The Coup, the Army, and How ‘Quasi’ our Dictatorship Is

By Joao Coimbra Sousa. Originally published at Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Brazil is currently living under a coup government. There is no disinterested discussion over this issue; there is no middle ground. The country is being governed by one of the most hated politicians in Brazil, Michel Temer, a non-elected office-holder who could literally say, “fear is my last name” (Temer translates directly as, to fear). In those terms, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Literally.

Brazil’s coup, just as any other Staatsstreich everywhere else around the globe, is strongly denied as such by the de facto government and its institutions. Setting aside for the moment the blatant unconstitutionality of elected-president Dilma Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment, it is momentous to analyze the scope and implications of Michel Temer’s ongoing belligerent use of the federal government.

Presidential Decree Overview

On February 16, Temer’s presidential decree initiated a so-called “Federal Intervention” in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The decree evokes the need for a “Garantia da Lei e da Ordem” (Law and Order Guarantee – GLO), appointing General Walter Souza Braga Netto as “the Intervenor.”

The presidential decree gives Braga Netto all the means necessary for the achievement of the intervention’s goals,” which include the financial, technological, structural, and human resources capacities of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, Temer gave clearance for the Intervenor to command any [federal government] agency, civil and military, of the State, in the same teleological fashion.

As a result, Temer has placed the Intervenor Braga Netto hierarchically above the elected State Governor of Rio de Janeiro and under only himself. The very mandate of the law is unsafe; as stated, “[The Intervenor] is not subjected to State Laws that happen to conflict with the necessary measures of the intervention.”

Military Intervention Experts’ Criticism

Immediately after the decree was issued, the Governor of Maranhão, Flávio Dino (PCdoB – Partido Comunista do Brasil – Brazil’s Communist Party), questioned on his Twitter account the legitimacy of the presidential decree: “There are some juridically abnormal rules in the Intervention’s Decree on Rio. For example, ‘the intervenor’s role is of a MILITARY nature’. And also the ‘revocation’ of state’s norms. What Constitutional Law is this???”

For those unfamiliar with Brazil’s domestic politics, it must be highlighted that Dino is not a standard politician, but a former Federal Judge. Among many Brazilians jurists, his criticism of Temer’s administration is connected to the democratic illegitimacy of the post-coup Federal Government, driven by their strong neoliberal agenda rejected by the nation on every election since 2002.

“Maybe Temer wants to broadcast to the population that he is working,” wonders Celso Amorim, Brazil’s former Minister of Foreign Relations. “At first glance, it is possible that the measure would produce a positive psychological effect, for it has a spectacular flavor [as in dramatic, theatrical content].” Amorim’s valuable interpretation corroborates to speculations that Temer still has some semblance of plans to run for president later this year. Giving that he is repudiated by 92 percent of the Brazilians, it only makes sense that the illegitimate president would try to allure the conservative masses with the most efficient dog-whistle he could find: drawing on the public’s fear and appealing to the need for public security through police action.

‘We Must Fight Back Those Criminals if We Want to Be Safe’

Whether voluntarily or not, the word criminality draws a stereotype of the “criminal”, meaning “the person who commits crime.” The use of the term “criminality” in this incautious manner suggests that crime—as a social categoryoriginates from the individuals of a given community (e.g. favela homeowners), instead of from the macrostructure that generates violence within its own logic of exploitation of labor, wealth concentration and structural racism.

Knowing this, the discourse of public security as opposed to “criminality” is an antique trope of the right-wing agenda: oversimplifying social crises and overlooking structural problems, this rhetoric advertises the government as a mere guard-dog of property and privileges. It is the epitomical constitution of a Police State.

As colloquially stated  by Igor Leone and Brenno Tardelli, lawyers from the Brazilian progressive think-tank Justificando: “For years, we’ve lived in a failed state on education, health, transportation, housing, and the guys pick just one aspect to intervene: Security, as if it were just an isolated matter, instead of another symptom of the overall crisis.”

[Real] Prospects of the Military Intervention

Temer’s recent special attention toward public security is not, by definition, a long-term policy aimed at the resolution of urban violence in Rio de Janeiro and throughout Brazil. The use of brutal, militarized force as the only way of “fighting criminals” further aggravates social and racial inequality, exposing the poor to the state violence and exacerbating the drug cartels’ retaliation against it.

The use of brutal force against the “organized crime” stimulates, for example, the cartels to purchase more weapons (many of those from the police itself); consequently, drug-dealers are compelled to fund its organizations, what further aggravates public insecurity.

As seen, the vicious cycle demands more than mindless muscles in order to be broken. “In terms of research […], it is the discrete activity (not the noisy, spectacular one) of investigation and intelligence that is able to dismantle criminal economies,” affirms Professor Jaqueline Muniz, expert on public security from  the Universidade Federal Fluminense. The professor, during a live interview, denounced the “theater rationale” of Rio’s police and its “political rewards, electoral rewards, media rewards, but with little tangible outcome.”[6]

Aqui a gente faz polícia de espetáculo,” said the professor Muniz with great depth. The sentence, due to its structure and nuance, could never be translated fairly. Essentially, professor Muniz is saying  that Brazilian standard of policing “is just for show”; meanwhile, it highlights the “theater rationale” of the operations in Brazil’s favela’s; but, above all, it might mean that Brazil’s very definition of “police” is just an actor in a Spectacle [as a play] who uses fatal violence for nothing more than dramatic purpose, as if we constantly live our lives on a stage… But, heads-up: the play is an unfinished tragedy of terrible taste.

A wise man once wrote, “To formulate a question is, in itself, to contemplate the answer.” Along this train of thought, given Brazil’s current coup d’État status and the significant number of Brazilians (at home and in the United States) with the mission to deny the coup by pointing out the lack of this or the excess of that, now that it begs the question: how quasi is our dictatorship?

Democracy Exited the Building

The coup outlets often rely on legal language – with a generous splash of Latin – to talk themselves out of the realm of understanding, thus avoiding any questioning of the State of Exception with a self-declared eloquence.

This was the case of Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber, who denied a case of constitutional questioning of the “federal intervention” petitioned by Brazilian lawyer Rafael Fachinello.

Without going further into details, the case posed by Fachinello exposed how impractical it is to defend the inexistent lawfulness of the decree since it breaks the federalist division of government entities. J. Rosa Weber, corned by the legal points brought to court, preferred more to promptly dismiss the case using technical subterfuges to shun the topic.

On the other hand, Minister of Justice Torquato Jardim makes it clear in his remarks the exclusionist agenda of the de facto Temer government.

As gathered by the investigative journalist João Paulo Charleux, Jardim’s openly exposed his point-of-view about the struggles faced by the security forces: “You see a cute little child, [about] 12 years old, going into a public school, [but] you do not know what they going to do after school. It is very complicated.” “You aim at a distance, trailing that kid that went out four, five times, has a gun and has already killed four [people]. What now?” The Minister concluded that “Anyone can be the enemy, there is no uniform, you do not know what the weapon is. You are ready [to engage] against everything and everyone, all the time. You do not know the necessary resources or how many [men] are necessary and which weapon [they should use]. How many [men] I need for the Rocinha? I do not know.”

Torquato Jardim forgot, or did not even bother to mention, that those “cute little” enemies are citizens as well. He says, unapologetically, that “everyone can be the enemy” and “there is no uniform”. Jardim’s remarks reinforce the problematic narrative championed by the Brazilian right-wing:  that everyone living  in favelas can be the enemy, thus making blackness the enemy uniform.

The Rise of Brazilian Fascism from the Bloodstains on Uniforms (I)

Brazil is currently living under a coup government. There is simply no other word for it. An illegitimate occupant of the presidential chair deploys the Army to target a very ethnically distinct part of the population in order to look more appealing to the aristocratic classes; a scene which resembles Germany at the time of the infamous 1943 speech by Joseph Goebbels, in which he asked the German middle class: “Do you want a total war?”

In a matter of fact, this “total war” is nothing new in the Country. Every 21 minutes, a young black citizen is killed in Brazil. Every year, 23.100 young black people are victims of murder. There is an ongoing genocide of the black population in Brazil, articulated side-by-side with the dismantlement of social policy programs that aimed to improve life and opportunities for black youth.

Marielle Franco’s Assassination

On the night of March 14, Rio City Councilwoman Marielle Franco was assassinated by several gunshots. Franco, a 38 year-old sociologist with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, was a prominent voice of the Brazilian left, but more than that, she was a voice for the very same communities that are now occupied by the army and the military police.

Franco dedicated her life to denouncing the atrocities perpetrated by law enforcement against the poor black communities of Rio de Janeiro. Just four days before her assassination, Marielle brought to light the misconduct of the 41° Batalhão da Polícia Militar (41st Battalion of the Military Police) on Acari Community, where the police killed two young boys, dumped their remains in the trash, and threatened the community with further violence to ensure their silence. In June 2016, the same police section brutally murdered three young black men and two teenagers with 111 gunshots, as the group was out celebrating a recent job offer.

Michel Temer, in a despicable attempt to harness political capital from Marielle’s assassination, declared that it is “because of this” sort of crime that the military forces were deployed to black communities. Without any proof, the unelected president accuses the abstract figure of “organized crime,” stating that “criminal organizations will not kill our future. We will destroy [them] first”.

Attempting to capitalize on the public commotion and fear caused by Franco’s execution, while struggling to control the narrative around the shooting, the de facto president reduces Marielle’s assassination to a petty community crime. But this callous behavior is just another transparent attempt to silence her voice and her legacy, heard by so many Brazilians.

Retrieving to the world Marielle Franco’s own words: “I believe that moving into the political space is the first step toward reducing inequality. Are you with me?”

The 2016 coup is more than a minor political issue, just as Marielle’s murder is more than a random act of violence. Each of these acts represents the destruction of Brazilian civilized and integrated future. [White] elites’ use of brutal force to assure illegitimate power is simply muscle memory: the slavery rationale is their only logic of social contention.

The Rise of Brazilian Fascism from the Bloodstains on Uniforms (II)

“Rio de Janeiro is a lab for Brazil”, said Braga Netto as the Intervenor, wearing a military outfit at a press conference; an anachronistic image that gave chills even to skeletons in closets, wherever they may be. Adding to this, Army Commander Bel. Eduardo Villas Bôas stated that the intervening military should be guaranteed freedom to act “without the risk of another Truth Commission”, referring to the establishment of the National Truth Commission (2011-2014), which effort was setup to an investigation of crimes committed by the State, including those perpetrated during the 1964-1985 Military dictatorship.

Brazil’s hungry for power military is a cue away from taking the stage from the “Spectacle Police”, consequently engulfing the cheering audience, the theater, the bystanders and the whole city.

Brazil’s 2018 dictatorship is a work-in-progress.

By Joao Coimbra Sousa, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Additional editorial support provided by Aline Piva, Research Fellow, Liliana Muscarella, Extramural  Research Fellow, and the Research Associates Olivia Anderson, Alexandra Gale and Keith Carr at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.