The Army of Gauchos

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

The military gave support to an aimless government, of four chaotic years, of a country isolated from the world

An army of gauchões! Brazil doesn't need that, Brazil needs an army of Brazilians, with all the richness of their colors, their points of view and respect for their citizens. The reality, however, is that this army has turned into an army of Gauchos. How did that happen? They were small steps, but with a long history behind them.

It was Tuesday, April 3, 2018. The Federal Supreme Court was going to decide, the next day, the habeas corpus which, if approved, would allow former president Lula to be a candidate again, widely favored in all polls.

The Army was against it. Its commander, General Villas Bôas, posted on his Twitter profile: “I assure the Nation that the Brazilian Army believes it shares the desire of all good citizens to repudiate impunity and respect the Constitution, social peace and democracy, as well as keeping an eye on its institutional missions”.

Earlier, on the same day, he had written: “In this situation that Brazil is experiencing, it remains to ask the institutions and the people who is really thinking about the good of the country and future generations and who is concerned only with personal interests?”.

The writing, careful, ambiguous, addressed the institutions and the people. Asked a question. But he reserved the right of reply to himself. The same opaque wording claimed to represent “all good citizens”, with a mixture of statements that lend themselves to all kinds of interpretations, as is easy to see in the different reactions –from the government to the PT– published at the time by the press: repudiation impunity, respect for the Constitution, social peace and democracy, spiced up with another final statement, that the Army remained “attentive to its institutional missions”.

The then commander of the Air Force, Brigadier Nivaldo Luiz Rossato, also wrote, asking for respect for the Constitution, warning about the risks of placing personal convictions above institutions. Did Brigadier Nivaldo Luiz Rossato already intuit the risks of the path taken?

Months earlier, in September 2017, Villas Bôas had to respond to the concerns provoked by new statements by General Hamilton Mourão, the same man who, shortly afterwards, already retired, would be the vice president of Captain Jair Bolsonaro. Hamilton Mourão warned that military intervention could occur if the judiciary did not take measures against corruption. Operation Lava Jato was already underway, whose objectives and consequences for the country are now well known.

In the press there were requests for sanctions against General Hamilton Mourão. Villas Bôas said no, that Mourão had been provoked, that it was necessary to contextualize his speech, to understand the circumstances in which it occurred. He asserted – sensibly – that “dictatorship is never better”, that the country had mature institutions, a system of checks and balances. It was then when he added, about Mourão: – he is a “great soldier, a fantastic figure, a gauchão”.

 

Steel

With all his main commanders gathered – the 16 four-star generals – Villas Bôas addressed the Federal Supreme Court – as we have already seen – on the eve of the decision of the habeas corpus that could authorize Lula's candidacy in the 2018 elections. Another act subject to all kinds of interpretations, including that it was a threat to the country's institutionality, to the independence of the Judiciary.

O Habeas Corpus was rejected. With Lula imprisoned, the path for Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency was paved. Villas Bôas' speech was received with enthusiasm in sectors of high military command. “We think alike! Brazil above all! Steel!” replied one general.

Steel? What is that? A government program? A threat to unarmed citizens? It makes no sense.

As a government program it is a poor and cruel offer. As a threat to unarmed Brazilian citizens it is a cowardly offer. I know that the expression circulates in the military environment, on the most diverse levels. In the army of the Gauchos. Brazil does not need this, nor does it deserve an army like this.

We need another Army. What happens is that this one has not yet solved the problem represented by the fact of having promoted torture in its bosom. The explanation of Villas Bôas, which justifies the dictatorship by the ideological polarization of the Cold War, is not enough. It's not about this. It is about torture, the most miserable and cowardly human function, of human beings capable of torturing to death other human beings, bound and defenseless. It was the military who did that.

And that was what another soldier – Captain Jair Bolsonaro – publicly praised and defended, in the National Congress, without the Army, Navy or Air Force saying a word about a fact that encompasses military activity.

It is true that Brazilian society still lives with the consequences of this horror. President Dilma Rousseff – with little political sensitivity, in my opinion – wanted to reopen the debate. But it is the Armed Forces themselves, the military who understand their functions with other criteria, who need, more urgently, to see the armed institutions free of this cowardly stain that has not yet been washed away: that of institutions where torture was carried out. There are many ways to do this, but you have to do it. The army has much more than “steel” to offer Brazilians.

 

The political consequences of opacity

In the position of the Armed Forces, in this recent political period, opaque and ambiguous language prevailed, as we have seen. But, confronted with reality, the ambiguity was short-lived, fading away. As reality prevailed, it swept away, laid bare the ambivalence of words, and gave them precise content.

I am referring to the questioning of the result of the presidential election – the only contested election – and the forms that this protest took on: the form of encampments outside the Army headquarters, mainly in Brasília and, again, the ambiguous words with which the protests were qualified.

In the end, what spoke louder was the fact that the camps were not only tolerated, but also received support from the military.

The message was clear and so were the results. They ended in a preposterous rebellion, in the assault on the seats of the State's powers in view and patience of the military and police forces.

It was the spectacular end of a regime promoted by the Army, with the support of a public conversation, with private content, between General Villas Bôas and Captain Jair Bolsonaro.

Like the secrets of a hundred years, the promise remained that the contents of this conversation would forever remain secret. What could have been addressed in that conversation? Only one thing could General Villas Bôas have spoken with the captain: about the nature of the Army's commitment to the Jair Bolsonaro government. Soon thousands of soldiers from all levels of government landed.

What government? From a directionless government, four chaotic years, from a country isolated from the world, from a criminal policy of deforestation in the Amazon, of increasing poverty, of thousands of deaths as a result of an irresponsible policy against Covid, of buying properties with cash...

How to understand the Army's commitment to this government? I only see two scenarios: one is the idea that Lula and the PT embody corruption in Brazil. The other is the old idea – still from the Cold War – of the fight against communism.

Once again, the gauchão declared that the rebellion on January 8 was over: “The indiscriminate detention of more than 1.200 people, who are currently confined in precarious conditions in the Federal Police facilities in Brasília, shows that the new Government, consistent with its roots Marxist-Leninists, acts in an amateurish, inhumane and illegal manner”, said General Hamilton Mourão two days later.

 

Taking Brazil into the last century

Brigadier Nivaldo Luiz Rossato had already warned about the risks of putting personal convictions above institutions. But not only that. How to organize a country when the vice-president of the Republic, future senator, four-star general, is able to argue in this way to explain the political tensions that he himself contributed to create?

How is it possible to argue, in Brazil today, about the Marxist-Leninist roots of the Lula-Alckmin government? Who is General Mourão speaking to? He can only be talking to the Gauchos.

Corruption had to be fought. But Lava Jato was something else. From political objectives, it was the key to the triumph of Jair Bolsonaro and the delivery of the country's greatest resources, the oil tankers, to international interests, including the privatization of Petrobras. No strategic national interest was protected under Jair Bolsonaro.

This is what Hamilton Mourão summarized as the work of the government, in his year-end speech: privatization of state-owned companies (Minister Guedes had promised to privatize “everything”), the dismantling of the State, not replenishing vacancies made available through retirement, and other measures, in addition to the (false) statement that they would deliver to the next government “a balanced country, free of systematic practices of corruption, in economic ascension and with balanced public accounts”.

Two weeks later, the president of the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), Isaac Sidney, praised the measures announced by the Minister of Finance in the Lula government, Fernando Haddad, assuring that they were going “in the right direction to contain the gap in public accounts in 2023”, which could reach 231,5 billion reais, if measures are not adopted to balance the deficit.

An offer from this Brazilian right wing that dreams of privatizing “everything”, especially oil, a mixture of an old failed neoliberalism, consistent with a Cold War vision that intends to take Brazil into the last century.

END

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

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