1,200 people have been detained for questioning in the aftermath of the riots, where mobs attacked the Supreme Court, Congress and the Presidential Palace in the capital. The Supreme Court the governor of Brasília suspendedaccusing him of complicity in the violence, and a top judge vowed to hold accountable those responsible for the riots, including financiers and officials. Security forces disassembled tent camps set up by Bolsonaro supporters, who had been off for weeks after Bolsonaro lost Brazil’s presidential election to left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, better known as Lula.

Bolsonaro never conceded the election, but institutions and politicians, including Bolsonaro’s political allies, lined up to validate Lula’s victory. Lula was inaugurated on January 1, as planned promises to be a president for all Brazilians. Bolsonaro sneaked into Florida.

But on January 8, one week into Lula’s term, supporters loyal to Bolsonaro unleashed an attack on the country’s democratic symbols, the worst attack on democracy since Brazil left military dictatorship in the 1980s.

It was a revolt that would eventually fail, at least when it came to overturning or influencing an election result. But it was still a very public display of power for a Bolsonarismo, and that might have been a victory in itself.

What does this say about the power of Bolsonarismo?

The day the crowds poured in, the political process had run its course. Lula was sworn in on January 1, the transition was over and his government was in effect. Bolsonaro had been without power for a week, doing random things as Florida Man. (Monday was Bolsonaro reportedly hospitalized for abdominal painpossibly related to a stab wound he received during the 2018 election.)

But this attack may have been less about past elections and more about the future of Brazil’s right-wing movement. Congress was in recess at the time, leaving the building largely empty. Lula loved the presidential palace. But the images of Bolsonaro supporters, clad in yellow and green, which climbed walls, smashed windows and flooded the seats of power, nevertheless showed a government under siege. “They created all the images they wanted, they knew they were going to be arrested – they wanted to create martyrs,” says Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, a professor in the School of Geography at University College Dublin who has studied the far right in Brazil. .

Pinheiro-Machado said the story of their heroism is already taking root on social media channels such as Telegram and WhatsApp. Hundreds may have been arrested, but it is considered an injustice by the powerful to oppress the people. “They made history, they made revolution. That’s their opinion,” Pinheiro-Machado added.

Bolsonaro supporters attack a military police vehicle outside Planalto’s presidential palace.
Sergio Lima/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters stand on the roof of the National Congress building in Brasilia after storming it.
Eraldo Peres/AP

That’s a powerful story taking root and an expression of outrage that goes beyond disappointment over a single election result. Bolsonaro supporters seemed to say they are not leaving whether their man is in power or not. “It’s not just ‘the election was stolen, we want our guy back there,'” said Andre Pagliarini, an assistant professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College and a fellow at the Washington Brazil Office. “It’s ‘maybe democracy itself isn’t worth it if Lula and the Workers’ Party keep winning elections.’ And that is a bigger challenge than Bolsonaro.”

Bolsonaro convicted the violence, and said peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy, but not building invasion (although he went digging to the left, too). But his words may not matter much now. Bolsonaro consolidated the right-wing movement, gave it a platform at the top seat of power, but it seems willing and ready to go beyond him. How strong that movement will be will depend on many things – and there are already signs that Brazil’s institutions are ready to rise to the challenge head-on.

Brazil’s democratic institutions have passed the test so far. But in Brazil, as elsewhere, this challenge is not over.

The response of Brazil’s political leaders and institutions to the January 8 riots was united and strong. Such attacks will not be tolerated; the perpetrators, at all levels, will be held accountable.

All major political figures in Brazil have condemned the riots. Lula, together with the leaders of both branches of the Brazilian Congress and the Supreme Court, jointly issued a statement denouncing “terrorist acts.” The solidarity of Congress is especially remarkable given that Bolsonaro’s party and other right-wing parties hold a great deal of power within those bodies. Lula returned to Brasília and met with the leaders of those other government departments in the aftermath of the attack. Congress returns from recess and may also launch an investigation. “I think the balance of power has been adjusted, in a way that works for democracy,” said Nelson Rojas de Carvalho, an associate professor at the Universidade Federal Rural do Janeiro.

Still, there are plenty of unresolved questions about these riots, including the apparent lack of preparedness of security forces for this unrest. There are also questions of complicity, especially as Bolsonaro supporters set up their tent city just outside the military barracks, which the now justice minister had warned about:breeding grounds of terrorism.” Videos posted on social media showed police watching or talking to demonstrators.

Security forces have since cleared the camps of Bolsonaro supporters. Lula has declared a state of federal intervention in Brasília until January 31, allowing federal authorities to temporarily replace those of the state. The Supreme Court also reacted quickly, the removal of the federal governor of Brasília for his possible role in the riots. Hundreds have been detained for questioning, in addition to those arrested at the scene of the attacks. Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino said Sunday that officials have identified those who paid for 40 buses to take Bolsonaro supporters to Brasília, and are in the process of issuing arrests for them. “The early steps indicate that they are really up to the task, they are going to fight aggressively against this challenge to democracy. Lula seems strengthened by it,” Pagliarini said. He added that there seemed to be a new willingness and eagerness to investigate this network, which for obvious reasons suffered little impact while Bolsonaro was in office.

A protester yells at security forces dismantling a camp set up by Bolsonaro supporters outside army headquarters in Brasilia.
AFP via Getty Images

Soldiers help clear an encampment a day after Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings in Brasilia.
Gustavo Moreno/AP

That solidarity and lack of ambiguity is the best response of Brazilian democracy to its challenges. However, experts pointed out that there is a delicate balance to be struck — some right-wing parties are already pointing to overreaching the government, such as removing Brazil’s governor — as a sign of Lula’s own dictatorial, communist leanings. (Which, again, is pretty rich from people just trying to overthrow democracy and calling for the military to intervene.) But while it may fuel the right-wing narrative against Lula, using the justice system and the rule of law to investigate and prosecuting these forces may be one of the most necessary tools to unravel the anti-democratic movement.

Because the challenge of Brazil’s far-right movement is likely to continue and continue to create chaos during Lula’s term and beyond. smaller the protests continued on Monday, with protesters blocking roads in São Paulo. The aftermath of January 8 is creating a battle between the anti-democratic pressure that Bolsonaro helped fuel and the democratic and institutional forces that seek to protect and preserve democracy, govern and deliver for the people in a time of economic uncertainty and adversity. .

In this way, January 8 in Brazil resembles January 6 in the United States. It’s not really about an isolated event, but an ongoing battle. No election can defeat those authoritarian impulses, just as one violent mob cannot overthrow an entire democracy. “We have these two worlds running together. This is how the world is structured today — and ultimately it will be for many years to come,” Pinheiro-Machado said.


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