Bolsonaro “crossed the Rubicon” by endorsing anti-democratic rally, say lawyers

probe bolsonaro military intervention
President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/ABr

Motorcades around the country were held today in support of President Jair Bolsonaro’s stance against social isolation. And, landing on Armed Forces Day in Brazil, a significant portion of demonstrators called for “military intervention.” Many even evoked the infamous Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5), a decree enacted by the military regime in 1968 to give the president powers to dissolve Congress, impeach politicians, and suspend constitutional rights. AI-5 was one of the darkest moments in Brazil’s political life and led to the institutionalization of state-sponsored torture. 

One protest in favor of AI-5 included an illustrious guest: President Jair Bolsonaro himself, who even delivered a two-and-a-half-minute speech to the assembled demonstrators. “We have a new Brazil in front of us. […] We have to believe, and everyone has do their job so we can put Brazil where it belongs. […] It is time for people to take power,” said the president.

The speech sent shockwaves through the political world, with Felipe Santa Cruz, the head of Brazil’s Bar Association, saying Mr. Bolsonaro has finally gone too far. “The president has crossed the Rubicon. The die of Brazilian democracy has been cast. It is time for democrats to unite, overcoming difficulties and divergences, in the name of a greater good called DEMOCRACY.”

For many in Brasília, it was a call to arms for an impeachment of the president. The bar association, after all, has been a key player in the two impeachments Brazil witnessed since its return to democracy in 1985. But Mr. Bolsonaro has been clever enough to adopt a pull-and-push approach — after every excessive statement or gesture, he always backtracks and pleads for conciliation. On March 24, Brasília correspondent Brenno Grillo reported that behind-the-scenes negotiations around Mr. Bolsonaro’s ousting had already started. Sources confirmed the talks but said the intention was to make a move after the Covid-19 crisis had passed.

Other figures have taken to social media to express their disgust with the president’s antics. On Twitter, Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso said: “It is frightening to see demonstrations for the return of military rule, after 30 years of democracy. Defending the Constitution and democratic institutions is part of my role and duty. ‘The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people’ (Martin Luther King).”