Bolsonaro backs anti-Congress protest and opponents call for impeachment

. Feb 26, 2020
President Jair Bolsonaro calls for anti-Congress protest. Opponents want impeachment Jair Bolsonaro in front of the presidential palace. Photo: Antonio Cruz/ABr

During the Carnival holidays of 2019, Jair Bolsonaro—still in the nascent months of his presidency—took to Twitter to share a video from street celebrations in São Paulo that he found troubling. The uncensored clip showed one man urinating on another while dancing on the roof of a newspaper stall, about which the president urged his millions of followers to “comment and draw [their] own conclusions.” Doubling down on the absurdity of his previous tweet, he then asked his social media audience “what is a golden shower?”

During this year’s celebrations—which came to an end today at noon—many were waiting with bated breath to see what would be on the president’s mind as he took time off from running the country to relax in the beach town of Guarujá. As it turned out, Jair Bolsonaro did take to social media, but on a decidedly more sinister topic.

</p> <p>As reported by <em>Estadão</em>&#8216;s Vera Magalhães, President Jair Bolsonaro shared <a href="">two videos</a> on his personal WhatsApp Messenger account pertaining to a demonstration called for March 15 to protest against Congress and the Supreme Court. The clips use emotive imagery—such as <a href="">Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s stabbing</a> on the campaign trail in 2018—and talk about the Brazilian people&#8217;s need to &#8220;take back Brazil&#8221; and &#8220;rescue&#8221; it.</p> <p>Far-right Bolsonaro-supporting groups involved in the organizations for the March 15 rally have openly called for the impeachment of the heads of Congress and Supreme Court Justices, as well as <a href="">celebrating the involvement of the Armed Forces</a> in this &#8220;movement.&#8221;</p> <p>While the golden shower incident contained an element of prudish naïveté, of a conservative man in his 60s struggling to get to grips with Twitter, this year&#8217;s Carnival social media story is altogether more sinister, with the fueling of such discord between branches of power being—at the absolute minimum—incredibly reckless.</p> <p>On Wednesday morning, <a href="">Mr. Bolsonaro commented</a> on the story, passing it off as an exchange of &#8220;personal&#8221; messages &#8220;between a few dozen friends&#8221; on WhatsApp. &#8220;Any inference outside this context is an underhanded attempt to disrupt the [Brazilian] Republic,&#8221; he added.</p> <p>The story was broken by journalist Vera Magalhães on news website <a href=""><em>BR Político</em></a>, which is under the umbrella of major newspaper <em>Estadão</em>. The report on Tuesday evening stated that the president had shared said videos, and even included a screen capture of a WhatsApp conversation with Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Though the sharing of the videos was confirmed by the president&#8217;s close friend and former congressman Alberto Fraga—and then corroborated by Jair Bolsonaro himself—Ms. Magalhães was subjected to torrents of abuse on social media and accusations from pro-Bolsonaro politicians that the story had been fabricated.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters. Photo: José Cruz/ABr" class="wp-image-32045" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters. Photo: José Cruz/ABr</figcaption></figure> <h2>On the streets against Congress</h2> <p>The March 15 demonstration had been called some time ago, with the agenda initially focusing on two points: putting pressure on Congress to approve a constitutional amendment allowing defendants to begin serving prison sentences after a single failed appeal—which could lead to ex-president Lula being <a href="">sent back to jail</a>—and gathering signatures to formalize the creation of President Bolsonaro&#8217;s new political party, the <a href="">Alliance for Brazil</a>.</p> <p>An overtly far-right organization which would serve to institutionalize Bolsonarism in Brazilian politics, the Alliance for Brazil party still has a ways to go if it is to be set up in time to dispute this year&#8217;s municipal elections. As we explained <a href="">back in November</a>, the party must collect the notarized signatures of 500,000 people spread across at least nine states and straddling the country&#8217;s five macro-regions. Events such as the March 15 demonstration were thought up to push this signature-gathering process along.</p> <p>However, the demonstration took an entirely different slant after comments made by the government&#8217;s head of Institutional Security, retired Army General Augusto Heleno. During one of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s live broadcasts on Facebook, Gen. Heleno was overheard complaining about Congress, saying: &#8220;we cannot accept these guys blackmailing us, fuck it!&#8221;</p> <p>This outburst was in response to the Congress&#8217; push to extend their control over the federal budget, giving lawmakers autonomy over some BRL 30 billion of the BRL 80 billion available for spending.</p> <h2>Lashing out at the &#8220;adult in the room&#8221;</h2> <p>A number of right-wing and pro-Bolsonaro protests in 2019 directed their anger toward Congress, which they feel is working against the federal government. The number one target for this ire is House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, who has found himself in <a href="">consistent conflict with Jair Bolsonaro</a> and his closest advisors, largely over their reluctance to work in conjunction with Congress in running the country.</p> <p><p>Far-right groups have often referred to him as the &#8220;fat Chilean&#8221;—as he was born in Santiago while his father lived in exile—and claimed he is attempting a &#8220;de facto parliamentary coup&#8221; against the government. Outside of the federal Executive, Rodrigo Maia is the most powerful political figure in Brazil at the current moment and has often attempted to play the role of the &#8220;adult in the room&#8221; in response to the crises and scandals of the Bolsonaro government.</p></p> <p><p>An example of this was Mr. Maia&#8217;s response to Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s shared videos. On his <a href="">official Twitter account</a>, he said that &#8220;creating institutional tension does not help the country to evolve.&#8221; In a dig at the president, he added that &#8220;it is we, the authorities, which have to set an example to respect the institutions and the Constitution.&#8221;</p></p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter aligncenter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">Criar tensão institucional não ajuda o País a evoluir. Somos nós, autoridades, que temos de dar o exemplo de respeito às instituições e à ordem constitucional. O Brasil precisa de paz e responsabilidade para progredir.</p>&mdash; Rodrigo Maia (@RodrigoMaia) <a href="">February 26, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>However, his reactions are often stinging, as was the case when he responded to General Heleno&#8217;s claims that Congress was trying to &#8220;blackmail&#8221; the Executive. Mr. Maia replied by calling the head of Institutional Security a &#8220;radical ideologue&#8221; and noting that &#8220;he wasn&#8217;t complaining when Congress voted to raise his military salary.&#8221;</p> <h2>Opposition reaction and calls for impeachment</h2> <p>President Bolsonaro&#8217;s sharing of videos of anti-Congress demonstrations was widely panned by his political opponents. Former Presidents Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso said it was an &#8220;authoritarian gesture&#8221; and &#8220;to remain silent would be to agree,&#8221; respectively. Meanwhile, veteran Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello declared that Mr. Bolsonaro &#8220;is not up to the role&#8221; of being president of Brazil.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s active opposition in Congress has even suggested that the conduct would constitute an impeachable offense. Lawyer Miguel Reale Junior, who authored the successful impeachment request against Dilma Rousseff in 2015, called the move &#8220;conspiracy against one of the branches of [Brazilian] power.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="700" height="450" src="" alt="alexandre frota" class="wp-image-22188" srcset=" 700w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 700px) 100vw, 700px" /><figcaption>Former Bolsonaro-supporter Congressman Alexandre Frota says he&#8217;ll present an impeachment request against President Bolsonaro. Photo: Twitter</figcaption></figure> <p>&#8220;I don&#8217;t know what he was drinking during Carnival to take such a daring act,&#8221; said Mr. Reale Junior. &#8220;It is very serious, calling on the nation to dismantle a branch of power is among the items that would justify impeachment.&#8221;</p> <p>Indeed, the Constitution provides that any acts of the president which go &#8220;against the free exercise of power of the Legislative branch&#8221; would constitute an impeachable offense.</p> <p>Curiously, the figure that would hold all of the cards in a potential impeachment process is House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. While he is unlikely to proceed with such a maneuver as things stand, an intensification of protests against Congress—and Mr. Maia in particular—could encourage him to take action.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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