By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

Bolsonaro Redux

Back in August 2021, we reported that thousands of Indigenous people marched in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia on Wednesday ahead of a major land rights ruling. Titled Amazon's new gold rush.

Then, seven days after the inauguration of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, thousands of far-right rioters invaded the country’s federal representative institutions. In acts reminiscent of the attack on the U.S. Capitol two years prior, the assailants claimed that Brazil’s 2022 elections were “stolen” and “rigged.” Entering empty buildings—it was a Sunday—assailants tore through the halls of Brazil’s Congress, rampaged inside the presidential palace, and ransacked the country’s Supreme Court. They fought with police officers guarding the buildings and attacked journalists covering the event. They vandalized millions of dollars worth of art, some dating back centuries. It is still unclear who organized the attack or how it was planned. But they were inspired by the man Lula defeated: former president Jair Bolsonaro.

On 2 Nov. 2022, Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro held rallies to call for an armed forces intervention following the election of Luiz Inacio.

In September 2023, Jair Bolsonaro’s former secretary has reportedly told investigators his ex-boss met the heads of Brazil’s army, navy, and air force late last year to discuss a “putschist plan” for a military coup.

The claims – reported by two of Brazil’s most important news outlets, O Globo and UOL – prompted calls for the alleged rightwing conspirators to be brought to justice.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who voices admiration for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, won power democratically in 2018 amid an explosion of anti-establishment voter rage. But critics suspect that after failing to win re-election last October, the 68-year-old populist began considering alternative forms of retaining power.

The news website UOL reported that Bolsonaro’s former aide-de-camp, Lt Col Mauro Cid, had told federal police that one such scheme was brought to Bolsonaro after he lost the election to his leftwing rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The draft document, reportedly shown to Bolsonaro by a former foreign policy adviser called Filipe Martins, allegedly outlined plans to call fresh elections and for political rivals to be arrested. Martins and Bolsonaro reportedly held a “secret meeting” on 18 December 2022.

Cid, who cut a plea deal with police after being arrested in May, reportedly told investigators that Bolsonaro had subsequently floated that plan during a meeting with the military top brass. Bolsonaro’s former aide told police the then commander of the navy, Adm Almir Garnier, voiced support for the “putschist plan”, according to O Globo and UOL. However, the head of the army's high command rejected the idea.

The television network CNN Brasil, which also reported the allegations, said Cid had told investigators the navy commander had advised Bolsonaro “his troops were ready to act [and were] only awaiting his order”.

Lawyers for Bolsonaro, who has previously denied plotting a coup, issued a statement claiming that during his administration, he had “never condoned any movement or project that was not supported by law.” In a recent interview, the former president appeared to allude to the suggestion that he might have been floating such ideas.

“I can discuss anything, I can think anything, but as long as I don’t put it into practice, there’s no problem,” Bolsonaro told a political columnist from O Globo. “A person can say, ‘Let’s rob the Central Bank,’” Bolsonaro reportedly added. “What they can’t do is put that into practice.”

The president of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL), Valdemar Costa Neto, told CNN Brasil: “Bolsonaro never advocated a coup d’etat.”

Garnier and Martins made no immediate comment.

“If this information is confirmed, it proves what we’ve been denouncing since last year ... that a coup d’etat was indeed being planned,” said Juliano Medeiros, the president of Brazil’s leftwing Socialism and Liberty party (PSOL).

“[Bolsonaro] failed – but I have no doubt at all that he was directly involved in this,” Medeiros added. Had the alleged coup plot succeeded, “perhaps we’d be having this conversation in another country, in exile.”

Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, the government’s leader in Congress, tweeted: “The justice system must be implacable with the coup-mongers who tried to annihilate the democratic rule of law. There must be no amnesty!”

“It’s time for Jair to get ready for jail!” tweeted the leftwing lawmaker Guilherme Boulos in response to the “bombshell” reports about Brazil’s former far-right leader.

Augusto Heleno, a retired army general who was one of the most hardline members of Bolsonaro’s 2019-2023 administration, denied knowledge of any such plot. “This conversation never went on during President Bolsonaro’s government. From the outset, he always talked about playing within the four lines [of the constitution],” Heleno told the news website G1.

Supporters of Lula’s government said the latest revelations reinforced their conviction that Brazilian democracy had come close to catastrophe – and that Bolsonaro was at the center of the intrigue. “I have no doubt [Bolsonaro was involved],” Medeiros said.


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