Brazil’s failed coup is a nightmare revisited Politics


Oh no, the madness has mutated.

Perhaps, like you, that was my reaction to the first, jarring images emerging from Brasilia on Sunday after a swarm of crazed conspiracy theorists who support the defeated ex-president, Jair Bolsonaro, breached the three pillars of Brazilian democracy with such infuriating ease.

The destruction and violence exacted by the marauders – clad in the South American country’s familiar colors of yellow, green and blue – on the offices of the president, Supreme Court and Congress were, of course, reminiscent of the mayhem and carnage of January 6, 2021, on the US Capitol.

It was a nightmare revisited.

I felt a mixture of sadness, regret and simmering anger that we were obliged, yet again, to watch, impotent, as thugs masquerading as flag-waving patriots tried to thwart the will of millions of enlightened Brazilians who had elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president on October 30, 2022.

I am not Brazilian. Still, I was surprised by how offended I felt at the shameless audacity of a bunch of petulant, tantrum-prone rubes who believe that they enjoy the right and license to overturn the results of a free and fair election.

The festering, visceral belief that their pipped candidate should be president proves, I think, that the potent psychological residue of January 6 continues to plague many people outside the United States despite time and distance.

I will not elaborate on the cockeyed motives of the army of malcontents that launched an attempted putsch since that would mean giving their lunatic beliefs a patina of legitimacy.

It would, however, be unwise to dismiss Sunday’s cacophonous events as a momentary spasm of pent-up grievances. Like January 6, Brazil’s insurrection was a serious, coordinated effort to re-install a defeated, authoritarian demagogue as president.

President da Silva seems to recognize this. His decisive actions to put down the revolt quickly and without, apparently, causing a single casualty among the “fanatical fascists” – as he described them – met the urgent moment with resolve and restraint.

Beyond the hundreds of arrestsPresident da Silva appears to understand that the powerful players and forces behind the failed coup d’état must be held accountable if Brazil’s nascent democracy is to survive the current, as well as any future, storm.

Towards that difficult but necessary end, it is incumbent upon democracies – young or old – to confront such brazen lawlessness within the bounds of the rule of law. President da Silva understands this imperative too.

Last weekend’s dangerous turbulence in Brazil should, as well, give pause to anyone who sought to minimize the import or gravity of January 6 as an angry “protest” gone awry. The fear that what happened on that day, in that place, would serve as a template for others to repeat on another day, in another place, has proven to be prescient.

Jair Bolsonaro’s insurrectionists took their cue from Donald Trump’s insurrectionists. That is beyond dispute. The wild, disfiguring consequences of their ideological solidarity were on graphic and disturbing display on Sunday.

The other lesson that should, by now, have penetrated the myopic consciousness of leaders of so-called “liberal” democracies is that you can’t play nice with fascists.

But that’s what they did year after shameful year in their dealings with Trump and Bolsonaro – often in the parochial name of keeping the two preening autocrats happy lest they scuttle lucrative bilateral or multi-lateral trade deals.

Bolsonaro and his family stoked the rhetorical rationale for Sunday’s siege by insisting for years before the 2022 vote that the country’s “elites” would rig the election to deny him a second term. He warned that Brazil would, as a result, “have worse problems” than the US endured on January 6.

He got his wish.

Today, the same presidents and prime ministers who chose – out of their self-serving “national interest” – to look the other way while Bolsonaro assaulted democratic norms and institutions, are rushing to defend those same democratic norms and institutions threatened by the former president and his rabid allies.

The hypocrisy is as galling as it is blatant.

I remember when, not too long ago, Canada’s then foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, stood shoulder to shoulder with Bolsonaro in Davos, Switzerland to announce happily that the 12 “democracies” that make up the so-called Lima group had decided to engineer a regime change in Venezuela – without the consent of Venezuelans.

In early 2019, Freeland and anti-democratic company endorsed opposition leader Juan Guaido – who unilaterally declared himself Venezuela’s “interim president” – as the country’s “legitimate” leader, the majority of the country’s voters who backed President Nicolás Maduro be damned.

Video of the convivial tête-a tête shows Freeland smiling and nodding approvingly as Bolsonaro – that avatar of Alexis de Tocqueville-like affinity for democracy – and the president of Colombia claimed that replacing Maduro would mean Venezuelans “freeing themselves from dictatorship”.

For her condescending part, Freeland said “it was an important day for Venezuela” that Canada had joined Brazil to dictate to Venezuelans who was going to run their country whether they agreed or not.

I suspect that Freeland, now deputy prime minister, and her boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, aren’t too keen these days to be reminded of Canada’s giddy alliance with Bolsonaro. Brazil might demand Bolsonaro’s extradition from Florida to face possible charges stemming from the aborted insurrection, which the country’s leaders have described as a “terrorist” act.

So, Canada and other democracy-loving democracies that appeased Bolsonaro are busy re-writing history to erase their appeasement and confirm their unqualified kinship with President da Silva and Brazil.

How lovely and convenient.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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