How serious are the Brazilian military’s threats against democracy?

. Apr 05, 2018
democracy military brazil Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Brazil’s military has been itching for a place in the spotlight, despite already enjoying the most influence over the government that it’s had since the military dictatorship. Now, the military is looking ahead to October: there are some 48 military personnel running as pre-candidates for the 2018 elections. In a country whose modern history includes a brutal military dictatorship (and several other ruptures from democracy), public statements from prominent military figures are fuelling concerns that the military intervention could make a comeback. But the Army’s growing proximity to the president is also worrying to Brazilians, as are the growing numbers of military personnel involved in politics.

</p> <p>The most famous pre-candidate is Jair Bolsonaro, an uber-conservative forerunner in the presidential race who is also a reserve military captain. But in addition to Bolsonaro, there are an additional four candidates for governor, two for senator, 27 for the House and 14 for state and municipal legislatures.</p> <h2>Active military personnel join cries of ‘pajama Generals’</h2> <p>Yesterday, Army Reserve General Luiz Gonzaga Schroeder Lessa issued a statement that left Brazilians reeling. “If there is so much betrayal and change of law, then I have no doubt that the only resource is an armed reaction,” he said in an <a href="">interview</a> with <em>Estado de S.Paulo</em>, discussing ex-president Lula’s potential return to power. “It is the Armed Forces’ duty to restore order.”</p> <p>Until now, Lessa and his cohort have been referred to as ‘pajama Generals’: retired, bored, and conspiring from their civilian homes, but without posing any real threats. In September 2017 General Antonio Hamilton Mourão said a potential military intervention could be “necessary” to tackle corruption and threatened to “impose a solution”. An op-ed from retired General Luiz Eduardo Rocha Paiva published in <em>Estadão </em>also called for a military intervention “if a convicted felon is to take power in 2018”.</p> <p>But a tweet from General Eduardo Villas Bôas, Brazil’s highest-ranking <em>active</em> military figure, has put Brazilians on edge.</p> <p>At 8:39 p.m. on Tuesday, Villas Bôas tweeted: “I assure the nation that the Brazilian Army shares the desire of all citizens for the rejection of impunity and respect for the Constitution, for social peace and for democracy, as well as being attentive to its institutional missions.”</p> <p>The ringing silence from Villas Bôas’s Twitter feed ever since has triggered <a href="">speculation</a> as to whether his statement can be interpreted as a threat of military interference in Brazil’s democracy.</p> <div class="wp-block-image wp-image-3481 size-full"><figure class="aligncenter"><img loading="lazy" width="699" height="420" src="" alt="army villas boas" class="wp-image-3481" srcset=" 699w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 699px) 100vw, 699px" /><figcaption>General Eduardo Villas Bôas</figcaption></figure></div> <p>Federal pre-candidate and reserve General Paulo Chagas chimed in on Lessa’s statement, telling <em>Estadão</em>: “Our main objective at this moment is to prevent changes to the law, and to put the leader of a criminal organization, who has already been tried and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison, behind bars.”</p> <p>A slew of tweets from active army figures in support of Villas Bôas also followed. Citing historian Gustavo Barroso, General Cristiano Pinto Sampaio of the 16<sup>th</sup> Wilderness Infantry Brigade <a href="">tweeted</a>: “The Army should be the vigilant guardian of the eternity of Brazil.” His final phrase, however, was his own words: “Always ready Commander!”</p> <p>General Geraldo Antonio Miotto echoed, <a href="">tweeting</a>: “We are together my COMMANDER!!!”</p> <p>General José Luiz Dias Freitas and General Braga Netto, head of Rio de Janeiro’s federal intervention, also tweeted in support of Villas Bôas, according to reporting from <a href="">BBC Brasil</a>.</p> <p>Brazil’s military has a history of meddling in the government. That’s why Villas-Bôas’s statement sends shivers down the spines of many Brazilians. It shows that those who disregard democracy are becoming increasingly comfortable in calling for an authoritarian state.</p> <p>“I’ve done research on the appreciation of democracy in Brazil since the 1980s. What I have found is that roughly 15 percent of people are fond of the idea of a military government. It’s a lot, however those who support democracy outnumber them – but are more passive,” says political scientist José Álvaro Moisés, from the University of São Paulo.</p> <h2>Military drawing close to President Temer</h2> <p>A spokesperson for the Brazilian Army has said that Lessa was stating his “personal opinion”, and that the Army takes actions “within the legal parameters established by the Federal Constitution and other norms that govern the subject”. Brazil’s Minister for Public Security Raul Jungmann has indicated that the Brazilian Army has no intention to carry out a military intervention.</p> <p>But Brazil’s media has done little to dispel doubts. Headlines in recent weeks have<a href=""> cast shadows</a> over the government’s longevity as a democracy, while others this week have posted retrospectives <a href="">claiming</a> that protests led to the 1964 military takeover.</p> <p>Even before the election, senior military figures have been stepping closer to President Michel Temer. When Raul Jungmann left the Ministry of Defense to take over the recently-created Ministry of Public Safety, he was replaced by Army General Joaquim Silva e Luna – who became the first military figure in that position since Brazil’s democratization.</p> <p>Jungmann, by the way, said the odds of a military coup are “less than zero.” Even if that statement is accurate, the very fact that we’re discussing it is worrisome.

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Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.

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