The coup d'état continued

Morris Louis, Phi, 1960-1
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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

With Lula's victory, Brazilian democracy survived this new phase of the continued coup d'état. And now? What are the next steps?

This Sunday it became evident that a coup d'état is underway in Brazil. It is a new type of coup, the course of which may not be substantially affected by the outcome of the elections, although Lula da Silva's victory will certainly affect its pace.

It is a coup that began to be set in motion in 2014 with the contestation of the results of the presidential elections won by President Dilma Rousseff; proceeded with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016; with the illegal arrest of former President Lula da Silva in 2018 in order to prevent him from running in the elections that were won by President Jair Bolsonaro, the main beneficiary of the coup d'état in its current phase.

With the election of Jair Bolsonaro, the first phase of the coup ended and a second one began. Like Adolf Hitler in 1932, Jair Bolsonaro made it clear from the first moment that he had used democracy exclusively to reach power and that, once this goal was achieved, he would exercise power with the sole aim of destroying it. In this second phase, the coup took the form of a slow emptying of democratic institutionality and political culture, whose main components were as follows.

In the field of institutionality: exploitation of all the weaknesses of the Brazilian political system, namely the legislative power, deepening the commodification of politics, the buying and selling of votes by representatives of the people in the period between elections and the buying and selling of voters' votes during election periods; the complicity of the conservative judicial system, incapable of imagining the equality of citizens before the law and accustomed to living with both the rule of law and the rule of illegality, depending on the interests at stake; the capture of the Armed Forces through the massive distribution of ministerial and administrative positions.

In the field of democratic political culture: apology for dictatorship and its repressive methods, including torture; massive use of social networks to disseminate false news and promote a culture of hate and an ideology of well-being emptied of content other than the discomfort or suffering inflicted on the “other” constructed as an enemy; the capillarization in the heart of the social fabric of US conservative religious imperialism (neo-Pentecostal evangelism) in force since 1969 as a preferred counter-insurgent policy.

This phase ended at the end of the first round of presidential elections on October 2nd. From then on, it entered a new phase based on a frontal attack on the hard core of liberal democracy, the electoral process and the institutions responsible for guaranteeing its normal course. This phase is qualitatively new for two reasons.

First, the internationalization of the attack on Brazilian democracy by global extreme right organizations originating and financed by the US plutocracy became clearer. Brazil has become the laboratory of the global extreme right; there the vitality of the global fascist project is tested, in which neoliberalism breathes a new (last?) breath.

The main objective is the election of Donald Trump in 2024. Reliable information tells us that the disinformation and electoral manipulation companies linked to the notorious fascist Steve Bannon were installed on two floors of one of the main streets of São Paulo from where the operations.

In this electoral phase, the two main strategies were as follows. The first was intimidation to prevent the “wrong vote” and the benefits in exchange for the “right vote” offered by low-income businesses and local politicians. The second, long used by conservative forces in the US, under the name of vote suppression, was the suppression of the vote. It was a set of exceptional measures, always under the veneer of legal normality, aimed at preventing social groups more inclined to vote for the candidate opposed to the coup plotters from exercising their right to vote: roadblocks, overzealous inspection of vehicles that transport potential voters, intimidation in order to cause them to give up, suspension of free transport decreed by the electoral law to promote the exercise of the right to vote for the poorest.

And now, Brazil? Brazilian democracy survived this new phase of the continued coup d'état. The notable and fearless involvement of Brazilian democrats contributed to this, who saw their vote as proof of a minimally dignified life, the affirmation of their civilizing self-esteem, the active principle of democratic energy for the difficult times ahead. The firmness of the institutions of electoral justice also contributed, in the midst of pressure, disavowals and intimidation of all kinds. But it would be irresponsible folly to think that the coup process is over. It is not over and will enter a new phase because the national and international conditions and forces that have been demanding it since 2014 are still in force and have only been strengthened in recent years.

The continued coup d'état will enter a new phase. Immediately, it will probably be contestation of the electoral results to compensate for the failure of the coup leaders in not having achieved the results they intended with the multiple frauds they practiced. Afterwards, the coup will take other forms, sometimes more underground with the use of organized crime to intimidate the democratic forces, sometimes more institutional with the deviant mobilization of the legislative power to create a situation of permanent ungovernability, namely with the threat of impeachment of the elected government and senior officials in the judicial system.

Although the medium-term objective of the coup leaders is to prevent President Lula da Silva from completing his term, the coup process will continue and will only be truly neutralized when Brazilian democrats realize that the vulnerability of democracy is largely self-defeating. inflicted, by the arrogance of pretending to be the only condition for the legitimacy of power instead of assuming that its legitimacy will always be on the verge of collapse in a socioeconomically, historically, racially and sexually very unjust society.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper Public.

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