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The Brazilian Military Is Culpable in the January 8 Riot
Brazilian Generals dream of reviving the military dictatorship, but will go down in history as accomplices in the coup that destroyed the capital.
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by Rafael Moro Martins, translated by Elias Bresnick
“Politicians, journalists, and judges have become the police force’s worst nightmare,” said Luiz Fernando Ramos Aguiar, a major in the Federal District’s Military Police in 2021. In writing, Aguiar badmouthed an entire professional class for having reacted to the largest massacre ever perpetrated by the police in Rio de Janeiro, in the Jacarezinho favela last May.
Though the message was published on an internal chat among police officers, it should have been uncovered by Aguiar’s commanders and resulted in punishment. It wasn’t, and things got worse from there: the diatribe caught the attention of the editors of the Paraná newspaper Gazeta do Povo, who repackaged and disbursed the article to a much larger audience.
Controversy notwithstanding, nothing happened to Aguiar. On the contrary, he continues at his position in the military police and receives a salary of R$18,000 a month (~$3,600 USD), according to Brazil’s Transparency Portal. And the authorities’ lenience towards far-right radicals in Brazilian security forces has extended well beyond Aguiar. Police and military have been some of Bolsonaro’s strongest supporters and politicized declarations of support, prohibited under their codes of conduct, have become commonplace in recent years. Bolsonaro used police and military during October’s election to intimidate and obstruct voters in pro-Lula areas.
It’s because of this that no well-informed Brazilian was surprised by the ease with which the terrorists of January 8th invaded and ransacked the Planalto Palace (the seat of Brazil’s President), the National Congress, and the Supreme Court. We already know that Major Aguiar’s colleagues sipped coconut water while watching the terrorists destroy the Three Towers Plaza (shorthand for the buildings that house the three branches of Brazil’s federal government).
Of course, there are a select number of clear culprits behind Brazil’s largest ever terrorist attack. The first is Ibaneis Rocha, a wealthy lawyer who decided to play politics and spent a few million reais to win the Governor’s seat of Brazil’s Federal District. Rocha is a Bolsonaro type who decided to mock the whole country by naming Federal Police chief Anderson Torres as his secretary of Public Security.
Torres was the Chief of Staff for Federal Deputy Fernando Francischini, who was impeached for lying about the electronic voting machines that elected him. As a prize for this misconduct, Torres was tapped by Rocha to head up Public Security in the Federal District. Torres left office in March of 2021 to become Jair Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice. Under Torres’s command, the federal police were involved in such controversies as the killing of Genivaldo de Jesus Santos in an improvised gas chamber in the back of a van.
The murder did not end up costing Torres his job, and he felt free to attempt to steal the election for Bolsonaro by blocking routes to voting booths in areas that were heavily pro-Lula — once again using the highway police to do so. It is no surprise that Torres stood idly by when coup leaders decided to strike terror into Brasília on the 12th of December, just a few weeks before Lula’s inauguration.
None of these controversies prevented Governor Ibaneis from giving Torres a new job as head of Public Security in his district once his term under Bolsonaro had reached its end. Of course, the governor did try to save his own skin by firing Torres at the height of Sunday’s barbarism. By that point it was generally known that the Federal District’s Shock Battalion had only been called in when coup plotters were already vandalizing the most important public buildings in the country. If there is any institutional legitimacy left in Brazil, Ibaneis and Torres will be expelled from public life — and perhaps jailed for prevarication.
The list of dishonor also has a place for newly appointed Defense Minister José Múcio Monteiro, who was a friend to the military dictatorship in the 1970s and was inexplicably named by Lula to his cabinet. Last week, Múcio laughed in the Main hall of the Planalto Palace when he had to speak about his friends and relatives in coup camps supported by the Brazilian military.
“I didn’t know they were going to take it so seriously,” joked the former collaborator. This past Sunday, I asked Múcio’s team whether he still thought the Bolsonarist coup was “democratic” — and whether any of his friends or relatives had sent selfies of themselves destroying public buildings. The formerly good-humored minister was silent on this point.
The Destruction is Military
The institutionally careless slogan “justice will be done” is the work of the military. Eduardo Villas Bôas, Sérgio Etchegoyen, Hamilton Mourão, Walter Braga Netto, Luiz Eduardo Ramos, Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira and Marco Antônio Freire Gomes — all four-star generals — dreamed of reviving the military dictatorship. They will go down in history as accomplices in the destruction of the capital. They will have by their side the former commanders of the Navy, Almir Garnier Santos, and of the Air Force, Carlos Almeida Baptista Junior.
All this — the rottenness of a whole generation of senior military commanders, Múcio’s cynical laughter, Ibaneis’s arrogance and Torres’ open complicity — materialized yesterday in the passive tranquility with which members of parliament watched the destruction of Brasília. Their inertness was mirrored by the soldiers of the Cavalry Regiment, the Presidential Battalion, and army units whose only function is to protect the seat of Executive power.
But few who woke up yesterday were surprised. The vitriol with which uniformed men feel free to attack democracy is displayed on a daily basis, whether it’s coup-plotting generals on social media or police guards committing dereliction of duty. In the aforementioned example, Major Aguiar took aim at the judiciary, the political class, and the entire press without fear of retaliation and while making himself a mouthpiece for far-right terrorism.
Each of these professional categories, it must be said, shares blame for institutional rot. Judges such as Luiz Fux and Luís Roberto Barroso applauded Lava Jato’s juridico-political free-for-all and made themselves tools of the far right’s abject ideological propaganda.
Brazilian politicians’ share of guilt is likewise immense and must be democratically distributed, but it can be summarized in three sad public men from Paraná. Ricardo Barros, the Federal Deputy of the PP (Progressive party), tried to blame Lula for issues with electronic voting machines and Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes for the turmoil in Brasília. Deltan Dallagnol, a federal deputy for Podemos, claimed that Lula robbed a cross from the presidential palace (the cross belonged to him) and said he relished the thought of putting him in handcuffs. Yesterday, Dallagnol managed only to babble some generalized criticism of the depredation of public and historical heritage sites by his far-right friends, qualified by many a “but,” “however,” and “even though.”
The third politician who merits a share of the blame is Sergio Moro, a former judge who was foundational to the rise of the far right. His comments went further than those of Dallagnol, as he criticized the Lula administration for “repressing protests.” Later, with the pressure cooker boiling over, he said the terrorists “need to get out of public buildings before the situation escalates” — without calling for their arrest.
Last, there ought to be some soul-searching among journalists. This Sunday, the main political column in Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paolo, ended with a note about the arrival of buses with coup leaders in Brasília: “the demonstrators have a network of solidarity to keep themselves encamped.” A few hours later, the “demonstrators,” supported by their “network of solidarity,” began to destroy the capital.
It is astonishing that anyone should be surprised by Sunday’s debased outcome. Anyone willing to look the facts straight on has already realized that the police, the army, elements of the judiciary and the political class are not up to the institutional roles that the Constitution and society have entrusted to them. They will all need to be closely inspected by the democratic organs of society until they are properly sanitized and reconfigured. This task can no longer be postponed, threatened as we are by the fascists that wear uniforms and act ever more brazenly in Brazilian politics.
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