US involvement in the coup that culminated in Bolsonaro's election

Clara Figueiredo, Brasilia series fungi and simulacra, esplanade, 2018
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By BRIAN MIER, BRYAN PITTS, KATHY SWART, RAFAEL R. IORIS & SEAN T. MITCHELL*

The lawfare tactics used against Dilma and Lula resemble in many ways the destabilization of the early 1960s that culminated in the 1964 coup.

Introduction

In October 2009, Brazil finally began to fulfill its promise as the “land of the future”, as the famous Austrian author Stefan Zweig had dubbed it. Under the leftist presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party (PT), Brazil lifted tens of millions out of poverty, expanded higher education and assumed a prominent role in regional and global politics. On October 2, the International Olympic Committee granted Rio de Janeiro the mission of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. And a month later, the The Economist magazine (2009) announced Brazil's rise in the world, with the cover headline “Brazil Takes Off” and a graphic of Rio's Christ the Redeemer being launched like a rocket. For many Brazilians, these were heady times.

Two days after the Olympic announcement, Rio hosted another important meeting, with judges, prosecutors and police officers from all 26 states, Brasilia and six other Latin American countries, gathered for a six-day conference organized by the US Embassy, ​​with funding of the Counterterrorism Coordination of the state of Rio de Janeiro. The event would end up being less about combating terrorism than financial crimes. Participants received classes on “formal and informal international cooperation, asset confiscation, evidence methods, pyramid schemes, plea bargaining [and] the use of direct interrogation as a tool.” One of the speakers, then federal judge Sérgio Moro, shared insights into the criminal prosecution of money laundering. The consular official reporting to Washington suggested that more judicial training could be provided, through a task force in São Paulo, Campo Grande or Curitiba (Kubiske, 2009).

By the end of 2018, Brazil's progress had been halted, if not reversed. The PT had been removed from power in 2016 through the spurious impeachment of Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff. His former deputy, the center-right Michel Temer, had imposed a return to neoliberalism, with privatizations and concessions to foreign oil companies. Between 2014 and 2019, inequality increased rapidly, at a similar pace to the historic decline between 2001 and 2014. The poorest half of the Brazilian population would lose 17,1% of their income, while the richest 10% would gain 2,55% and the 1% richest, 10,11% (Neri, 2019). The stain on the PT's reputation that would legitimize all these events is largely due to Operation Lava Jato, formed in Curitiba and led by Sérgio Moro.

The Operation used plea bargains, international cooperation, confiscation of assets and direct examination to prosecute financial crimes – not of terrorists, but of politicians and construction and energy companies, notably the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. In fact, the economic crisis that eroded the PT's popularity was fueled by Lava Jato's attack on Brazil's largest companies (Paula and Moura, 2021). But Lava Jato's biggest victory was the arrest of Lula – then leader of the 2018 presidential polls – on charges of accepting a renovation of a seaside condominium in exchange for ill-defined favors to construction companies after the end of his term. How private messages hacked from the Telegram app and leaked to The Intercept would later prove that Lava Jato worked precisely for these purposes. He sought to undermine the PT and then prevented Lula from running in 2018, which led to the election of Jair Bolsonaro.

It is this process, in which Brazilian democracy was undermined by a politicized anti-corruption campaign, that we call the “long coup”. For his role in this, Moro received international acclaim. In 2016, Americas Quarterly (published by the corporate think tank Americas Society/Council of the Americas) featured him on a Ghostbusters-inspired cover titled “Corruption Busters” (Spektor, 2016). A Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world (Walsh, 2016), and in 2018 he gave the commencement address at the prestigious Notre Dame University (Notre Dame News, 2018). In March 2019, Bolsonaro made his first state visit, to meet with Donald Trump in Washington, accompanied by his then Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro, whose actions had prevented Lula, Bolsonaro's main opponent, from participating in the presidential election of the last year. When Bolsonaro made the unusual move of visiting the CIA headquarters, Moro in tow, the former governor of Paraná Roberto Requião (2019) tweeted: “Is it true that when Moro joined the CIA his Wi-Fi connected automatically?”

Requião insinuated that Moro's “anti-corruption” crusade and the long coup he helped launch had active US support. This article argues that he was correct. It is the most complete – and, to our knowledge, the only – academic analysis that brings together the currently available evidence of US collaboration with national elites between 2009 and 2018 to harm the left under the umbrella of anti-corruption. Particularly considering the cloak of censorship under which American agencies like the CIA and the Department of Justice operate, and the short time that has passed since Dilma Rousseff was impeached, the evidence of US involvement is overwhelming. However, for a long time, most scholars in the United States did not have much to say about such dramatic and important events.

We are four Americans and one Brazilian-American from anthropology, geography, history and information sciences. We place ourselves on the left of the ideological spectrum and are deeply committed to combating imperialism, particularly when it originates in our home, the United States. We have been involved to varying degrees with advocacy organizations such as the American Network for Democracy in Brazil, which has raised awareness of the damage caused by the long coup and Bolsonaro's presidency, and we have written in popular and academic publications about US imperialism in Brazil . In particular, four of us have been regular contributors to the BrasilWire, a progressive, voluntarily managed outlet created to challenge corporate media framings of Brazilian politics.

In this article, we analyze the available evidence, which we believe convincingly shows that the United States played a significant role in Brazil's long coup. The first section analyzes the 1964 military coup as evidence of the US's previous involvement in the destabilization of Brazilian democracy and how this has often been ignored or denied by academic and media institutions. The following section examines the evidence demonstrating US involvement in the persecution of the PT. Next, we observe how the role of the United States has been largely ignored by scholars outside Brazil, although incisively addressed by Brazilian scholars. The final section considers possible motives for US actions. We conclude that a crucial political role for US Latin Americanist scholars is to denounce our own government's imperialist actions in the region, and we challenge our colleagues to take a more decisive stand against it.

Of course, it is not our intention to deny that there was corruption during the PT governments or that possible mistakes by the party contributed to its problems. The fact is that, despite these imperfections, the PT won four consecutive presidential elections (and a fifth in 2022). And the party was only defeated after a very well organized media campaign, supported by the USA, reshaped the narrative internationally. The use of anti-corruption to legitimize imperial involvement in the weakening of democratically elected left-wing Latin American governments in the XNUMXst century has parallels with the use of anti-communism in the previous century.

However, despite this farcical repetition of a tragic story, the 2022st century also brought surprises. After this article was first written, in October 2018, Lula defeated Bolsonaro in the presidential race that Lava Jato had denied Brazil in XNUMX. Contrary to the historical pattern, Joe Biden's government repudiated Bolsonaro's numerous attempts to subvert the democratic process. We suspect that this anomalous defense of the US by the democratically elected Latin American left is more the result of the Biden administration's antagonism towards the figure widely understood in the United States as a “tropical Trump”, rather than signaling a decisive break with its historical pattern of behavior. .

North American imperialism and its deniers in historical context: the Brazilian coup of 1964

It should come as no surprise that the US media and many scholars have ignored (or applauded) US involvement in the long coup. For more than half a century, intervening against democratically elected governments was only half the story; the second half involved justifying, minimizing, or denying U.S. involvement. Cold War justifications for American intervention privileged anticommunism, as the United States destabilized progressive governments, installed friendly dictators, financed brutal military regimes, and provided specialized training in repression of leftist dissidents (Livingstone, 2011: two). As with recent interventions, such actions were generally only belatedly recognized, sometimes even never, by important sectors of journalism and academia in the US.

In 1961, President Jânio Quadros resigned, leaving Vice President João Goulart as his successor. The US government disliked Goulart for his neutrality in the Cold War, agrarian reform initiatives, the 1962 profit remittance law and promotion of industrial nationalization. In 1962, John F. Kennedy and Ambassador Lincoln Gordon decided that Goulart should be removed (Green, 2010: 29). Among the main fronts of the crusade against Goulart were the Alliance for Progress (Green, 2010: 6-27) and the American Institute for the Development of Free Labor, which worked to steer unions toward anticommunism (Corrêa, 2021). At the same time, propaganda produced by the CIA portrayed an imminent communist takeover (Black, 1977: 131). Finally, as revealed Phyllis Parker (1979), the United States organized Operation Brother Sam, which positioned American ships off the Brazilian coast, ready to help the conspirators if necessary. The conspiracy involving the Kennedy administration, business interests, and right-wing Brazilian politicians and military came to fruition in 1964, and during the two decades of military rule that followed, the United States remained an ally of the Brazilian generals.

North American opposition to Goulart had little to do with communism and the financial and geopolitical interests that motivated the coup were evident from an early stage. Corporations had a lot to lose from Goulart's reforms. For example, in 1963, the Hanna Mining Company opposed Goulart's expropriation decree. Hanna board member John J. McCloy took Gordon to the office of Brazil's first military president, Humberto Castelo Branco, to explain that restoring the Hanna concession “could be a condition of receiving U.S. economic assistance” (Black, 1977: 88). Financial motivations are further revealed by corporate responses to Senator Frank Church's hearings on US support for torture in Brazil. Concerned about exposure, American corporations requested that congressional hearings be “closed and discreet” (Green, 2010: 238-241).

For a long time, the US government denied involvement, repeating the mantra that the coup was a “revolution” that would prevent a communist takeover (Green, 2010: 43). And the American media uncritically parroted this narrative. Before the coup, the correspondent of the New York Times in Rio, Tad Szulc, warned against the “growing leftist influence” and the supposed Marxist organization of the peasants (Green, 2010: 25). Meanwhile, the headline 17 edition of April 1964 stated: “Arrested: a great swing to the left”. In turn, the Reader's Digest (Selections), a 23-page book by noted anti-communist Clarence W. Hall, filled with undocumented allegations, was turned into a pamphlet with instructions from abroad (Hall, 1964). James Green (2010, P. 39) calls it “almost a caricature of the bad propaganda of the beginning of the Cold War in the 1960s”. Michael Weis (1997) concluded that “the US government was able to manage the news to hide US involvement in the coup and present a distorted version of reality” that would soon justify coups across Latin America.

But despite all the evidence uncovered by Brazilian and North American scholars, the record has barely been corrected, and at the level of political and popular discourse, false narratives about the coup and the military regime continue to deceive a public conditioned to interpret foreign policy positively. from the USA. Furthermore, writers linked to institutions crucial to narrative management—the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, the media, and Wall Street—are often responsible for what becomes “common knowledge” about Latin America (Swart, 2022: 224-226). For example, entries about the coup in the 2008 edition of Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture are read as Cold War propaganda. In the entry “Revolution of 1964”, Marshall C. Eakin (2008) limits US involvement to mere “support”, repeating the pretext of US concerns about “a left-wing revolution”. Lewis A. Tambs' entry on the regime's first dictator, Castelo Branco, limits US relations with Brazil to “financial aid and investment”. He further states that the regime’s series of repressive institutional acts “ensured internal order” and “purified the government” (2008: 14). Notably, Tambs cites John WF Dulles, son of John Foster Dulles and nephew of former CIA director Allen Dulles, and Dulles' own entry on Luís Carlos Prestes blames “violent leftists” and the Brazilian Communist Party for the coup. Dulles (2008): 362-363) even mocks the existence of North American “imperialism” by placing it in frightening quotation marks.

Recent textbooks haven't fared much better. Both Latin America and the Caribbean as for Latin America since Independence: A History with Primary Sources they reproduce narrative tropes about communism and omit US intervention. The first praises dictator Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979) as a defender of democracy and calls the coup a “revolution” (Goodwin, 2013: 93). The following work draws parallels between the Cuban Revolution and the region's right-wing dictatorships (Dawson, 2014: 202). None of the texts mention the role of the United States in the Brazilian dictatorship. Therefore, it is not surprising that recent US collaboration with anti-corruption investigators has been ignored in most US reference sources. Two unsigned articles, for example, mislead readers into believing that Dilma Rousseff was impeached for corruption.1 An entry in book ABC-CLIO's World Geography: Understanding a Changing World incorrectly connects Dilma's impeachment to the Petrobras corruption scandal uncovered by Lava Jato (World Geographysd).2

Although we are not claiming that the United States was directly involved in Dilma's impeachment, these examples illustrate how segments of the American intelligentsia were complicit in the Lava Jato crusade to weaken the PT. Indeed, Kevin Young (2013) notes that “even the country’s mainstream liberal media almost never acknowledges U.S. support for [repressive] regimes.” His analysis of five years of reporting from the New York Times,Washington Post and NPR on three dictatorships reveals that the US role is mentioned only 6% of the time. When discussing abuses committed by U.S. allies, U.S. support is rarely mentioned or glossed over as “a force for democracy and human rights” (Young, 2013). However, despite denials or justifications for US interference from government and media sources, evidence can invariably be found in official documents, legal proceedings, lapses in standard media narratives, and from documentary leaks.

Evidence of the US role in Lava Jato In Uncle Sam's Own Words

Brazil signed the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. The convention was modeled on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977, a US law that prohibits bribery abroad by US companies (Spahn, 2013). In 1998, the FCPA's jurisdiction was expanded to apply to any foreign company that does business in the United States or transacts in dollars (Department of Justice, 2017b). Brazil's accession to the convention and the expanded jurisdiction of the FCPA provided a legal basis for the Department of Justice to work with the Lava Jato task force. The relationship was so close that some argue the Justice Department took the lead on the investigation (Ohana, 2019).

The Justice Department and its Brazilian partners have levied billions of dollars in fines on Brazilian companies in civil cases that were often decided in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.3 In 2014, US company filings against Petrobras referenced the Department of Justice's role in Lava Jato (see Kaltman v Petroleo Petrobras SA, US District Court, Southern District of New York, 2014). In 2015, legal blogs wrote about this (Torres, 2015) and, on 2016, the Department of Justice website casually mentioned it. A December 21, 2016 Department of Justice press release stated:

Odebrecht pleaded guilty to a criminal indictment filed today by the Criminal Division's Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney's Office in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accusing the company of conspiring to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Practices Act Corruption Abroad (FCPA). The FBI's New York office is investigating the case. The Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance. The SEC and the Federal Public Ministry in Brazil, the Federal Police Department and the Attorney General's Office in Switzerland provided significant cooperation.

From December 2016 to June 2019, the Department of Justice issued four press releases referencing its relationship with the Brazilian Public Ministry under the FCPA and Lava Jato. In the June 7, 2020 response from Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd (Mier, 2020) to the August 20, 2019 letter signed by 14 US congressmen demanding clarification on the US role in Lava Jato and Lula's election-year arrest, all four press releases were cited as showing that the relationship between Lava Jato and the US Department of Justice was a matter of public record.

In another press release dated September 27, 2018 (Department of Justice, 2018), the Department of Justice's Criminal Fraud Section thanked Brazilian authorities for their assistance and specified the distribution of the fine imposed on Petrobras, with approximately $US85 million going to the SEC and the Department of Justice. On June 7, 2021, evidence of the Department of Justice's involvement in a Lava Jato investigation that until then was known for its illegal activities and politicization (Fishman et al., 2019) were so overwhelming that Congressman Hank Johnson joined 22 other members of Congress in following up a 2019 congressional letter, also sponsored by Johnson, on the role of the Department of Justice. The 2021 letter states: “It is public record that agents from the US Department of Justice provided support to Brazilian prosecutors who were part of the Lava Jato operation.”

The public record referenced was especially damning: a July 19, 2017 speech by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco at the Atlantic Council (Department of Justice, 2017a). Blanco praised the cooperation between the Department of Justice and Brazil, citing the “extraordinary results” of the collaborative investigations into the FCPA cases involving Embraer, Rolls Royce, Braskem and Odebrecht. Blanco also cited Lula's conviction as a success of the anti-corruption campaign in Brazil. Brazil Wire was one of the first media outlets to publicize this bombshell revelation (Mier, 2017), and led Lula's defense to present a motion to dismiss all Lava Jato charges of illegal collaboration with a foreign government (Conjure, 2018). The motion was based on the following section of Blanco's speech (Department of Justice, 2017a):

At the heart of the tremendous cooperation between our two countries is a strong relationship based on trust. This trust allows prosecutors and agents to have direct communications about evidence. Given the close relationship between the Department and Brazilian prosecutors, we do not need to rely solely on formal processes, such as mutual legal assistance treaties, which often take significant time and resources to draft, translate, formally transmit and respond to.

The motion (based on documents released nearly two years before the The Intercept revealing that the FBI had met with them) maintained that Lava Jato prosecutors subverted Brazilian national security law and the terms of the Anti-Bribery Convention by bypassing the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and communicating informally about a pending case with foreign authorities (Martins et al., 2018). In March 2022, the Superior Court of Justice ordered the Ministry of Justice to disclose previously confidential information about partnerships between Lava Jato and the Department of Justice to Lula's defense team, so we hope that, over time, more information about US collaboration becomes public (STJ, 2022).

US media coverage

From 2014 to 2016, articles published in some of the most influential newspapers in the United States (Stevenson and Sreeharsha, 2016Kiernan, 2014Segal, 2015) began to report the Department of Justice and SEC's partnership with Brazilian investigators who used the FCPA to target companies vital to Brazil's development. For example, an article from New York Times 2016 explained that the fines against Odebrecht and Braskem were the result of a joint investigation by American, Swiss and Brazilian authorities, referring to the Brazilian side as “Operation Lava Jato” (Stevenson and Sreeharsha, 2016).

The Odebrecht and Braskem case would make headlines as the largest foreign bribery case ever decided in a US court. A 2016 Reuters article explained that Lava Jato represented a nearly three-year partnership between American and Brazilian authorities under the FCPA (Rosenberg and Raymond, 2016). But December 2016 was the last time a major US outlet mentioned US involvement. O New York Times, for example, published at least 37 articles about Lava Jato between 2015 and Lula's arrest in 2018, but the last of its three articles mentioning the US role appeared in 2016 (Stevenson and Sreeharsha, 2016).

Throughout that year, Lava Jato had helped create the conditions for Dilma's impeachment and publicly worked to arrest the likely 2018 presidential candidate, Lula, while also sparing members of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). , PT's main center-right rival. And while the North American press reported US collaboration with Lava Jato, most outside Brazil saw the operation as a legitimate and even heroic investigation. And so, this collaboration might have seemed morally justified. It was only in 2017 that Lava Jato's supposed neutrality began to come under some degree of scrutiny, with criticism of the operation even reaching publications such as Foreign Affairs (Robertson, 2017) and reports about the economic devastation caused by Lava Jato began to appear in the The Washington Post (Lopes and Miroff, 2017). It is worth noting that as the US consensus on Lava Jato's benevolence faded, so did reporting on US involvement. And even though the North American press had lost interest in the topic, it remained important in Brazil.

In June 2019, the evidence about US interference via Lava Jato was already so strong that the PT leader in Congress, Paulo Pimenta, managed to prepare a dossier full of information. It included names of US prosecutors, public statements by government officials, evidence of meetings and side events, official agendas, evidence of informal collaboration in violation of laws of national sovereignty and the presence of US agents in Brazil acting without the knowledge of authorities government (Pepper, 2021). The deputy shared the material with members of the US Congress and, during a meeting of the European Parliament on June 19, 2019, accused the United States of creating Lava Jato as a laboratory for Moro and prosecutors to promulgate the illegal guidelines they received from the States United (Ohana, 2019). Weeks later, a series of bombshell reports published by The Intercept with local media partners began to confirm Pimenta's claims.

Walter Delgatti, The Intercept and Operation Spoofing

Lula was released from prison on November 8, 2019, 580 days after the Federal Supreme Court, under a nationally televised threat from the Army commander, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, decided to make an exception to the Brazilian Constitution, allowing his arrest before his death. appeal process had proceeded. His release occurred one day after the court corrected its own decision. We bring this up because Lula's release is often mischaracterized (Danner, 2021) as based on a technicality.

The hundreds of activists camped in front of his prison,4 petitions demanding his release signed by intellectuals and scholars from around the world (CTB, 2018) and visits to him by heads of state certainly helped to stimulate public sympathy. But it was, in fact, the court's admission of error that led to Lula's release. In the same sense, the Operation Spoofing scandal, in which hacker Walter Delgatti delivered 57 GB of Telegram conversations between Moro and Lava Jato prosecutors that he had obtained for Glenn Greenwald, from The Intercept,5 helped change public opinion, but had no direct relationship with Lula's release (STF, 2021; see Angelo and Caligari, 2021).

In 96 reports released in partnership with some of Brazil's main media outlets between September 2019 and March 2020 (Intercept Brazil, 2020), the The Intercept revealed a wide range of crimes involving collusion between a judge and the Public Prosecutor's Office with the explicit objective of removing former president Lula from the presidential elections of 2018, annihilate the PT and help elect Bolsonaro. In March 2020, in partnership with the independent media group Agência Publica, The Intercept released the information that Brazilian journalists and American academics and activists who had followed Lava Jato from the beginning expected: US federal agents had collaborated with the entire illegal process. Telegram conversations that revealed that the Lava Jato team held repeated secret meetings with a group of 17 FBI agents, ignoring Brazilian Ministry of Justice guidelines, national sovereignty laws, and the terms of the FCPA partnership to collaborate on sensitive elements of the condominium case against Lula (Fishman, Martins and Saleh, 2020).

On February 9, 2021, the STF considered the Operation Spoofing data admissible as evidence and determined that all data — hundreds of times more than what was received by the The Intercept — were released for Lula's defense. Lula's lawyers immediately filed his second request for dismissal based on illegal collusion between the Lava Jato task force and a foreign government. One of the justifications cited in the motion was a comment made on the day of Lula's arrest by the head of Lava Jato, Dalton Dallagnol, that it was a “gift from the CIA” (Conjure, 2021). On March 8, 2021, before the new motion could be ruled on, the court reversed all of Lula's convictions in response to a previous motion filed by Lula's defense in November 2020 charging the prosecution with illegal forum shopping (Falcão and Vivas, 2021).

The motion was based on the fact that the justification for transferring the case from Lula's house in São Paulo, where Moro had no jurisdiction, to Curitiba (alleged involvement in an ill-defined Petrobras corruption scheme) had been dropped from the charges a week after case transfer (Angelo and Caligari, 2021). Moro is now being investigated for judicial bias for his role in the case. In an article by New York TimesGaspard Estrada (2021) called the case “the biggest judicial scandal in Brazilian history”. The US government's involvement in this scandal certainly deserves greater scrutiny than it has received from American scholars.

Anti-imperialism and imperialist blind spots in specialized literature

The role of the United States in Lava Jato has been widely recognized by Brazilian scholars (although not equally across all social science disciplines), many of whom have not hesitated to call out the United States for its role in fueling the country's economic and institutional crisis. , begun in the mid-2010s. A recent wave of work has sought to highlight institutional and ideological connections, formal partnerships and informal collaborations between central Lava Jato figures and American (and also Swiss) institutions.

Some works argue that the United States' fight against corruption in Latin America took on a neocolonial character as the fight against corruption began to be used as a convenient tool to neutralize competitors who threatened North American hegemony in the region (Warde, 2018:107: Souza, 2020). Others have highlighted the geopolitical element of these actions, arguing that the ideological affinities and working partnerships of Lava Jato and the US government indicate how new iterations of US imperialism sought to revive the neoliberal agenda in the post-Pink Tide context (Gloeckner, 2020Martins, Martins and Valim, 2019; is Proner, 2021).

But while Brazilian scholars have asked pointed questions about the US role in Lava Jato and its political consequences, American scholars have remained largely silent. Some jurists effusively praised Lava Jato; other scholars were cautiously critical, and still others, particularly social scientists, strongly condemned Brazil's long coup and mobilized international resistance. What they all have in common is silence about the US role.

This is especially disconcerting since, from the 1960s through the Chilean coup and the Central American wars of the 1980s, Latin Americanist scholars have been vocal critics of US meddling. If we could not remain silent in the face of the CIA's support for the 1964 Brazilian coup, the fomenting of a Nixon coup in Chile, and the arming of Reagan's death squads in Central America, why did we remain silent while the Department of Justice trained Brazilian officials? in anti-corruption strategies to discredit a left-wing government that challenged the United States?

Worryingly, the majority of North American scholars who admitted US involvement were those who approved of it, especially among legal scholars. These are researchers who, for the most part, do not speak Portuguese, and assume that Brazil suffers from an “innate culture of corruption” (Tobolowsky, 2016: 385) whose remedy is to emulate the Global North, especially the United States, which one of them calls the “boy scout” of “ethical mentality” that eliminated large-scale corruption a century ago (Campbell, 2013: 248–249). For such analysts, any possible US hand in Lava Jato is positive, indicating that Brazilians are learning to “build a system that now exists in the US and has proven central to anti-corruption oversight” (Spalding, 2017: 209) and placing themselves “in accordance with international standards” (Richard, 2014: 362). Imperialism? How is it imperialist to help a child in need? Thus, such 'supporting' jurists would end up playing a role in legitimizing Lava Jato, even turning the figure of Moro into an international celebrity. For example, Harvard Law's Matthew Stephenson spent years rooting for Lava Jato, no doubt influenced by his friendship with its chief prosecutor. His admiration was barely shaken by the revelations of the Intercept, which he called “frivolous” exaggerations without evidence of “politically motivated accusatory action” (2019).

It is not surprising that legal scholars, with their patchy knowledge of Brazil and unquestioning acceptance of the United States as a global model, did not see US involvement as a problem. More difficult to explain is the silence of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Despite the founding of Latin American studies in the United States as a tool for advancing American policy in the region, since the 1960s Latin Americanists, often influenced by fellow Marxists and anti-imperialists in Latin America, have emerged as strong opponents of North American meddling (Berger, 1995) – at least until recently.

At first this was due to a lack of direct evidence of US involvement; in fact, two of us stated in 2016 that there was no clear evidence of US involvement in the parliamentary coup against Dilma (Pitts et al., 2016). But even as evidence emerged that Lava Jato was inherently biased against the PT and that its efforts were actively supported by the United States, many scholars continued to remain silent. Even a report commissioned by the Latin American Studies Association, produced by a panel of American, European and Brazilian scholars strongly condemned the coup, but did not indicate US involvement (Chalhoub et al., 2017). Likewise, the important US Network for Democracy in Brazil (USNDB) and the Washington Brazil Office (WBO), led by some of the most prominent and well-intentioned scholars on Brazil in the US, have focused public efforts on the crippling effects that the coup, the neoliberal turn of Temer and Bolsonaro had on Brazilian democracy. Behind the scenes, the USNDB and WBO took key steps to highlight U.S. involvement, most notably working with Congressman Hank Johnson on the two letters from Congress to the Department of Justice. But in the area where they were perhaps best positioned to make an impact – the United States' role in marginalizing the left and the PT from the Brazilian political scene – they were not as active.6

Motivations for US involvement

It is worrying that few scholars have taken seriously the evidence of US involvement in Brazil's long coup. Indeed, after more than a century of broad U.S. support for the overthrow of governments that threaten U.S. interests, any undemocratic transfer of power from left to right in Latin America should immediately raise the question of U.S. involvement. The precedents are abundant and clear. Furthermore, during the first decades of this century, much of Latin America was experiencing the so-called Pink Tide and avoiding neoliberal policies led by the United States. This period was also characterized by coups against progressive governments for which US support was well documented, such as those in Venezuela in 2002, Honduras in 2009, and probably also Bolivia in 2019. However, in the Brazilian case, few North American scholars have investigated the abundant connections.

We consider in this section some possible economic, geostrategic, and even personal reasons for US involvement in Brazil, as documented in the public record. We note that, for an amalgam of interests and institutions as extensive and entangled as the North American State, the attribution of a singular motive is rarely possible. We have already discussed the paternalism that likely provided ideological motivation for some of the foreigners involved in Lava Jato and the North American scholars who promoted it. And below, we point out some other factors that may have played a role.

For Lula's defense team, it was a “collection of US geopolitical and personal interests” that led the United States to collaborate in the case against the PT (Moreira, 2020). This strategy began to form around the discovery of huge offshore oil deposits in Brazil in 2006. As Lula's defense lawyer, Valeska Martins, noted, the first step involved US spying on Petrobras, Dilma and members of his government, as revealed in the Snowden leaks (Moreira, 2020). In fact, already in 2016, long before Operation Spoofing made it unequivocal that Lava Jato served political purposes with the support of the United States, the Brazilian journalist Luis Nassif (2016) traced some of these connections, noting that Lava Jato's actions suggested extensive knowledge of Petrobras' alleged wrongdoing and that Snowden's leaks had shown that the United States had interests in Petrobras.

Similarly, former US ambassador Thomas Shannon described the development of Odebrecht as “part of the power project of the PT and the Latin American left” and admitted that the State Department had concerns about Brazil's economic integration project. in South America (Estrada and Bourcier, 2021). And in the analysis of Guido Mantega, Minister of Finance in Dilma's government, his impeachment was motivated by his government's measures that reduced the profit margins of large banks. Between 2011 and 2013, Brazil began to tax the derivatives market, allowed public banks to reduce interest rates and mounted a campaign against bank fees. This affected financial profits, generating a “big dog fight”, as Mantega said (BrasilWire2021). Taken together, these analyzes suggest that international capital had an interest in rejecting the PT's redistributive policies, internal industrial development and regional integration.

It is not surprising that anti-corruption enforcement can serve U.S. corporate and foreign policy interests. In 2014, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell noted, “Fighting foreign corruption is not a service we provide to the international community, but rather an enforcement action necessary to protect our own national security interests and the capabilities of our companies Americans to compete globally” (Estrada and Bourcier, 2021). Similarly, in 2017, in a document defining US national security policy with the aim of training special operations forces for future unconventional warfare, the Pentagon admitted that the fight against corruption could serve to destabilize “competitors ” or “enemies” of the USA (Fiori and Nozaki, 2019).

As noted Perry Anderson (2019): Kindle 925 and 929), Lula's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, led a “front of poorer states to thwart Euro-American attempts at 'free trade' arrangements – free for the United States and the EU – through the WTO in Cancun” and “Washington and Brussels have still failed, eight years later, to impose their will on the least developed world in the abortive Doha Round; credit must go to Brazil first.” Furthermore, the Lula government recognized Palestine as a state, challenged the US blockade of Iran, strengthened ties with Russia and China and annulled an agreement for American control of the Alcântara satellite launch base in Brazil. All of this was reversed under Temer and Bolsonaro, who signed an agreement returning control of Alcântara to the United States in 2019 (Mitchell, 2020). In the same vein, a former Justice Department official who oversaw Latin America stated: “If we add to all this a very bad personal relationship between US President Barack Obama and Lula, and a PT apparatus that is still suspicious of its North American neighbor, we could say we had work to do to rectify the situation” (Estrada and Bourcier, 2021).

Obama even attacked Lula in his 2020 memoir, claiming that Lula “allegedly had the scruples of a Tammany Hall boss, and rumors swirled about government cronyism, sweetheart deals, and bribes running into the billions” (Obama, 2020: 337). But as Obama prepared to leave office in 2016, his Justice Department was working closely with Lava Jato to ensure the downfall of a Brazilian left more electorally successful than U.S. leftists could dream of, paving the way for Bolsonaro's election.

The United States therefore had abundant motivations for wanting the PT out, along with the party's nationalist and integrationist rhetoric that challenged North American hegemony in Latin America and beyond. But he faced the same problem that he had already encountered in Venezuela: how to remove a government that had broad popular support?

The response was to erode this support through anti-corruption investigations that would tarnish the PT's public image and deal a near-mortal blow to some of Brazil's largest corporations. This is not mere conjecture or the delusion of left-wing scholars blaming the United States for all the world's problems; Instead, over the past decade, compelling evidence has emerged that clearly demonstrates that the US government, particularly the Department of Justice, under Obama and Trump, played a key role in supporting Lava Jato's politically motivated witch hunt against the PT.

Conclusions

We conclude by reiterating a central element of our article's conclusions: the lawfare tactics used against Dilma and Lula resembled in many ways the destabilization of the early 1960s that culminated in the military coup of 1964. Ultimately, however, ethical considerations involved are not easily resolved in terms of policy or sources. As Latin Americanists – not just academics, but Americans who love the region and see it not as a problem to be solved, but as a model to be emulated – how should we position ourselves in the face of such issues?

Unlike scholars of other regions covered by area studies—for example, Africa, Eastern Europe, or East and Southeast Asia—we have no other empires to blame for our region's 20th and 21st century problems. Neither the United Kingdom, nor France, Russia, China, nor even Spain or Portugal were responsible for repeated meddlings, coups and direct invasions in Latin America: our own country was and still is. Marines may no longer show up on beaches to overthrow an inconvenient president, the CIA may no longer arm new generations of insurgents, but our government's meddling is no less real today.

The field of Latin American studies was founded in the USA to help maintain Outros empires outside the United States’ “backyard,” especially during the Cold War. Decades of government and corporate funding sought to ensure that our field remained in service to U.S. imperial projects. However, starting in the mid-60s and continuing through the Chilean coup, the Central American wars, and the Washington Consensus, we Latin Americanists emerged as the main critics academics of our country's imperialist project. The United States has long used invasions, insurgencies and economic blockades to advance its interests in Latin America. Today, it added the anti-corruption tool to its arsenal.

We wrote this article to demonstrate the many continuities between recent US imperial actions in Brazil (and elsewhere) with the better-known US imperial actions in 20th century Latin America. But we also offer it as a challenge to our fellow Latin Americanists in the United States. Like the scholars who write about America’s so-called “backyard” (or its “balcony,” as President Joseph Biden put it) (White House, 2022), such metaphors also apply at home, and we therefore have a responsibility to critically examine the often hidden and recurrently denied role of the US government in the region.

*Brian Mier He is a writer and geographer. Author of Mega Sports Events in the City of Rio de Janeiro and the Right to the City (CEPR/Ford: Rio. 2016).

*Bryan Pitts is a historian and professor at the University of California (UCLA), author, among other books, of Until the Storm Passes: Politicians, Democracy, and the Demise of Brazil's Military Dictatorship (University of California Press). [https://amzn.to/4b62W6I]

*Kathy Swart is a professor at Pierce College (Washington).

*Rafael R. Ioris is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Denver (USA).

*Sean T. Mitchell is associate professor of anthropology and director of Peace and Conflict Studies at Rutgers University, Newark. He is the author of, among others, Constellations of Inequality: Space, Race and Utopia in Brazil (Chicago, 2017). [https://amzn.to/44zXGpx]

Originally published on the website of Perseus Abramo Foundation.

Notes


1. Corruption was not, in fact, the justification given for Dilma's impeachment, as it was articulated based on alleged accounting crimes. However, the spectacular media support for the process greatly helped to create popular support for it.

2. At the request of Kathy Swart, the encyclopedia editor revised the entry in March 2017.

3. The FCPA and the Anti-Bribery Convention permit the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to act in any country participating in the treaty as long as local authorities permit it.

4. Brian Mier translated the daily reports from the Lula Livre camp into English until the former president's release.

5. It is strange and relevant that Greenwald's work on Delgatti makes no mention of the US role (Mitchell, 2022).

6. The errors of the American left in recognizing the Long Coup were documented by Mier, Mitchell, and Pitts (2018), in an article criticizing Jacobin for his anti-PT positions.

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