War and peace – the oscillations of Jair Bolsonaro

Image_Oto Vale


The bet on open conflict against the political-institutional system gave better conditions for the captain to play the political game, because he protected those who could create problems

President Jair Bolsonaro experienced the worst moment of his government in 2021 and managed, with fits and starts, to cross the desert of the pandemic, the political crisis and the deterioration of the population’s living conditions. He conducted war and peace around an unprecedented crisis, with attacks on the STF (Federal Supreme Court), instrumentalization of the Armed Forces and control over the National Congress, acting as a tutor for an unstable political regime.

With the candle to war, he maintained a crusade in defense of the printed vote, which mobilized his supporters, radicalized the confrontation against the “institutions”, fed the fear of a coup d'état and neutralized the threats of the STF. With the sail to politics, he made changes in the government, strengthened the articulation in the National Congress, consolidated procedures for negotiating directly with parliamentarians, divided the parties, penetrated the benches and built a political base for the 2022 presidential election.

The September 7 demonstrations called by Jair Bolsonaro marked the height of the institutional crisis that pitted the president, with the blessing of the Armed Forces, against the “establishment”. Brazil slept under what many believed to be the imminence of the opening of the impeachment process, with political leaders with influence in the National Congress accusing Bolsonaro of attacks. Everything changed on September 9, with the release of the text entitled “Declaration to the Nation”, signed by the president, who threw a bucket of cold water on the boil.

From that day forward, the country experienced times of greater institutional stability, with an armistice with the STF and greater control by the president over the National Congress. There was a “lay down of arms” agreement, the terms of which are not known, but which scratched the ground. By ending the printed vote campaign, it neutralized the Court's initiatives in opposition to the government and in relation to the processes involving the family.


The printed vote crusade

The scrutiny of the conduct of the pandemic government's policies, with the installation of the Covid-19 CPI at the behest of the STF, at a time of frightening numbers of deaths and slowness in vaccination, placed the then Minister of Health, General Eduardo Pazuello.

The demoralization of the man who epitomized the association between Bolsonaro and the Armed Forces generated a body spirit that created a shading between the two, quite functional to circumscribe the crisis under the fear of a coup. From that impulse, Bolsonaro launched the crusade against the electronic electoral system.

Active and reserve military personnel begin to speak out, in notes, letters and interviews, both in relation to the Covid CPI and in relation to the printed vote. There was even a letter signed by Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto and the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, considered a threat to the commission.

The weather warmed up with newspaper report The State of S. Paul, which reported that Braga Netto would have sent a message to the mayor, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), through an interlocutor, communicating that there would be no elections in 2022 if the printed vote was not approved.

It was in this climate that Arthur Lira put the PEC of the Printed Vote to vote. The proposal entered the drowning agenda, according to the press, in a maneuver by the president of the House to obstruct the government's articulation for the approval of the text. Bolsonaro and Lira measured forces in the dispute for control of the Chamber.

On the same day of the vote, the Armed Forces held a military parade of tanks and weapons, sponsored by the government, on the Esplanada dos Ministérios, passing in front of the National Congress, which was considered another threat. The STF omitted for fear of non-compliance with a contrary decision.

The government made an extraordinary effort to win the most votes. On the other hand, Arthur Lira operated for the rejection of the PEC, which depended on 308 favorable votes. The final score gave 229 votes in favor, 218 against and 1 abstention. A project that expressed Bolsonaro's ideological struggle against the electoral system and Brazilian democracy divided the Chamber of Deputies. The benches of most parties were shattered. In this dispute, Bolsonarism penetrated the right-wing “opposition” (PMDB, PSDB and PSD) and even the center-left (PDT and PSB).

The STF was at the bottom of the crisis of the federal government against the National Congress. The Court had imposed the installation of the CPI on Covid, over protests by Rodrigo Pacheco, who had been elected president of the Senate with the support of the government. In addition, ministers had left fingerprints in the joints in the Chamber against the printed vote. Bolsonaro maintained tension with the STF for months, even cursing Minister Luís Roberto Barroso. In addition, he presented the impeachment request of Minister Alexandre de Moraes.


Marriage to the Center

Bolsonaro’s war against the STF and the Covid-19 CPI in the Federal Senate, at a time of deteriorating political conditions in the government, implied building a base in the Chamber of Deputies and consolidating procedures to neutralize an impeachment request. and move parliamentarians to a position supporting the government.

This movement began in 2019, when the government opened more space for the so-called “centrão”, composed of the most pragmatic and physiological right-wing parties, expanding the influence of Minister Rogério Marinho, absorbing Fábio Faria into the ministry.

The second act was the political operation to guarantee the election for the presidency of Arthur Lira (PP-AL) in the Chamber of Deputies and Rodrigo Pacheco (PSD-MG) in the Senate, with the appointment of positions and release of amendments. As a result, he weakened the more independent liberal right-wing camp in Congress, which had the then mayor Rodrigo Maia as a unifying factor.

The third chapter was the ministerial reform of March, which opened up even more space for the centrão and placed key figures of power in the president's confidence, such as the transfer of Braga Netto to the Ministry of Defense. With the change, the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force reacted and threatened to leave their positions. In view of this, the government announced the replacement.

Many analysts pointed out that Bolsonaro had lost the arm wrestling with the Armed Forces and that his reference to the command of the generals was weakened. Others bet that, with the exchange, he would promote a new generation, with soldiers with less political autonomy, who would be more dependent on and loyal to the government. That is what happened.

The assault on the government by the centrão was consolidated in the period of falling positive evaluation in opinion polls, with the high rates of deaths and contamination caused by the pandemic, slowness in the vaccination process and deepening of the social crisis, with the maintenance of high unemployment rates and cutting emergency aid.

In the wake of the Covid-19 CPI, which had turned into a concentrated arena of government wear and tear, popular forces took to the streets again with an expressive series of demonstrations, starting in May. The protests gained density in the capitals and spread across the country, under the umbrella of the Fora Bolsonaro banner and in defense of an income policy to face the social crisis and the acceleration of vaccination to control the health crisis.

The shadow of impeachment was growing when the past paper marriage between Bolsonaro and the centrão took place with the appointment of senator Ciro Nogueira, president of the PP, to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. From then on, the nucleus of the more physiological parties took over the coordination of government actions and negotiations with the National Congress, which was in the hands of Flávia Arruda, from the PL, in the Government Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic.

Bolsonaro maintained the strategy of increasing his control over positions of power in the Republic, nominating his faithful squire André Mendonça for the open vacancy in the STF and proposing the reappointment of Augusto Aras to the position of Attorney General of the Republic. The prosecutor's name was approved in 30 days by a large majority in the Senate, while the appointment of the former minister was postponed, but it took effect this week. The majority of the Senate gave the seat on the highest court in the country to the “terribly evangelical minister”. Mission Accomplished.


The turn of the 7th of September

Bolsonaro took advantage of the government siege to mobilize his supporters, giving an epic character to the September 7 protests. He threw in the chips and made a test of the political strength concentrated in the war for the printed vote. He charged the invoice of supporters among parliamentarians, mayors, governors, businessmen, church leaders and commanders of the repression apparatus, to give a mass dimension to the confrontation.

The demonstrations were concentrated in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília and mobilized thousands of people. They were the biggest acts since the demonstrations for the impeachment coup of President Dilma Rousseff. Bolsonarist hordes in green and yellow took to the streets with a radical speech, in defense of the impeachment of STF members and the institution of printed voting. The president, on top of a sound car on Avenida Paulista, turned the artillery against the STF, threatened to disregard judicial decisions and attacked Alexandre de Moraes.

Bolsonaro took the war to the last consequences, mobilized thousands of people and radicalized attacks on democratic institutions. Brazil dawned in an atmosphere of astonishment. All limits had been crossed. The reaction was strong and the impeachment thesis won the mouths of PMDB, PSDB and PSD leaders. The president of the STF Luiz Fux made a firm speech and spoke of a “crime of responsibility”.

The Brazilian political scene changed substantially on September 9, with the letter to the nation written with the “assistance” of former President Michel Temer, one of the old foxes of Brazilian politics, who also spoke with political leaders, STF ministers and entrepreneurs. “I never had any intention of harming any of the Powers. Harmony between them is not my will, but a constitutional determination that everyone, without exception, must respect”, says the text that defused what seemed to be a time bomb.

Many consider that the president would have retreated, but since then the conditions of governance have improved. After the most serious crisis of the so-called “New Republic”, the STF was silent, Congress kept the impeachment process in the drawers and everything continued as if nothing had happened. Institutions have failed. They failed to fulfill their role to make a deal.

The war was behind us, but politics did not remain the same. The final report of the CPI on Covid-19, which accused the representative of nine crimes, had no developments. With the penetration of Bolsonarism in the benches, a type of governance was consolidated that dispenses with parties and is carried out through direct negotiation with parliamentarians. It's every man for himself and God for all, as the saying goes.


The new Bolsonarist regime

The amalgamation of this model is the negotiation of amendments, which reached a higher level with the institution of the so-called “Secret Budget”. The approval of the Precatorios PEC in the first round in the Chamber of Deputies, by 312 votes to 144 against, once again divided the majority of the benches, regardless of party orientation. The party-political system has failed.

The STF decided to suspend transfers of the so-called “rapporteur's amendments” (RP-9), demanding transparency from the Legislative Branch. In other words, he ordered to put order in the mess. The National Congress approved a draft resolution with rules for implementing rapporteur amendments, which maintains secrecy for parliamentarians. Everything's solved.

The apparently contradictory movement of waging war against the institutions, maintaining the ideological cohesion of supporters, and of reorganizing the political base, absorbing the centrão, came to an end on September 7th. The bet on open conflict against the political-institutional system, which many considered would lead the president to undergo an impeachment process, provided better conditions for playing the political game, because it protected those who could create problems.

Bolsonaro will enter the field for the 2022 dispute with a larger political coalition to contest the elections, with the affiliation to the PL and alliance with the PP. It undermined the so-called 3rd way parties, which face difficulties in imposing a candidacy and suffer from the Bolsonarist wings within them. Neutralized the actions of the STF that could harm his candidacy and threaten his children. One cannot underestimate the strength of the president, who is praying the candle of politics, but the candle of war remains lit.

*Igor Felipe Santos is a journalist and social movement activist. He is host of the podcast Três por Quatro, from Brazil in fact.


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