The US & Brasil’s Coup of 2016

What we know, what we don’t, and what we can deduce about the role of geopolitics & hegemony in the Soft Coup which removed President Dilma Rousseff and her Government.

By Brian Mier

During a recent visit to Porto Alegre, Cuban professor and writer Raúl Antonio Capote Fernández talked about a 20 year recruitment process that culminated in his direction of the CIA’s Project Genesis. The project aimed to cause a soft coup using initiatives like creating a new twitter-like platform to foster dissatisfaction with the government and NGO financing and training for artists, students and professors to create a pseudo-left opposition party. Fernández said similar strategies were applied in Venezuela, Iran and Libya and continue to be implemented in many other countries around the developing world. He said a key soft coup strategy is to weaken a government’s pillars until it implodes to cause chaos. “With the country in chaos,” he said, “it is possible to resort to more extreme methods.” Fernandéz said that Genesis was modelled on Gene Sharp’s theories on creating the soft coup. In the case of Cuba, the CIA’s project failed in 2006, when Fidel Castro stepped down. According to Fernandéz several factors caused the failure in Cuba including: 1) Agent Darsi Ferrer backing out of plans to participate in fake news reports about “chaos in Cuba” that were supposed to be spread through the major corporate media outlets in 2006; 2) underestimating the intelligence of the Cuban people; 3) misunderstanding the Cuban revolution as a cult of personality built around Fidel Castro and not the collective will of the vast majority of the population; and 4) the fact that Cuban intelligence knew about the project all along and the CIA inadvertently hired a double agent to direct Project Genesis.

For the sake of argument I will assume that Fernández told the truth and will look for some parallels between the failed coup attempt in Cuba and Brasil’s 2016 soft coup with the intuit of shedding light on possible involvement by the US State. When I refer to the US state, I refer to what Buci-Glucksmann calls the “expanded state”– not just the government and its institutions but the commercial media, business sector, political parties and educational institutions that support it. The first question I will ask is: How would the US benefit from a soft coup in Brasil? Here are a few possible reasons:

1) Oil. Brasil has massive off shore petroleum deposits which, before the 2016 soft coup, were in the hands of a 100% Brasilian public/private corporation called Petrobras. After the coup, Petrobras began selling access to its off-shore oil deposits to foreign corporations at below market rate. The involvement of Post-Coup minister for foreign affairs, senator Jose Serra, in long-running negotiations with Chevron & the State Department, which encouraged privatisation and/or abandonment of the “pre-sal law” which guaranteed Petrobras control over exploration & exploitation of the offshore reserves, is documented here. (Serra’s successor, Aloysio Nunes, was on a plane to the US to meet with State Department & Wall Street representatives within hours of Dilma’s initial suspension as President).

2) To weaken the BRICS. Before Brasil was destabilized and the Russian and Chinese economies slowed down it looked like the BRICS was rapidly transforming into a powerful counterbalance to US power on the World stage. At that moment the combined economies of the BRIC nations nearly equaled the US and Brasil was its second wealthiest member. The US traditionally prefers negotiating with nations individually than with trade blocks, and a similar argument could be made about wanting to weaken Mercosur.

3) Because the US always intervenes in Brasilian affairs. In his new best selling book, O Quarto Poder, Paulo Henrique Amorim documents 70 years of US penetration of Brasilian economic and political affairs. Jan Black’s US Penetration of Brasil details US support and involvement with the Brasilian Military Dictatorship, including training on interrogation techniques and torture for thousands of Brasilian police and military officials in places like the School of the Americas. Although China passed up the US as Brasil’s biggest trading partner in recent years, it is still in US business’ best interests that Brasilian commodity prices stay low and internal industrial production is limited to encourage purchase of American products.

4) Hegemony. The PT government in Brasil was characterized by a neo-developmentalist political economy. Whereas Lula maintained Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s neoliberal macroeconomic tripod of central bank autonomy, free capital movement and tight fiscal policies he also implemented a series of traditional developmentalist measures that deepened during the first 4 years of Dilma Rousseff’s presidency such as annual above inflation minimum wage increases, establishment of a welfare system, billions of dollars worth of stimulus for internal industrial production and consumption and tying the national retirement pension to the minimum wage. These redistributive measures led to a majority middle-class population for the first time in Brasilian history and the removal of Brasil from the UN’s World Hunger Map. Was the fact that the second largest nation in the Western Hemisphere was thriving under a system that was not entirely neoliberal a thorn in the US’ side? What if Americans started demanding that, like Brasil, public university tuition was free? What if they demanded that all public school meals were made from food purchased from family farmers? What if they demanded that minimum social security payments had to equal the minimum wage? The fact that Brasil was thriving without fully following the IMF/World Bank formula was a slap in the face to the Washington Consensus dogma of TINA (there is no alternative).

Now that possible motives are established I will look at potential areas where the US State may have “weakened the pillars” of Brasilian government until it imploded in 2015 when the PT party’s strongest coalition partner, the PMDB, turned on Dilma Rousseff and impeached her for an infraction that was legalized in the Senate two days after she left office.

Support for new “left” political parties

Fernandéz said that creating a phony “new left” is one CIA strategy for weakening the pillars of a left government until it implodes. Did US state actors support phony left political parties in Brasil during the lead up to the coup?

The Brasilian Green Party (PV) may have started with good motives but it was immediately hijacked by the Sarney family, who are responsible for deforesting nearly the entire state of Maranhão. As Green Party Minister of the Environment under Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Sarney Filho, son of notorious ex-president José Sarney, reduced the amount of protected standing Amazon rainforest from 50%-25%. The party traditionally aligns itself with the far-right DEM party and supports “Green Capitalism”, the rejection of which was the primary goal of the environmental activists who held the alternative forum to Rio+20 in 2012. Nevertheless, environmental turncoat Marina Silva ran for president for the Green Party on a green capitalism platform in 2010, with support from some of Brasil’s largest banks, agribusiness companies and a gushing international media with publications like the New York Times and Time promoting her to near godlike status.

Created by the Força Sindical union coalition leader Paulinho da Força in 2013, the Solidariadade (solidarity) party billed itself as a new labor alternative to the PT. Paulinho da Força was subsequently accused of embezzling money and the party currently appears to be fizzling out, but the fact that it shares a name with Lech Walesa’s union in Poland makes one wonder if it wasn’t designed to weaken the organized labor pillar of the PT government.

Marina Silva, the pro-business darling of the liberal environmentalist press, tried to create a new political party in 2013 called REDE. According to Silva it would be “neither left nor right”. Due to registration fraud allegations it was prevented from legally forming in time for the 2014 presidential elections. She was invited to run for vice president with Eduardo Campos on the ideologically incoherent Brasilian Socialist Party ticket. Shortly thereafter, Campos died in a plane accident and Marina found herself running for president again, talking about green capitalism, once again to the applause of the northern media. After she lost, REDE managed to legalize itself in time to join Silva in supporting Dilma Rousseff’s technically illegal impeachment.

The PT party never had more than 22% of the seats in Congress and the Senate and had to govern by going into coalition with a group of corrupt and conservative parties including the PMDB, which was one of two official political parties allowed during the Military Dictatorship. This coalition forced the party to sacrifice many of its most important goals, such as disbanding the military police, agrarian reform and political reform, and ended up bogging it down in a series of corruption scandals during which the Brasilian press ignored the primary culprits and placed all the blame on the PT party. This alienated the PT’s radical left, “Socialism or Barbarie” caucus. Led by Senator Heloisa Helena, many of them split and formed The Partido de Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party). The PSOL was an important force in the 2006 presidential elections when Helena got 7% of the vote in the presidential primaries forcing Lula into a run off against conservative São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin. In 2010, PSOL presidential candidate and agrarian reform legend Plinio Arruda failed to get the full support of the social movements and unions and received less than 1% of the vote. In 2014 Luciana Genro improved slightly to 1.5% but she only came in 5th place in last year’s Porto Alegre mayoral elections. If you listen to American academic leftists you would imagine that PSOL is a rising force representing the true Brasilian left and not what Gramsci refereed to as a “party of moral authority” with no serious plan for taking power. Does the PSOL receive indirect support from the US or its expanded state institutions in portraying itself as a viable left alternative to the PT party? It is certainly propped up as such by a number of apparently well-meaning academics and publications on the bourgeois US left which tend to reprint its party propaganda without critical analysis.

Shifting media narrative to promote a sense of “chaos in Brasil”

In his interview with Sul 21, Fernandéz explained how the CIA planned to create fake news stories about “chaos in Cuba” and spread them through the major media outlets, “like it did in Libya”. Starting in 2013, the American media coverage of Brasil shifted from generally positive reporting to smear pieces. The New York Times ran a huge article full of depressing black and white photos of sad looking people and unfinished buildings. Public transportation protest against State Governments & City Mayors in 2013 were nearly unanimously referred to as anti-central government protests and for months articles appeared insinuating that there were going to be huge anti-government protests during the World Cup. There weren’t. In one of the most blatant media attempts at attempting to portray chaos during the lead up to the World Cup, Vice USA entitled a documentary about teachers strikes in Rio and São Paulo as “Chaos in Brazil: on the ground at the World Cup”.

Social network activity

Like in the US, constant bombardment of non-factual information in the Brazilian social media has led to a resurgence of the immigrant, gay, union and minority bashing far right. In 2013, conservative PSDB presidential candidate Aécio Neves hired David Axelrod’s former PR firm to run all of its social media campaigns during the electoral period. During this period several far-right pages popped up on Facebook and Twitter running constant smears against President Dilma Rousseff, Lula and his son (who sued several media companies for falsely accusing him of owning JBS meat packing corporation and being a billionaire). Two of the most popular of these pages, Movimento Brasil Livre and Estudantes para Liberdade, received funding from the Koch brothers, who have a vested interest in privatization of Brasil’s oil reserves.

Economic destabilization

In Allende’s Chile Edward Boorstein documents how the US government and ITT corporation caused a worldwide boycott of Chilean copper in order to destabilize the economy in the lead up to the coup that put libertarian darling Augusto Pinochet in power. During the lead up to the 2016 soft coup in Brasil, judge Sergio Moro, who according to leaked State Department cables has been receiving technical support from the US Government/DOJ for investigating terrorism and money laundering in its “Project Bridges” since at least 2009. Moro’s Operation Lava Jato froze all operations of Brasil’s largest construction companies causing a 6.7% decline in the entire construction sector and surge in unemployment, adding to public dissatisfaction with the Government. Although there are many reasons that the Brasilian economy slowed down, including Finance Minister Guido Mantega’s miscalculation of the Selic Rate, Moro’s paralyzation of the construction industry was a significant factor.

Although there may not be enough publicly available concrete proof to make a completely convincing argument for US involvement in the 2016 soft coup against Dilma Rousseff, there certainly is enough evidence to speculate about the possibility. Does the US benefit from the current government’s new economic policies? Of course. Does it have motives for supporting the coup? Yes. Were elements of the expanded US state involved in destabilizing the pillars of Brasilian government? Yes. Did the US government have any direct involvement in this destabilization? At this point the only solid evidence we have is through the State Department cable implicating Sergio Moro, but the level of involvement is still unclear. Nevertheless, at the risk of being smeared as a conspiracy theorist, I predict that as time moves forward, as in the case of the 1964 Brazilian coup and the 1973 coup in Chile, more and more evidence of US involvement in last year’s regime change will come to the surface.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.