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Brazil’s far-right has created a “legal” way to stage a coup

. Jun 02, 2020
Brazil's far-right has created a "legal" way to stage a coup President Jair Bolsonaro and his acolytes. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Professor and constitutional law expert Ives Gandra Martins, 85, threw more gasoline on Brazil’s already explosive political crisis last week when he said — during a social media video broadcast — that President Jair Bolsonaro should evoke Article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution and call a military intervention. Mr. Martins justified his opinion by saying that the Supreme Court’s recent moves — which have included authorizing a criminal investigation against the president and greenlighting a Federal Police operation against some of his closest supporters — were over-politicized and needed correction.

Article 142 concerns the Armed Forces, establishing them as “regular and permanent national institutions, organized based

on hierarchy and discipline, under the supreme authority of the president, to defend the nation, the constitutional powers and, by the initiative of any [of such powers], ensure law and order.&#8221; It is frequently brought up by the far-right as a possible justification for launching a self-coup. In September 2018, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said such a move would be possible, &#8220;<a href="https://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2018/noticia/2018/09/08/general-mourao-admite-que-na-hipotese-de-anarquia-pode-haver-autogolpe-do-presidente-com-apoio-das-forcas-armadas.ghtml">in the case of anarchy</a>.&#8221; Last week, President Bolsonaro endorsed that view, retweeting Mr. Martins&#8217; remarks.</p> <p>However, at no point does Article 142 grant the president the power to use the military to suppress other branches of government. As a matter of fact, such an interpretation &#8220;makes no sense,&#8221; according to constitutional law expert Eduardo Mendonça, a professor at the Brasília-based college UniCeub. “This type of interference has a name, it has always had a name. It&#8217;s called a coup,” he says.</p> <p>In an op-ed, Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski responded to the rising calls for Article 142, pointing out misuse of the legal provision could be <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/06/a-garantia-da-lei-e-da-ordem-em-crises-de-maior-envergadura.shtml">punishable by law</a>, saying that Mr. Martins&#8217; analysis &#8220;comes from the presumption that [an intervention] could happen without congressional approval, but our emergency system is very strict.&#8221;</p> <p>Political scientist Claudio Couto, head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Master’s program in Public Policy and Administration, called Ives Gandra Martins&#8217; interpretation of Article 142 as &#8220;total nonsense.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;At no point does it allow for the use of the military against a constitutional power. It is just a way to try and give a legal sheen to the same-old putschism.&#8221;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3644899"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/3644899-107-why-is-support-for-bolsonaro-so-resilient.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-3644899&#038;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Bolsonaro v. the Supreme Court</h2> <p>Calls for the activation of Article 142 arise from the growing clamor within President Bolsonaro&#8217;s inner circle to suppress the Supreme Court, amid the feud between the country&#8217;s highest court and the government.</p> <p>In their weekly protests, flouting social isolation measures, the president&#8217;s supporters have displayed banners calling for the closure of the Supreme Court, which would be tantamount to a full-blown coup.</p> <p>On May 28, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president&#8217;s sons, talked openly about the possibility of military intervention during an interview to radio station Bandeirantes.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;The Armed Forces come, clear the air, and then the democratic game returns. That&#8217;s it. The military only took action after public outcry. Nobody wants this. However, people who are unable to see a way to reverse this lack of harmony between the branches of government, they embrace Article 142,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>The declaration was <a href="https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/06/01/celso-de-mello-ve-semelhanca-entre-brasil-atual-e-alemanha-nazista-e-diz-que-apoiadores-de-bolsonaro-odeiam-democracia.ghtml">quickly rebuked</a> by Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello, who likened Brazil&#8217;s current situation to that of the end of the Weimar Republic in 1930s Germany. &#8220;In Bolsonaro&#8217;s newspeak, military intervention means the instauration of a despicable and abject military dictatorship,&#8221; he said.</p> <h2>The fake news inquiry</h2> <p>This heightening of political tensions originated from a recent Supreme Court decision to authorize the Federal Police to carry out search and seizure operations at the homes of pro-Bolsonaro activists and influencers. The warrants came as part of an inquiry into an alleged far-right fake news network, which has attacked justices of the Supreme Court, members of Congress, and other opposition figures to President Bolsonaro.</p> <p>While the president himself is not directly implicated in the inquiry, adverse judgments against his most active online supporters could cast a worrisome shadow over his administration and hamper his control of the social media narrative.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Senate is poring over a bill known colloquially as the &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/05/28/supreme-court-fake-news-probe-brazil-unemployment-pandemic/">Fake News Act</a>,&#8221; which would criminalize the use of bots and dummy accounts on social media. Among other provisions, the new legislation — if approved — would classify the spread of misinformation by elected officials or public servants as misconduct in office.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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