On Sunday the 8th of January 2023, Brazil faced another serious threat to the democratic institutions that have been in place for almost 40 years. The mob of over 4,000 pro-Bolsonaro supporters who stormed the Brazilian capital invaded the Presidential Palace, the National Congress, and the Supreme Federal Court. The ensuing riot was not simply venting emotion in the face of electoral defeat, but a direct attack on the institutions of Brazilian democracy to signal public desire for military intervention.
Following Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat at the polls last October, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was installed once more as President of Brazil. At his inauguration, Lula promised to govern in the interests of a broad coalition where his predecessor had despoiled the country for the benefit of a narrow elite. But the right-wing reaction to this renewal of democracy was both predictable and severe.
Though comparisons to the pro-Trump protestors that invaded the USA capitol in January of 2022 are inevitable, important distinctions must be made. USA protestors believed that by they could commandeer democratic institutions and steer the congressional electoral votes towards a more desirable path. If Bolsonaro’s supporters had been successful, the result would have been the complete destruction of Brazilian democracy and its institutions by a military coup. Worse still, while the January protests in the USA were organised largely in secret, Bolsonaro’s supporters planned and advertised their intentions in public and with visible support of wealthy backers.
Just as with the coup of 2016 that saw President Dilma Rousseff impeached, and the imprisonment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva using unproven charges in 2018, the supposedly neutral institutions of the Brazilian state were obviously partisan. When facing the riot, the military police of the Federal District, responsible for the security of Brasília, vacillated between passivity, repression, and even encouragement. More worrying still, the Armed Forces obstructed the dismantling of pro-Bolsonaro camps organised in front of their headquarters since the elections, even after the criminal activities of the rioters became evident. It is for this reason that, thankfully in error, the right-wing protestors of the 8th of January believed that all that was necessary for a military coup was one final push.
In light of the continuing risks to Brazil’s democracy, there can be no piecemeal approach to pursuing the architects of this coup attempt, nor half-measures in the reform of the country’s institutions. This is an opportunity for Brazil to overcome the legacy of authoritarianism inherited from military rule, particularly regarding the institutionalisation of the Military Police and Armed Forces.
As an academic journal focused on understanding and exploring Latin American politics and development, the Alternautas Editorial Board denounces these dangerous acts of organised opposition to democracy, particularly for the danger they pose to Brazil’s return to the path of environmental responsibility, racial equality, and the alleviation of poverty and hunger. We call upon our community of researchers and readers to continue the critical pursuit of democratic freedom, economic transformation, and environmental sustainability in the region.