Conflict Alerts # 580, 12 January 2023
In the news
On 8 January, loyalists of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace. Around 3,000 the protesters vandalized buildings and property. The floor of the Congress building was flooded after the sprinkler system got activated due to the protesters setting the carpet on fire. They looted the building, simultaneously posting videos online recording their actions. The three-hour long attack ended when the police and the military took control. Six hours after the attack, Bolsonaro issued a statement on Twitter saying “...depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practised by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule.”
On 9 January, Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino said 1500 people had been detained, 300 of whom have been arrested and will be tried in court. The Supreme Court suspended Brasilia’s Governor Ibaneis Rocha for gross failure in maintaining security.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted: “I condemn the assault on Brazil’s democratic institutions that took place today. The will of the Brazilian people and democratic institutions must be respected.” US President Joe Biden tweeted: “I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil. Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “The violent attacks on democratic institutions are an attack on democracy that cannot be tolerated.”
President Lula said: “He (Bolsonaro) spurred attacks on the three powers whenever he could. This is also his responsibility. There is no precedent for what these people have done, and for that, these people must be punished.” He ordered federal law in Brasilia until 31 January.
The Brazilian Supreme Court issued an order directing social media platforms to block users from spreading anti-democratic propaganda. Meta, YouTube, and Telegram announced they will remove all content promoting anti-democratic activities in Brazil. This includes videos of the attack and those praising the violent demonstrators. Meta “designated Brazil as a temporary high-risk location” and are removing any such content. YouTube and Telegram issued similar statements saying they are removing violent content from their respective platforms.
Issues at large
First, Bolsonaro’s polarizing campaign and subsequent actions. At the start of campaigning for Brazil’s national elections, Jair Bolsonaro had begun speaking about the electoral system being compromised. He sought to undermine people's faith and trust in the electoral process. He sought to divert attention from the failures of his government to fight COVID-19. His speeches were geared towards raking up religious and social issues, such as LGBTQA+ and women’s rights. Bolsonaro’s actions all led to the polarization of Brazilian society on political lines. When the election results were declared on 30 October 2022, Bolsonaro maintained silence and did not issue any statement about his loss. This added to the conspiracy theories and fake news being spread on social media. Bolsonaro flew to Florida before his term ended and did not attend the inauguration on 1 January, breaking the tradition of handing over the baton to the new president. Finally, on 8 January, this culminated in the violence at Three Powers Square.
Second, Lula’s unifying campaign. President Lula and his party, on the other hand, focused on Lula’s past record in governance and the bread-and-butter issues being faced by people. He also promised to stop the destruction of the Amazon, which had increased during the Bolsonaro years. He made coalitions with various other groups and reached out to unite as many people as possible. This gave people hope as they saw in him, a hope for a renewed Brazil.
First, the attack on Brazil’s institutions and the preceding violence comes as the first challenge in Lula’s presidency. He has handled it well and managed to not let Brazil’s democratic institutions fall into the hands of the rioters. Brazil’s military establishment, too stood faithfully behind the elected government and did not respond to the calls for a coup by Bolsonaro’s supporters. Going ahead, Lula’s biggest challenge is to govern over a fractured Brazil, where politics has seeped into the everyday lives of people. He has taken the right decision to take stringent action against the protesters and the former president himself.
Second, the question over Bolsonaro’s return. Bolsonaro needs to be brought back and be made answerable for his crimes. He is the sole person responsible for creating such a vicious environment that culminated in the attack on three pillars of Brazil’s democratic institutions. This was an act against democratic values and democracy itself, which thankfully has been thwarted by Lula’s careful management of the situation.