In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the military at the heart of the crisis

President Jair Bolsonaro and senior officials have never raised the threat of a coup in Brazil as much as these days, an unlikely possibility, analysts say. For the moment.

The largest country in Latin America is ruled in a belligerent manner by a surrounded president, with his relatives, by a series of inquiries, a year and a half after coming to power.

The current institutional crisis, coupled with the very serious health crisis of the coronavirus, and soon a historic recession, aggravates the climate of instability in Brazil, where the government of this nostalgic dictatorship (1964-85) has 10 soldiers on 23 ministers and the high administration 3000 officers.

“We, soldiers of the Armed Forces, (…) are the true guarantors of democracy. We will never obey absurd orders, “Bolsonaro said on Band TV on Monday. “But neither will we accept a political judgment that would destroy a democratically elected president.”

The far-right ex-paratrooper is threatened with both dismissal (around 30 congressional requests) and the cancellation of his election, for irregularities in his campaign.

His sons Flavio, Eduardo and Carlos (all elected officials) are the target of investigations for corruption or the spread of false information.

These various procedures emanate from the Congress, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Police, the Electoral Superior Court and the Supreme Court (STF).

It was with the latter that Jair Bolsonaro engaged in a showdown, with the support of the military. And by reinterpreting in its own way an article of the Constitution which would allow it to appeal to the Army.

“Democratic breakdown”

Last weekend, Bolsonarist demonstrators threatened in Brasilia to “transform the robes of the judges of the High Court into mops.” “These assholes” that Education Minister Abraham Weintraub wanted to see “thrown in prison”.

Coming from government generals, the threats are hardly more veiled.

Last Friday, active General Luiz Eduardo Ramos, Minister of the Government Secretariat, found it “outrageous” to say that “the army is going to make a coup”, but warned “the other side” (STF in mind ) “do not pull the rope”.

Previously, reserve general Augusto Heleno, a key figure in the government for institutional security (intelligence), made the country tremble by evoking “unforeseeable consequences for national stability” if Bolsonaro’s phone was seized in the context of a investigation.

However, is a military intervention topical in Brazil? “Absolutely not!” Retorts Nelson Düring, editor in chief of the Defesanet site, “we are very far from it.

“Concerns about a democratic breakdown are very exaggerated,” say analysts at Eurasiagroup, who “rate them at less than 5 percent.”

But to evoke and deny in turn the prospect of military intervention is part of a “strategy of threats against the Supreme Court to prevent what is considered as affronts to the executive”, believes Maud Chirio, historian at Gustave Eiffel University (Paris).

The Supreme Court notably rejected the appointment of a relative of Bolsonaro as head of the Federal Police, who is precisely investigating his son Flavio. A gesture received as “a provocation”, a “brutal interference”, by the president.

“For the moment, the soldiers are showing their absolute solidarity with Bolsonaro,” notes Ms. Chirio, despite sometimes “embarrassment” within an institution that had regained a certain prestige.

“The ultra-conservative soldiers of the government have a political project which is the same as that which is carried out in an outrageous and chaotic way by Bolsonaro”.

“Unpredictable reactions”

Then, “a form of coup is possible if the other powers” do not give up and “decide to play the card of the removal of Bolsonaro or to reduce it to powerlessness by the multiplication of judicial investigations on his family and his person, ”says Maud Chirio.

However, “the military would find it very difficult to oppose the institutions” of the judiciary and the legislature, judge Carlos Fico, professor of military studies at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

If he does not imagine “a classic coup with tanks positioned on the Place of the Three Powers” in Brasilia, Mr. Fico evokes the threat brandished by the Bolsonaro clan of a closure of the Congress and the Court supreme.

With barely 30% support from the population, Bolsonaro “would provoke an important reaction in society,” he predicted.

“His most radical sympathizers could demonstrate violently,” said Fico, without excluding “unpredictable reactions from a military police” who still strongly support him.

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