Politics, Americas

Violent attack on Brazilian government shows how fragile democracy is in country

Latin American history professor argues former Brazilian President Bolsanaro is 'ultimately responsible' for attack on government buildings, as he calls it 'attempted coup'

Muhammed Enes Calli  | 11.01.2023 - Update : 12.01.2023
Violent attack on Brazilian government shows how fragile democracy is in country A Lady Justice statue's head is seen on the floor following Brazil's anti-democratic riots, at the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, January 10, 2023. ( Mateus Bonomi - Anadolu Agency )


The videos of thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro storming the National Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace in Brazil made the headlines across the world on Sunday.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's return to power for his third four-year term in a tight runoff race has split Brazil down the middle. Some supporters of Bolsonaro did not accept the election results and demanded military intervention, as Sunday's attack showed how fragile democracy is in Brazil and at more risk than at any time since the military rule ended in 1985.

According to Lula, Bolsonaro had encouraged his people to revolt. Rafael Ioris, a professor of Latin American history at the University of Denver, believes that Bolsonaro is "ultimately responsible" for the attack.

".. since he is the main figure who acted to normalize the extreme right logic, narrative, and modus operandi in the last four years in Brazil. He defended the closing of Congress and the Supreme Court, and actively questioned the legitimacy of the election,” he told Anadolu.

"So even though he was not in Brasilia on Sunday, he is the main responsible for the tragedy of what happened. But powerful business groups, especially in the agribusiness sector, have also supported these events, even with funds to transport and feed the demonstrators. "

Bolsonaro flew to Florida two days before the inauguration of Lula on Jan. 1.

Andreza De Souza Santos, director of the Brazilian Studies Program at the University of Oxford, said the former president's silence and his absence during the inauguration says a lot about his role in the riot.

"His followers interpreted that as a message to stay together and challenge results. Bolsonaro's nonacceptance of the defeat in a polarized country las Brazil now was an invitation for disaster. In addition to that some of his family members were in the protest," she told Anadolu.

However, Bolsonaro rejected accusations being leveled against him "without evidence," saying they were attributed to him "by the current head of the executive of Brazil."

Bolsonaro insisted in a tweet that "peaceful demonstrations, in the form of the law, are part of democracy. "However, depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017 are not within the rules."

Ioris called the revolt "an attempted coup," as the supporters tried to create "a havoc of such a magnitude" to justify the military intervention.

"The refusal to accept a democratic election result is indeed a criminal coup," De Souza said.

Security forces regained control later Sunday, with Lula implementing a federal intervention, allowing the armed forces to contain Bolsonaro supporters.

Over 1,000 attackers have been arrested.

Election marked by 'polarization, violence, disinformation'

Brazilian democracy suffered a long history of military coups, as the last military dictatorship lasted 21 years between 1964 and 1985. With this background, Brazilians should take any threats to their fragile democracy seriously.

"Democracy in Brazil showed resilience but is under attack and will keep being challenged," Luiza Duarte, a journalist and a fellow at the Brazil Institute, Wilson Center, told Anadolu.

According to her, the election was marked by "strong polarization, political violence, and disinformation."

"Bolsonarismo even without Bolsonaro in power remains an important political force that helped to elect governors and legislators," Duarte said.

Ioris urged that democrats in the world they live in should support democracy in Brazil.

"Lula was elected fairly and thus far has managed to take office and stay in power. So, it is a process that needs to be strengthened," he said.

Still so much needed to strengthen fragile democracy

Lula's government has much to do to strengthen democracy and protect the democratic institutions while the attack seems to dominate the public debate.

Duarte believes that the newly elected left-wing president "needs to review public security structure, contain military influence, secure their loyalty, and curb radical opposition."

"The new government must reinforce democratic institutions, reestablish social programs, and combat disinformation," she argued.

The Supreme Court removed Governor of the Federal District Ibaneis Rocha from office for three months after the unrest at government buildings in Brasilia.

De Souza warned that democracy stays strong but "many will be punished."

"But this (attack) yet again opens a precedent that some right-wing groups contest election results by force, imposing their view over others in a violent way," she said.

There should be no more space for accommodations with right-wing radicals in the army, according to Ioris.

"For now, the radicals lost some of their appeals. But that could change if there are no consequences for those (who) attacked and supported the events."

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