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Geopolitics

Hard Lessons From Brazil’s Attack On Democracy

What do we make of the echos from the U.S. Capitol assault on Jan. 6? Will Lula be able to heal Brazil's democratic institutions?

Photo of supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro clashing with police in Brasilia on Jan. 8.

Supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro clash with police in Brasilia on Jan. 8.

Pierre Haski

Brazil’s democracy has survived. But just like the U.S. after the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, two years ago almost to this day, Brazil will have to overcome a political crisis that targets the foundations of its democratic system.

This dark Sunday for Brazilian democracy looks like the chronicle of a political catastrophe foretold. All of the elements that we saw during the wake of Donald Trump's presidency in the U.S. can be found in Brazil. And just like in Washington, a state that is finally more resilient than the insurgents thought — and above all, a military that did not respond to their calls.


But, yes, it was all there: the undermining of democratic rules, the insidious questioning of electoral processes without any evidence, the disregard for the confirmation of the election results by independent control institutions. Along with a permanent discrediting of news outlets, which also led yesterday to physical attacks against at least six journalists.

And finally, a rejection of democracy itself, whose symbols are ransacked for the benefit of a sublimated army.

Where is Bolsonaro?

First, we need to understand in detail what happened. It was clear from the beginning that there was nothing spontaneous about the simultaneous invasion of the Presidential palace, the Parliament and the Supreme Court.

Another important question, just like in the U.S.: the personal role of the former president.

But was it an extreme move of Bolsonaro supporters engaged in a last stand, or a more elaborate plot with political ramifications, financial means, and complicity within the state apparatus? Only a thorough investigation will tell.

Sunday evening, Anderson Torres, the security chief of Brasilia and former Minister of Justice under ex President Jair Bolsonaro, was dismissed. Authorities have also identified the buses that transported the demonstrators from the rest of the country, and are trying to find out who paid for them.

And of course another important question, just like in the U.S., the personal role of the former president, currently holed up in Orlando, Florida. The same doubts regarding Trump two years ago also exist for Bolsonaro even though he has briefly condemned the events.

Lula on his inauguration ceremony day, on Jan. 1

Tânia Rego/Wikimedia Commons

Where does Lula stand?

But unlike the events in the Capitol, that happened before the results of the presidential election, Lula was sworn in eight days ago. He is now Brazil’s president and that is undeniable. He nevertheless finds himself at the head of a country in shock, polarized, where part of the electorate disputes his legitimacy.

Much of the hate expressed on Sunday was focused on one name: Lula.

His ability to fully govern will also depend on the attitude of Bolsonaro supporters who hold important positions such as regional governors or legislators. Will they play the democratic game or will they be swayed by the extreme fringe of the Bolsonaro supporters, like the elected Trumpists we have seen at work the last few days in Congress?

A fundamental question remains: how to repair a democratic fabric damaged by populist discourse, but also by a public disenchantment that comes when basic values are not respected. This is ultimately the most difficult question. Much of the hate expressed on Sunday was focused on one name: Lula. The new president will have to show that he can begin to make those repairs. It will not be easy.

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