US Congresswoman Takes Down Fantasist Republican Committee Hearing on Brazilian Democracy

Rep. Susan Wild
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
May 7, 2024, Hearing: “Brazil: A Crisis of Democracy, Freedom, and Rule of Law?”

Opening Statement

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

With all due respect to everyone involved in this hearing, I’d like to say at the outset that this is not the hearing on Brazil that I believe we should be having today.

The hearing I believe we should be having is one focused on the 200th anniversary—this year—of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Brazil, the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere. 

The hearing I believe we should be having is one focused on the many areas of cooperation between our two countries—on labor and workers’ rights; climate and protecting the Amazon; combating hunger, poverty, and violence; and expanding sustainable and broad-based economic growth, stability, security, and peace throughout the hemisphere. Above all, we should be working to advance our critical partnership with Brazil in a spirit of mutual respect. Unfortunately, the framing of this hearing—which presents a distorted view of Brazilian democracy and provides a platform to those seeking to undermine it—does the opposite of that. Rather than strengthening our relationship, a hearing like this serves only to damage and undermine it.

Brazil is a strong and vibrant democracy—with a robust civil society and media, a multitude of political parties representing a huge political spectrum, and an electoral system that is rightly considered to be one of the most secure and rapid in the world. Like all democracies, including right here in the United States, there are healthy debates to be had about aspects of the country’s institutions. But I want to be clear: Internal politics and debates on constitutional and legal issues should be decided by the Brazilian people, their elected representatives, and Brazil’s judiciary. The United States Congress is not the forum for it. We can and should continue to find areas for cooperation and mutual advancement, but we should not and cannot act as if we somehow have a mandate to weigh in on the internal mechanisms of Brazil’s institutions.

Democracies are different, each informed by their own history. Brazil’s 1988 constitution was shaped by a military dictatorship that usurped power through a military coup and brutally ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. Many of the people that lived through these horrific years still remember state-led extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture. Brazil’s democracy responded by providing courts with the mandate to protect its hard-won democracy and prevent authoritarianism from taking root again.  What we will hear today from some witnesses is an attempt to undermine Brazil’s judicial process.

Former President Jair Bolsonaro’s conduct in office—his praise for the military dictatorship, his calls for violence against his political opponents, his refusal to acknowledge his 2022 election loss, his attempt to engineer a coup, and his incitement of the January 8 attacks—triggered laws in place designed to serve as a check on executive power resulting from the coup in 1964.  

Brazilian law enforcement and judiciary have refused to stand by idly in response to the most serious threat to Brazil’s democracy since the military dictatorship. They have responded robustly, according to their constitution and their legal system—which, again, have key differences with ours in the United States. Brazil—like France, Germany, and other Western European countries whose democratic credentials would likely not be questioned by anyone in this room—has a different conception of freedom of speech than we have in the United States. Brazil’s approach to freedom of speech, while broad, includes guardrails informed by this recent history. 

The title of today’s hearing is “Brazil: A Crisis of Democracy, Freedom, & Rule of Law?” Mr. Chairman, respectfully, I would ask: Where was the hearing about Brazilian democracy when we learned about then-President Bolsonaro’s efforts to foment a military coup? Where was the hearing after supporters of former President Bolsonaro led a coordinated attempt to overthrow the country’s democracy on January 8th, 2023?

This brings us to January 8th, and the parallels between the January 6th and January 8th attacks. Put simply, the January 8th attack—conducted in the manner it was—was clearly inspired by the January 6th attack. I believe we need more investigation of the connections between the two events and the role that individuals in the United States might have played in the coup attempt—including far-right public figures who used their platforms to, at minimum, express support for a coup. This is another essential question I would have liked to see reflected in the framing of this hearing: How, precisely, did 2020 U.S. election deniers and the January 6th attack here in the United States enable the attempt to reject the results of the 2022 election in Brazil and to attempt a coup on January 8th? And how can members of Congress in both countries work together to strengthen our democracies in the face of these threats?

I have with me today a copy of the report issued by Brazil’s parliamentary inquiry commission on the January 8th attacks. It contains critical findings. Mr. Chairman, I am submitting excerpts of the report for the record. I am also entering a statement prepared by Rep. McGovern, the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, into the record.

As it happens, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1964 coup that led to Brazil’s military dictatorship. Part of democracy means being honest about the instances in which we fall short of the ideals that we proclaim. The U.S. Government’s involvement in and support for the 1964 coup was such a moment in our history. 

In this hearing, let us be cognizant of the history between our countries. Let us approach our vital relationship with Brazil as a partnership of equals—not one in which the United States seeks to dictate events or interfere with Brazilian democracy. Let us learn from the consequences of past actions and remember that the role of the United States should not be to interfere in internal judicial proceedings or worse, destabilize democratically-elected leaders who disagree with aspects of U.S. policy, but rather to build durable alliances around the world—understanding that we will have differences even with close partners and allies.

Brazil’s 2022 elections were free and fair. The United States Government—alongside the international community—recognized the results immediately. In response to the attempts to overturn the election results, Brazil’s institutions prevailed. Democracy prevailed. The Brazilian people prevailed.

This is the vision I intend to defend in today’s hearing, and beyond. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.