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Recent Developments In Brazil: Part II – Political Crisis And Uncertainty, Military Consolidates Its Position In Presidential Palace

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Recent Developments In Brazil: Part II – Political Crisis And Uncertainty, Military Consolidates Its Position In Presidential Palace

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Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront

The first part of the analysis: “Recent Developments In Brazil: Part I – Regional Politics And International Relations

When the Coronavirus arrived in Brazil, the country had already been experiencing serious political turmoil since at least 2016 when the then president, Dilma Rousseff, was dismissed by the National Congress in an impeachment proceeding that was widely considered to be illegitimate and an abuse of the Congress’ constitutional powers and functions. As elsewhere in Latin America, the rapid spread of the virus has greatly exacerbated the existing social, economic and political crises and instability and deepened the already vast chasms of inequality, exclusion and deprivation suffered by large swathes of society.

The irresponsible and provocative statements and actions of the current president (Jair Bolsonaro) – both in terms of organizing countermeasures to combat the spread of the virus as well as more generally – have alienated and antagonized many of his political associates among provincial governors as well as among most of the major factions in the National Congress (including those who had supported his presidential campaign) and brought the political conflict and instability to critical levels.

Although his popularity has declined significantly Bolsonaro continues to enjoy not inconsiderable support from his core constituencies (recent polls estimate around 30% approval ratings among potential voters), many of whom consider his ‘outsider’ status and separation from the major political parties an advantage given the widespread corruption permeating all sectors of the political establishment and their frequent unscrupulous and opportunistic dealings and manoeuvres.

However, many analysts consider that his antagonization of almost all ‘heavyweight’ political factions and consequent isolation and loss of allies have affected his ability to govern to the extent that in many respects he is probably now president in name only. A core group from the military leadership (‘former’ generals, almost all of whom led the UN’s MINUSTAH military mission in Haiti at some point) is universally identified as the real power behind the throne, and it is widely considered that they have assumed responsibility for most major policies and decision-making and the elaboration of damage control operations in relation to key State functions and international partners.

Overview of the political background

There have been three main political forces in Brazil since the adoption of a new Constitution in 1988 following 21 years of military rule, two centre-right parties (Brazilian Social Democratic Party – PDSB, Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement – PDMB) and one centre-left party (the Workers’ Party – PT). The centre-right parties dominated the political scene until the Workers’ Party gained power with the election of Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva in 2003 followed by Dilma Rousseff in 2011.

The most recent elections have disrupted the dominance of the traditional political parties due primarily to increasing consternation among Brazilian voters concerning the endemic corruption among all major political factions. The three traditional political heavyweights lost much of their support base to two sets of emerging social and political forces in particular – political parties formed directly by or in close alliance with evangelical sects and organizations (which have grown rapidly over the last thirty years), and more radical right-wing parties. Among the latter group is the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which went from less than five congressional seats in 2014 to over 50 in 2018: the PSL initially supported Bolsanaro’s candidacy and presidency until it was subsequently excluded from participating in the Cabinet or other senior posts.

Corruption has been endemic in State institutions and the private sector throughout the post-dictatorship period; indeed, the first Brazilian president to be directly elected in almost 30 years, in the elections held in 1989, was impeached by a congressional committee three years later for corruption and forced to resign. All of the three main political parties have had numerous senior politicians and officials in key leadership positions convicted for corruption.

Recent Developments In Brazil: Part II – Political Crisis And Uncertainty, Military Consolidates Its Position In Presidential Palace

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Over the last five years the topic has been heavily politicized and manipulated resulting in selective and partial judicial and political investigations of corruption allegations. As a consequence, several of the investigations which have been conducted have been of extremely dubious veracity in terms of their conduct and findings, while many other allegations of corruption have not been seriously investigated or investigations have been delayed in order to protect those accused.

Many of the members of the National Congress who voted to impeach Dilma Rousseff (for criminal administrative misconduct and violation of federal budgetary laws) were themselves the subject of corruption investigations (including the president of the Chamber of Deputies at the time, Eduardo Cunha, who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment). Rousseff’s replacement, Michel Temer, about a third of his cabinet members, and several leaders of his political party (PMDB) have also since been the subject of corruption investigations.

The allegations against Temer began while he was still interim president and several of his closest associates were forced to resign immediately, however it would appear that Temer was protected by the Congress, the military leadership and the judiciary to see out his term in order to avoid political inconvenience and the possibility of a major systemic crisis.  Temer was finally placed in preventive custody last week (on the 9th of May) while multiple charges of corruption are being investigated.

Similar claims of corruption (as well as improper conduct and abuse of power) surround Bolsonaro and his closest allies (including his sons, who are members of the Congress), and until the last couple of weeks it appeared that he would also be shielded from detailed investigation by the Congress, the judiciary and the military in order to pre-empt another major political crisis when the balance of forces and possible outcomes are completely unpredictable.

Major shifts in the political dynamics

Two new political factions (comprising evangelists and radical right-wing groups respectively) secured substantial representation in the Congress as well as at the provincial and municipal levels in the most recent elections. Many of the most influential factions from both groups supported Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign and they continue to constitute the core of his support base. Their leadership – as well as much of their membership – have generally proven to be extremely racist and intolerant, as well as supporting extreme neoliberal policies that seem certain to aggravate the already acute levels of inequality marked by the concentration of wealth, power, land and income, and the corresponding widespread poverty and political, economic and social marginalization of many sectors of society (including most of the supporters of the evangelical and extreme-right political factions).

The number of members of Congress who have declared themselves as practicing an evangelist religion has risen steadily since the 1980s and is now approximately 90 (of a total of 594, 81 in the Senate and 513 in the Chamber of Deputies). Although there is considerable diversity among the numerous evangelical churches and sects, much of their membership is made up of people who became disillusioned with the Catholic Church but remain firm in their Christian beliefs. Previously there was the possibility of ‘conversion’ to liberation theology, however little remains of these religious movements and in many cases their place has been taken by what has been referred to as ‘prosperity theology’, the evangelical churches that have brought great wealth and social and political influence to their founders and that are among the staunchest supporters of neoliberal economic policies.

Carolina Oliveira has described several key elements of their ascension to power (“Brasil: Dominar en la fe y en la política: proyecto de poder de líderes evangélicos”, 21 January 2020, Resumen Latinoamericano). She notes that a social profile of members of the evangelical churches revealed:

“A black woman that earns up to twice the minimum wage and who has only completed up to secondary education is the face of the evangelical religion today.

However, the profile of the evangelical leaders who have decided to act in the political sphere, whether behind the scenes or in the spotlight, is quite different.

An example is Pastor Edir Macedo. Leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded in 1977 in Rio de Janeiro, Macedo has a declared fortune of approximately 2,000 million reals (US$478 million) according to Forbes Magazine. He was one of the people who supported Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign for the Presidency of the Republic in 2018. Result: about 70% of evangelicals declared having voted for the candidate blessed by the extreme right.

This shift in the political landscape is partially explained by the substantial increase in the evangelical population in Brazil, which went from 7.8 million (6.6% of the population) to 42.3 million (22.2%) between the early 1980s and 2019. But it’s not just that…

A project for power

Experts and evangelicals consulted by Brasil de Fato explain that the advance of evangelicals in politics responds to a strategic project for power, instigated by religious leaders in alliance with the Brazilian right.

“With the growth of evangelical groups, many more will seek to participate in party politics. That is natural and expected. With the Universal Church, however, the situation is distinct”, says Pastor Ariovaldo Ramos, leader of the Renewed Christian Community and one of the national coordinators of the Evangelical Front for the Rule of Law, formed in 2016. In his opinion, Edir Macedo’s church was transformed into a ‘political apparatus’ with the specific purpose of rising to power.

In 2008, Pastor Edir Macedo published the book ‘Plan for Power’… Ten years later, in the 2018 elections, the power plan was in full swing: it was the pastors, along with right-wing candidates, who urged Brazilians to take to the streets… Those who best knew how to surf the wave of growth of the evangelicals were the initiates of the right and extreme right…

According to Marco Fernandes (PhD in Psychology from the University of São Paulo) …, in order to understand the reason for the increase in the number of evangelicals it is necessary to study the changes that have occurred in Brazilian society in the last three decades, in particular those associated with the precariousness of the living conditions of the working class.

“Given this, what do churches offer people? First, the possibility of belonging to a community. The Churches function as a cultural centre in the peripheries of society… The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God currently has about 15 social programs for the faithful. According to official data from the Church, in 2018 about 10.8 million people were reached by these programs.

Another finding listed by the researcher is the emotional acceptance and comfort that these spaces provide…”

Consequences of the emerging balance of political forces

The main beneficiary of the political turmoil that has wracked the country for the last five years or so is the military leadership, which has seen the demise of its main political foe (with the political impeachment of Rousseff and the judicial disqualification of Lula) and the rise to power of first an extremely unpopular president with very little real power and support, followed by a president who was previously a captain in the army and who has consistently espoused the virtues of the military (to the extent of defending and justifying the military coup of 1964 and ensuing 21 year dictatorship and the human rights abuses committed during this period, including the torture and assassination of political opponents). In both cases, a decisive role for the military leadership in the affairs of State has been assured, with the added bonus that they can avoid responsibility for the scandals that have occurred and the pending calamities and will almost certainly continue for the foreseeable future.

As noted in the analysis below, since the 1980s the military has usually sided with the political parties and groups representing the ‘upper’ classes and liberal (more recently neoliberal) economic policies. Their relations with ‘leftist’ and popular social and political movements have been characterized by suspicion and direct and indirect confrontation, in part at least a legacy of Cold War indoctrination and ongoing wariness as to possible communist subversive plots. However, the analysts cited below also reveal another powerful motivation behind the actions taken by the military leadership: their determination to retain control over two core State functions – all aspects of ‘national security’ (and the corresponding ability to exercise control over political and social developments), and the construction of the official narrative as to the role, motives and objectives of the military during the dictatorship.

The steps taken by the Rousseff government to take control over these core State functions, together with the military’s  lingering suspicion of and aversion to leftist and popular social and political forces and the weakened and discredited standing of the traditional centre-right parties, seem to be the main reasons for their willingness in recent times to support radical right-wing forces which within the space of two years have ruined the country’s international standing and relations with key economic and diplomatic partners and exacerbated social conflict and instability within the country, bringing Brazil to the verge of a major catastrophe.

Another group among the first tier of beneficiaries of the Temer and Bolsonaro presidencies are the richest and most powerful oligarchs (businessmen who control enormous financial, industrial and agricultural empires) who have been best placed to buy up the privatized State entities and assets (along with ‘foreign investors’, of course) at huge discounts from their real value. Powerful landlords with vast holdings in rural and remote areas also belong to this select group, as the annihilation of what remains of the Amazon – and the Indigenous communities that depend on the Amazon for their existence – continues to accelerate from its already historically high level.

This has been facilitated by either abolishing environmental and agricultural regulatory agencies directly or by decimating their budgets and staffing levels as well as appointing allies and associates of the radical right and the agribusiness sector to senior management positions (this is discussed in detail by Will Mota, “Brasil. La Amazonía bajo el gobierno de Bolsanaro”, 22 January 2020, Resumen Latinoamericano). Moreover, in many instances militias acting on behalf of cattle ranchers and agribusiness, as well as illegal logging or mining interests, have been directly or indirectly protected by State officials.

A translation of two detailed analyses of the latest political developments and dynamics by Latin American experts follows.

“The gun behind the throne” (‘El fusil detrás del trono’)

By Marcelo Aguilar, 04/05/2020

“The resignation of Sérgio Moro as Minister of Justice is the most dangerous development that the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has had to face. The reason for the resignation, according to Moro himself, is that the president intervened in the management of the Federal Police in order to protect his children from judicial investigations. After Moro’s departure, Bolsonaro tried to appoint as director of the Federal Police a close friend of his family clan, Alexandre Ramagem, a former intelligence chief who coordinated the security of Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign after the apparent assassination attempt against him in 2018. This week the Supreme Federal Court provisionally suspended that nomination.

Seen as a champion of justice by broad sectors of society after his performance in the judicial proceedings associated with Operation Lava Jato – and despite allegations of flagrant irregularity in the way he conducted the investigations – Moro had acted as a ‘moral reserve’ within the government. But he slammed the door as he left office, and his allegations have led to the opening of a judicial investigation against the president himself. The magistrate with primary responsibility for the case, Celso de Mello, must also determine the validity of a request that the Chamber of Deputies begin an impeachment process against the president. Although the president of the Chamber, Rodrigo Maia – who has a rather tense relationship with the Executive – has been trying to calm the situation and pointed out that the priority should be to fight the Coronavirus, there are already rumors of movements behind the scenes around the Vice President, Hamilton Mourão .

Carlos Bolsonaro himself (one of the president’s sons) raised suspicions earlier this month about General Mourão’s intentions when he questioned his recent meeting with Flávio Dino, governor of the state of Maranhão and leader of the Communist Party of Brazil. Dino is the most visible face of the leftist opposition to Bolsonaro among the governors. However, Bolsonaro also has right-wing opponents – such as São Paulo’s João Doria (of the PSDB), who supported his election campaign with the slogan ‘Bolsodoria’ and now, in Moro’s defense, has branded him a ‘Bolsona-virus’.

‘Green hour’

In this crisis scenario, all possible developments seem to benefit the same actor: the Armed Forces. For André Ortega, journalist and … (author), the pivotal factor at this point is what path the military will take: whether to keep Bolsonaro or get him out of the way. “Removing him could initiate a new cycle of instability and the situation could turn against them. Keeping him in place, on the other hand, makes them appear as the noble restraining force on the government”.

Bolsonaro behaves like a vandal, Ortega asserts, and that allows the military to appear as guardians not only of democratic institutions, but of rationality itself. “That is very positive for them”, because it blurs the responsibility of having helped him in the elections and participating in his government. “At the same time, if Bolsonaro gains strength with his extreme right-wing politics it also suits them, because the president’s support base has repeatedly called for a military coup, so the support of the military leadership remains indispensable”, he added. And if the impeachment should gain traction, the legal assumption of General Mourão to the presidency would consummate what is already an evident reality: the military is in command.

This situation, far from being unprecedented, has been one of the structural elements of the country throughout its history. Ortega recalls that “there is a long relationship between political power and military power that predates the conception of the doctrine of national security developed during the Cold War and the coup d’état of 1964. This relationship has existed since the proclamation of the Republic [1889], with the Army acting as guardian of civil governments and the political process.” This relationship has been accompanied by a military perception “that justifies this interventionism on the basis that the Army is the most developed institution in the country and the only one capable of reflecting Brazilian identity: it recruits people from all states and all races, and it has a professional and patriotic officialdom that can prevent political processes from compromising the nation’s territorial integrity.

For anthropologist Piero Leirner, a specialist in military strategy at the Federal University of São Carlos, it would be more precise to say that the military domesticates rather than protects the Brazilian political system, based on: “The idea that politics should be an extension of the military barracks by others means, placing the military in the role of guarantors to keep the house in order.” According to former Defense Minister Celso Amorim, meanwhile, in Brazil “there is an intrinsic fragility to political representation which generates the temptation to resort to the military in the ruling classes when they are losing hegemony… And the military, in turn, have always been willing to act”.

The gatekeepers of political power

According to Ortega: “When Bolsonaro took office, a status quo already existed in which the military maintained a strong position. The military leadership – in particular (General Sérgio) Etchegoyen (former chief of the Army General Staff) – had managed to restructure the intelligence service in accordance with the military’s objectives and they were actively participating in politics. They were also influencing the judicial process against former president Lula… It is not Bolsonaro who has given them the leading role: rather, he represents the culmination of a large process. His assumption of the presidency is intimately related to the status quo that already existed.”

From the moment he appointed his cabinet, Bolsonaro indicated the significant role the military would have in his administration. Moreover, among the appointed officers there was something in common: their participation in the Minustah forces in Haiti (2004-2017), which Brazil led. Augusto Heleno – director of the GSI (Ministry of Institutional Security, responsible for the national intelligence agency among other duties) – was the first commander of that occupation mission between 2004 and 2005, and directed the operations in Cité Soleil (a neighborhood in the capital Port-au-Prince) which were subsequently classified as a massacre by several human rights organizations.

The Defence Minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, was at that time serving under Heleno’s command. Luiz Eduardo Ramos, currently secretary of the government – a position that, among other things, controls government communication and the State’s public-private infrastructure investment program – led the Minustah between 2011 and 2012. Ramos replaced General Carlos Santos Cruz as secretary of the government in June; the latter led the occupying force in Haiti between 2007 and 2009. The Minister of Infrastructure, Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, was in the Caribbean country as well. For his part, the last commander of the Minustah (during the period 2015-2017), Ajax Porto Pinheiro, is currently a special adviser to the president of the Federal Supreme Court, a position previously held by Azevedo e Silva.

The culmination of this process occurred in February of this year, when Bolsonaro announced that the new head of the Civil House – a position that in Brazil is equivalent to that of the head of the Cabinet – would be General Walter Braga Netto, who was at the time chief of the General Staff of the Army (he was also responsible for directing the 2018 military intervention in Rio de Janeiro). Braga Netto was also chosen by Bolsonaro to command the crisis committee in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

First we get rid of Dilma

The most recent spiral of ascent of the military’s influence in Brazilian politics, which reached its apex with the assumption of Bolsonaro as president of the Republic, began in an earlier period. The election of Dilma Rousseff as president in 2011, her actions at the head of the government and her subsequent dismissal were decisive in shaping the current scenario. From the beginning, the military leadership had not liked Rousseff’s appointment as candidate for the PT (Workers’ Party). “That Lula had named an unknown as his successor, a person that the military associated with the armed opposition against the military regime during the dictatorship, was for them a confirmation that the PT wanted to build a type of Gramscian socialism in Latin America,” Leirner commented.

The academic also emphasized the military reaction against the creation, by Dilma’s first government, of the National Truth Commission (CNV) to investigate human rights violations between September 1946 and October 1988, a period that includes the 21 years of military dictatorship in Brazil. “The CNV was interpreted by the military as a project to rewrite history in which their role, in accordance with that perception of ‘Gramscian domination’, would definitely be that of the morally defeated. That reactivated the idea in the military that they had won ‘the war’, but that they were losing the battle for memory badly.”

Amorim, who at the time was at the head of the Defence portfolio, confirmed to Brecha that the CNV was the measure taken by the PT government that generated the most friction in the military. Leirner added: “From then on the military leadership began an intense campaign of ideological bombardment throughout the chain of command, reviving various Cold War theories and updating them in postmodern clothing, as in the case of so-called ‘hybrid warfare doctrines’”.

“Within a month of Dilma’s re-election in 2014, Bolsonaro was already campaigning in the barracks for 2018”, Leirner stated…

In another action that greatly disturbed the military, within the framework of a reform that reduced the Executive’s portfolios from 39 to 31, Dilma abolished the Ministry of Institutional Security (GSI) in October 2015 which, among other functions, had the command of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency. From that point on the military’s campaign against Rousseff was played out in the corridors of the National Congress and on the streets: the campaign was massively supported by the media and business sectors and encouraged by groups such as the Free Brazil Movement, financed by neoliberal think tanks supported by Washington, under the slogan “Primeiro a gente tira a Dilma”: remove the president at any cost as a requirement to save Brazil.

The restoration

In May 2016, a few months before Dilma’s dismissal was confirmed by Congress and in one of his first steps as interim president, Michel Temer returned the character of ministry to the GSI and appointed as minister the former head of the General Staff of the Army, General Sérgio Etchegoyen.

The Etchegoyen family has a long military tradition and of interference in politics. They participated in the ‘tenentistas’ uprisings of the 1920s and the coup of 1964. Sérgio, who did not participate in these conflicts, had however been the first active general to publicly oppose the CNV during the Rousseff government. The commission’s final report accused his father, Leo Guedes Etchegoyen, along with 376 other military officials and civilians, of violating human rights during the dictatorship. Amorim said that he was surprised that Dilma named him chief of staff, but added: “[The general] was famous as a military intellectual and had advised my predecessor in the ministry in the elaboration of the national defence strategy.”

For Ortega, in the years that followed the fall of Rousseff, “the instability generated by the impeachment process and the constant atmosphere of emergency allowed the military to start speaking more forcefully: the more chaos there is, the more powerful they become.” Despite being the target of countless allegations of corruption and witnessing the arrest of parts of his inner circle of colleagues, Temer remained in power. Etchegoyen had a lot to do with this.

During those years there were military interventions in Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and Roraima, and Marielle Franco, a vehement critic of those actions, was assassinated. In addition, Temer’s presidency was threatened by a truckers’ strike in June 2018 that stopped the country. The one who coordinated the response to that strike was Etchegoyen, who implemented ‘guarantee of law and order’ operations with the deployment of the Armed Forces. All this earned the general a reputation as the main protagonist confronting the most critical moments of the constant crisis that the Temer administration represented.

During this period another significant episode of military protagonism occurred. Given the possibility that the Federal Supreme Court would grant a habeas corpus order in favour of former president Lula, at the time a presidential candidate who was however under arrest for alleged corruption, the commander of the Armed Forces, Eduardo Villas Bôas, wrote a tweet in ‘repudiation of impunity’ and remarked that the Army was ‘attentive to its institutional missions’. Some time later Villas Bôas himself told Folha de São Paulo: “We worked diligently at this time, knowing that we were on the edge. We felt that things could get out of control if I did not make a statement”, and further stated that “it was better to prevent than to cure.” The result is that the judiciary finally sent Lula to prison and made it impossible for him to participate in the election, and retired captain Jair Bolsonaro won. And with him, the military also won…”

Source: Brecha (Uruguay): https://brecha.com.uy/el-fusil-detras-del-trono/

“Where generals command, the captain does not rule” (“Donde mandan generales, no manda capitán”)

By Nastasia Barceló, Camilo López Burian and Mariana Vitelli, 05/05/2020

“With the assumption, on 18 February 2020, of General Walter Braga Netto as head of the Civil House, the military finished consolidating their central position in the Brazilian government. The position has not been held by a military official since the end of the last dictatorship. It is an eminently political position and deals, among other tasks, with the Presidency’s relations both with the cabinet and with Congress. Braga Netto, who served as Chief of the Army General Staff from March of 2019, assumed the new position prior to his official retirement from the military on the 29th of February.

This occurs at a time of transformation of the Brazilian political system. The 2018 election could be thought of as the end of a cycle, which started with the adoption in 1988 of a new Constitution during the process of re-democratization. After the elections in 2018 the three main political parties lost a significant part of their parliamentary representation, and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) were the most affected. While the traditional right was displaced by more radical right-wing political parties, the Workers’ Party (PT) remained the main political force of the Brazilian left.

Meanwhile, the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which affiliated itself to Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign, went from having two members in the Congress between 2014 and 2018 to having 52. In the subsequent dispute for Executive Power, the polarization logic that had existed between the PSDB and the PT became redundant, at the same time that the MDB saw its vote substantially diminished. Thus the system conceived in 1988 received a strong blow.

Two interconnected factors affecting Brazilian politics prepared the way for the aforementioned results. On the one hand, the conduct of the operation to combat corruption known as ‘Lava Jato’ (2014), which revealed the politicization of judicial decisions and contributed to generating distrust and rejection of politicians in Brazilian society. On the other hand, the heavy electoral cost of the PSDB and MDB strategy during the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, which has been seen as a ‘parliamentary coup’ by influential experts of Brazil’s political science. The subsequent participation of these parties in the interim government of Michel Temer, who became the most unpopular president in the history of Brazil, further damaged the image of the traditional right.

These transformations in the Brazilian right are framed in a context of a more generalized globalization crisis, whose landmark is the financial crisis of 2008. The end of this historical cycle and its hegemonic order, which reached Brazil – along with the rest of Latin America – most emphatically with the end of the commodity boom, affected both the right- and left-wing cosmopolitan elites. This great crisis of global capitalism was intertwined with the emergence of anti-globalist right-wing political forces. According to the Spanish political scientist José Antonio Sanahuja, these neo-patriots mobilize the losers – real or self-perceived – of globalization, especially the middle and lower middle classes, articulating a nationalist, sovereignty-based discourse based on Caesarian and anti-elitist rhetoric and in some cases, particularly in the regional areas, involving close associations with religious actors who claim ‘traditional’ values. Bolsonaro is perceived as the most genuine ‘commoner’ of this sector, as he is not a millionaire or a prominent politician as in most other cases, and that has proved to be key to his ability to connect with the masses.

Alone against all

With the support of agribusiness, the evangelical factions, and the sectors that promote a ‘firm hand’ and represent the interests of the military and police ‘family’, he could have had sufficient support to govern in political articulation with the Legislative Power. Of the 513 deputies, 360 could have supported him, while only 153 are clearly opposed. Within this scenario, he could have recruited up to two-thirds of the votes in Congress and made major institutional changes. However, instead of doing ‘politics’, Bolsonaro confronted the Congress, arguing that he was opposed to the ‘old politics’, and he has not negotiated to obtain parliamentary support by offering executive posts and resources to potential allies.

After a year and a half in power, the president’s conduct has demonstrated illiberal and authoritarian characteristics. Bolsonaro distanced himself from PSL in the context of a dispute over control of party funds and the nomination of candidates. ‘Bolsonarism’, without a political party, tried to strengthen the president by building a popular movement on the extreme right, something that failed to eventuate. When the president tried to create his own party, ‘Alianza por Brasil’, of the 491,900 signatures required only 80,000 were presented, and of these just 6,600 were approved by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This failure prevented the structuring of a Bolsonarist movement that would have politically strengthened the president and allowed him to consolidate his position. As a consequence he lacks the required support, and the ‘president without a party’ continues to confront the legislative and judicial branches, the governors and the mainstream media. That makes him increasingly dependent on the Armed Forces to stay in power.

As the Brazilian sociologist and political scientist Alexandre Fuccille recently pointed out, the military does not seem to want to seize power directly, as in 1964. However, this does not imply that the military influence on politics has not advanced. With the replacement of the civilian Onyx Lorenzoni in February 2020 by General Braga Neto in the Ministry of the Civil House, a military cadre was completed that makes up the hard core of the government. Although another nucleus of strongly ideological ministers coexists with the president and his family, the four ministers housed in the Planalto Palace (the official residence and headquarters of the president) are military.

A broader view of the government shows the military or people closely linked to the military in various ministerial positions (Defence; Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications; Mines and Energy; Transparency, Oversight and Control, and Infrastructure) and in other posts of high political relevance, such as the Presidency’s official spokesperson. A common denominator for many of them is their relationship with General Augusto Heleno, first military commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah). The ‘Heleno Boys’, to call them that, occupy a central place in the government. During the pandemic they have sometimes adopted different positions to Bolsonaro, limiting his actions without withdrawing support for the president, in particular his repeated efforts to minimize the danger represented by the virus. On the 24th of March the Army Commander, General Edson Leal Pujol, declared that the confrontation with the pandemic could be ‘the most important mission’ of his generation, a statement that Bolsonaro endorsed several days later, recognizing the gravity of the situation.

In the meantime, in January of 2018 General Hamilton Mourão, currently Vice President of the Republic, assumed the presidency of the Military Club with the aim of organizing, from the Army, a contingent of candidates for political and administrative duties. Mourão would be Bolsonaro’s successor in the event of his departure from office, but it must be remembered that he was not the first option to be considered as vice president during the presidential campaign and he does not appear to garner a consensus among the government’s military wing.

Eternal transition

The interference of the military in politics in Brazil is not a recent development. As the doctor of political philosophy Héctor Saint-Pierre explains, during the post-dictatorship process of re-democratization the Armed Forces managed to preserve prerogatives and levels of autonomy that allowed them to identify fissures on the national scene and exercise influence in government decisions and political disputes. Or as the Brazilian political scientist Samuel Soares maintains, if we attend to the military question, in Brazil there is an eternal transition to democracy, or democracy itself is obstructed.

The historian José Murilo de Carvalho, reflecting on the history of State institutions, visualizes a moderating role of the Armed Forces that makes him think of Brazil as a protected republic. This guardianship function is two-dimensional: veto and protection. The second dimension seems to be operating more visibly than the first. Probably because, as Suzeley Kalil Mathias (professor of Political Science at the Universidade Estadual Paulista) points out, the discrepancies between the military and the president are ‘more of form than of substance’.

Now that, after Sérgio Moro’s resignation from the Ministry of Justice, the material bases to initiate an impeachment process seem to be on the table, Bolsonaro seeks to negotiate with the traditional right to impede the progress of the process, especially with those who guaranteed the election of Rodrigo Maia as president of the Chamber of Deputies. The mainstream media, in a show of support for Moro, have demanded an investigation of the president’s actions, while the former justice minister could be seen as an attractive candidate for 2022, both for the lavajatistas and for a globalist right like the one that supports the minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes.

Following the dismissal of the superintendent of the Federal Police of Rio Janeiro (Ricardo Saadi) at the request of the president, the possible departure of Moro began to be discussed in the corridors of power. Instead of trying to mend relations with one of the strongest ministers in his government, Bolsonaro, who still maintains a third of public opinion on his side despite the deterioration in his popularity, chose to continue accelerating the process of decomposition of the coalition that brought him to power. In this scenario, it is worth asking: Will the military continue to support Bolsonaro? Will the political Establishment initiate an attack against the president? The position of the military seems to be pivotal. The future is one of uncertainty.”

Source: Brecha: https://brecha.com.uy/donde-mandan-generales-no-manda-capitan/

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