Brazil: Bolsonaro’s abortive coup attempt on Sunday, January 8th

Internationalist Standpoint spoke with Julio Carvana, a left-wing activist and militant, about the recent developments in Brazil. 

Internationalist Standpoint: On Sunday Jan 8 there was an onslaught of Bolsonaro’s supporters into the presidential palace in the capital Brazilia. What actually took place? 

Julio Carvana: Bolsonaro and the far right in Brazil faced an important defeat at the presidential elections of 2022. Despite managing to get a high number of votes, using a lot of public resources (and regional allies who were close to the President), Bolsonaro lost the elections – it was the first time a president was not reelected for a second term in Brazil since the re-democratization in the 1980s. However, Bolsonaro (following Trump and the US far right modus operandi) did not accept the result and tried to find ways to keep his supporters active and mobilised. Since the election results, they have been gathering in front of Army barracks, demanding military intervention and, essentially, a new dictatorship. After Lula’s inauguration, they moved supporters to a camp in Brasilia (with transport, food and infrastructure sponsored by Bolsonarist businessmen). On Sunday, January 8th, they stormed the buildings of the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court, got in and caused a lot of destruction. That action had a lot of similarities with what happened in the USA two years before, when Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

ISp: What was the main demand of the demonstrators? What was the role of the police? 

JC: The demonstrations claim that the elections were a fraud and demanded military intervention. But first thing we need to stress is that these were not massive demonstrations. There were between 5 and 10 thousand people involved – which is not a big figure for national demonstrations in the capital city. One week before that, President Lula’s inauguration brought far more people to Brasilia. 

On the 8th there was no police present – and the stormers found a free path to break into the buildings and palace’s glass walls. The police for that type of operation is usually the State Military Police (PM) controlled by the State Government (of the region). The Federal District governor is a Bolsonaro ally. In addition, his Secretary of Security, Anderson Torres, who is the ultimate Head of the State Police, was a Bolsonaro Minister until December. Torres left the Federal Government when Lula came in, was appointed to that role in the State (Brazilia) government and flew to Florida (USA) a few days before the incident, to the same city where Bolsonaro is currently (Orlando). Thus, there were no police protecting those buildings on that day.

ISp: What is the balance of class forces inside the country in general? Would such attempts have any chance of success at this stage?  

JC: Imperialism and the main bulk of the Brazilian ruling class are against any coup attempt. That includes the majority in the Parliament, institutions, mainstream media, foreign governments (including US and EU) etc. A coup d’etat which overthrows Lula and implements a Bolsonaro or military government is, absolutely, out of the political landscape at the moment.  

ISp: This was a continuation of the November mobilisations against Lula’s victory in the presidential elections. Do you think they are part of a more general plan?

JC: They are part of Bolsonaro’s (and his main supporters) plan to “keep alive” and relevant in the Brazilian political scene. However, in my opinion, those incidents accelerated the decoupling of many segments who were supporting Bolsonaro from the former president. Also, as the vast majority of the population is against such attempts, this will pave the way for Lula’s counter offensive against the most determined section of the Bolsonarists. Just to give some examples, only hours after the events the Supreme Court suspended the Federal District Governor from the office. Torres, the former Secretary, may even be arrested. But let’s see how things will develop in the next days and Bolsonaro’s response to these.

ISp: Bolsonaro left for the US a couple of days before the events. Do you think he played a role in planning them? What does the fact that he left the country before Lula was inaugurated, thus breaking the protocol, signify? 

JC: It’s absolutely clear that he did – Bolsonaro had a role in the planning of these events. And that’s not my opinion only – even Lula admitted this in a statement on that day. Now, even US Congress Reps are questioning his stay in the country after the events. He left Brazil a few days before Lula’s inauguration and was criticised for that even by many of his supporters. His former Vice President, Hamilton Mourão, who became the President in Charge for the last few days, made an official statement on TV directly criticizing Bolsonaro. Lula found a smart way to take advantage of Bolsonaro’s absence, and set up a scene where the official handover was made by regular people (in the absence of the previous president) – including women, native Brazilians, black people, LGBT representatives etc. That created a very good image for Lula and was one of the main things that came out from the inauguration.

ISp: It is established that the Brazilian ruling class (as well as the international one) are fully backing Lula and wanting to marginalize Bolsonaro. What was the reaction of the ruling class representatives? 

JC: The main sectors of the ruling class, as well as the Western imperialist countries, were clearly backing Lula since the elections. But even sectors who were not supporting him directly positioned themselves very firmly against the events. Because that was seen as a clear attack against the institutions, which are controlled by the ruling class, and not just against the government itself or the President. 

ISp: Did Bolsonaro’s supporters hope that the armed forces or sections of the police would join their “insurrection”? Knowing that the ruling class was against them, what do you think explains their abortive attempt? 

JC: The main leaders, the sponsors… I don’t think so. That would be a complete deviation from reality. The field supporters, maybe. The far right and neo-fascists have a significant ability of deviating the masses away from reality… For example, some of the demonstrations were praying and asking for God’s intervention or were blinking the cellphone lights to the sky claiming for Aliens support (absolutely surrealist, isn’t it?). So, I believe that many of them expected all sorts of completely unrealistic outcomes from those events.

ISp: Will Lula go ahead with a cleansing of the state apparatus, including the army and the police from far-right, neo-fascist supporters of Bolsonaro? 

JC: Lula’s government is a class coalition government. More than that, it’s a very broad coalition which includes some of the main sectors of the ruling class, the support of imperialist governments and many of the former Bolsonaro supporters in Parliament. For this reason, I consider that this government is going towards a National Unity model – i.e., it is going further than the traditional class collaboration governments we generally see. Thus, Lula has Jose Mucio, a former Bolsonaro supporter and from a far-right party (PTB), as his Minister of Defense (commanding the Armed Forces!). Mucio had been seen visiting the Bolsonarist’s camps quite a few times, had defended the demonstrations at the beginning (not these last events, of course) and so on. Not only that, also the Ministry of Tourism is in hands of a person who has connections to the paramilitary militias in Rio de Janeiro. 

A proper cleansing should be restricted to the current Bolsonaro supporters, because many of them have already been migrating to Lula (for opportunistic reasons, of course). Lula ought to remove all these elements from the Government itself. There’s pressure for that – including even some sectors of mainstream media. But Lula has been resisting taking any steps in this direction.

We should not forget that in many military or constitutional coup d’etats, the threat came from within the government itself… Temer was the vice president of Dilma in Brazil’s 2016 coup, and Pinochet, in Chile, was minister of Defense in Allende’s government – just to point out some of the best-known examples.

ISp: What do you think should be the demands and initiatives of the Brazilian Left? 

JC: First, we should always keep in mind the historical perspective that in class coalition governments the task of the Left is to be independent from the government and build mass movements to fight for the agenda of the laboring masses. Every time that the Left capitulates to such governments and these governments betray the promises they make and the expectations of the masses, the far-right has the opportunity to grow in the political vacuum that is created. Lula’s government composition shows that it’s very unlikely –to say the least– that it will implement the changes that the working class and the oppressed people expect and need. 

Having said that, we must defend the government against any coup attempt from the far right and the neo fascist groups. The Left must be in the front-line of demanding the identification and the arrest of the Bolsonarists involved in the recent coup attempt, especially its leadership and sponsors, including Jair Bolsonaro himself, his close staff (which includes his sons) and close collaborators; including also the former Secretary of State of Brasilia, and the (suspended) Governor of the Federal District, as well as the businessmen sponsoring these activities (many of them from the agribusiness sector). But that’s not all – the Left must demand that all the former Bolsonarists that are now part of Lula’s government (like the Minister of Defense, Jose Mucio) are immediately removed from their offices. 

Last but not least, the only way to defeat the far right and fascism is by building mass mobilizations of the working class and the oppressed sectors, combining the struggle against the far-right with the struggles for the working class demands, against capitalism and for social change. 

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