Lula and the military – necessary concessions or strategic errors?



Lula's conciliatory logic is based on the principle of seeking pacification, but it is necessary to think about whether this works


The president's controversial position on the memories of the 1964 coup must be discussed from a more comprehensive view of the government's relations with the military establishment.

Much has already been said and written about the convenience or necessity of “remembering the past”. On the one hand, we witnessed countless and fair protests by former political prisoners, relatives of “disappeared” militants or those openly murdered in the basements of the military regime, as well as dozens of organizations that preach the need for transitional justice, with the review of the amnesty law (with regard to its application to torturers and murderers) and the resumption of the commission of dead and missing people.

On the other hand, we see the government “forgetting” for more than a year in a drawer of the Minister of the Civil House the decree that would appoint the Commission for the Dead and Missing, proposed by Minister Silvio Almeida. And we see the silence order given by Lula to government entities to commemorate the 64 coup.


Lula's position is part of an attitude that is not new. Since his first governments, he adopted a stance of avoiding “provoking the barracks”. Orders of the day from the military commanders appointed by him repeated, year after year, praise for the military's “democratic movement”, an execrable pretext of the barracks that traumatized the country for 21 years and that has left harmful roots to this day. Without a critical word from the president. Lula also avoided interfering in military training programs throughout these years, allowing new officers to be indoctrinated in the justification, not only of the coup, but in everything the military did over more than two decades of fierce repression.

Finally, Lula never used his power as head of the Armed Forces to promote officers who were demonstrably, if not democratic, at least focused exclusively on their professional activities. Notorious agents of the coup did not have any obstacles in their promotions, all decided exclusively by the hierarchy, which also came from the times of the dictatorship.

This is how, for example, Captain Augusto Heleno, an active participant in a coup attempt in 1977 by the minister of the army, General Silvio Frota, against the president of the time, General Ernesto Geisel, could reach the highest position in the military hierarchy. , spanning the governments of José Sarney, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula and Dilma Rousseff.

This attitude of passing the curtain on the coup has been going on for a long time. Meanwhile, loyalist officers have been removed or passed over by Armed Forces hierarchs throughout history. A notorious example, but far from being unique, is that of Captain Sérgio “Macaco”, who refused in 1968 to use his command in PARASAR, from the Ministry of Aeronautics, to kidnap and throw “enemies of the regime” into the sea.

I have another less dramatic but significant example. My uncle Carlos de Matos, brigadier and commander of the São Paulo Air Zone in 1968, condemned the unauthorized participation of officers of this weapon in the invasion of the philosophy faculty at USP, on Rua Maria Antônia, and paid for this gesture with his removal and placement in availability for years, until its premature transition to reserve.

Lula's reasoning was and always is political in nature and more focused on the present than on the past or future. In his new government, the president found himself faced with an attempted coup, even before his inauguration and again in the first days of his administration. Until recently, the extent of these plots was not known, now revealed by the investigation by the STF and the Federal Police.

But Lula was clear that the Armed Forces were contaminated by Bolsonarism and viewed it as an enemy to be killed at the first opportunity. His option was the same as his previous governments and the appointment of José Múcio Monteiro to the Ministry of Defense indicated that he wanted to pacify relations. This did not prevent the plots from advancing, reaching the attempt on January 8th. Lula was challenged by the ministers of the Navy and Army, the now “hero of democracy” General Gomes Freire, who refused to participate in the change of command under his government. He pretended he didn't see it.

The president then swallowed the indiscipline and threat made by the Planalto military commander on the day of the attempt, preventing the action of the DF police who sought to arrest the coup plotters invading the Esplanada palaces who had taken refuge in the camp at the gates of the Army Headquarters. . “I have more troops than you,” said the general, as his tanks took up positions defending the criminals.

The Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino and the intervenor in the DF security secretariat, Ricardo Capelli, consulted Lula and swallowed the outrageous indiscipline. Lula only took one measure as the highest authority during this period, when he demanded the resignation of the Army commander, General Arruda, when he refused to revoke the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Mauro Cid to command an ultra-specialized combat force, located a time of your residence. And he appointed today's “hero of democracy”, General Thomás Paiva, to replace him, not because he was more trustworthy, but because he was the most senior of the natural candidates. It seems he was lucky and the general is defending professionalism in the Force.

Although he stopped the second coup attempt with the refusal to decree a GLO in the Federal District, requested by the military through his representative in the government, Defense Minister José Múcio Monteiro, Lula quickly sought to please the Armed Forces with generous budget allocations that gave the military received more resources than the Ministries of Education and Health combined received.

And he avoided cleaning the more than seven thousand soldiers hired by Bolsonaro in his government, occupying positions in various ministries. Even strategic bodies such as Abin and the Institutional Security Office remained relatively untouched, despite failures or collusion on January 8th.

It is not up to the president to do justice and punish coup offenders. This is a task for Xandão and the PF (and should be for the military justice system, which today pretends to be dead). But cleaning the government of the military hired by Jair Bolsonaro is, yes, a decision that can (and should) be taken by the president. And drawing up promotion lists based on professionalism versus political activism is also within Lula's purview.


Lula's conciliatory logic is based on the principle of seeking pacification, but we need to think about whether this works.

Our Armed Forces, in addition to still being guided by the doctrines of the Cold War and automatic adherence to US commands, went through a period of weakening of the principles of discipline and hierarchy, shaken from top to bottom at all levels of officialdom by the Bolsonarist anarchy. There were years of activism on social media, with political demonstrations, always from the extreme right, by countless officers.

Government intelligence, if it exists and can be trusted, would have no difficulty in identifying who has spoken out on its websites, Facebooks and blogs in recent years. This would allow plotting, if not who the legalists and professionals are, at least those who did not risk putting their Bolsonarist and coup leader faces on display. And, from the outset, speaking out politically is something prohibited for active military personnel and a series of disciplinary punishments would have a salutary effect in showing the right direction for officialdom. But General Thomás Paiva is cleaning up the past and asking his subordinates to limit themselves, on social networks, to messages about football, the weather or their professional activities... from now on.

The frustrated and denounced coups, in public opinion and in the courts, took the official coup onto the defensive. This does not mean that there was not (and that there continues to be) a huge support for the coup Bolsonarism in this segment, but the lack of command in the implementation of the coup paralyzed this mass of potential adherents.

It cannot be assumed that the current passivity of officialdom means security for the future. It is more like a tactic of preserving positions and functions and patiently waiting for an opportunity. This has happened since the end of the military regime and it worked, until the disaster of the Bolsonaro government and the generals' hesitation in endorsing the coup.

With this threat permanently hanging over the president's head (and ours...) is the best strategy adopted by the president? Does calming the beast with all kinds of concessions make the pitbull a sweet poodle? Lula's decision to silence official demonstrations about the 64 coup goes in this direction. And it is quite possible, if not likely, that the anniversary of this last coup attempt, on January 8th, will encounter the same attitude of “avoiding dwelling on” the past.

Lula's calculation is centered on a certainty and a hypothesis. The certainty is that the broad masses are not sensitive to this debate from the past. It was not because Lula was losing support in public opinion because he gave up on the military, something caused more by the dengue epidemic, high food prices and issues called “customs” (marijuana, abortion, …) or “communism”. ”, the latter always fueled by the evangelical drumbeat and Bolsonarism.

Lula is no fool and he knew very well that Democrats in general and the left in particular would fall flat and they did. Not even the president's staunchest supporters in the PT came to his defense, preferring obsequious silence. But Lula also knows that these critics have no alternative but to support him, even if they turn up their noses or grumble. Clearly, there has been no left-wing alternative to Lula since he led the metalworkers' strike in São Bernardo in 1978.

And there won't be an alternative anytime soon, given the way things are going. In other words, Lula assessed that his chance to appease the military was worth receiving criticism from the left and perhaps even this criticism would help him to establish himself with the Armed Forces. The political calculation makes sense, according to Lula’s logic.


The problem is not in this last gesture, but in the work as a whole. It is the strategy that is wrong and it only keeps the sword of Damocles raised but not away. Lula assesses the number of problems he has to face in the difficult coexistence with an ultra-right Congress (and with the brake in the teeth... of Artur Lira), in the effort to resume distributive economic development, in the environmental crisis that is getting worse every day and he prefers not to stir the hornet's nest of intervening in the Armed Forces.

The price to pay is to live under the constant blackmail of a public that is different from others: they are people with weapons in their hands and a (right-wing) idea in their heads. Reforming the Armed Forces, redirecting their current role, guaranteeing hierarchy and discipline is difficult, but the opportunity provided by the defeat of the coup attempt is unique. Losing it for not using the authority of commander in chief and accepting to swallow cane toads that erode his power of command is, in my opinion, a historic error and could compromise, not only the future of his government, but the future of the country .

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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