By Abayomi Azikiwe
Just one week after the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was inaugurated for another term of office, right-wing elements aligned with the former neo-fascist head-of-state, Jair Bolsonaro, attacked government buildings in the southern city of Brasilia.
Bolsonaro was a close ally of former United States President Donald Trump and followed similar policies to the Republican leader by denigrating the social status of people of color, the LGBTQ+ communities, women, the working class and impoverished in general.
Thousands of right-wing supporters of Bolsonaro have been protesting consistently since the former president lost the run-off election against Lula in October. They continued to engage in roadblocks and maintained encampments outside a military base demanding that the army take control of the state and return the Workers’ Party president to prison.
On January 8, mobs wearing soccer shirts of the national team and carrying Brazilian flags stormed the buildings of the presidency, congress and supreme court. The right-wing activists were transported into Brasilia by bus and then allowed to approach the center of government operations in the city.
It would take several hours for security forces to restore order in Brasilia. Since the attempted coup in the capital, questions are being raised by Lula and other officials as it relates to the funding and coordination of the operation.
The president was quoted as saying:
“You will see in the images that they [police officers] are guiding people on the walk to Praca dos Tres Powers. We are going to find out who the financiers of these vandals who went to Brasília are and they will all pay with the force of law.”
President Lula da Silva along with the judiciary has ordered the purging of several top police and governmental officials claiming they were directly or indirectly involved in the attempted coup. At least 1,500 people have been arrested so far in connection with the January 8 incident. Several hundred were released on humanitarian grounds such as health issues and age. Nonetheless, hundreds more remain in detention facing prosecution for very serious crimes.
Bolsonaro has been quiet since losing the election in October. He has never conceded defeat and left the country to ostensibly receive medical treatment in the U.S. before the inauguration of Lula. The latest report from Bolsonaro is that he is denying involvement in the coup and will soon return to Brazil.
The presidential campaign in Brazil during 2022 illustrated the deep political and economic divisions inside the South American state of more than 215 million people. Historically, the country had undergone centuries of enslavement and colonization by Portugal. Even after independence during the early 19th century, a monarchy ruled by people of Portuguese descent continued to dominate the country until the uprisings of 1888. It was only after this time that African enslavement was abolished and a bourgeois democratic system was adopted.
During the course of the 20th century there were numerous military interventions into the political administration of the country. A state extremely divided along class and racial lines, has been the scene of popular and left-wing movements. During the 1960s and 1970s, armed revolutionary movements sought to overthrow the military and autocratic bourgeoisie by force.
Over two decades ago, the popular and working class oriented mass movements were able to consolidate in the formation of the Workers’ Party. The first Lula administrations represented a departure from the domestic and foreign policy orientations of the past.
People of African and Indigenous descent were given a greater degree of political and social recognition under the Lula government and his successor President Dilma Rousseff, a Marxist economist and former revolutionary guerrilla who was imprisoned for her struggle against the military dictatorship during the early 1970s. Rousseff was the first woman head-of-state in Brazil and her policies of supporting the workers and oppressed came under attack by elements in the Congress. Rousseff was impeached in late August 2016.
An article on the violent attacks in Brasilia says of the present situation:
“Alexandre de Moraes, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice, issued the warrants for the two security officials, including Anderson Torres, the man effectively in charge of security for the capital, in response to a request by the federal police. Mr. Moraes, a controversial figure who has been accused of severely overstepping his authority, said that investigators had evidence that the officials knew violence was brewing but did nothing to stop it. He said that they were under investigation for terrorism, criminal association and offenses related to the violent overthrow of democracy.”
Popular Opposition to the Attempted Coup
Thousands of people have entered the streets of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to protest the right-wing insurrection demanding that no amnesty be granted to the perpetrators who caused millions of dollars in damage. Leaders of governments and mass organizations throughout Latin America have also condemned the attempted coup, viewing it as a dangerous development in the region.
The pro-democracy demonstrations against the Bolsonaro supporters who attempted the putsch displayed a sense of history in recalling the failure to hold the military dictatorship of 1964-1985 accountable for the crimes they committed against the people. During this time period in Brazilian history, thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and exiled from the country. After the return to civilian rule in the post-1985 period there have remained political tendencies which prefer military rule to bourgeois democratic governance.
Bolsonaro, a former captain in the Brazilian military, has often in admiration evoked the names of the worst abusers of human rights. The former president has expressed nostalgia for the days of the military dictatorship. Progressives and leftists do not want to see a repeat of this obvious error in the political and judicial process.
One of the participants in the demonstrations against the attempted seizure of power, a police officer from the northeastern Pernambuco state named Marcelo Menezes, 59, said:
“It’s unacceptable what happened yesterday. It’s terrorism. I’m here in defense of democracy, I’m here in defense of the people.”
Another protester in opposition to the neo-fascist attempted coup makers, Marcos Gama, a retiree, noted:
“After what happened yesterday (Jan. 8), we need to go to the street. We need to react.”
There are calls within the Brazilian government to freeze the assets of Bolsonaro. Others want him prosecuted for encouraging the false notions that the elections were stolen.
From January 6 to January 8: 2021 and 2023
Analysts have compared the events in Brasilia on January 8 to what happened at the U.S. Capitol two years earlier. Both attacks were based upon lies that massive electoral fraud was carried out by left-wing elements to deny the anti-democratic forces another term of office. Trump and Bolsonaro have built their respective political careers utilizing racism, sexism, classicism and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry.
Bolsonaro opposed efforts to end climate change through the preservation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforests. Trump as well is a staunch climate change denialist. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump and Bolsonaro deliberately played down the severity of the disease resulting in the illnesses and deaths of millions of people.
Within South America itself, the military has a strong tradition of staging coups which have the support of the U.S. and other imperialist states. Bolivia in 2019, witnessed the overthrow of then President Evo Morales who had just won an election to serve another term. The coup in Bolivia was openly backed by the Trump administration where much was made over the presence of Cuban physicians inside the country.
In recent weeks, the socialist President of Peru, Pedro Castillo, was impeached obviously at the aegis of the military and the U.S. State Department. Since the political coup in Peru, the successor to Castillo, President Dina Boluarte, has made public appearances with the military as they have engaged in repeated massacres of workers, farmers and youth protesting the removal of the former leader and demanding the resignation of the current head-of-state and the holding of national elections. Castillo remains in custody despite the mass demonstrations calling for his release and the condemnation of the Peruvian government and military by progressive administrations in the region.
These developments should serve as a lesson to progressive and left forces throughout Latin America and internationally. Even with an electoral victory, right-wing and neo-fascist political forces will resort to the removal from office of those whom they disagree with ideologically and view as enemies of their national and class interests. It will be up to the working class, nationally oppressed, farmers, revolutionary youth and intellectuals to provide a clear line of defense for democratically-elected administrations which serve the interests of the people.