The Threat Logic

Image: Matthew Nathan


Relations between the military and political militancy

“On the first night they approach / and steal a flower / from our garden. And we say nothing […] / Until one day, / the most fragile of them[…] / knowing our fear, / rips the voice out of our throats. / And we can no longer say anything". (Eduardo Alves da Costa, On the way with Mayakovsky).

The current Minister of Defence, a reserve general (a civilian position, which, preferably, should not be occupied by a military man, even a reserve one), and his Navy, Army and Air Force commanders, repeating the attitude of the then Army commander, On April 04, 2018, General Villas Boas, who threatened the country with military intervention in the event that the Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled in favor of an appeal by former President Lula, again threatened the country.

The reason for the threat (or rehearsal of the coup that seems to be underway) was a statement by the chairman of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) of Covid-19, Senator Omar Aziz (PSD-AM), about irregularities in the negotiations for the purchase of vaccines , which stated that “members of the rotten side of the Armed Forces are involved in fraud within the government”. He added: – “Look, I’m going to say one thing: the good guys in the Armed Forces must be very ashamed of some people who are in the media today, because it’s been a long time, it’s been many years since Brazil has seen members of the rotten side of the Armed Forces involved in fraud within the government”.

These gentlemen considered potential coup plotters, in a note distributed by the Ministry of Defense that “this narrative, far removed from the facts, affects the Armed Forces in a vile and light way, being a serious, unfounded and, above all, irresponsible accusation”.

And, they concluded the note threatening with the serious and worrying statement that – “The Armed Forces will not accept any light attack on the Institutions that defend democracy and the freedom of the Brazilian people”. What will they do? Will they repeat 1964, as their boss has rehearsed? Is that what they learned in the military academies?

For any reader with a minimum of discernment and criticism, it is clear that the senator's statements do not refer pejoratively to the Armed Forces, but rather to a part of the more than approximately six thousand military, active or reserve, who occupy civilian positions and militarize the current government; particularly, the Ministry of Health, whose main position was occupied by an active general and where the facts that supported the arguments that justified the installation of the Covid-19 CPI took place.

The facts are piling up. For example, on July 01, two days before the demonstrations that took place in dozens of Brazilian cities against the Bolsonaro government, with the country facing a pandemic that has already killed more than 500 thousand Brazilians, the director of the CIA (intelligence agency of the United States), William J. Burns, accompanied by the US ambassador, Todd Chapman, fulfilled an official agenda in Brasília and participated in a dinner with the ministers General Ramos (Civil Staff) and General Augusto Heleno (Institutional Security). It is good not to forget the role that the CIA played in the military coup of 1964 and, in 2016, in the one that deposed President Dilma Rousseff.

At the moment, certainly, the CIA must be uncomfortable with the return, in the 2022 electoral scenario, of former President Lula. These are facts that cannot be set aside in view of the “imperial” interests of the USA in South America and Brazil.

At the same time, the current president insists on repeating that “he may not hand over power in 2022”, especially if we don't go back at least 30 years, resurrecting paper voting. In this case, he has repeatedly stated “that he will not accept the result if he loses the elections in 2022”, possibly counting on the political anesthesia of society, with the complicity of the political class and support in rigging institutions.

The example of Chile and Bolivia is the answer that needs to be given with the continuity of street protests, in defense of democracy and against the surrenderers and genocides who invaded the Esplanada dos Ministérios, before “we can't say anything”.

Despite the controversies that still surround, especially in Brazil, the discussion on civil-military relations, as suggested by Huntington (2) “democracy only benefits from the removal of the military from politics. Armed men must not have the same participation as unarmed men in the political life of the Nation”.

The creation of the Ministry of Defense, headed by a civilian, which is not the case in Brazil at the moment, helped to guarantee the subordination of the armed forces and their respect for the constitutional provisions.

In a democratic State based on the rule of law, the democratic argument trumps the technocratic one, that is, specialists can propose alternatives, but the decision will always be political. The right to err, even in matters of national security, belongs to the civil authority. Ultimately, the separation of decision-making instances is a political decision, therefore, a civil one.

The civilian control of the military, as remembered by several scholars on the subject, represents part of how to maintain a government strong enough to resist all social pressures, without tyrannizing and violating the population it protects. The issue is not new and, in Brazil, after the civil-military dictatorship, it is past time to face the discussion on how to overcome difficulties, to maintain effective, reliable, financially viable means of repression that know how to respect human rights.

The methods used by the civil-military dictatorship of 1964 and the legacy of authoritarian postures, such as those demonstrated by the current Minister of Defense and his Commanders of the Navy, Army and Air Force must be energetically repudiated by society.

One of the main urgent tasks that Brazilian society still has to fulfill is to resolve relations between the military and political militancy, for the consolidation, in fact, of a democratic State of law. Otherwise, “they will rip the voice out of our throats and we won’t be able to say anything.”

*José Domingues de Godoi Filho Professor at the Faculty of Geosciences at UFMT.


Huntington, SP The soldier and the State – Theory and politics between civilians and the military. Rio de Janeiro, Army Library, 1996.


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