The coup d'état in Washington: lessons for Brazil

Image: Luiz Armando Bagolin
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By PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO*

The invasion of the Capitol will have been a joke, compared to an eventual takeover by the Bolsonarian hosts, from the National Congress, in Brasília

In the mid-afternoon of January 6, I watched, broadcast live on television, the criminal invasion of the Capitol building in Washington, where the US Senate and House of Representatives are located – vandalized by supporters of Donald Trump, who also attacked the congressmen.

Another invasion of Parliament came to mind, in the attempted coup d'état, by the armed forces in Spain, on February 23, 1981. The members of the Chamber of Deputies were in the middle of a vote. Suddenly, Lieutenant Colonel Antônio Tejero, from the Civil Guard, bursts into the plenary, accompanied by a group of men, who start shooting at the deputies. Everyone crouches behind their desks. Only the president of the government Adolfo Suárez, the secretary general of the Spanish communist party, Santiago Carrillo, and the vice president of the government, lieutenant general of the army Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado – who was assaulted by Tejero. This scene is described in an extraordinary book, The Anatomy of a Moment, by Javier Cercas.

In Washington, senators, stretched out on the floor, barricaded their furniture. Invaders broke windows to get in, attacked police, installed themselves at the table of the President of the Senate. While Washington's insurrection was broadcast live, the video of the attack on the Chamber of Deputies in Spain was released only after the coup d'état had stalled. It was a military conspiracy, without popular participation, that intended to involve King Juan Carlos I. The coup in Madrid was defeated when, at dawn on February 24, the king went on TV to condemn the failed attempt. In Washington, a day earlier, Trump had spurred his hosts to a protest using force against the Capitol - which on January 6 would confirm the election of Joe Biden to the presidency. After the invasion, which resulted in four deaths, Trump insisted on denouncing alleged fraud in the election and even declared that he “worships” the insurgents.

What lessons can be drawn, in Brazil, from the attempted coup against the result of the US presidential elections? The congressional insurrection in Washington was not the result of a military conspiracy, as in Madrid. But it was built on a consistent campaign, during four years of undermining democratic institutions, by President Trump, from the election campaign to the accusations against the newly elected government.

Here, President Jair Bolsonaro has been aping with impunity, in the smallest details, Trump's anti-democratic chant. The attacks on the National Congress, on the Federal Supreme Court, the disqualification of the opposition, the labeling of governors as enemies, the branding of the press as a bunch of “scoundrels” are evidence of its objective of destroying the democratic constitutionalism of 1988 to install an autocracy . Every day the president inflates his supporters, extolling torturers, disqualifying torture victims (as he did with President Dilma Rousseff), promising impunity for the illegal violence of military police and inciting pandemic denialism.

By the pace of this authoritarian preaching, added to the preventive denunciation of fraudulent elections and the disqualification of electronic voting machines, President Bolsonaro prepares the ground to denounce the elections, in case he is defeated. As he said loud and clear, shortly after the coup in Washington, deliriously insisting on Biden’s election fraud, which was confirmed by the US Congress: “If here in Brazil we have electronic voting in 2022, it will be the same thing ”. The invasion of the Capitol will have been a joke, compared to an eventual takeover by the Bolsonarian hosts, from the National Congress, in Brasília.

*Paulo Sergio Pinheiro He is a retired professor at the Department of Political Science at USP and former Minister of Human Rights.

Originally published on Arns Commission blog.

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