Photo Credits: AP News
On Sunday, January 8, supporters of Brazil’s former far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, stormed the Supreme Federal Court, National Congress, and Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia. The attack occurred one week after the inauguration of Brazil’s left-wing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on January 1 and was intended to overthrow his government.
The protesters, dubbed “Bolsonaristas”, ransacked the buildings. They smashed windows and glass panels, stole and destroyed furniture and artwork, and reportedly beat a police officer that was pulled from their horse. Additionally, they chanted pro-Bolsonaro slogans throughout the attack and unfurled a banner reading “intervention” from the roof of the Congress building.
After hours of clashes with security forces, the buildings were retaken with over 400 arrests on Sunday evening. Since then, some 1,500 people have been detained in connection with the attack. Furthermore, Lula has signed a decree authorising a federal state of emergency until the end of January in order to regain control of the country.
In a press conference, Lula accused security forces of “incompetence, bad faith or malice” in allowing the rioters to access government buildings. He said he was convinced that supporters inside the buildings had opened the doors to the protesters as they were not destroyed, meaning someone facilitated their entry. “Many people in the military police were complicit,” said Lula. “There were many people in the armed forces here inside [the palace] who were complicit.”
Police officers at the time were reportedly seen fraternising with the protesters. Despite the potential for an attack on government buildings being public knowledge for weeks prior to Sunday’s attempted insurrection, armed forces turned a blind eye to the movement and have even been accused of active involvement.
Lula has vowed to thoroughly screen employees for the government buildings in the wake of the attack. Arrest warrants have been issued for a number of top officials accused of “acts and omissions” that led to the riots. Particularly, the focus has been turned to the military, which is widely seen as being in full support of Bolsonaro.
Many were quick to draw parallels between the attempted insurrection on Sunday to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Bolsonaro is a well-known admirer of former US president Donald Trump, and his son even travelled to the US to meet Trump and discuss strategy with his former advisers this past November.
However, key differences between the two attempted insurrections by right-wing protesters can clearly be seen. Firstly, the US Capitol riot occurred just before the end of Trump’s administration whilst Lula’s government had already been in office for a week, changing the administrative nature of the situation. Additionally, the armed forces in the US showed clear opposition to the rioters whilst the opposite was seemingly observed in Brazil.
Taken together, it is concerning to speculate on what these events indicate for the future of the democratic process. Bolsonarists do not seem to be showing signs of backing down, with further demonstrations being held across the country and additional protests being speculated for the future. In the coming future, it will be crucial to see how Lula handles the situation.
Regardless, many believe that the Lula administration will emerge from these events even stronger than before. The escalation of far-right groups from online speculation to real-life attacks on democratic institutions has been described as a shot in the foot for the Brazilian right. Furthermore, world leaders have condemned the invasion as a “cowardly and vile attack on democracy”, offering solidarity to Lula and the Brazilian people.
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