The role of the US in coups in Brazil

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The decisive role of investigative partnerships, formal and informal, between Brazil and the USA in the erosion of Brazilian democratic institutions

That North American state and private actors played an important role in the 1964 business-military coup is already a consensus among everyone who dedicated themselves to understanding the subject. But what role did such interests play in the Brazilian crisis of the last decade, which culminated in the most reactionary government aligned with the USA in the last 60 years?

To try to answer this important question, and especially to analyze why the topic was, for a long time, neglected from deeper analysis, both by the press and academia, an interdisciplinary group of researchers worked, for almost three years, on the subject. The result of the work has just been published by the important academic journal Latin American Perspectives, demonstrating the decisive role that formal and informal investigative partnerships between Brazilian and United States authorities, as well as the sharing of a salvationist vision of politics, including among specialized researchers, had in the erosion of democratic institutions in Brazil.[I]

The article, written by university professors Bryan Pitts, Kathy Swart, Rafael Ioris and Sean Mitchell, along with sociologist and journalist Brian Mier, documents the fact that the US role in the now discredited anti-corruption investigation was public knowledge in 2016, when both the US Department of Justice and major US newspapers such as New York Times and the The Washington Post, published communications recognizing the partnership.

The study also details how such information, which was largely public, about US involvement in Lava Jato was consistently ignored by both academics and journalists. And by accurately scrutinizing such connections, the authors end up stating that, yes, North American actors should be seen as trying to play decisive roles, directly or indirectly, actively or as supporters and ideological allies, of a network of agent actions state and private companies in Brazil that paved a path defined in the article as the anti-democratic “long coup” that defined the last decade in our country.

The article begins by reviewing how the 64 coup also took time to be seen as such by political commentators, the press, but also by, at least some, North American academics. From there, the article details the ways in which investigative cooperation between North American and Brazilian actors, enthusiastically supported by the media, played a determining role in creating a climate of witch hunts, particularly against the left in Brazil. Next, the article examines how such facts, widely publicized in both countries, were not the subject of study by analysts specialized in such topics who, in large part, ended up supporting, today demonstrably at least naively, such efforts.

The article analyzes the US motivations in trying to erode the gains and visibility of the more autonomous foreign policy with a regional bias sought by the left in Brazil, stating that the popularity of the governments that had been implementing such directions was seen as a challenge to be resolved. And scholars say it is not surprising that North American corporate and foreign policy interests have sought to play an important role in recent years in Brazil since, quoting Deputy Secretary of Justice Leslie Caldwell, he stated in 2014 that “the fight against foreign corruption does not It is a service that we provide to the international community, but rather an action that seeks to defend our interests and the global competitiveness of our companies”.

By looking at the Brazilian case, and by not denying that there has been corruption in Brazil in recent years, the study analyzes how the anti-corruption narrative, when politicized in a selective and salvationist way, has served to denigrate progressive political projects and, thus, rearticulate the defense and promotion of national and transnational oligarchic interests throughout the region – therefore echoing previous dynamics that were imagined to have been overcome.

In this sense, although Bolsonarism has revived the anachronistic anti-communist discourse, it was the anti-corruption narrative that, in a more effective and efficient way, managed to pave the way for the thermidorism of recent years, offering a platform for various dissatisfied groups to with recent social changes they could mobilize against a supposed common enemy – although the problematic corruption was always only on the other side, of course.

By analyzing how such events took so long to be recognized by the media and even by most North American scholars, the authors demonstrate that these agents bought into the anti-corruption narrative so completely that, instead of trying to dismantle it, they Given its serious instrumentation, they even served to legitimize it, at least for a while. In fact, amid the events that tragically accelerated democratic erosion in Brazil, the North American press was dedicated to publishing articles that, erroneously or cynically, promoted the notion that Dillma Roussef had been removed from the presidency for acts of corruption – something that not even his most voracious accusers had the courage to assert, even having to rely on spurious accusations, selectively applied, of accounting problems to justify their actions (with the Supreme Court and with everything).

Neither defense of any type of corruption, nor a blind enthusiasm for politically motivated actions that present themselves as saving the country, no option serves to guide the political action of democratic actors, nor to guide serious scholars of the subject. That the study will help with a necessary course review on both fronts is the hope of its authors.

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


[I] Mier, B., Pitts, B., Swart, K., Ioris, R. R., & Mitchell, S. T. (2023). Anticorruption and Imperialist Blind Spots: The Role of the United States in Brazil's Long Coup. Latin American Perspectives, (

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