Notice to democratic navigation

Image: Michelle Guimaraes
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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

It is to be expected that the intention is to create a situation of ungovernability that will make President Lula's performance as difficult as possible.

It took place in Brasilia on the 8th of this month, a week after the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an event that only took by surprise those who did not want or could not find out about his preparations, which were widely disseminated on social networks. The violent occupation of the legislative, executive and judicial buildings and surrounding spaces, as well as the depredation of public property existing in these buildings by extreme right-wing protesters, constitute acts of terrorism planned and meticulously organized by their commanders.

It is, therefore, an event that seriously jeopardizes the survival of Brazilian democracy and which, due to the way it occurred, may threaten other democracies on the continent and in the world tomorrow. It is therefore convenient to analyze it in the light of its importance. The main features and lessons are as follows:

The extreme right movement is global and its actions at the national level benefit from foreign anti-democratic experiences and often act in alliance with them. The articulation of the Brazilian extreme right with the North American extreme right is well known. Its well-known spokesperson, Steve Bannon, is a personal friend of the Bolsonaro family and has been a tutelary figure for the Brazilian extreme right since 2013. In addition to alliances, the experiences of one country serve as a reference to another country and constitute a learning experience. The invasion of Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasilia is an “improved” copy of the invasion of the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2020, he learned from this one and tried to do better.

It was organized in more detail, sought to bring many more people to Brasília, and used various strategies so that democratic public security felt reassured that nothing unusual would happen. The commanders' objective was to occupy Brasília with at least one million people, create chaos and remain there for as long as necessary to allow military intervention to put an end to democratic institutions.

It is intended to make believe that these are spontaneous movements. On the contrary, they are organized and have deep capillarity in society. In the Brazilian case, the invasion of Brasília was organized from different cities and regions of the country and in each of them there were leaders identified with a telephone number so that they could be contacted by the adherents. Participation could take many forms. Those who could not travel to Brasilia had missions to carry out in their places, blocking the circulation of fuel and the supply of supermarkets.

The objective was to create chaos due to the lack of essential products. Some will remember the fuel truck drivers' strikes that precipitated the fall of Salvador Allende and the end of Chilean democracy in September 1973. In turn, the chaos in Brasilia had precise objectives. The strategy room of the Institutional Security Office, located in the basement of the Planalto Palace, was invaded, where confidential documents and ultra-technological weapons were stolen, which demonstrates that there was training and espionage. Five grenades were also found in the Federal Supreme Court and National Congress.

In democratic countries, the extreme right's strategy is based on two pillars: (i) Investing heavily in social networks to win elections with the aim of, if you win them, neither using power democratically nor leaving power democratically. It was like this with Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro as presidents. (ii) If you do not expect to win, start from an early age to question the validity of the elections and declare that you do not accept any other result than your victory. The minimum program is to lose by a small margin to make the idea of ​​electoral fraud more credible. It was like this in the last elections in the USA and Brazil.

To be successful, this frontal attack on democracy needs the support of strategic allies, both national and foreign. In the case of national support, the allies are anti-democratic forces, both civil and military, installed in the government apparatus and public administration that, by action or omission, facilitate the actions of the rebels. In the Brazilian case, the connivance, passivity and if not even the complicity of the security forces of the Federal District of Brasilia and its leaders is particularly clamorous.

With the aggravating factor that this administrative region, as it is the seat of political power, receives enormous federal revenues with the specific purpose of defending the institutions. In the Brazilian case, it is also scandalous that the Armed Forces have remained silent, especially when the organizers' purpose of creating chaos to provoke their intervention was known. On the other hand, the Armed Forces tolerated the installation of camps for demonstrators in front of the barracks, a military security area, and remained there for two months.

This is how the idea of ​​​​the coup prospered on social networks. In this case, the contrast with the US is stark. When the Capitol was invaded, US military leaders made a point of highlighting their defense of democracy. In this sense, the appointment of the new Defense Minister, José Múcio Monteiro, who seems committed to a good and reverential relationship with the military, does not bode well. He's a troubled minister after all that's gone on.

Brazil is paying a high price for not having punished the crimes and criminals of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), given that some crimes have not even expired. This is what allowed former President Jair Bolsonaro to praise the dictatorship, pay tribute to military torturers and appoint military personnel to important positions in a civil and democratic government, some of them strongly committed to the dictatorship. This is the only way to explain why people talk today about the danger of a military coup in Brazil, but not in Chile or Argentina. As is known, in these two countries those responsible for the crimes of the military dictatorship were tried and punished.

In addition to national allies, foreign allies are crucial. Tragically, on the Latin American continent, the US has traditionally been the great ally of dictators, if not the instigator of coups against democracy. It turns out that, this time, the US was on the side of democracy and that made all the difference in the case of Brazil. I am convinced that if the US had given the usual signs of encouragement to would-be dictators, today we would be facing a consummate coup.

Unfortunately, and in the light of a history spanning over a hundred years, this US position is not due to a sudden zeal for the internationalist defense of democracy. The US position was strictly determined by internal reasons. Supporting far-right Bolsonarism in Brazil would be giving strength to the US Trumpist far right who continue to believe that Joe Biden's election was the result of electoral fraud and that Donald Trump will be the next US president.

As a matter of fact, I predict that maintaining a strong extreme right in Brazil will be important for the purposes of the North American extreme right in the 2024 elections. next years. So that this does not happen, scammers and predators must be severely punished. And not only them, but also their constituents and financiers.

To guarantee the sustainability of the extreme right, it is necessary to have a social base, to have financiers-organizers and an ideology strong enough to create a parallel reality. In the case of Brazil, the social base is broad, given the exclusionary nature of Brazilian democracy, which makes large sectors of society feel abandoned by democratic politicians. Brazil is a society with great socio-economic inequality aggravated by racial and sexual discrimination.

The democratic system enhances all this to the point that the Brazilian Congress is more a cruel caricature than a faithful representation of the Brazilian people. If it is not subject to profound political reform, it will be completely dysfunctional in the medium term. Under these conditions, there is a wide recruiting field for extreme right mobilizations. Obviously, the vast majority who participate in them are not fascists. He just wants to live with dignity and he disbelieved that this is possible in a democracy.

The financier-organizers seem to be, in the case of Brazil, sectors of low industrial, agrarian, armament and service capital that benefited from Bolsonarist (mis)governance or whose ideology they most identify with. As far as ideology is concerned, it seems to rest on three main pillars.

In the first place, the recycling of the old fascist ideology, that is, the reactionary reading of the values ​​of God, Fatherland and Family, to which Freedom now joins. Above all, it is a question of unconditionally defending private property so that (1) it can invade and occupy public or community property (indigenous territories), (2) effectively defend property, which implies arming the property classes, (2) having legitimacy to reject any environmental policy and (3) reject reproductive and sexual rights, in particular the right to abortion and the rights of the LGBTIQ+ population.

Second, ideology implies the need to create enemies to destroy. Enemies have various scales, but the most global (and abstract) is communism. Forty years after, at least in the Western Hemisphere, the regimes and parties that defend the implantation of communist societies have disappeared, this remains the contradictorily more abstract and more real ghost.

To understand this, it is necessary to take into account the third pillar of far-right ideology: the incessant and capillary creation in the social fabric of a parallel reality, immune to confrontation with real reality, carried out by social networks and reactionary religions (neo-Pentecostal evangelical churches and anti-Pope Francis Catholics) that easily link communism and abortion and thus instill abysmal fear in defenseless populations, all facilitated by the fact that they have long since lost hope of having a dignified life.

The attempted coup in Brazil is a warning to navigation. Democrats in Brazil, Latin America, North America and, ultimately, around the world must take this warning very seriously. If they don't, tomorrow the fascists won't just knock on the door. They will certainly break into it without ceremony to enter.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

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