The military and the 2016 coup

Image: Lara Mantoanelli


Chronology of a Silent March

The publication of the book General Villas Bôas: conversation with the commander (FGV, 2021), by Celso Castro, brought to light the unavoidable participation of sectors of the armed forces in the coup against President Dilma Rousseff (PT). At the time, much was discussed about the fact that we were facing a new type of coup, a “judiciary coup”, since there was no apparent participation of the element that characterized coups d'état: the military organization. However, the absence of barracks does not indicate the absence of participation.

In recent years, the rampant occupation of political offices by reserve and active officers of the armed forces, the budgetary advantages gathered by the corporation, and adherence to the main political projects of the Temer and Bolsonaro governments show us the obvious: the armed forces did not leave of politics, contributed to the conservative turn in Brazilian politics, and benefited from it. In this process, the 2016 coup was a turning point.

Our objective here is to draw a chronology of situations involving the armed forces that demonstrate their autonomy from the civil power, their opposition movements to the PT governments and, above all, the conflict of interests of the organization with the democratic values ​​that help us to elucidate the context in which we find ourselves. We do not propose to exhaustively capture all the steps of this march. We also do not propose to set a symbolic date for when they entered the coup boat for good, or when the alliance between Bolsonarism and the Military Party[1] occurred. It is believed that this flyby is useful for building an overview of civil-military relations in Brazil today.

The resignation of José Viegas Filho, October 2004

Minister between 2002 and 2004, the former diplomat resigned on October 22, 2004 after attrition with the Army Command over the military pronouncement in relation to the dictatorship period[2]. The army published a note on the 17th of that month in response to the disclosure of photos of Vladimir Herzog's body (which later proved to be false), stating that the measures taken by the armed forces at the time were legitimate, defending the legality of the dictatorship. Viegas stressed that the document could never have been published without the approval of the civil authority, in addition to its content being incompatible with democratic values, and after fruitless meetings with the Army Command and the president on the subject, he presented his resignation.

National Defense Policy, June 2005

Despite being considered a positive element in the construction of civilian control by implementing a State policy in terms of Defense, the documentation is mainly written by officers of the armed forces. The National Security Doctrine’s own vocabulary is maintained as expressions of “National Power”, in addition to maintaining the characterization of Defense as an activity aimed at combating “mainly” external threats[3] – which keeps open to insider threat constructs.

The resignation of Waldir Pires, July 2007

In 2007, after months of air crisis, paralysis at airports and two major air accidents, Waldir Pires resigned as Minister of Defense. Replaced in office by Nelson Jobim, his resignation ended the existing imbroglio in a highly militarized sector whose functions were shared with civilians – air traffic control. At the time, demands for the demilitarization of the sector were ignored.[4]. Thus, in the civil aviation crisis, whose root was in the strike of the controllers[5], the dismissal of a civil minister was a resolution found in the dispute with the military, fearful of a breach in the hierarchy.

Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Land, April 2008

The Raposa Serra do Sol region, bordering Venezuela and Guyana, was recognized as an indigenous land in 1993 by the National Indian Foundation (Funai), demarcated as an indigenous reserve in 1996, and homologated in 2005, which required the evacuation of the area by other occupants, such as rice producers. In April 2008, the rice farmers refused to leave the area and the Federal Police were called in to remove them. The armed forces resisted participating in the operation[6]. In the meantime, the Military Club promoted an event called “Brazil: threats to its sovereignty”, in which the then responsible for the command of the Amazon, General Augusto Heleno, gave a lecture warning that the indigenist policy of the current government would be regrettable, “in order not to say chaotic”. In addition to the support of other soldiers, Heleno was also praised in the conservative media.[7] and by businessmen[8]. President Lula demanded explanations from the General to the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Commission (CREDN), however, there was no punishment, and the then president of the Military Club, General Gilberto de Figueiredo, accused Lula of treating the military differently ( when asking for explanations)[9].

Amnesty Law, August 2008

Tarso Genro, then Minister of Justice, headed the “Amnesty Caravan”, a national mobilization to publicize the Amnesty Commission and discuss the possibility of a trial for crimes committed during the dictatorship[10]. The armed forces reacted through a seminar at the Military Club: “Amnesty Law: scope and consequences”. On the occasion, they expressed their version that the dictatorship was necessary, beneficial and that the acts of violence were legitimate. Civil society organized itself in front of the club, in a contrary demonstration, and there was a statement by the then deputy for the Progressive Party (PP-RJ) Jair Bolsonaro, responding to the demonstrators: “the only mistake [by the dictatorship] was to torture and not kill”[11].

The proposal to create the Truth Commission, December 2009

Following the clashes in relation to the memories of the dictatorship, the armed forces blackmailed the government at the end of December, when the National Human Rights Program was formulated, which contained the proposal of the Truth Commission[12]. The text provided for “promoting the investigation and public clarification of human rights violations practiced in the context of political repression that occurred in Brazil”, in addition to reviewing the remaining laws of the dictatorial period, prohibiting streets and public buildings from being named after perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and to signalize public places that have been used for repression. In a meeting with the Minister of Defense (Nelson Jobim), General Enzo Martins Peri and Brigadier Juniti Saito, commanders of the Army and Air Force, respectively, repeated accusations of revanchism and threatened to step down if the PNDH was not modified to remove the elements aforementioned[13]. Jobim accepted the military complaint and supported them, insisting that President Lula change the text, otherwise he could also leave office. On the other hand, Paulo Vannuchi, Secretary of Human Rights, maintained the position of preserving the integrity of the text.

New proposal for the Truth Commission, January 2010

Tensions continued throughout the first months of 2010. In the midst of negotiations over the content of the text, the armed forces would have demanded that left-wing militants be included under the scrutiny of the Commission, in order to be investigated. Minister Paulo Vannuchi refused to equate torturers with the tortured, so he announced that he would leave office if this were accepted.[14]. On the military side, General Maynard Marques de Santa Rosa published a letter on social media defaming the Commission as slanderous, comparing it to the Spanish Inquisition. The same was exonerated by Nelson Jobim, by agreement with the Army Commander, Enzo Martins Peri[15]. In May, Lula sent the Bill of Law for the creation of the National Truth Commission, with modifications in relation to the text foreseen by the PNDH. Instead of including leftist militants in the text, the decree does not distinguish perpetrators, aiming to "examine and clarify the serious violations of human rights practiced".

Peacekeeping Force in Rio de Janeiro, November 2010

For the installation of the Pacifying Police Unit in Complexo do Alemão, the Federal Government determined the creation of a Pacification Force, subordinated to the Eastern Military Command. All planning and execution of the operation was under the authority of the Army, and it was agreed that all military crimes, committed by military or civilians during the operation, would be tried by Military Justice.[16].

Military club attacks, February 2012

In February 2012, the presidents of the military clubs signed a manifesto entitled “Alert to the Nation – let them come, they will not pass”. The text was removed from the internet and is no longer available in full. According to the periodicals[17], the text criticized the Truth Commission, directed at President Dilma Rousseff (PT), the Secretary of Human Rights, Maria do Rosário (PT), and the Secretary of Policies for Women, Eleonora Menicucci (PT). In addition to accusing the President and Maria do Rosário of serving private interests, they attacked Menicucci for his militant past: “Well, we all know that the group to which Mrs. Eleonora belonged led its actions towards the implantation, by force, of a dictatorship, never having intended democracy”. During the dictatorship, both Roussef and Menicucci were arrested and tortured in a wing called “Torre das Donzelas”, the set of women’s cells in the Tiradentes Prison, in São Paulo.[18]. Celso Amorim, then Minister of Defense, ordered the removal of the text from the internet, and the punishment of the officers who signed it (which was the responsibility of each force). However, the Military Club published a new manifesto, stating that they were not intimidated. In this manifesto, still available in full, they reaffirm that the Truth Commission was an “inconsequential act of explicit revanchism and affront to the Amnesty law with the unacceptable approval of the current government”[19].

 New attacks on the Truth Commission, March 2013

On March 31, a new note from the Military Clubs circulated attacking the Truth Commission, claiming that it was led by totalitarians who hide the crimes committed by left-wing militants[20].

Publication of the Law and Order Guarantee Operations Manual, December 2013

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces (EMCFA) formulated the first doctrinal manual for military action in GLO operations in December 2013, a year marked by the series of demonstrations in the streets. In the document, the definition of opposing force is broad enough to include anyone as a possible disruptive factor to the order, citing social movements and quilombolas by name as examples.[21].

Refusal to cooperate with the National Truth Commission, February to September 2014

Throughout 2014, the CNV carried out a series of actions to investigate violations committed during the dictatorship, including torture committed in military installations. In February, the Commission requested, through the Ministry of Defense, that the command of each force open investigations to investigate the torture centers in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Recife.[22]. Despite complying with the request, the armed forces presented, in June, reports that contradicted the Commission. For example, in the report provided by the Army, it is highlighted that the Information Operations Detachment (DOI), established to combat subversion and terrorism, acted within its legal competences and that there is no formal record that it deviated from its purpose[23]. The National Truth Commission published a note deploring this attitude, as it did not report on the central question of the CNV: whether or not there was torture and violation of human rights in military installations. In August, they asked the Ministry of Defense to clarify these facts.

On September 19, the army commander Enzo Martins Peri sent a letter to Minister Celso Amorim responding to the Commission's request. The official repeats that there was no deviation from the purpose and that, moreover, “it is not relevant for him to express himself regarding formal acts and other decisions taken by the Brazilian State or, even, opinions on situations already defined by the current legal system ”[24]. The following day, the Minister of Defense sent an official letter to the National Truth Commission in which he reaffirms that the armed forces have been cooperating with the Commission and that, as stated in the official letter, they do not oppose the recognition by the Brazilian State that there were human rights violations. . The CNV stressed that this does not mean recognizing the involvement of the armed forces in torture, therefore, it was an insufficient response.[25]. However, a group of reserve generals judged the Minister's position to be too accusatory, that the Army of Caxias would never apologize for having saved the country, and the Minister should apologize[26]. Celso Amorim did not comment on the matter.

Bolsonaro launches his candidacy at AMAN, November 2014

On November 29, Jair Bolsonaro (still a deputy for the PP-RJ) visits the graduation ceremony of the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (AMAN), a training center for aspiring Army officers. He addresses the graduates talking about the sacrifices they make for the Fatherland, complaining about their clashes with the “bandits” of Brasília, reaffirming the catchphrase “Brazil above all”. In his speech, Bolsonaro pledges to run for office in 2018 to: “whatever God wants, try to play for the right, this country”[27]. From then on, Piero Leirner[28] reiterates that the commands had granted Bolsonaro free movement in the barracks.

Decree no. 8.515, September 2015

On September 08th, a Decree was published that withdrew a series of attributions of military commanders related to personnel, such as appointments, dismissals, transfer to reserve and officer reforms[29]. The measure generated reactions from military commanders, who said they had not been consulted about the decree, and also from other members of the Military Party. Major Olímpio (PDT-SP) and Capitão Augusto (PR-SP), military police officers, and Jair Bolsonaro (PP-RJ), a retired captain, stated that it was an affront to the autonomy of the military organization, a “Bolivarian” attempt to influence the armed forces and equip them[30]. Former Defense Minister Nelson Jobim also criticized the decree, describing it as a “tortuous and illegal” path, an act that was circulated on military news sites.[31]. The minister at the time, Jacques Wagner, stated that the measure was not intended to remove military powers, that there was noise in its bureaucratic referral, and that it would be corrected[32].

Mourão and the patriotic struggle against the government, September 2015

In a lecture given to the Reserve Officers Preparation Center (CPOR) in Porto Alegre on September 17, the then head of the Southern Military Command, Hamilton Mourão, defended the deposition of President Dilma Rousseff, as the “advantage of change would be the discarding of incompetence, mismanagement and corruption”. The general stated that there was a need for an awakening of a patriotic struggle for change[33]. The Minister of Defense, Aldo Rebelo, delegated to the Commander of the Army, General Villas-Boas, the task of taking the appropriate measures. Villas-Bôas exonerated Mourão from the Southern Command, transferring him to the Secretariat of Economy and Finance in Brasília[34].

Extinction of the Institutional Security Office, October 2015

          On October 02, President Dilma Rousseff instituted the administrative reform of the Federal Government, which condensed a series of secretariats and ministries. The General Secretariat was replaced by the Government Secretariat, which began to assume the attributions of the Micro and Small Business Secretariat, the Institutional Relations Secretariat (SRI) and the former Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI). General Jose Elito Siqueira released a note regretting the decision and stating that it was his wish that it be, as soon as possible, “recified for the good of society and Brazil”[35].

Michel Temer's meetings with the military, between 2015 and 2016

In a book released in 2020, Michel Temer narrates a series of meetings he had with the military before the process that led to the fall of Dilma Rousseff[36]. In interviews, the former president highlights meetings with Eduardo Villas Bôas, then commander of the Army in the government of Dilma Rousseff, and Sérgio Etchegoyen. The first, kept his post in Michel Temer's government. The second, as we will see below, occupied the Institutional Security Office. According to the report, there was fear among the military that the Workers' Party would alter the training for access to the generalship and the training of the military – both prerogatives of the Presidency of the Republic.

Reactivation of the GSI, May 2016

As soon as he assumed the position of Interim President – ​​while President Dilma Rousseff was removed for trial – Michel Temer activated the Institutional Security Office (GSI), appointing General Etchegoyen to command the body[37].

Repeal of Decree 8.151/2015, July 2016

Also in 2016, Michel Temer revoked Decree 8151 of 2015, which removed from the armed forces competences regarding personnel decisions, related, for example, to the transfer to reserve, retirement and promotion of officers[38]. Attributions were then transferred to the Ministry of Defense, imposing a chain of command on the forces and subjecting them, at least in this area, to the authority of the minister[39]. In practice, Michel Temer gave back to the military the power to decide on the courses of their own careers, re-establishing one of their pockets of autonomy. Contextualized, the revoking of the decree can be easily understood as a signal from the Temer administration that, unlike its predecessor, whom it overthrew, it would not interfere in military affairs. On the contrary, he would be willing to reestablish the autonomy of the forces, paving the way for the absolute occupation of the policy that we would see in the future and that lasts until the present day.


Exposing these events, it is evident that the armed forces react aggressively when governments try to exercise a fundamental right of democracies: to control them. The military competed, openly, with the civil power. They reacted when their doctrinal version of the dictatorship was questioned, as occurred in all attacks on the National Truth Commission. They reacted when their country's project, their notions of sovereignty and social order were not met, by condemning the policies of demarcation of indigenous lands. They reacted specifically to the presence of women, former militants, in the government, something that affronts their ethos masculinist and, again, his dictatorial memory. In other spheres, there was not even a dispute: they formulated their own Defense policies, guaranteed loopholes to maintain conceptions of internal threats, and maintained spaces in the centers of planning and execution of domestic affairs.

In 2016, it is evident that they left a punctual performance and sought their reinsertion in the spheres of political decision. The appointment of Etchegoyen to the GSI, in addition to the appointment of Silva and Luna to the command of the Ministry of Defense, in 2018[40], was the precise symbology of the correlation of forces that sustained the Temer government. Years later, at an event at the Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso[41], Etchegoyen confirmed the clashes between the military and the Rousseff administration that ultimately contributed to the legal-parliamentary coup that led to the Temer government[42].

Another fateful episode of the developments that evidence the coup was the pronouncement of Villas-Bôas, through a tweet about the judgment of habeas corpus of Lula da Silva by the STF in 2018. The official is still active in the Bolsonaro government, occupying a post in the GSI, headed by General Heleno. Mourão, who urged the patriotic struggle against the government, is vice president.

“The armed forces are a State institution”, say the military, as if this were a synonym of serving public and common interests. Well, it is clear that they are not. They are a Party that seeks to impose its interests and makes use of occupying the public administration to do so. Meanwhile, they mistreat the life and death of those who were victims of the dictatorship, and of the more than 300 Brazilians who were victims of the COVID-10 pandemic, under their management.

* Ana Penido is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Public Policies in International Relations (IPPRI – UNESP).

*Mariana Janot is a doctoral student in International Relations at the San Tiago Dantas Graduate Program (UNESP – UNICAMP – PUC/SP).

*Jorge Rodrigues is a doctoral student in International Relations at the San Tiago Dantas Graduate Program (UNESP – UNICAMP – PUC/SP).


[1] PENIDO, Anna. RODRIGUES, Jorge. MATHIAS, Suzeley. The Armed Forces in the Bolsonaro Government. Tricontinental Research Institute, 2020.>

[2] Viegas justifies resignation by Army note about Herzog. UOL, 04/11/2004.>

[3] BRAZIL, Ministry of Defense. National Defense Policy, 2005.>

[4] Waldir Pires resigns, after 10 months of air crisis and two tragedies.,,AA1595557-5602,00-WALDIR+PIRES+RENUNCIA+APOS+DEZ+MESES+DE+CRISE+AEREA+E+DUAS+TRAGEDIAS.html >.

[5] Controllers' strike brings air chaos to its peak.,,MUL16554-5598,00-GREVE+DE+CONTROLADORES+LEVA+CAOS+AEREO+AO+APICE.html >

[6] Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Land. Socioenvironmental Institute.>

[7] AZEVEDO, Reinaldo. If anyone is hurting the Constitution, it's not General Heleno. Veja Magazine, 17/04/2008>

[8] ZIRKER, Daniel; MARTINS FILHO, Joao Roberto. The Brazilian Civil-Military Crisis of 2008: A Shift to Monitorry Democracy? Social Alternatives (Australia), v. 30, no. 2, p. 31-35, 2011.

[9] BELCHIOR, Luisa. General criticizes government's indigenist policy and strange demands from Lula. Online sheet, 18/04/2008>

[10] D'ARAUJO, Maria Celina. The Armed Forces stable veto power on the subject of political amnesty in Brazil. Varies history 2012, vol.28, n.48 [cited 2021-03-31], pp.573-597.>

[11] PLATONOW, Vladimir. Soldiers protest in Rio against the possibility of revising the Amnesty Law. Brazil Agency, 07/08/2008>

[12] I WANT, Gaius. Understand the controversy about the National Truth Commission. BBC, 12/01/2010.>

[13] CATANHEDE, Eliane. IGLESIAS, Simone. Against “Commission of the Truth”, commanders threaten to leave. Folha de S. Paulo, 30/12/2009>

[14] Vanucci threatens to leave the government if the text is changed. G1, Brasilia, 10/01/2010,,MUL1441222-5601,00-VANNUCHI+AMEACA+DEIXAR+O+GOVERNO+SE+DECRETO+FOR+ALTERADO+DIZ+JORNAL.html>

[15] General who criticized Human Rights program is exonerated. G1, Brasília, 10/02/2010,,MUL1485711-5601,00-GENERAL+QUE+CRITICOU+PROGRAMA+DE+DIREITOS+HUMANOS+E+EXONERADO.html>

[16] BRAZIL, Ministry of Defense. Agreement for the employment of the Pacification Force in the City of Rio de Janeiro. 2010>

[17] Military clubs criticize statements by ministers about the dictatorship. G1, Brasilia, 22/02/2012>


[19] Manifesto “Let them come, they will not pass through here”. Defensenet, 01/03/2012—Militares/>

[20] To the Brazilian nation: March 31st. Defensenet, 31/03/2013—-Nota-dos-Clubes-Militares/>

[21] BRAZIL, Ministry of Defense. Normative Ordinance No. 3.461, of December 19, 2013. Guarantee of Law and Order. MD33-M-10. Brasília/DF: Ministry of Defense, 2013.

[22] CNV requires the Armed Forces to investigate how military facilities were used for torture>

[23] CNV makes public reports of investigations initiated by the commanders of the forces>

[24] Explanation letters from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense>

[25] CNV considers positive, but insufficient note from the Ministry of Defense>

[26] MENDES, Priscilla. CNV criticizes former generals' refusal to apologize. G1, Brasília, 29/09/2014>

[27] BOLSONARO, Carlos. Bolsonaro is welcomed by AMAN aspirants. Youtube, 29/11/2014>

[28] LEIRNER, Piero. Brazil in the specter of a hybrid war. Sao Paulo: Alameda, 2020


[30] MATTOS, Marcela. Dilma never tires of picking fights, now with the military. Veja Magazine, 08/09/2015.>

[31] Nelson Jobim – Decree on the military. Defensenet, 14/09/2015—Decreto-sobre-os-Militares/>

[32] After controversy, Minister of Defense will return powers to the military. State of S. Paulo, 08/09/2015,apos-polemica–ministro-da-defesa-devolvera-competencias-aos-militares,1758642>

[33] STOCHERO, Tahiana. General defends 'awakening to patriotic struggle' in lecture in RS. G1, São Paulo, 20/10/2015>

[34] Army commander fires general who asked to wake up from patriotic struggle. State of S. Paulo, 29/10/2015,comandante-do-exercito-demite-general-que-pediu-despertar-de-luta-patriotica,10000000900>

[35] MATOSO, Filipe. Ex-minister regrets loss of ministerial status of Institutional Security Office. G1, Brasília, 02/10/2015>

[36] In a book, Temer reveals contact with the military before Dilma's impeachment >.

[37] Seriously Westphalen Etchegoyen. >

[38] Michel Temer gives powers taken back by Dilma to military commanders. >.

[39] Dilma removes powers from military commanders without consulting the Minister of Defense. >.

[40] With Temer, the military will command Defense for the first time. >.

[41] The participation of the Armed Forces in the government: a new normal? >.

[42] The Armed Forces in the Bolsonaro government. >.

See this link for all articles