a threatening situation

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By ARMANDO BOITO*

The STF has been very susceptible to pressure from the military, a deeply authoritarian state.

There are connections and comparisons to be made between events in the United States and the Brazilian situation. I would say that, both in one case and in the other, the conjuncture is very critical and even threatening. In Brazil and the United States we have two of the greatest leaders of the contemporary extreme right. In my opinion, both should be characterized as neo-fascists.

What we saw there was indeed – in my opinion – a coup offensive by President Donald Trump. Many say no, that no one can carry out a coup d'état with a few hundred crazy people occupying the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate. It turns out that we cannot separate this final episode from the process as a whole.

It is therefore worth remembering that Donald Trump has been, since before the elections, systematically criticizing the electoral process, seeking to discredit it. After the investigations, he did not accept the result. He filed dozens of lawsuits to annul the polls and the electoral process itself.

He adopted a series of other initiatives and finally put heavy and systematic pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to turn the tables in the session that should have been to confirm Joe Biden's victory. And finally, he himself spurred on the protesters who ended up occupying the Capitol. Protesters, by the way, who he called “good citizens”, when expressing his solidarity with them. So we had a coup offensive, an attempt to stay in power, despite the election results.

In the case of Brazil, some recent events are worrying. In June 2020, the traditional right had, through pressure from the STF, the TSE and the National Congress, stopped an authoritarian political offensive by Bolsonaro and his supporters. But since December, Jair Bolsonaro has been willing to resume the initiative. He made a pilgrimage to the barracks – appearing in about fifteen military units – spreading his anti-democratic agitation.

In January, Bolsonaro began to make statements and adopt initiatives that were, to say the least, worrying. He suspended the purchase of vaccines and then the purchase of syringes. He made the extravagant statement that Brazil was bankrupt and that he could do nothing and, more recently, edited the Provisional Measure (MP) which, in practice, prevents any state from starting the vaccination process against Covid-19. This same MP allows him to request, confiscate, vaccines and syringes purchased by the states.

Seven states have already arranged for the purchase or ordering of vaccines and syringes. These seven states would be prevented from proceeding with measures to prevent the epidemic. The main target is the state of São Paulo, which plans to start vaccination on January 25th. The Doria government reacted, filing a lawsuit with the STF, promptly accepted by Minister Ricardo Lewandowski. Thus, the confiscation of vaccines and syringes from that state of the Federation is prevented.

The Ministry of Health, however, stated that this MP grants the government the power to prevent Doria or another governor from starting the vaccination process. Here we have an impasse to be resolved by the Federal Supreme Court (STF). The STF, in turn, is very susceptible to pressure from the military establishment. Let us remember April 2018, when the then commander of the Army, General Eduardo Vilas Boas, publicly manifested himself demanding that the STF not grant the habeas corpus to former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. This decision was a decisive factor in preventing Lula's candidacy and, therefore, guaranteeing the victory of Jair M. Bolsonaro.

As the STF has been very susceptible to pressure from the Armed Forces, we may be witnessing the beginning of an escalation. At that moment Bolsonaro adopts a demagogically popular speech: he wants to prevent one or another state (he is thinking fundamentally of São Paulo) from having the privilege of having its population vaccinated before the Brazilian population as a whole.

A weighting is in order here. Many intend to solve the complex probability equation of a coup d'état by asking about the position of the Armed Forces. Most understand – without much reliable information I think – that the Armed Forces would not be willing to carry out a coup and deduce from that that, therefore, the coup would not be feasible. This reasoning is not correct. The political process does not merely emanate from the intention of the agents involved in it. It often presents outcomes that were not conceived or pursued by any of the political agents.

The military can decide – without any coup intention – to pressure the STF to revoke Minister Lewandovski's decision in favor of Doria. The motivation could simply be to save the image of the inept General Pazuello. Such an initiative, however, can trigger a set of actions and reactions that lead them to go far beyond what they initially intended. The basic requirement they have: they are deeply authoritative.

The two situations, as I said, are critical and worrisome. The Brazilian situation is also suffering from the impact of events in the United States. The main one is Bolsonaro taking authoritarian measures. His actions in the first half of 2020 allow us to infer that, when he feels surrounded, he tends to take authoritarian measures, and even measures for which he does not have enough strength. Even if he does not have the strength and support to carry out a coup d'état, Bolsonaro may try to do so because he has already revealed that, when he feels surrounded, he can initiate voluntary actions.

Bolsonaro is feeling surrounded. Trump was defeated at the polls, the prospect of being elected president of the Brazilian Federal Chamber is very unfavorable to him. Finally, João Dória showed that Pazuello is inept and that the Bolsonaro government is, in fact, contrary to vaccination. This added is configuring an increasingly complicated situation for him. Feeling surrounded, he can indeed go for adventurous measures, even if he does not have the strength to do so.

*Armando Boito is professor of political science at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of State, politics and social classes (Unesp).

Text established from an interview given to the Federal University of Piauí radio on January 07, 2021.

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