Bolsonaristas attack government buildings
Jan. 9, 2023
Thousands of Brazilian rioters stormed the country’s government buildings yesterday — the Supreme Court, Congress and the presidential offices — demanding the ouster of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The demonstrators, supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, trashed iconic buildings, shattered windows, wrecked equipment and furniture and vandalized art, wreaking havoc on Brazil’s most important symbols of democratic government. Officials said rioters also stole government documents.
After nearly five hours of rioting the attackers were cleared from the government buildings. More than 1,200 people have been detained in the wake of the attacks. Several journalists were harrassed by protesters.
Lula toured the buildings yesterday, after security forces quelled the attacks and promised to bring the rioters to justice. He referred to people who took part in the attacks as “vandals, neo-fascists and fanatics,” and ordered a federal intervention in the capital.
Last night Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered Brasília governor Ibaneis Rocha to be suspended for 90 days, accusing him and Brasília’s head of public security of abetting the assault on the capital.
According to Moraes, federal district police authorized the entrance of more than 100 buses of Bolsonaro supporters into the capital with no police escort, despite knowing the groups were notorious for anti-democratic and violent acts.
In his order De Moraes wrote that the attacks “could only have happened with the acquiescence, or even direct involvement, of public security and intelligence authorities.”
Lula said at his news conference there was “incompetence or bad faith” on the part of police, and he promised some would be punished. Protests have been expected for weeks, and videos show limited police presence, leading some to question whether they chose to ignore warnings, or were complicit in the attacks.
In recent weeks, Brazilian social media channels have surged with calls to attack gas stations, refineries and other infrastructure, as well as for people to come to a “war cry party” in the capital.
De Moraes also prohibited buses and trucks transporting demonstrators in Brasília until the end of the month, the duration of the federal security forces’ intervention in the capital. He also ordered social media companies to block 18 profiles linked to extremists involved in yesterday’s riots.
The riots were compared to those in Washington DC on Jan. 6, 2021, by supporters of President Donald Trump who sought to overturn his electoral loss. Many rioters sported the Brazilian jerseys and flags that have become associated with Bolsonaro.
Analysts have been warning of a Brazilian copycat protest for months. Bolsonaro consistently questioned the legitimacy of the country’s elections, and avoided conceding defeat after Lula’s Oct. 30 victory. He was relatively subdued after the elections, but told supporters the fate of the country’s governance was in their hands. Pro-Bolsonaro protests started after the election, with camps outside of military areas calling for a coup against Lula. Last month radical Bolsonaro supporters tried to storm the Brasília federal police headquarters, and torched vehicles along the way.
Yesterday, Lula accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the uprising by falsely claiming that last year’s presidential election was rigged. The former president denied the allegations from Orlando. On Twitter, he said peaceful protest is part of democracy, but vandalism and invasion of public buildings are “exceptions to the rule.” But he stopped short of condemning yesterday’s events outright.
Many observers agree that the attacks are directly correlated to years of Bolsonaro rhetoric and conspiracy theory mongering, encouraging violence, undermining the Supreme Court, elections, and Lula himself. Leaders from the region and worldwide condemned the attack on Brazilian democracy and voiced support for Lula.
While Brazil’s armed forces did not respond to rioters’ calls for military intervention, “they remain sympathetic to Bolsonaro and the conservative cause, especially among the junior ranks,” warns Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly. “The possibility of a purge, especially if members of the security forces are found to have aided the rioters behind the scenes, as early reports suggest, could destabilize Brazilian politics in coming months.”
On the other hand, “the terrorist acts in Brasilia may become Lula’s greatest opportunity to expand his power and corner bolsonarismo against a wall,” argues Thomas Traumann, also in Americas Quarterly.
This morning the leaders of Brazil’s three branches of government — Congress, Executive and Judicial — signed a joint note stating that they are working so that “institutional measures are taken, under the terms of Brazilian laws” regarding attacks. The note, signed by Arthur Lira (President of the Chamber of Deputies), Veneziano Vita Rêgo (President in Exercise of the Senate), Rosa Weber (President of the Supreme Couet) and Lula rejects the acts of “terrorism, vandalism, criminals and scammers ” and was released after a joint meeting this morning at the Planalto Palace.
Reports indicate that Bolsonaro left Brasilia’s presidential palace in Brasilia, an iconic 1950s masterpiece by Oscar Niemeyer, in disrepair. Reports indicate torn carpets and sofas, leaky ceilings, broken windows and jacaranda floorboards, and works of art damaged by the sun. (Guardian)
Bolsonaro’s “incendiary remarks over the years and throughout the campaign cast him as a political disrupter, similar to Donald J. Trump in the United States,” reports the New York Times.
Biden in Mexico
U.S. President Joe Biden is in Mexico City, for a bilateral meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, today, and a “Three Amigos” summit, tomorrow, that will include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It’s the first visit to Mexico by a U.S. president in nine years, reports the Washington Post.
There are signs of goodwill between the two — in recent days AMLO signed onto a new U.S. migration plan that would send tens of thousands of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Haitians who cross the border into the United States without authorization back to Mexico, and captured an alleged drug kingpin, the son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. And Biden flew into Mexico’s newest hub, the Felipe Angeles International Airport, one of AMLO’s pet projects. (Associated Press)
But the two leaders have fundamentally different visions on trade and energy, a source of friction between the two administrations.
Migration will be a major agenda item in the bilateral meetings today, and in tomorrow’s summit. Differences over trade practices and crime have grown steadily more pronounced among the three countries, after a brief “post Trump” honeymoon period, reports NBC.
Biden visited El Paso, Texas, yesterday. It was his first visit to the border since taking office, and came days after his administration announced a dramatic restriction on asylum for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans — in addition to pre-existing measures targeting migrants from Venezuela. (See last Friday’s post.)
Record-breaking numbers of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. in El Paso have made the city a symbol “of the decades-long breakdown in America’s immigration system,” reports the New York Times.
Biden has been criticized for ineffective border policies amid a surge in migration, but also for maintaining and broadening policies questioned by human rights advocates. (Washington Post, Washington Post)
Venezuela is at a fork in the road, reports the Guardian. The country’s longstanding crisis shows several points of improvement — warmer relations with the U.S. and neighboring countries after years of isolation, and a slightly improved economy thanks to informal dollarization since 2019. But three-quarters of Venezuelans remain extremely poor, and tens of thousands continue to leave the country.
At least 29 people — 10 soldiers and 19 alleged cartel members — were killed in Culiacán last week, in massive clashes between Sinaloa cartel gunmen and Mexican security forces after Ovidio Guzmán’s detention last Thursday.
Cartel members sought to stop Guzmán’s transport to Mexico City by torching vehicles, blocking roads and trying to seize control of Culiacán’s airport. More than 3,500 troops became involved in the operation, returning fire on the ground and from aircraft. (Guardian, New York Times, see Friday’s briefs.)
Televisa news anchor Denise Maerker is Mexico’s most-watched. In Mexico’s polarized media scene, dominated by conflict with AMLO, she “is among the few remaining prominent voices who has largely avoided being pulled into the cage match,” reports the New York Times.
Chile’s justice minister, Marcela Ríos, resigned on Saturday, in response to accusations of wrongdoing over New Year’s pardons given to people connected to violent 2019 protests. She will be replaced by lawyer Luis Cordero Vega. (Reuters)