JUNE 22, 2020: BRASILIA (Reuters) – Calls for Brazil’s military to close Congress and the Supreme Court have screamed from banners at marches attended by President Jair Bolsonaro in recent weeks, but retired generals and close observers of the armed forces call it empty talk. FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators attend a protest against the National Congress and supporting the government of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro outside the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil June 13, 2020.
REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo
A defender of Brazil’s 1964 military coup and the two decades of dictatorship that followed, Bolsonaro has allowed his sons and supporters to fan threats against democratic institutions in part because he has been backed into a corner, analysts say.
As the right-wing populist struggles with a sinking economy, the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak outside the United States, and police investigations targeting his family and friends, those anti-democratic outbursts seem likely to continue.
However, three retired generals told Reuters in recent days that there was no risk of a military intervention and expressed concern that the armed forces were being unduly politicized under Bolsonaro, a former army captain disciplined in 1986 for insubordination.
“The idea of putting the armed forces in the middle of a dispute between branches of the state, authorities and political interests is completely out of place,” said Carlos dos Santos Cruz, a retired army general who served in the cabinet last year until he fell out with Bolsonaro’s sons.
“It is a lack of respect for the armed forces,” he told Reuters.
Bolsonaro himself has insisted he will defend Brazil’s constitution. But he has accused courts of abusing their authority and done nothing to stop his most fervent supporters from demanding the military intervene.
His son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, said in May that an institutional “rupture” was a matter of time.
The remarks followed a decision by the Supreme Court to investigate a suspected misinformation and intimidation network run by the president’s backers on social media that played a large role in his 2018 election. The inquiry could lead an electoral court to question his victory and potentially annul the result.
The threats of democratic rupture are aimed at intimidating rivals, prosecutors, and the Supreme Court, according to political scientist Christian Lynch. But military commanders have publicly dismissed any likelihood of a coup.
“The Supreme Court called Bolsonaro’s bluff,” said Lynch, a professor at Rio de Janeiro State University Social and Political Studies Institute. “He didn’t have the coup card. He was bluffing all along.”