Missed opportunities?

Image: Magali Magalhães


The role of the Armed Forces in coup attempts since Jair Bolsonaro's government

What do the ongoing investigations reveal?

The facts, so far only part of what the Federal Police and Minister Alexandre de Morais have available, point towards Jair Bolsonaro's guilt in a countless number of crimes, the most important of which is attacking the democratic order. Although with less precision and details, the involvement of officers from the three arms and at different levels, from lieutenants to generals, in a succession of events that constitute a classic coup plot that precedes and culminates in the January 8 attempt has been revealed in the media.

The content of Colonel Mauro Cid's plea bargain has not yet come to light, but some news filtered through blogs, columns and TV analysts allows us to assume that not only Jair Bolsonaro, but the entire team of Palace generals (Braga Neto, Augusto Heleno and Luiz Eduardo Ramos) and several members of the Army High Command were involved in the maneuvers to demoralize the electoral ballot boxes, in supporting the coup protesters camped outside dozens of barracks, in the events of January 8th and in intense conspiratorial articulations aimed at several scam alternatives.

Inquiries by the DF Civil Police, investigating the PM's actions, also framed the military commander of Planalto. Extremely explicit dialogues between General Dutra de Meneses and the PM commander, assisted by the Minister of Justice, show how close we were to an armed confrontation, including the threat of the use of tank force. All this brutality was intended to protect the coup militants, refugees in the shadow of the cannons after having destroyed the palaces in Praça dos Três Poderes.

The virulence of the army troop commanders in this verbal confrontation seems to find an explanation in the fact, pointed out by several journalists, that reserve soldiers and family members of active and reserve soldiers were in the camp and would be arrested if the PM complied with the orders received. Minister Flávio Dino will have to explain the agreement he endorsed, postponing the arrests until the following morning, with the PM withdrawing for 12 hours. It was time for the generals to remove people close to them, including, according to some sources, the wife of General Villas Bôas, saving them from immediate arrest.

If these facts are true, the number of generals being indicted and investigated will increase. The films from the more than 200 cameras installed inside and outside the palaces cannot have failed to reveal the presence of other officers in the coup acts, especially those from the reserves, but so far no news has filtered out about these possible participants. Is the PF withholding information or preserving those involved linked to the Armed Forces?

On the other hand, it is not at all difficult to access the social networks of a large part of the officialdom who ignored the principle of non-political demonstrations when on active duty and posted anti-democratic barbarities left and right throughout these terrible four years. I had indirect access to a few messages from groups of military friends and relatives and it felt like I was watching debates from a revolutionary political party (but on the right) about taking power. If what I saw is a representative sample, the “military party” is more than formed and would just need to find a baptismal name. A minimally serious investigation would provoke a hecatomb of disciplinary punishments, at the very least, and could even end up in the hands of Xandão and the Papuda prison guards.

Meanwhile, the Military Prosecutor's Office found no evidence of “bad behavior” by any officer, other than a retired colonel who hurled insults at the High Command generals for not having taken the initiative to carry out the coup.

There have been many opinion polls in recent years, published here and there in the press, indicating the broad predominance of Bolsonarism in the three forces, but without it being possible to stratify the percentages according to patents. However, as a recording between Colonel Mauro Cid and one of his supporters or accomplices revealed: “from the division commands downwards, everyone is waiting for a marching order”, or another phrase with the same meaning.

To conclude: although there is a lack of information still kept under reserve by the STF and the PF, everything indicates that there are a considerable number of officers of all ranks involved in anti-democratic activities, with varying degrees of commitment, from calls for action on social media to the protection of coup plotters in front of the barracks. All of this is consistent with the history of our Armed Forces, particularly during the period of re-democratization, when high-ranking officials continued to put pressure on civil authorities at various times, at the same time as they openly challenged democracy, celebrating the April 1964 coup. with laudatory agendas, year after year.

How are they positioning themselves? Fbudgets Armadas, the judiciary and the executive?

The Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Tom Ace Ribeiro Paiva, appointed by Lula after January 8, adopted a more rigorous stance in demanding compliance with the disciplinary precept that prevents political demonstrations by active military personnel, but I have not yet seen any assessment of the content of subsequent communications on social media. During the period of Jair Bolsonaro's government, sharing information became common, with a high circulation of fake news disseminated by the “hate office”.

Apparently there was a general retreat among officers, many of them trained in the virtual courses of the “philosopher” Olavo de Carvalho, with many profiles closed and others transformed into politically anodyne sites on Facebook, but what goes on in WhatsApp groups is not controllable. General Tomás Ribeiro Paiva claimed the Army's monopoly on demonstrations and kept them focused on professional topics. As for reserve officers, they continue to speak out aggressively, whether on their social media channels or through the Military Club. The press adopted the position of ignoring these demonstrations, perhaps to avoid giving visibility to provocations.

Although quite discreetly, the army commander has sought contacts with the judiciary, within a strategy of “separating the wheat from the chaff”, that is, advocating that officers committed to the coup acts be investigated and tried, but circumscribing responsibilities to the most serious moments of the challenges to democracy, that is, the attempt on January 8th.

As has been said before, there are no actions by the Military Public Prosecutor's Office holding accountable the activists who supported the camps outside the barracks, even those that were more challenging, such as those that sheltered the January 8 coup plotters, in Brasília. It seems that there is an attempt to throw ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, Colonel Mauro Cid and some other direct assistant of Jair Bolsonaro to the lions (read Alexandre de Morais and PF), limiting cleaning to the maximum. The principle defended in public is respect for the judiciary and acceptance of the framework of any compromised official, while behind the scenes pressure is exerted to minimize investigations.

It remains to be seen how the high command of the three weapons and the officialdom in general will behave if the ongoing investigations are expanded to implicate other generals, such as the three palace officials and the former army commander, General Julio Cezar Arruda and the military commander do Planalto, General Dutra de Menezes, as well as other less senior officers.

The coup's aggressiveness was contained and Bolsonarism is on the defensive in officialdom. However, it would be very naive to assume that after flirting with a coup d'état, this broad Bolsonarist majority of officials will put their guitars in their pockets and return to their professional tasks. It is never too much to remember that we were very close to a sinister outcome on January 8th or even before that. As I have already explained in other articles, the coup plotters lacked the central element of centralized command so that the troops could take to the streets and roads.

When the majority of the Army High Command took a stand against the coup, the only chance for the attempt to move forward would be for Bolsonaro to summon him over the heads of his four-star generals, calling for intervention “from the divisional generals downwards”. Even in this case, conditions would be much more difficult as it would be necessary for a division general to take the initiative to break the chain of command and this, in a military organization, is not an easy thing.

Let us remember that in 1964, with the entire High Command involved, there was a moment of hesitation and it was necessary for a brigadier general, Olímpio Mourão, to break the impasse by placing his troops on the Juiz de Fora/Rio de Janeiro road. The rest came by adhesion with army commanders chasing the initiative so as not to lose authority. Let us also remember that, in 1961, it was enough for one army commander, the third, from the southern region, to stand head-on against the coup to paralyze the movement.

With unified command, officers hesitate to enter into divided balls; Without it, it becomes even more difficult to take the initiative, for fear of acting without being followed. Mourão of 64 was known to be impulsive, but he acted with the support of the civil power in Minas Gerais, Governor Magalhães Pinto and broad support from the ruling classes and the mainstream press. In the current case, without the summons of Jair Bolsonaro and without a Hamilton Mourão to break the hierarchical chain, the result was paralysis. The last attempt was the insinuation of the decree of a GLO that would give legal power to control the Brasília space by the Planalto military command. When Lula refused his own Defense Minister's proposal, which would make him a hostage of the generals, the bluff was called and no one moved.

Missed opportunities?

It is worrying to know that, once the midfield has been cleared of the most serious cases, the wide range of military personnel who were political activists and who conspired against democracy will be left untouched, occupying strategic posts and waiting for the moment to resume the offensive. It must be very clear that the military status quo is not one of tranquility and respect for the civil power and institutions of the Republic. We have a mass of officers resentful of the disaster of losing the elections, the cowardice of their leader and the defeat of their plan to stay in power. It is not an easy situation to face, but it will be necessary to do so.

A lot will depend on the degree of radicalism of the judiciary in seeking to punish the coup. Until now, the STF, in particular Minister Alexandre de Morais, remains firm in deepening the investigations, even though the part of the investigations that concerns the accountability of the Armed Forces officers or the financiers of the coup machine remains quite opaque. If the judiciary is thorough in cleaning up, the dismantling of the coup machine could reduce future risks and, above all, open up space for a debate in society and in the Armed Forces themselves about their role in Brazil in the XNUMXst century, after the end of the cold war. . Removing the most compromised and threatening elements in officialdom will teach a lesson that others will understand, even if their convictions remain, in their hearts, sympathetic to a coup.

And what is the role of the executive branch in this highly risky situation for democracy? The executive apparently has nothing to do at this moment, as the ball is in the court's court. But we have to remember that the president is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces and that the officialdom owes him hierarchical obedience. This power begins with that of the Minister of Defense, who has the promotion pen in his hand, with the support of the president. Jair Bolsonaro used this power to appoint a minister he liked and to remove commanders who were not.

To do the same, Lula will have to map the positions of officers in the hierarchical chain to select those less committed to assume strategic positions. It won't be easy due to the officers' degree of adherence to the coup, but it is certainly always possible to identify the most threatening and the most professional. To do this, he must have on his side a minister who has skills and a firm hand and not the current one, a true accomplice of the coup.

What you can't do is try to sweeten the mouth of angry, frustrated would-be coup plotters with benefits, salary increases, high budgets for weapons purchases and other gestures that will only be interpreted by the recipients for what they are: a manifestation of fear for what they could have done and what they might do.

President Lula is more concerned with governing in a way that promotes development and expands social inclusion, the provision of jobs and increases in wages and income for the poorest. It is, without a doubt, the government's top priority. But not facing the institutional threat of an officialdom that was on the verge of insurrection and loaded with an ultra-right ideology, is political suicide and a permanent risk against his government projects.

Until now, the behavior of the Lula government has been, also on this issue, a repetition of the past. The appointment of José Múcio as Minister of Defense, in the name of his “good relations with the military” indicated the intention to make as many concessions as necessary to “reassure the troops”. In the midst of the ongoing coup process, José Múcio made sympathetic statements to those camped outside the barracks, including saying that he had friends and relatives among the latter.

When the maximum provocation of the coup movement occurred on January 8, José Múcio took to Lula the Army commander's proposal to decree a GLO. This GLO was what could be called the “minimum program” of the coup. It would not remove Lula, annul the elections, close the STF and Congress, the key elements of the “maximum program” of the coup. The GLO would be an honorable solution for the generals of the High Command, seeking more bargaining power with the Lula government and avoiding the rupture of the democratic order. Lula wisely refused this hypothesis, which would have left him in an uncomfortable and dangerous condominium with an armed gang. And, above all, he would leave the army in ideal conditions to intervene, if the favorable situation presented itself in the future.

Lula's decision and the general's non-reaction to his refusal were decisive, but were soon weakened by the next decision, not to dismiss the generals who threatened the Minister of Justice, the DF's public security intervener and the commander of the Federal Police's Military Police. DF when they tried to arrest the coup plotters sheltering in the shadow of the Army headquarters.

In the struggle between civil and military authority, the latter prevailed and a golden opportunity to demonstrate strength was lost. It was necessary for the Army commander to refuse to reverse the appointment of Colonel Mauro Cid to a strategic brigade in a key position to attack the executive power for Lula to decide to remove him, once again, in a position contrary to his Defense Minister.

With the succession of half measures, advances and setbacks by the executive, it was a stroke of luck that the first general on the list of promotions for the Army command was more of a professional than a Bolsonarista, even though there are those who say that the current commander was a adherent of the former president until the eleventh hour, that is, until the High Command's decision against the coup. From then on, he became increasingly energetic in his declarations of respect for hierarchy and institutions. A more political analysis would point to a stance that invited sympathy from the new government. If this was the case, General Paiva showed himself to be a good politician by formally moving away from the politicization of the Armed Forces.

José Múcio's stay in the Ministry of Defense continues to be an indication that this government wants to reconcile, compromise, compromise, placate, please or any other verb that indicates the reality of a cornered position in relation to the military.

The lost opportunity may never return. The military is on the defensive and legally vulnerable. Politically they are defeated and poorly seen by public opinion. The succession of scandals involving military personnel accused of involvement in corruption provides ammunition to keep them on the defensive. It is at this moment of weakness in Bolsonarism that the government should take the initiative to, without fanfare, fulfill its part in dismantling the coup: removing the most committed generals and promoting the officers who have shown themselves to be more professional in these troubled times.

To achieve this, Lula will have to start by replacing this Minister of Defense, who adopted the role, literally, of defending... the coup plotters. On the other hand, the government should create, within the Ministry of Defense, but not restricted to the military, a working group to discuss the desirable role of the Armed Forces in the global, regional and national situation. Without isolating the coup officialdom as much as possible and without raising the debate about the place and role of the Armed Forces in Brazilian society and the State, the knot that has tied us since the proclamation of the Republic will not be untied and we will always be in the shadow of threats from the uniforms.

*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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