the last round

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

The first week of the official match began with bad news for Jair Bolsonaro. But not everything is roses for Lula

Jair Bolsonaro continued to reap the rewards of his political miscalculations. When he called a meeting with ambassadors to treat them as if they were participants in the “curralinho do Alvorada”, he appalled the world and Brazil with his explicit threats to the October elections. Reactions from foreign governments, the international press and national public opinion were overwhelming.

The Charter for Democracy, demanding respect for the polls and their results and against violence in the campaign, launched by a group of jurists and signed by almost a million people and various institutions of civil society, meant, above all, a strong position by more conservative sectors of the so-called “upstairs”. Another letter, launched by FIESP and FEBRABAN and accompanied by other heavyweights in the economy, followed the same path.

The demonstrations of the 11th of August were the lime shovel in the grins of Jair Bolsonaro, who tucked his coup cape up to his ankles by harassing the demonstrations that did not nominate him at any time. It was expected that Jair Bolsonaro would react by mobilizing his supporters among businessmen, with another strong undersigned, but nothing happened. Or almost nothing, except for an obvious letter of support for Jair Bolsonaro, launched by the National Confederation of Agriculture.

This does not mean that the business community as a whole has abandoned Jair Bolsonaro's leaky canoe. He has significant support in some important sectors, such as large rural producers, farmers and ranchers, represented in the National Confederation of Agriculture. Those in the manufacturing sector are mostly against it. Among small and medium businessmen, the audience at lunches at entities such as FIESP and ACRJ, among many others, who happily shouted, until weeks ago, “myth, myth” and enjoyed themselves, in complicit laughter, with the barbarities of the madman, Jair Bolsonaro continues as a preferred option. But it seems that this public has lost the ability to react or is intimidated by the aggressive position of the “heavyweights” of the economy. Jair Bolsonaro was snarling alone against the cards.

As the idiocy tends to prolong itself, Jair Bolsonaro decided to accept the guidelines of his allies in the Centrão and attended the inauguration of Minister Alexandre de Moraes, at the TSE. The idea was to give a pacification signal to the STF, hoping that Xandão would accept one of the headless proposals made by the Minister of Defense to “give reliability to the electoral process”. If there was any behind-the-scenes conciliatory promise, it was not presented in the minister's speech.

Alexandre de Moraes made a scathing and explicit libel against Jair Bolsonaro's threats. And he was applauded by everyone present, except Michelle, Carluxo and the little morning glory of palace advisors. Among those present were representatives of all powers of the Republic, 22 governors and more than 50 ambassadors. To complete the disgrace and fill the madman with fury, President Lula paraded in the plenary and in the VIP room, hugged, kissed and pampered by everyone, while Jair Bolsonaro was isolated in a corner, like a rude child who is grounded in the party. With a grim face, the president listened to the minister's diatribe with his gaze fixed on a distant horizon, so as not to have to stare at an audience that was, if not hostile, not at all sympathetic.

The week continued to be unlucky for the president, with the incident involving a character beyond dubious, a former army corporal, who attacked him for his agreement with Centrão. “Tchutchuca do Centrão” became a meme and went viral, more so than the attempt by the clumsy Jair Bolsonaro to attack the provocateur and take his cell phone. What's worse is that, at funk dances, the Tchutchucas are “owned”, Tigrão. In this case, Bolsonaro's Tigrão must be Artur Lira, the conductor of Centrão. Sad image of a macho man always worried about his identity (“I'm straight, I'm straight”). When I was a teenager, it was always said that those who were very concerned about asserting their manliness were, deep down, insecure about it. Will it be the case?

The repercussion in the international press was even wider than in the case of the inane conversation with the ambassadors. It seems that the great fun of newspapers and television has been – from Tokyo to Ottawa, from London, Paris and Berlin to Cairo and Johannesburg, from Beijing to Mexico City, from Lima to Santiago and Buenos Aires and in various American cities – to translate the “ Tchutchuca”. Centrão was easier, summing up as a “bunch of corrupt people”. Humiliation upon humiliation for the energetic.

And to complete the bad news, both Ipec and DataFolha threw a bucket of cold water on the expectations of the palace. Bolsonaro rises a little, within the margin of error, and Lula is stuck at 47%, remaining within reach of a first-round victory. The calculation of the palatians was that the research would point to a much greater advance, an expectation based on the expected combined effect of the supplement in the Auxílio Brasil, on the drop in gasoline prices, on the reduction of inflation in the month of July, and on other benefits disseminated via the budget secret.

It didn't, at least for now. Or rather, it did for some, in particular for the impoverished middle class who rejoiced in the drop in gasoline prices. But the poorest do not see much fun in the “low” prices of gasoline, when a liter of milk is twice as expensive as fuel. On the other hand, Lula grew up among the richest, which has to do with the awakening of conservatives from the “upstairs” and the Letters and demonstrations of August 11th. The advantage in the strategic electorate in the southeast is very high and Bolsonaro does not even have a platform to help him in São Paulo and Minas Gerais. In Rio de Janeiro, Governor Caio Castro is a Bolsonarist and evangelical, but he prefers to hide his relationship with the president. Yet Lula is ahead by eight percentage points.

The best symptom of Bolsonaro's dismantling is the fact that his supporters in various parts of the country are seeking to distance themselves from the president. It is also at the turn of Artur Lira, who belatedly decided to take up the defense of elections and electronic ballot boxes. And he also chose to say, as if he didn't want anything, that Lula president doesn't change the situation of Centrão. If Bolsonaro didn't understand this as a nod in Lula's direction, someone will need to draw it to make it clear. Not to mention that Artur Lira is one of those who “forgot” the president in the campaigns he is involved in in Alagoas.

All of this is a long way from saying that the game has been played and that the presidential sash can already be prepared and the inauguration speech practiced. First, the effect of the spill has not yet fully manifested itself. Second, the effect of the campaign on radio and television has not yet begun. It's to be expected a lowdown festival, judging by what's already going on on social media.

Jair Bolsonaro chose to focus fire on the war of “good against evil”, exacerbating even more than in 2018, the religious and customs discourse. No more discussing the economy and the “state of the people”, after its 3,5 years of debacle. No remembering the pandemic and the scrapping of SUS. The list is long of things that Jair Bolsonaro does not want discussed in the campaign and he is consistently centering his strategy on the terrain of God against the Devil, of “communist perverts” against “good people”. The discourse is having an effect among evangelicals, especially neo-Pentecostals. In the penultimate poll, Jair Bolsonaro and Lula were tied on the margin of error and, in the latter, the energetic man opened an advantage of almost 20 percentage points.

In my opinion, Lula's campaign is allowing itself to be guided by Jair Bolsonaro's offensive. The decision taken some time ago to focus on the themes of “economics” is being applied erratically, interspersed with responses to the evangelical offensive. On the other hand, I think that Lula is failing to give a concrete dimension to his speeches. He talks about “how green my valley was”, that is, how happy people were when he was president, but it is not clear what he will do or how he will do it.

“Selling” the past, especially compared to Jair Bolsonaro’s present, is a correct tactic, but it is not enough. For example: when Lula talks about tackling the problem of hunger, he only points to the maintenance of 600,00 reais, beyond the month of December. This is little and Bolsonaro is already promising the same as Lula. Of course, the nerd is easily refuted, just asking why he didn't extend the increase to next year now in August.

But Ciro Gomes doubled down on this proposal and it is more difficult to explain why not support higher values. After all, what is the justification for one or another value? What is the calculation that allows you to identify how much a family in a situation of misery needs to be able to eat properly? What is lacking for Lula is to put together a more complete and ambitious proposal for the problem of hunger. Something is missing aimed at mobilizing society as a whole to face this misfortune. Something that appeals to generosity and solidarity, in addition to firm state intervention.

The climate among opponents of Jair Bolsonaro, after a week of anguish with negative expectations regarding polls, is one of relief and almost euphoria. According to the opinion of the majority, not only is Bolsonaro in a position to be beaten in the first round, but the conditions for him to carry out a coup no longer exist.

In my view both assessments are debatable. All assessments for the conditions of a coup are based on comparison with the 1964 coup and several others in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. “Without the support from above and from US imperialism” there can be no coup. There is a strong Manichaeism in this statement. Coups respond to local conditions even more than international conditions. Already in 1968, the Peruvian military carried out a coup that had no support from either the elites or the United States. Single case? Exception confirming the rule?

The “top floor” is divided, although the heavyweights seem to have woken up to the risks posed by the president and his coup intentions. But if it's quite possible that ruralistas are capable of closing highways with tractors, I can't imagine Faria Lima's capos closing streets with Ferraris. The power of money has certain limits and needs time to operate. To finance the election of deputies and senators, for example.

If Mao Tse Tung (with this spelling I reveal my age) were alive, he would shake his head and repeat his historic phrase: “power is at the point of the rifle”. It is a notorious exaggeration, even in the conditions of China in the 1930s and 1940s, to dispense with the analysis of the positions of the different social classes, in particular the dominant ones, and that of the imperial powers, at the time England, France, the United States and Japan. Despite the quoted phrase, Mao made the necessary analyzes in his time. But the metaphor is interesting because it shows that an unarmed opinion has less weight than an armed one.

It is no coincidence that Jair Bolsonaro has done everything he can to disseminate the carrying and use of weapons since his inauguration. He knew that the left no longer has a strategy of armed struggle for power. And he knew that his minions were ready to embark on militia militarism. The result is 700 Bolsonaristas possessing more than 3 million guns, many with high firepower. All this without the control of the FFAA, which seem not to be bothered by the loss of the monopoly on the use of force.

Those fanatics organized in the Shooting Clubs and who are already planning to create a political party, do not have the necessary structure level to carry out a coup. They have a localized radius of operations, yet sufficiently articulated for nationally coordinated action. But it lacks the command and control to act in groups larger than two or three neighboring clubs. They can create a tremendous problem by closing roads, attacking newspapers and TVs or opposition party headquarters. But a coup means something much bigger in terms of the breadth of military operations.

Jair Bolsonaro has another component in “his” armed forces. An important part of the military police is Bolsonarist. I have no doubt that many of them will be able to mobilize and act to dissolve demonstrations by opponents, attack the targets mentioned above and even take the headquarters of state governments or city halls that are in the hands of the opposition. But police officers are notoriously hesitant to take risks that could jeopardize their careers. If there wasn't an important tide of adhesions to the coup, they will think twice and a good part will remain neutral. A “Bolivian” coup, carried out by the military police, seems unlikely to happen.

For officers to move with force, leadership from the FFAA is critical. The police don't face the army, the paratroopers or the marines. But they can follow them if they move.

Finally, we have to assess whether the FFAA can intervene militarily in favor of maintaining Jair Bolsonaro. It is not an easy assessment, as the factors at play are many. The Ministry of Defense is openly playing with the suspicion of the ballot boxes and the electoral process, with a view to an eventual annulment or postponement of the elections. If Lula wins narrowly, the temptation to annul the elections will be great. If Lula has a large margin of advantage in the polls at the end of the campaign, the temptation will be great to force the postponement of the elections.

How do Jair Bolsonaro and his generals intend to annul or postpone the elections? The “classic coup”, with the closure of the Senate, the Chamber, the STF and the STE, the deposition of opposition governors, the dissolution of trade unions and professional associations, etc., seems impossible to me within a framework of political and social normality. What is more than possible is for the FFAA commands to issue an ultimatum to Congress, threatening a coup. The whole question will be whether this Congress, which is beyond weak, will accept the pressure or whether it will defy the “pronouncement”.

Things are so bad for Jair Bolsonaro, that I don't believe the ultimatum will happen without prior negotiation with Centrão and attachments to guarantee the result. “Dry”, I do not see this congress, even with an unprincipled majority, nor commitments to the country, voting to annul the elections in which they took part, or postponing the election. Unless the majority of them are defeated in the elections, which seems unlikely to me.

So we return to what I have already indicated in other articles. The coup needs congressional support and this support will not happen without major political and/or social unrest in various parts of the country. In the midst of chaos, the general pressure can work, mixed with the guarantee of maintaining the petty interests of Centrão and others.

How can this political instability be provoked? Jair Bolsonaro has enough fanatical and armed provocateurs to create riots before, during and after the elections. Even if only a fraction of the 700 accept to risk the “myth”, 10% of this number already represents 70 agents of chaos. Attacks on rallies, attacks on campaign headquarters, attacks on candidates and supporters are easy things to organize, especially with the expectation of solidary behavior from the police. Brutal actions by the police forces would amplify the chaos, with the dissolution of demonstrations with widespread use of tear gas, beatings, rubber bullets. With blood flowing, wounded and dead, the framework is set for a request by Jair Bolsonaro to Congress, demanding full powers to “restore order” and, in passing, suspending or annulling the elections, whose “transparency and fairness would be impaired”.

Let us remember that Jair Bolsonaro has enough support among his fanatics to call for mass demonstrations in support of his call for more powers “in the name of order and democracy”.

I'm setting up the most dangerous scenario for the near future and now we'll see if it has any possibility of happening. In my opinion, Bolsonaro will try the coup out of pure desperation. For fear of being called to pay for everything he has done. Or what they did, he, his family and his minions. Whether it will work is another matter. It's good to remember the fiasco of the last September 7th, when the provocations turned chabú and he was blustering threats that he didn't have the strength to carry out.

To strike this blow, competence and courage are needed, and both are lacking in Planalto. But it's always good to remember that the cornered pitbull is a danger. He attacks blindly and does damage before being controlled.

Much will be left to the command of the three weapons. If the generals, admirals and brigadiers refuse to support Jair Bolsonaro's threats, refusing to make the ultimatum to Congress, the coup collapses, limited, at most, to demonstrations by bolsominions and provocations by their armed supporters . Without the support of the high commands, Bolsonaro would have to appeal to the troops, above his commanders. Although he has a lot of support in the middle officers who have direct command of the troops, a call to insurrection is something very serious and difficult to be followed en masse.

We are on a knife edge, not because general political conditions are favorable to a coup (they are decidedly not), but because specific political conditions among the armed portion of the population may be.

The next test for democracy will be September 7th. Bolsonaro is calling his hordes to demonstrations and trying to insert military parades into his rallies. A highly dangerous mixture that seems to find resistance among military commands. It does not seem that the madman intends to carry out the coup now, but he will test his popular and military support base. The outcome is for later.

My greatest hope is that Jair Bolsonaro is more afraid of betting on chaos than he is afraid of the “federal Japanese” who will wait for him at the back door of the Planalto Palace, where he will try to escape on the day of the election. Lula's tenure.

*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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