Lessons from coup and countercoup

Image: Ferran Perez


We live in a surreal moment. The United States, in fact, and the left, in law, defending democracy, order and progress

“Nobody is going to carry out the coup over the telephone” (Governor Leonel Brizola, in a harsh telephone conversation with General Artur da Costa e Silva, on August 27, 1961).

There was an attempt at a coup d'état on the 08th of January last year: there is no doubt about that. The attempt failed: it is also obvious. There was a counter-coup as fulminating as the coup attempt was violent: ditto, of course, with the leadership of minister Flávio Dino, from his ministry headquarters in Brasilia. The discussion of the hows and whys is open. As well as the lessons that can be drawn from these dramatic events.

Some time ago I published on the website the earth is round a series of six articles on the many coups d'état and the few successful counter-coups in our history. Here I will try to discern some constants in the successes and failures of both sides.

To begin with, and I think I will be surprised by this comment, I see some similarity between the failure of the coup and the failure of what in history has become known as “Operation Valkyrie”, the one with the intention to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944.

Don't worry, I'm not comparing intentions or related values, let alone historical circumstances. I'm trying to do what I used to call “syntactic analysis” in my high school and high school days, which I don't even know if it's still practiced in postmodern schools. That is, it is about, abstracting from semantics, analyzing the connections and connectives that lead to the construction of an organized sentence, with a beginning, middle and end, but seen as a simultaneous structure.

If someone prefers a more conspicuously academic version, it is about analyzing a narrative plot, which unfolds in time, as a simultaneous structure, which can be visualized as a pictorial frame.

The operation to kill Hitler failed, in the first place, because it did not achieve its first and final objective: the death of the target. But secondly, it failed because its practitioners resorted to a device foreseen within the Nazi order itself: the so-called “Operation Valkyrie”, which consisted, in the event of a vacancy of power in Berlin, in the Army taking control of the city and passing to issue the orders to be followed.

In short, the conspirators, however good their intentions, slipped into the wolf's mouth. After the attack, they rushed to the Wehrmacht barracks in Berlin, today (deservedly) transformed into the Museum of the German Resistance, on Stauffenbergstrasse.

The parallel I would like to underline is that the January 08th conspirators intended, according to what is disclosed, to resort to a “legal” expedient to be activated by the target they wanted to overthrow, President Lula: the Guarantee of Law and Order, GLO. They were probably intending to have a legal cover to justify their actions nationally and internationally, since the traditional mentor of coups d'état in Latin America, the US government, was no longer on their side. Calling on President Lula army forces to contain the ongoing mutiny, these same forces would pave the way for the coup masterminds to actually assume power, and who knows where President Lula would end up: embassy, ​​prison, cemetery. It didn't work: instead of shooting himself in the foot, Lula shot them in the foot, the coup plotters: he intervened in the security apparatus of the Federal District, reinforcing the hierarchy of command.

Another mistake: in the rush to carry out the coup, the coup leaders did not combine anything with possible allies, the media mainstream, always willing to support coups against the left, the national bourgeoisie, which no longer flirts with the Ogre of Orlando, except for its most ardent and retrograde portion, that is, sectors of agriculture, illegal mining, militias and lumpen- business community that received benefits from the mismanagement that ended on December 31 and from its incompetent finance minister. Not to mention that the international financial bourgeoisie decided to get rid of the Ogre, its militiamen of organized crime and disorganized crime.

But the plot of the tragicomedy that we experienced that Sunday was not only made up of mistakes. There were hits too. I have already pointed out the tactical success of not triggering the GLO, but intervening in the (in)security apparatus set up in Brasília.

There was also a strategic and historic success.

If we examine the circumstances in which democratic counter-coups neutralized dictatorial coups, as in 1955, with General Lott guaranteeing the inauguration of Juscelino and Jango, or in 1961, with the Campaign and Network of Legality, led by Brizola, and now on January 08 of 2023, guaranteeing Lula's government.3, we find in its frontispieces that magic word: “Legalidade”.

We live once again this curious situation: the left leading the progressive forces in the name of law and order, while the right preaches subversion, disorder, vandalism, turmoil and chaos. And it is this – the defense of Legality – that gives the left its leadership strength.

Like this? In the background of this whole dramatic plot, for the Brazilian people, the law, Legality, is a utopia, and a utopia to be preserved. Yes, the country is divided. Yes, Ogre had almost 60 million votes on October 30, 2022. But it was defending the legal and constitutional framework of the country that Lula had a little more than 60 million votes. It was enthroning the people that he climbed the ramp of the Palácio do Planalto in 1st. of January. And it was by defending Legality that he won the January 08 coup attempt. Ultimate victory? Does not exist. The fight goes on.

Decidedly, we live a surreal moment. The United States, in fact, and the lefts, in law, defending democracy, order and progress.

Who lived, saw.

*Flávio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

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