Brazil will celebrate another Independence Day on September 7, but this year the celebrations are being used by supporters of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro as a thermometer of his popularity. In fact, some supporters of the president are calling for a military coup for that date.
Pro-Bolsonaro groups have organized across the country, calling for a new military regime. Governors fear that the military police may rebel and start an uprising that would force the army to take a stand.
Earlier this week, Colonel Aleksander Lacerda, a senior figure in the São Paulo Military Police, issued a call on Facebook for his friends to take part in the September 7 demonstrations in Brasilia. Lacerda was immediately suspended, which further inflamed tensions between governors and the powerful military police.
Adding to those tensions is the despair among Brazil’s population regarding a dizzying rise in inflation and the announcement that electricity is going to be more expensive. Hunger is again a sad reality while agribusiness beats production records and food prices skyrocket.
In an article for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, political analyst Celso Rocha de Barros noted that “Those who didn’t die in 2021 [to COVID] ate less because food prices skyrocketed.”
Curiously, the same agribusiness that has achieved advantages with the government and increased production is also one of the sectors that most actively supports the president and also finances anti-democratic acts.
The desperate scenario in the economy is directly reflected in the country’s political mood, widening social divisions and isolating the political center. Despite the president’s big drop in popularity, radical sectors close to him seem to be closing ranks and are banking on even more radicalization, preferably one that goes beyond angry speeches and moves into action.
The president has systematically wrangled with the Supreme Court and the High Electoral Court (TSE). Earlier this month, Bolsonaro pushed for a change in the electoral system, advocating for printed ballots. The country has for decades adopted the electronic voting system, which delivers results quickly and securely and is virtually failproof.
However, for the president, the printed ballot would prevent fraud, but analysts point out that, in fact, the printed system actually facilitates fraud but also delays in the results. This all opens room for more electoral disputes, which seems to be exactly the president’s expectation.
Despite pushing for approval of the electoral model, Bolsonaro came out defeated. Faced with a loss and the Supreme Court’s action against close allies in investigations against fake news and virtual militias, the president attacked by asking the Senate for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. The president of the Senate, as expected, rejected the impeachment request.
Also as expected, the action made the institutions close ranks against the president, a move that led to further radicalization of the government and reinforced calls for coup protests on Independence Day. On August 10, the president had already tried to show off his strength with a military parade in Brasilia that included tanks and armoured vehicles. However, the action backfired. With vehicles spewing black smoke, the parade was the target of memes and widespread ridicule. However, this didn’t stop Bolsonaro.
In a message sent via WhatsApp, Bolsonaro called on his supporters for a “necessary counterstrike” against institutions. At the same time, an important figure in the army and chief minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet, General Augusto Heleno, reinforced the discourse in favor of a military coup.
Em entrevista à rádio Jovem Pan, General Heleno, chefe do GSI, diz que Forças Armadas podem ser usadas contra “excessos” do Judiciário.
“É uma intervenção que acontece pela necessidade de manter a tranquilidade do país. E pode acontecer em qualquer lugar”, disse Heleno. pic.twitter.com/Sy0rByyohr
— Metrópoles (de ?) (@Metropoles) August 17, 2021
“The September 7 strategy seems obvious to me,” anthropologist and podcaster Orlando Calheiros said. “Bolsonaro does not want to promote a Trump-style ‘invasion’ or even a ‘classic’ coup in the terms of 1964, what he aims for is closer to [Peru’s] Fujimori, a Brazilian version of the “Gobierno de Emergencia y Reconstrucción Nacional [Emergency Government and National Reconstruction]”
The president has never hidden his anti-democratic credentials, having repeatedly defended the “legacy” of the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985) and attacked survivors who fought against the regime.
For Conrado Hubner, law professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), “Bolsonaro’s government takes us on a journey to different moments in the past. In hunger, we have returned to levels of 20 years ago. In deforestation, 10 years. In military delinquency, 50 years.”