(almost) everyone writes to the captain

Clara Figueiredo, Série_ Quarantine Records, Av. about maia, São Paulo, 2020.jpg


Jair M. Bolsonaro, from June 2020 to February 2021


Eight months separate us from June 18 of last year, the date of Fabrício Queiroz's arrest and the milestone of Jair Bolsonaro's sudden stop in his open strategy of trampling down what was left of the Republic, which, alongside the beginning of the pandemic, consumed the country during the first half of 2020. Pressured by the Judiciary’s advance on his family, frustrated with the Armed Forces’ apparent lack of interest in backing a wide-open coup d’état and perceiving his own mandate in danger, the Bolsonaro of “it’s over, damn it” and of “we don't have to negotiate anything else” – respectively, insult directed at Alexandre de Moraes, of the STF, who had prevented him from nominating his favorite for the Federal Police and a cry issued on Sunday when hundreds gathered in front of the Army HQ in Brasilia, preaching the dictatorship – blinked and moved back several houses. Weakened, his fate at that moment was uncertain.

How to understand, then, that today, in February 2021, with the country experiencing the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in its history, approaching 250 deaths from Covid 19, with huge delays in vaccination, compared to the rest of the world , and without a consistent strategy to face not only the pandemic – out of control and with new waves contracted perhaps with more virulent strains – but also the associated social drama and economic devastation, the extremist government of the former captain apparent breath and the oppositions show divided and confused?


Without intending to exhaust the subject, part of the answer to the question lies in the choices made by a large portion of the elites – political, judicial and corporate – in the face of the Bolsonaro government, since the middle of last year.

Concretely, although much has been said, at that time and afterwards, about the need to unite forces against the authoritarian presidential threat – which between February and June of last year, became explicit, ceasing to be just a hypothesis of more alarmed sectors on the left -, instead of the so-called “broad front”, what gradually took shape was another very different phenomenon: the multiplication of interlocutors, with political and social weight, willing to talk, negotiate, support and even participate in the government.

If the first incarnation of emergency aid, gestated in Congress in opposition to Guedes' economic team, would end up sustaining the presidential approval rate in the second half of last year, bringing segments of the most needy population to the support base in a proportion that more than What compensated for the deterioration of support among the higher income and schooling strata, it was the openness of the elites to the government that lent the Bolsonaro presidency the political means to reorganize itself after the forced shutdown of June 2020.


These various partners were the “enablers” of Bolsonaro, to use the expression that Stephen Greenblatt uses to define the types that – through naivety, fear, shortsightedness or opportunism, or a mixture of all these – make the tyrant’s power viable in Richard III (Tyrant – Shakespeare on Politics, Norton, 2018). And we could equally understand them as "Gamers”, in the sense in which Timothy Snyder recently used the notion (“The American Abyss”, New York Times, 09.01.2021) to characterize, in the wake of the traumatic attack on the Capitol, the relationship established between the traditional establishment of the Republican Party and Donald Trump. This party elite, which for years has been “playing” with the system, profiting from the anti-majoritarian bias of US institutions, tolerated and “normalized” the occupation of the White House by a right-wing extremist, racist and pathologically lying, in the name of exploiting the own plutocratic-conservative agenda, based on deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and filling the judiciary with conservative, business-friendly judges. Both Greenblatt and Snyder stress the risks, which are fatal at the limit, embedded in these Faustian arrangements. Its consequences tend to turn against the sorcerer's apprentices. Unfortunately, not only against them. "Gamers" and "enablers" open, with their shady dealings, several doors in hell for the introduction into the political game of another type of actor, the "breakers", effectively willing to destroy the system through violence - the terrorist attack of 06 January in Washington was a real-time preview of where this game could take us.


Well then. If the set of conservative parties that make up the “Centrão”, specialized in selling parliamentary support to presidencies of various ideological colors, was at the forefront in opening up understandings with the government even during the period of Sunday marches for the closure of Congress and the STF, soon came adhesions, more or less veiled, from other sectors of the center-right.

This was evident, with unavoidable clarity, in the recent episode of elections for the Boards of Congress, responsible for shattering illusions regarding the oppositional disposition of the trio DEM-PSDB-MDB, whose benches either sided in a large majority to the government side (if of the DEM) or, at least, split in half (PSDB and MDB). The traditional right, renamed the “democratic center” in sympathetic circles, existed as a force of resistance to Bolsonaro more in the editorials of the mainstream press or in the Globo news than in reality. Rodrigo Maia's blow reverberated in the pretensions for 2022 of names like Dória and Huck who, suddenly, noticed that their support, in the parties to which they belong or to which they feel close, are (or at least are) more fragile than they imagined.

The government's relationship with the “Centrão” grew stronger over time. An initial assumption that paved the way for the composition between the heirs of Eduardo Cunha, now led by Arthur Lira from Alagoas, and Bolsonaro was the government's decision to work towards the weakening and liquidation of Operation Lava-Jato. The departure of Sérgio Moro from the Justice portfolio was the password for the intensification of conversations between the two parties. This made it possible, still around May 2020, for an urgent arrangement to shield Bolsonaro from the threat of “impeachment”, emerging with the health disaster then already outlined. From there, it evolved into a partnership that yielded to the main parties of the bloc, boosted by access to the government machine, substantive advances in the last municipal elections, culminating in the “marriage”, at the beginning of February, with the victory in the election for the command of both houses of Congress.


But the phenomenon of the proliferation of partners, willing to establish relations with the former captain, encompassed much more than political parties. Within the Judiciary, especially in the superior courts (STJ and STF), but also in certain state courts, such as Rio de Janeiro, a set of decisions, as of August 2020, showed that there was good will and willingness to postpone the examination of the criminal troubles of Flávio Bolsonaro, whose case took numerous turns over the last eight months to end up in the same place where it was at the beginning of the period. And nothing indicates that this will take another course in the foreseeable horizon. In more or less the same spirit, the investigations that run in the STF with the potential to affect Bolsonaro, his family, supporters and the digital militia (“fake news”, acts in favor of a military coup with the direct participation of the president and interference in the Federal Police) follow on the back burner, used more as weapons of deterrence against eventual coup relapses than as instruments of effective political-criminal accountability.

Less scrutinized than transactions with the Legislature, the possibilities for reciprocal gains between magistrates and the government are countless in everyday life permeated by myriads of fragmented decisions, in appointments to vacancies in courts (TRFs and STJ) and in competition for the most coveted top prize and rare, the nomination for the STF, entering into the game, from the point of view of the togados, not only the ambitions of those who want to reach the open positions, but also the interests of those who, already installed in the high magistracy, hope to expand networks of influence. In this sense, it was instructive (though not at all edifying) to observe the behavior of various actors in the judicial system in the months prior to filling the vacancy of former justice Celso de Melo on the Supreme Court. The season is reopened with the opening of Marco Aurélio’s chair next July – not by chance, informs Mônica Bergamo, from Folha de S. Paulo (12.02.2021), there is a STJ minister finalizing messages on WhatsApp with the expression “ God in charge". It is not to be expected, therefore, that doors will close for the president in the Judiciary in the coming months.


Alongside politicians and judges, the business community and the financial market have constituted the other decisive piece to thwart the Bolsonaro presidency’s isolation strategies so far. During the escalation of abuse and insults, practically nothing was heard of recrimination for the presidential conduct. On the contrary, at the beginning of May last year, what was witnessed was the “visit” of the President of the Republic to the STF accompanied by a delegation of dozens of businessmen, representatives of various class entities, to press for the easing of social isolation. At that time and today, the understanding, almost consensual in the rest of the world, that the victory over the virus is a requirement for the economy to resume faces fierce resistance among the local GDP. After June, the majority of the latter did not worry about the increasingly evident limitations of Paulo Guedes in his formulation capacity, in political articulation and in the delivery of concrete results (which had already been stamped, incidentally, in the meager GDP result in 2019) . Nor were they bothered by the lack of a broader government strategy to face unprecedented health, social and economic challenges, beyond the temporary War Budget, whose authorship and responsibility lay more with Congress, the Central Bank and civil society than with the Ministry of Economy.

What has marked the actions of the business community has been the almost exclusive concern with not exceeding certain tax limits, which became clear at the end of the year when the market operated, successfully, to veto the extension of the aid that, despite this, it is back on the agenda this February, under the pressure of reality that reverberates in the new leaders of the Legislative. It doesn't seem to matter to the market that the expansion of public debt has been a global trend as a result of the needs to combat the pandemic. Instead of presenting flexible economic policy alternatives aimed at immediately alleviating the effects of the partial stoppage of economic activity and then reactivating it, it is monitoring public debt levels and the related defense of the spending ceiling, introduced by the Temer government, which mobilizes the sector. In this there is a clear affinity with the position of Paulo Guedes: a focus on the more immediate protection of the interests of holders of available net wealth, whose priority is to safeguard the solvency of the state, of which they are creditors. As long as these limits are respected, nothing indicates that the business community will stop cultivating dialogue with Bolsonaro.


In summary, a significant part of the Brazilian elites – in politics, in the judiciary and in the business world – was, more or less consciously, making crucial decisions, following June 2020, which contributed substantially to the current scenario where, despite from the humanitarian catastrophe and the economic and social disaster, the Bolsonaro government gets non-trivial political breath.

At least as a counterfactual, we can speculate that, after Bolsonaro's retreat - weakened after failing to complete his purpose of running over institutions and frightened by the tightening of the judicial siege, which culminated in the arrest of Queiroz in the house of the presidential family lawyer and could put his mandate at risk - these elites could have concerted, along with other sectors of society, around the political isolation of the head of government, followed by his eventual removal, in the name not only of the preservation of democracy but of the imperative of saving lives by aligning Brazil with the rules of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international community in combating the pandemic.

It didn't happen. On the other hand, they were willing to cooperate, on condition that the former captain retreated, as is only tactically clear, from authoritarian radicalization, opening up the possibility of some negotiation of reciprocal interest.

And here we are.


Following the election of the Boards, a fortnight ago, the main observers were quick to account for Bolsonaro's gains: minimization of the probability of the outbreak of an impeachment process, greater chances for the processing of his extremist agenda in the area of ​​customs and disorganization of the called the “democratic center”, weakening competition in the presidential succession in the center-right field (Dória, Huck, Mandetta, etc.). As it turned out, none of this magically fell from the sky, being the product of processes whose roots point to the transactions made and/or sanctioned, as of June 2020, between Bolsonaro and part of the Brazilian elites.

Less obvious, but even more deleterious, are two other consequences that accounted for a large proportion of the anchor offered to the extremist government in its moment of greatest weakness eight months ago.

The first was to allow Bolsonaro to definitively manage to impose his denialist policy on the Health area, whose mixture of sabotage, misinformation, negligence and complete irresponsibility has so far cost almost 250 human lives, a provisional number that will tend to grow substantially in the coming months. .

The second was to give Bolsonaro time to continue cultivating his domestic “breakers”, his radicalized base willing to go to the last consequences for maintaining the power of his “myth”, through the generalized liberation of weapons (plus four new decrees only in the current week) and the incessant co-option exercised on all armed corporations in the country in the most diverse ways, the result of which are unprecedented material, budgetary and access to power advantages, especially for the Armed Forces.


None of this, it should be noted, defines the succession of 2022. This depends on the uncertain evolution of the pandemic and the economy. But judging by Bolsonaro's own statements in the face of the invasion of the Capitol on January 06 - when he said that something worse could happen here, if the printed vote was not approved - perhaps we have, for the first time in the recent presidential elections, the ingredient of violence hovering over what until recently used to be the free exercise of the Brazilian citizen's right to vote.

This violence brandished as a threat by the President of the Republic himself, who, like his Yankee example, today in exile in Mar-a-Lago, already announces that the scope of admissible results does not include his defeat.

That same president with whom almost two thirds of Congress, a good part of the superior courts and a significant portion of the business community, our “Gamers”, they did not, and do not, shy away from establishing profitable relationships.

*Sérgio E. Ferraz He holds a PhD in Political Science from USP.



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