A dark day for Brazilian democracy

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The 8th of January 2023 will be recorded in history as a deeply dark day for Brazilian democracy. The world witnessed not only an attack against a democratically elected government, but also against the very notion of democratic, republican institutions.

The scenes of vandalism, of hordes plundering the buildings of the National Congress, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court, are shocking. They represent the climax of antidemocratic actions by a part of Brazil’s population which has refused to accept the defeat of former president Jair Bolsonaro in October’s election.

In other words, these events were surprising, but not unexpected. A sequence of events – roadblocks after the announcement of the election results; groups camping in front of military barracks calling for military intervention; and massive dis- and misinformation campaigns – signalled a coming escalation.

On the eve of Sunday’s attack, the arrival of hundreds of buses in Brasilia ought to have notified intelligence and security agents that something would happen – something violating the rule of law. The inaction in preventing the assaults, of the Federal District Military Police and the Government of the Federal District to which that force is subordinate, was quite astonishing. The new Federal government, still without its intelligence apparatus in place, was too taken by surprise.

The response of President Lula da Silva to this first great challenge, little more than a week into his term, was immediate, and correct. Civilian – rather than military – intervention in the Federal District’s public security gave a clear signal that this government has chosen to deny the military entry into Brazil’s central arena of power.

A strong and impactful reaction also came from the Judiciary: Minister Moraes suspended the Governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha; and ordered the arrest of those involved in acts of vandalism in Brasilia and the removal of the people camping in front of barracks all over Brazil.

We must now see how the National Congress, itself a victim in this assault, reacts. Many parliamentarians, supporters of Bolsonaro, encouraged Sunday’s criminal acts. For the strength and resilience of Brazil and its institutions, it is time for members of Congress of all affiliations to clearly state their commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Dr Vinicius de Carvalho

Vice-Dean (International), SSPP; Reader, Department of War Studies - King's College London

Dr Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho is Vice Dean (International) for the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, and between 2020 and 2022, he was director of King’s Brazil Institute. He joined King’s in 2014 and before he was Associate Professor for Brazilian Studies at Aarhus University (2008-2014), Denmark, where he was also Director of the Latin American Centre (2012-2014). Vinicius was formerly a Lieutenant in the Brazilian Army (2007-2008), serving in the Military Technical Corps.

This blog post was edited by Freddy Nevison-Andrews.

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