Old habits don't die easily

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By IURY TAVARES*

The establishment of a conspiratorial climate against the government is reinforced by the atonement of supposed internal enemies

One of the most flagrant marks of authoritarian regimes is the monitoring of people and groups that criticize the excesses and abuses of power or simply those that defend divergent positions. Authoritarian governments are also not framed. They frame. Therefore, it is fundamental to subject the other Powers of the Republic to its will and operate them according to convenience, as they also seek to do with the press.

In Brazil, recent history offers two examples of dictatorial governments that legalized public policies of persecution – against opponents or whoever it was convenient to call an opponent –, as well as undermining the independence of Parliament and the Judiciary and establishing control over the Executive. Decades later, the Bolsonaro government is moving towards reinstitutionalizing the political persecution typical of authoritarian regimes.

Under the pretext of protecting Brazil against communism, Getúlio Vargas staged a coup d'état in 1937, after seven years of an exceptional government. “The Estado Novo instituted a Salazar-type regime, a non-mobilizationist, bureaucratic and meritocratic proto-fascism, which kept the middle class in power (...)”[I]. Vargas' political police pursued, arrested, tortured opponents and “harmful foreigners”, considered to be disseminators of “exotic ideologies”.

[…] The Special Police Station for Political and Social Security (Desp) acted exclusively in political repression and took care of receiving complaints, investigating, detaining and imprisoning anyone whose activity was considered suspicious – without the need to prove the actual commission of a crime. In command of Desp – and of the Civil Police – Vargas enthroned Filinto Müller. As Chief of Police, Müller did not hesitate to have suspects and declared opponents of the regime killed, tortured or left to rot in the Desp dungeons.[ii]

Vargas also concentrated powers in the Executive, closed the National Congress, the State Assemblies, the Municipal Chambers and appointed interventors to replace the governors. The new Constitution reduced the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, extinguished the Federal Court and, even if any measure was considered unconstitutional, the government could overrule the High Court's decision. From 1940, the head of government gained powers to intervene directly in the composition of the Court and, until the end of 1945, political matters or those related to the state of emergency or war (the Second World War was ongoing) could not be dealt with by the judges. . In the repression of the Estado Novo, Vargas appointed ten ministers and removed two from the Federal Supreme Court.

Later, Brazil suffered 21 years of military dictatorship, supported by the middle sectors of society, with years of restriction of rights, torture, censorship, persecutions and deaths. With the tightening of the regime, the abuses were increasingly flagrant, but, as a rule, the STF could only act if provoked. In any case, the Court was imbued with a spirit of self-preservation, acting at the limit, as it also did not have the real strength to enforce its decisions, in case the dictatorship did not comply with them. AI-2 increased the collegiate to 16 magistrates to form a majority and transferred judgments of political crimes to military justice. With the impeachment of three ministers and the retirement of two others in solidarity with those removed, post AI-5, the plenary once again had 11 members with a pro-dictatorship majority and, even so, a fundamental right, such as the habeas corpus, was already suspended by the military[iii].

In the streets, repression gained capillarity with municipal and state units of Internal Operation Detachments (DOI) and Internal Operations and Defense Centers (CODI), formed with support and contributions from the private sector. Public offices were, in fact, torture centers and illegal prisons. Before DOI-CODI, at the beginning of the dictatorship, the military created the National Information Service (SNI), which also produced dossiers, with the objective of “harming careers, interdicting works of art and subsidizing IPMs, Military Police Inquiries, opened by the dictatorship against citizens for alleged legal violations”[iv].

Indeed, the attributions of Analysis Subsection of the DOI were: keeping a file on prisoners and left-wing organizations, analyzing seized documents, studying detainees' testimonies, providing subsidies to interrogators and handling information forwarded to higher hierarchical scales[v].

The current scenario in Brazil shows a country turned to the past, to the dirtiest, most painful and retrograde part which the Brazilian people managed to survive and which, until today, pays for the disastrous consequences. Rubens Valente[vi] revealed that the Ministry of Justice put together a dossier with 549 names of federal and state security officials and three professors identified as members of an anti-fascist group. In addition to names, the document would contain their photos and social networks. The report also reveals that the unknown Seopi (Secretary of Integrated Operations) is commanded by appointees of Minister André Mendonça and does not submit its reports to judicial follow-up. The dossier was shared with public administration bodies across the country, without any clear justification.

The patrol climate was not restricted to the Executive. The Public Prosecutor's Office of Rio Grande do Norte made a report with names, personal data, photographs and publications on social networks of servers in the public security area of ​​another anti-fascist movement in that state, Valente also revealed. It is noteworthy that, in this case, the investigated were aware of the monitoring and accessed its content, unlike the Ministry of Justice's snooping, even if their motivation can still be questioned.

The practice sets a threatening precedent for Brazilian democracy. As the pretexts of the intelligence sectors are nebulous, the compilation of a list of critics allows public officials to be persecuted in their respective corporations simply for diverging from the federal government. Monitoring, inspection, persecution are authoritarian instruments to stifle controversy and, consequently, prevent accountability for abuses of power and illegalities. The absence of divergence compromises transparency. The militarization of the government contributes in this sense, as it is natural to its hierarchical and closed structure to impose commands without questioning and to restrict access to information. The incorporation of military logic by the Republic violates the basic principles of public administration of transparency and accountability.

The use of public resources and State structures with political-ideological purposes is still flagrant. Bolsonaro recreated a kind of SNI, renamed the National Intelligence Center (CNI), whose generic attributions are “dealing with threats to the security and stability of the State and society” and “production of current intelligence and the structured collection of data”[vii]. Let us remember that at the ministerial meeting in April, Bolsonaro strongly criticized the government's intelligence apparatus and confessed to having its own system, a structure parallel to the state. To meet personal goals, the government militiaizes the presidential mandate.

The establishment of a conspiratorial climate against the government is reinforced by the atonement of supposed internal enemies. The Comptroller General of the Union received 680 complaints of moral harassment from federal employees during the Bolsonaro government, showed Folha de São Paulo[viii] which collected reports from employees questioned about their political positions by superiors. There is always an obstacle that prevents Bolsonarism from promoting the promised breakthrough. Such a transformation will never come, as it is unrealizable. It's classic populism: simple solutions to complex issues that can't be resolved because the elite – or whatever – won't allow it.

Internal ideologization is accused, on the other hand, the direct participation of the government in defending those investigated for misinformation and the dissemination of false news makes clear the effort to do exactly the same in the opposite direction. The President himself signed a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality questioning the removal of profiles linked to Bolsonarism from the air. Greater strangeness occurred because the work of the Advocacy General of the Union should be restricted to people in the government, which is not the case of any of those investigated. That is, the function of a public body is diverted to serve anti-republican purposes. Every public official has the right to take a political stand and should not be persecuted or punished, as long as his conduct does not influence or determine his work as a public servant. A security agent may have pro-government inclinations, but it is criminal to leak information about a police operation to the Bolsonaro family to benefit them, for example.

Like its predecessors, the other latent front of Bolsonarism repression is facing the STF. In addition to public support for demonstrations for the closing of the Supreme Court, Bolsonaro wanted to send troops to dissolve the Court “until that is in order”, as reported by Piauí magazine.[ix]. The catastrophic decision met inconsequential agreement from the Planalto generals who were concerned with giving a legal outline to the indefensibly authoritarian measure. Threatened by the seizure of the President's cell phone, which had not yet been determined, the government spoke of "unforeseeable consequences for national stability". Without embarrassment, General Luiz Eduardo Ramos, from the Government Secretariat, wanted to deny the coup, but ended up saying so, in a sentence that goes down in the annals of the Republic: “The president himself never preached the coup. Now, the other side must also understand the following: do not stretch the rope.”

The government chases shadows, while the country sinks. We run with the profile of an athlete for the 100 thousand dead, while the President offers chloroquine to an emu and a Ministry of Health without a holder receives a group that proposes the rectal application of ozone against Covid-19. The mass of workers is thrown into informality, trapped in the hope of an income of BRL 600, while the fortune of billionaires grew by BRL 34 billion during the pandemic. How is the torrent of international investments publicized by Paulo Guedes facing the record outflow of foreign capital in the first half? It is as fictional as the myth of military efficiency, whose outstanding achievement so far is the exemplary occupation of positions and ministries, as well as the defense of corporatist interests.

Crazy Bolsonarism justifies its ravings with conspiracy theories and false threats. Brazilian dictators, but not only them, have already applied the strategy well. The government claims that it straightens the country out for the future ahead, but, by slowly stretching the rope, it keeps its gaze fixed on the rearview mirror of history. What is increasingly difficult to deny is that the far-right reactionaries of this political segment want to go back to the past, not to recover a supposedly lost glory, but to relive the kiss of death in Brazilian democracy.

*Iury Tavares Master in Political Science and International Relations from Universidade Nova de Lisboa


[i] Jaguaribe, Helio. Nationalism in Brazil today / Helio Jaguaribe. – Brasilia: FUNAG, 2013, p. 376.

[ii] Schwartz, L.; Starling, H. Brazil: A Biography. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015. p. 375.

[iii] Torres, MG The Federal Supreme Court during the military dictatorship, according to this historian. In: Café História – History made with clicks. Available at: https://www.cafehistoria.com.br/o-stf-durante-a-dictadura-militar/. Published: 27 Jul.

[iv] https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/rubens-valente/2020/07/28/dossie-antifascistas-luiz-eduardo-soares.htm

[v] http://www.fgv.br/cpdoc/acervo/dicionarios/verbete-tematico/destacamento-de-operacoes-e-informacoes-centro-de-operacoes-e-defesa-interna-doi-codi

[vi] https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/rubens-valente/2020/07/24/ministerio-justica-governo-bolsonaro-antifascistas.htm

[vii] https://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/bolsonaro-cria-centro-de-inteligencia-nacional-na-abin-para-enfrentar-ameacas-seguranca-do-estado-1-24565334

[viii] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/08/sob-bolsonaro-gestao-federal-tem-media-de-uma-denuncia-de-assedio-moral-por-dia.shtml

[ix] https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/vou-intervir/

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