The military political stalemate

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

Only a large-scale and permanent popular mobilization process can stop the coup threat until 2026

Ten days after the riot at Praça dos Três Poderes, we can begin to analyze the political situation in which President Lula's new government finds itself.

There were very disparate analyzes about the events and their participants, organizers, funders and leaders. Some point to a complex plot organized by Jair Bolsonaro and his close ones to generate a state of chaos capable of provoking an intervention by the Armed Forces (FFAA) that would dissolve the current government, annul the electoral process that led to victory and bring back the captain. Others point to a more elaborate plot, hatched by the top of the Armed Forces, aiming not at the immediate seizure of power, but at the weakening of the government and democratic institutions, leaving checkmate for a later moment.

In another entirely different line, some analysts claim that the government skilfully controlled all movements, avoiding a confrontation with the Armed Forces and, at the same time, giving space for the turmoil to take place without major shocks and victims, to exploit the negative repercussions of the events in public opinion. Finally, there are those who claim that everything was a succession of criminal acts by a minority of fanatics that relied on security breaches so that they could take place.

Reconstructing the motivations of each of the actors to do what they did is, in general, reorganizing reasons and acts to justify a vision of what to do in the present and in the future. Let's discuss the interpretation alternatives.

I don't think anyone doubts some facts, each day more proven by new revelations. There is a strong rejection of Lula's election by a significant part of public opinion. Jair Bolsonaro did not admit defeat and proceeded tortuously complain about the TSE's intervention in the elections to allow Lula's victory. The energúmeno's followers spent 70 days in continuous demonstrations outside the barracks, asking for military intervention, first to annul Lula's election and, over time, to claim purely and simply a coup, bringing the FFAA to power. It should also be clear that, despite the sympathy of the military in the barracks surrounded by the demonstrators, with the right to speeches of solidarity live or on social media, the Armed Forces showed no inclination to intervene in the democratic order.

There were many demonstrations of dissatisfaction with Lula's election, starting with the refusal of the three commanders-in-chief of the Army, Navy and Air Force to pass the baton to their successors in the presence of the new president. To avoid confrontations, Lula accepted that the new commanders be appointed by the ex-president with their bags ready to leave for Goofy and Mickey's arms. It also became clear that the security forces of the Federal District government were complicit with the demonstrators, with the PM watching the general rehearsal of the riot on the day of formalizing Lula's victory for the TSE, on December 12th.

The lukewarmness, not to mention the complicity of Governor Ibaneis Rocha in dealing with the conspirators' camps, showed which side he was aligned with. Even more so when he confronted the new federal government, appointing the notorious Bolsonarist Anderson Torres, PF delegate and Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice, to be his Security Secretary.

The manifestations of Bolsonarist fanatics were in the process of being deflated, shaken by the pusillanimous attitude of the energetic after the defeat. This did not prevent them from radicalizing their attitudes, a typical move of those who have lost political initiative and seek to regain it through violence. Lula's inauguration, apotheotic in every sense, and held in total peace throughout the country, reinforced this perception. However, on social networks, the neo-fascist extreme right, in the process of detachment from its leader, called for a demonstration on the 8th and 9th, in Brasília and throughout the country.

It is interesting to note that this call, almost completely open, was no longer centered on Jair Bolsonaro, but on the Armed Forces, and somewhat exasperated by the inertia of the barracks. The call for a giant demonstration, with two to three million people in Brasilia, was aimed at forcing the hand of the military, some of whom were already being harassed as capitulators: Hamilton Mourão, the commanders of the forces, the four generals army command accused of watermelons (red inside) for having opposed to “going out on the stick”, as proposed by General Augusto Heleno on the day of the electoral defeat.

The ambitions of those who called the demonstrations were clear, I think. They wanted to provoke chaos through riots, and the intention to invade the buildings symbolizing the three powers was explicit. The messages emphasized the “all or nothing” moment, the occupation of buildings until the military moved, the willingness to “kill or be killed”. Calls for the CACs to come up with their weapons of war were frequent on the networks, which shows the willingness for radical confrontation.

What is the origin of this summons? Bolsonarist leaders were very discreet and did not expose themselves directly. So far, no big fish have fallen into the PF or Xandão nets. Three deputies from the lowest clergy, never before mentioned as leaders of this fanatical wing, and some already routine influencers in their procedures were identified as calling for the riot, but not even fucking crazy Carla Zambelli or any of the zeros, much less the madman, manifested themselves. Tactical reasons? Fear? Or did all this occur outside of your direct influence? Financiers, so far, are also inexpressive as an economic power. The indication of the testimonies is agribusiness as a funding source, but when we get to the names, we do not find even an “old man from Havan” or another rich person playing scammer.

The facts point to an enormous confluence of factors that allowed the upheaval to take place, but it is less clear that everything occurred within a rigorously devised strategy involving the forces capable of, concretely, delivering the coup.

Anderson Torres clearly prepared the paralysis of the DF's PM, with the collaboration of Ibaneis Rocha and the commanders, and with the sympathy of the police. On the other hand, the other forces in charge of protecting the palaces, in particular those that should protect the Planalto, were dispersed and paralyzed by their commands, in particular the general who heads the Presidential Guard. The guards, defending Congress and the STF, have always been more symbolic than effective in containing the rioters. This all allowed the approximately five thousand demonstrators to reach their targets and stop for the destruction of public property.

In many messages sent by participants, they appear shouting “we take power” and “we will only leave here with the intervention of the Armed Forces”. Naivety. Taking a building is not seizing power and the palaces on the Esplanade are not like the Bastille of 1789. Or the Tsar's Winter Palace in 1918. Even in these cases, the invasions had more of a symbolic impact than an actual seizure of power.

There were many cases of officers from the Armed Forces (more from the reserve than from the active) participating in the riot and some, including the commander of the Presidential Guard, helping the demonstrators. But this is not the same as an intervention by the Armed Forces. The troops remained in the barracks, although they placed armored vehicles at the door of the HQ to prevent the action of the National Force and the PM's shock troops (belatedly mobilized) who were trying to arrest the demonstrators fleeing the repression on the Esplanade.

But they did not have an offensive attitude of occupying the city “to restore order” or even of occupying Praça dos Três Poderes. The Planalto Military Command sent a very small unit, less than a company (117 men, according to the press) to help disperse the demonstrators. Did you do this independently or in contact with the intervening security secretary? Or with the Minister of Justice? The fact is that this unit never saw action.

According to more recent information, the Planalto military command “suggested” to its representative in the Lula government, Defense Minister José Múcio Monteiro, the enactment of a GLO in the territory of the DF and put the troops on standby while waiting for the response. Múcio took the proposal to Lula, who had the foresight to refuse it and decree a federal intervention in the Military Police of the DF. This information tends to reinforce the idea of ​​complicity of the Armed Forces with the events, aiming to take control of the capital.

On the other hand, both the proposal and the lack of reaction to Lula's decision show that the Armed Forces or the part of them that was involved in the episode, the Planalto Military Command, sought an intervention format within the law. Even supposing that Lula had accepted the proposal, what would that mean? A GLO's mandate does not imply taking power, although it does make things easier if they decide to do so. But it would obviously mean an embarrassment for the new government and an increase in the military's pressure capacity.

The most worrying moment of these episodes was the confrontation between the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Ministers of Defense and Justice. The general framed the civilians by stating that they would not have prisons at the door of the army HQ. And the Planalto command placed the armored personnel on the street. According to information leaked to the press, this occurred when the National Force and the PM clashes sought to surround the camp where about 3000 demonstrators had returned to escape repression on the Esplanade.

According to information still to be verified, the three characters agreed to leave the prisons for the following morning. Overnight half of the protesters sheltering in the camp had disappeared. It is clear that the general was seeking to protect the military and their families who were holed up and threatened with arrest. Among others was the wife of General Villas Boas, who is still a highly respected figure among her peers. The incident shows the degree of official commitment to these openly subversive movements. But it also goes on to show something else, the consistent decision not to cross the Rubicon and precipitate a coup. They are playing hardball with the Lula government, but the fiasco of the uproar puts them on the defensive.

In my opinion, if there was an intention to attract the barracks to act, and I think this was the tactic adopted, the whole movement was chabú. Despite all the explicit sympathy of the barracks towards the demonstrating Bolsominions, even after the uproar, there was not and still is not a decision among the superior officers to tear up the constitution and carry out a coup. If the demonstration were not so small, if it reached the hundred thousand or more who joined Bolsonaro to hear him call himself “unbrochable”, on November 15, would the barracks react? What if they reached the 2 million promised by the summoners?

I still think not, and this is because the militia does not mobilize without a unified and recognized command. Every officer is afraid to take the first step and be left alone to face the consequences. If among the commanders chosen by Jair Bolsonaro there was not the willingness of the majority to “go to hell”, it would not be with the new commanders that this would happen. We thus arrive at the paradox of this episode: all the elements to provoke a coup were on the menu, except the essential, the decision of the commandos to assume the risk of the coup.

All the most elaborate conspiracy theories involving this wide range of actors cited seem fanciful. In my view, social networks have allowed something unprecedented: the mobilization of an ultra-radicalized extreme right-wing layer, but without identifying the command of a strategist nucleus. It's almost like a manifestation of despair in the face of defeat and a refusal to admit it. However, the degree of ideological adherence of the extreme right is so widespread in our society that “white armataleone” marched to give the “tabajara” coup, the bumbler coup.

Did Anderson Torres assume that the seizure of power would work? Or Ibaneis Rocha? The first did not dare to watch the show and went to Miami. The second retreated at the first sign of resistance, Lula's decree or, perhaps more appropriately, at the first sign that the barracks were not moving. The PM of the DF itself made a tough intervention, from the moment the intervenor appointed by the Minister of Justice ordered the action of the shock battalions.

And what can be concluded from this shameful moment in our history? First, that Bolsonarism, with or without Jair Bolsonaro, shot itself in the foot. It missed the start, precipitated the crisis without the assurance of being able to manage it until it provoked the desired result. And now they are exposed to the action of the law. And, justice be done, if someone didn't hesitate to “go for the stick”, it was Xandão. With the PF in action, the MPF and even the PGR charging the bill for the riot, Bolsonarism falls on the defensive and will have to pay.

Lula's political reaction was surgical and efficient. In addition to the intervention in the security of the DF, Lula mobilized the representation of the three powers to react in unison against the attempt. And he took the opportunity to gather all the governors, including several Bolsonaristas with a card, to condemn, also in unison, the affront to the powers of the Republic. The effect on public opinion was detected by a survey by DataFolha, indicating the rejection of 93% of the acts of the Sunday of shame.

The most important thing, however, is not the clash with Bolsonaristas, their leaders and financiers, although it is very important to set an example and discourage other adventures. What is essential is the role of the Armed Forces in all of this and in their relationship with Lula's government. Some will say that all this is part of the same problem, that the Armed Forces are Bolsonarists, as well as the PMs and the PRF (and part of the PF). I think it's not like that. That the officers of the Armed Forces are from the right and even from the extreme right, and that they had an identity (especially the colonel) with Jair Bolsonaro, cannot be discussed. But it's another thing to understand how she behaves and the extent to which she's willing to turn the tables.

The history of interventions, manipulations and blackmail by the Armed Forces in relation to other powers is as long as the existence of the Republic. The so-called guardianship never ceased to exist, only its intensity and truculence were molded to different situations. The longest period of discreet behavior by the Armed Forces was the one that followed the end of the dictatorship in 1985. This episode, the departure of the military from direct control of the civilian power for 21 years, was achieved by General Ernesto Geisel in confrontation with a wing most radical of the officialdom that aimed to keep the regime intact. Geisel used his authority as supreme commander of the Armed Forces and framed his Minister of War and several commanders of military regions. After that, he dissolved the DOI-CODI and spread the torturers around embassies and consulates to distance them both from the conspiracies and from the attention of a public opinion that was, little by little, recovering its critical exercise.

The redemocratization process (“slow, safe and gradual”) controlled by the military had a capital flaw: by “forgiving” all the so-called “tigrada” together with the amnesty for left-wing militants, Ernesto Geisel’s successor, General João Figueiredo , left the serpent's egg of the repoliticization of the Armed Forces in the incubator. Removed from executive power, the officers were left to enjoy rancor due to society's revulsion against their self-appointed role as saviors of the homeland.

The 1988 constitution had numerous decisions, whose object was to define the place of the Armed Forces in society, but even in recess of explicit political action, the military managed the ambiguous wording of article 142, which allowed them, until today, to present themselves as a fourth branch of the Republic. And the ghost of the military threat was present during the debates of the Constituent Assembly. Senators Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mário Covas, receiving a delegation from the Movimento Feminino Pela Amnesty, which demanded the inclusion of noncommissioned officers and enlisted men in the compensation measures for their removal by the dictatorship, responded with the phrase “do you want the Urutus to return?”.

The political activity of the officers has grown since the election of Lula and, above all, during the government of Dilma Rousseff. Acts of rebellion, confrontations with the executive, orders of the day defending the dictatorship, all of this was swallowed dry by leftist governments, to avoid a crisis with the military. With the coup that overthrew Dilma Rousseff, politicization accelerated and interventions by senior officials became more open, until we reached General Villas Boas's twitter, framing the STF and leading to Lula's arrest.

In the next chapter we have the decision of the “military party” to support the rising star of fascism, the terrorist ex-captain, removed from the army without an expulsion “so as not to wear out strength”. The military believed that they could frame the captain and they failed in that. It was the captain who framed the generals, removing those who did not submit to his wishes. But the “class” of officers was satisfied with the president who hired 8 to 10 thousand worthless people for executive positions, blessed them with a more than comfortable retirement, while the rest of the country was going through a squeeze, promoted a career reorganization with raises substantial in earnings and even provided them with spending on expensive toys that simulate the wars that never take place (ships, planes, tanks, …). The officers had immense material gains, for those on active duty and those on the reserve, and, as a result, they saw their right-wing ideological discourse become the dominant narrative, if not in society, at least in power.

For the “military party”, the bad side of the Bolsonaro episode was its total inability to govern, which produced a disastrous administration, like no other in the history of the country and perhaps any country. The price paid was the return of Lula, the PT and the left. A bitter result that the generality puts in the lap of the madman. It is no coincidence that the generals were aloof to Jair Bolsonaro's calls for military intervention after the defeat at the polls. In addition to considerations of a tactical and conjunctural nature, the restrictions on the character for which they would have to risk weighed.

On the other hand, in the middle and lower ranks, Jair Bolsonaro's prestige seems intact. The period since the fall of Dilma Rousseff has seen this sector become increasingly involved in politics and in an increasingly explicit way, via social networks. By becoming involved with Bolsonarist networks, these officers began to buy the narratives that justified everything that Jair Bolsonaro did or did not do. Many attended the classes of the astrologer disguised as an extreme right-wing ideologue, Olavo de Carvalho. The “myth” of clay feet, for these guys, is still in force. And in this they are on a collision course with their superiors, the generals, especially the most senior ones.

This whole horrendous mess at Três Forças Forças would make Ernesto Geisel cry with despair and regret not having spent the squeegee on the tiger when he had the opportunity. The professional army dreamed of by the general simply dissolved into political factions that were less and less respectful of the sacrosanct military hierarchy.

Last Sunday's episodes, the riot in Brasilia, have something to do with this imbroglio of the Armed Forces. There is no doubt, as already seen at the beginning of this article, that militaries of various origins played a role in the events and could play even more in their unfolding.

Let's rule out cases of individual participation by active or reserve officers and discuss interventions or omissions by army units. The commander of the Presidential Guard, the commander of the Army HQ in Brasilia and the general of the Planalto Military Command had their fingerprints clearly imprinted in attacks on palaces, in protecting coup plotters and in the attempt to capitalize on events. On the other hand, all the commands of the Three Forces were in total silence, when the whole country demonstrated condemning the attempt.

When it comes to holding these characters accountable, how will the government act? Flávio Dino was more than prudent when addressing this point in his interviews, saying that he cannot prejudge what is still being investigated. But who will investigate the aforementioned officers? In principle, the odd Brazilian legislation indicates that only military personnel can judge military personnel and, therefore, only the STM can do this. The STM was quick to set up an IPM (Military Police Inquiry) to try an obscure reserve officer who participated in the attempt and offended the generals via twitter. But, so far, there is no IPM to assess the Army's responsibilities in events.

Lula can act politically and administratively, demanding this investigation through the Minister of Defense, but I cannot imagine Múcio Monteiro squeezing the commander of the Army. And much less the Army commander promoting an investigation into the participation of his subordinates in the turmoil.

It is in Lula's power to dismiss the army commander if he refuses to investigate this force's role in the plot. Many people on the left are asking Lula to take advantage of the wave of indignation against the events to clean up the officialdom. I saw quotes for the resignation of 50 generals in Colombia, but I don't know the situation in that country to be able to make comparisons. What seems to me to be a bit of a snooker is the fact that the less graduates there are, the more the officers show themselves to be militants on the extreme right, Bolsonarists or not. Promoting colonels to generalship can be a shot in the foot. Or in the head.

How to get out of this impasse? Applying the law as strictly as possible would help to put Bolsonarism on the defensive inside and outside the barracks, but it does not disarm the coup implicit in the behavior of the officers. In my opinion, there was only one coup after the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro at the polls because the higher commands were against it and the colonel was left without a unifying leadership to take the initiative. Lula will have to demand from the Armed Forces commands an ostensive depoliticization of the barracks, prohibiting political demonstrations by the officers in any form, social networks, agendas, press, conferences. This does not prevent discreet, under-the-table conspiracies, but it does help reinforce the principle of discipline and hierarchy.

I admit that not facing the crisis now could just be the postponement of another coup attempt until a more favorable moment, but I don't see how this situation could be resolved in the present context.

Some comrades on the left are betting on the government's success in disarming the coup. It means putting a lot of trust in Lula's ability to create a super-government within a framework of extreme difficulties. And ignore the ferocity of the feeling of the people abducted by the extreme right, including among the military. In my view, only a large-scale and permanent popular mobilization process can stop the coup threat until 2026. We cannot fall into the trap of watching Lula do or try to do magic, while we cheer for him in the stands.

*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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