A paper tiger?

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

We are navigating in dark and tumultuous waters that imply huge risks for the future of the democratic regime.

The left militancy knows this phrase by Mao Tse Tung well (I still use the old spelling). It was at a meeting with the general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, in Beijing in the 1950s. Despising the military power of the United States, Mao allegedly said: “imperialism is a paper tiger”. And Nikita Khrushchev would have replied: “yes, but he has atomic teeth”. “Paper tiger” is a Chinese expression that refers to the dolls used in the Lunar New Year celebrations, the Tet, carried by people through the streets and which, in Chinese tradition, serve to scare away evil spirits.

I don't know the origin of the expression “giant with feet of clay”, but the meaning is the same as the Maoist blague. In other words: a lot of noise and little power.

I remembered these expressions when I started writing about Jair Bolsonaro. The little captain, in fact a lieutenant promoted after being discreetly purged from the ranks of the army to a comfortable paid reserve, was raised to the category of “myth” when he was still a federal deputy, elected by the huge base of militiamen in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

I couldn't find out when, exactly, this epithet was released, perhaps when the eschatological deputy of two bills in 30 years in office, obscure even in the obscurity of the lower clergy of the Chamber, began to appear in the 2013 demonstrations. and all who have come to call it that, with cries of astounded admiration, must not know what myth means. Myth is synonymous with the words fable and legend. Or, “naive interpretation of the world.” There are other more glorious readings, but these seem to me more in keeping with his character and followers.

The “myth”, in fact, had and still has the role of a symbol. He personifies a series of negative values ​​that are assumed by a much larger part of our people than we could believe. Misogynistic, homophobic, racist, cowardly in a double sense (aggressive with the weakest and submissive with the strongest), false moralist (corrupt who cries out against corruption), false religious (prays according to the belief at the time), disloyal (abandons allies unblinking), opportunistic (been in nine parties), phony macho (self-proclaimed “unbroken”), phony patriot, (subservient to his American myth, Trump), ignorant proud of his ignorance, boorish, mouthy, scatological, insensitive to suffering alien (imitated a patient dying without air), anti-scientific (defended chloroquine and fought vaccines), enemy of the environment (favored the greater destruction of all Brazilian biomes with illegal deforestation and burning).

The list is long and incomplete. But the most important are the political values ​​that the madman has acquired. Supporter of dictatorship, torture, defender of the extermination of those he considers communists, socialists or leftists (and this includes everyone with whom he has differences of opinion), in favor of censorship of the press and the arts. Favoring an ultra-centralized and statist power from an economic point of view, Jair Bolsonaro adopted the defense of liberalism out of pure opportunism. The list is also long and incomplete.

Jair Bolsonaro was being identified by characters who were muffled in the deafness of redemocratization. People who did not dare to assume these “values” in public and found in the “myth” the expression of the same moral and political ills. This public has been growing and assuming since the crisis of the government of Dilma Rousseff, the disappointment with the PT, which was already identified as the party of ethics in politics, with the erosion of left-wing militancy and the growth of evangelical “activism”. .

Gained popular notoriety in the demonstrations for the impeachment of Dilma, Jair Bolsonaro came to be seen as an alternative power for the 2018 elections and to receive the endorsement of the military establishment that had rejected him in the 1980s. The “military party”, constituted by officers who resent the loss of power during the dictatorship, began to see it as an instrument of “the return of the mastic vine on the shoulders of the democrats”.

On the other hand, the “liberals” of our slaveholding elite, who had never read the relationship between economic liberalism and political liberalism and who could swallow any liberticidal outburst in the name of the market, happily adhered to the anti-PT candidate. Both the military and the business elite saw Jair Bolsonaro as a puppet, dull and crude, it is true, but suitable to be used in the political struggle.

And that's how we arrived at the final or almost final tragedy: the electoral victory of the energetic in 2018, with the right to military threats and subservience of the STF to remove Lula from the campaign. Once in power, the puppet began to have a life of its own and put into practice its agenda from the heart. Since taking office, the energetic man has fought to weaken democratic institutions, starting with the electoral processes that led him to the Planalto. He tamed the PGR, subjected the PF and the PRF, weakened the mechanisms for controlling corruption, faced the STF, attacked the traditional press, and clashed with Congress.

The strategy was simple, even simplistic as the character. It didn't matter winning or losing battles with the various enemies, but showing his base that they didn't let him rule. With this he got rid of … ruling. Everything that went wrong was the fault of others (Supreme, media, governors, congress). Jair Bolsonaro's strategy included the formation of a movement based entirely on the creation of false news on the internet, which contaminated the political debate over the four years of misgovernment. There are tens of millions of people who ignore every source of information that does not originate in the “hate office” and who are permanently articulated to attack in all ways, moral and physical, those who do not pray for the madman's booklet.

On Bolsonaro's agenda, the most important thing was to strengthen his support among those who could bring him to absolute power: the FFAA, the military police and the militia that he armed without limits until he reached a record number of alleged CACs (hunters, snipers and collectors), 700 armed (and well-armed) militants, organized into shooting clubs.

The most dangerous of the subversion movements promoted by Jair Bolsonaro was the politicization of the FFAA. The maniac brought more than seven thousand officials to the government, spreading them across various ministries with no relation to the necessary competence for the positions held. It granted immense advantages to the officialdom in the pension reform, while other sectors watched the loss of rights. Guaranteed extraordinary funds for the three weapons to buy ships, planes and tanks to play as soldiers while all other ministries underwent budget cuts so drastic that they paralyzed programs in health, education, science, environment, social services, transport, culture and others . But what was most serious was the permanent stimulus for political demonstrations by officers of all ranks. Following the example of the highest officials of the FFAA, the officers began to give their opinion on the most varied policies through the electronic media.

Some believe that the so-called “military party” is identical to the FFAA as a whole and that they act according to an articulated political logic. I do not believe this. The term “party” implies something different from what happens. There is not, as in political parties, the construction of proposals to be defended by the group. It can be said that there is a common ideology, the anti-communism that today has the guise of anti-PTism. But agreements on what to do to assert the military's power do not exist.

There is a notorious cleavage between senior officers and so-called troop commands. The former have shown that they are ready to blackmail the “communists” who won the elections in order to maintain their privileges. The general's agenda is to maintain control of the military apparatus, appointing the Minister of Defense who pleases them and choosing the commanders of the three forces. They also want to keep track of senior officers' promotions. And they want to keep all the advantages acquired in the Bolsonaro government, including fat budgets. Furthermore, they do not accept any interference in the content of the training of new officers, guaranteeing the reproduction of the reactionary ideology for the future.

The middle officers, colonels, majors, captains and lieutenants, have another, much more radical agenda. These are the ones who do not accept Lula's inauguration and fraternize with the coup demonstrators at the door of the barracks. These are the ones who circulated an apocryphal manifesto (which many analysts consider representative of this officialdom) pressuring their superiors to “take action”. Read: assume the direction of a movement to prevent the possession.

The result of this mess is the end of discipline in the FFAA and the rise of uniformed radicalism in Brazilian politics. It recalls the moment of Ernesto Geisel's government when he discovered that the “basements” of the military regime were disputing power with him, the president, also commander of the FFAA. Geisel promoted the dismantling of the “tigrada” and began to apply a strategy that would lead to the disengagement of the FFAA from the center of politics. It was what was called an opening (“slow, gradual and safe”, in the words of the dictator on duty), which was accelerated and expanded in the Figueiredo government by pressure from the democratic forces.

The immediate question is who will have the upper hand in this military anarchy, the generals or the troop commands. The most likely thing is that open demonstrations (and, above all, hidden, internal ones) will not be able to lead superior commands to risk a coup adventure. That leaves the most radical and subversive alternative, the troop commands to move to prevent the possession.

This hypothesis has a fundamental weakness: there has never been a military uprising in the country that was not directed/led by senior officers. Many movements, including tenentism in the 1920s, needed a leader, even if symbolic, with a higher education. In one of the moments of greatest rupture in the hierarchy, the coup against the inauguration of Jango in 1961, we watched a general commanding a military region, confront the coup leaders in the name of legality.

The ministers of the army, navy and air force and all the commanders of the other military regions were with the coup, but it was enough for a commander to firmly oppose it (supported by the civil powers and the population of Rio Grande do Sul, mobilized by Governor Leonel Brizola) to seek a negotiated solution that would avoid combat. But a colonel-led rebellion against their commanding officers has yet to take place. For this to happen, it is necessary for civil and/or military leadership to centralize decisions, initiatives and commands.

And this is the key question of the moment. Jair Bolsonaro is not a leader, he is a symbol of an ideology and behavior. Leadership is something else: it is moral authority, decision-making power and boldness. Jair Bolsonaro is none of those things. When the army high command pulled his little mat, he “put the branch inside” and went to cry in the bathroom. Where is it so far? His followers took initiatives, blocked roads, surrounded barracks, attacked individual Democrats and Republic institutions, with increasing criminal violence. Without the support of the “myth”, silent, fearing the moment when he will lose the defensive shield of Augusto Arras. No, this garnisé is not a revolutionary leader and this entire coup movement is in need of one. The paper tiger dissolved in the rain, the giant with feet of clay fell under the weight of the expectations he generated in his fanatics.

There are those who consider that Jair Bolsonaro and/or the “military party” do not have the political support to carry out a coup. It is true if we stick to the support of politicians. Only the most fanatical Bolsonaristas elected in the last election would agree to vote for a state of siege, the annulment of Lula's election (never the first round, of course) or any other exceptional measure. But the coup relies on the mass of bolsominions, whose vanguard is exhausted at the door of the barracks. It's not everyone who voted for the madman. An interesting survey cross-referencing the adherence to Bolsonaro's positions throughout his government points to a percentage of 12 to 15% of the electorate that gives full approval to any measure taken by the president.

It seems little, but there are, in round numbers, between 19 and 24 million fanatics, organized in zap groups, guided by the hate office. People capable of making a lot of noise in the streets and squares. On the other hand, Jair Bolsonaro has the support of sectors of the business community, with a large majority among medium and small businesses, but also with some heavyweights, especially in agribusiness. It is no small thing to support a coup movement.

Apparently, Lula and the democratic front that won the elections against the fascist proposal are negotiating with the general. General officers are blackmailing Lula using the threat of semi-revolt barracks. Like: accept our conditions and we dissolve the demonstrations in the barracks. It remains to be seen whether they will be obeyed by the barracks, whose political game, as I said above, is more radical and intends to prevent Lula from “going up the ramp” of the Planalto Palace.

Even assuming that the generals are obeyed, the FFAA's tutelage over the executive will be established. And the delayed effect bomb of all this indiscipline will be waiting for the time to explode.

Lula does not have many alternatives. If you fight the generals, you push them into the arms of the coup colonels. It may be that the commanders meow when it's time to call insurrection and swallow the metallurgist's checkmate. It is even more likely that this will happen. The weight of international opposition to a coup in Brazil contributes to this. A coup that, if it happens, will probably be without Jair Bolsonaro. The regime that would be established with a military coup would have a brief and tumultuous life, isolated internationally and subjected to economic and diplomatic pressures.

If Lula swallows the blackmail, there is no guarantee that the coup climate will dissolve by order of the generals, although this is more likely. The problem is that this postpones the confrontation without avoiding it.

In my view, what can change the correlation of forces is a monster-like demonstration of popular support. A Lula inauguration with the country mobilized in every city and village with millions of enthusiastic protesters could give Lula leverage to challenge the militia right at the beginning of his government.

I am worried about the fact that neither Lula nor the democratic forces that support him are preparing this national apotheosis. Yes, Janja is organizing a big party in Brasilia, but the character of this manifestation is more commemorative than political affirmation. It will take much more to put a brake on the coup. At least to contain it while Lula begins to govern.

The masses appearing across the country in large numbers and with great combativeness are the only shield within Lula's reach. It is necessary to prepare politically for this mobilization, appealing to the defense of democracy and legality. The climate of the transition, until now focused exclusively on deciding ministries and some proposals for public policies, is putting aside the coup threat, believing that it will go away without major problems for the future government. We are navigating in dark and tumultuous waters that imply huge risks for the future of the democratic regime.

*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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