Wednesday, January 19

What’s next for Brazil as Jair Bolsonaro’s woes deepen? | Jair bolsonaro

IIt is not surprising that the government of Jair Bolsonaro is in crisis. His ruinous response to the Covid-19 pandemic aside, the radically reactionary leader of Latin America’s largest country has never shown the ability or desire to use political means to benefit anyone other than those closest to him. . Still, the scale and speed of this week’s turmoil has raised concerns that Brazilians may soon face a full-blown political collapse in addition to the public health disaster that has been unfolding for several months.

On Monday, Ernesto Araújo, the foreign minister, resigned. His tenure had been marked by brazen and moralistic rhetoric delivered without a hint of grace or confidence. In fact, Araújo became known for masking his palpable insecurity with long and confusing references to Latin and Greek antiquity. Aráujo embraced the conspiracy theories and far-right ideas that made him love for the constellation of far-right governments that emerged around the world in recent years, particularly the Trump administration in Washington, but failed to deliver many tangible results. for the Brazilian people (this is why two years ago I called Araújo ”the worst diplomat in the world”).

The most tragic thing for the Brazilian people is that Araújo’s ineptitude and instinct to ingratiate himself with Donald Trump at all costs alienated his country from much of the rest of the world just as a global pandemic made international cooperation more urgent than ever. . Last Wednesday, several senators begged The foreign minister resigned, calling it a necessary precondition for Brazil to effectively engage the global community as the new coronavirus claims more and more lives. When he finally threw in the towel, Araújo blamed “A false and hypocritical narrative erected against [him] at the service of obscure national and foreign interests ”. The response to his resignation, however, was overwhelmingly positive.

But any hope that the administration could correct its infuriating course was quickly dashed by news that other members of the cabinet were also resigning. Suddenly, it seemed that something bigger and potentially more sinister was afoot in Brasilia as Bolsonaro shook his administration in response to growing discontent. In all, six cabinet members would be replaced by the end of the day, with Fernando Azevedo e Silva, the defense minister, the most important.

Azevedo is a general, one of several high-level military personnel that Bolsonaro has surrounded himself with in government. Upon leaving, Azevedo thanked the president for the opportunity to serve and congratulated himself for having “preserved the Armed Forces as state institutions.” This cryptic self-praise raises an uncomfortable question: had someone been trying to use the military for personal purposes? Why else would Azevedo feel the need to promote his apolitical nature, which for the most part has been a fact since the end of the military government in 1985?

In response to Azevedo’s removal, the heads of the three branches of the armed forces issued a joint order resignation, an unprecedented event in Brazilian history. Much remains uncertain, but it seems clear that the armed forces are increasingly in conflict over their proximity to the Bolsonaro government and the president himself.

The events of the last few days have recalled a disturbing history of military involvement in the Brazilian government. In 1971, seven years after a military coup ushered in a repressive anti-communist dictatorship, political scientist Alfred C. Stepan observed that “in many developing countries it is not only the military who are not isolated from the tensions experienced by the general population. and, therefore, they cannot act as an integrating force, but the army is itself an element of politics that can transform latent tensions into manifest crises ”.

The fact that the regime was intensely political is often overlooked by nostalgic apologists like Bolsonaro, who see the dictatorship as an exemplary chapter rather than a dark chapter of the last century.

By stacking his government with the military, Bolsonaro has made political crises by definition military crises, and vice versa. This type of cross pollination is dangerous and the military has a considerable responsibility for allowing it to happen. If, for example, Bolsonaro clashes with a cabinet secretary who is also a high-ranking member of the military – his health minister, fired less than 10 days ago, was also a general – the public must assume that the dispute heralds a deeper situation. misalignment between the commander-in-chief and the armed forces under his control?

This kind of institutional confusion would be problematic even if the head of state was not a far-right fanatic with authoritarian leanings who yearns for the days of military rule. By placing so many military personnel in government roles, Bolsonaro finds himself with inordinate political power over the armed forces. In his seminal work, Stepan also lamented the tendency of some to “underestimate the degree to which a military organization is permeated and shaped by external political pressures.” The current military command has insisted, explicitly and implicitly, that it has no appetite for authoritarian adventures of the kind for which Bolsonaro does not hide his efforts.

However, the extent to which the lower ranks of the military would follow Bolsonaro across the Rubicon remains an open question. During the dictatorship, “the troops themselves, for their part, remained in almost absolute political passivity,” says historian Maud Chirio in her 2018 book Politics in Uniform: Military Officers and Dictatorship in Brazil, 1960-80. But now there is concern that support for Bolsonaro is so deep among rank-and-file soldiers and the police (the police are militarized in Brazil) that mounting tensions between Bolsonaro and the generals could precipitate a crisis of authority over the security forces. .

Another worrying developing This week it involved a Bahia state police officer who had to be shot and killed by his colleagues after threatening to open fire on them in an apparent psychotic episode. Almost immediately, Bolsonaro supporters in government and on social media described the episode as an egregious example of government overreach, the downed officer being described as a patriotic martyr fighting against lockdown measures imposed by the state governor. .

Governor Rui Costa, a member of the left-wing Workers Party, has followed international guidelines to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. For that, Bolsonaro’s shock troops sought to promote a mutiny. That threat has been neutralized for now, but one can’t help but wonder how much more abuse Brazilian institutions can endure.

Bolsonaro is preparing for something. Whether it is the usual policy or worse is a question that you have deliberately raised. It has done nothing to reassure an anxious population.

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