Margaret Kimberly interviews Brian Mier on the Jan. 8th invasion of Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and Presidential Palace
On January 8, 2023 thousands of supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro attacked and vandalized that nation’s Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace in the capital of Brasilia. Bolsonaro claims that election fraud was responsible for his defeat by Lula da Silva in the 2022 election. His supporters had demonstrated previously after the election and used social media to publicize their gathering in the preceding days and weeks. Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Margaret Kimberley spoke with Brazilian based journalist Brian Mier of Telesur English who provided analysis of these events.
Margaret Kimberley: Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro flew to Florida on December 30, two days before Lula da Silva was inaugurated. What does that tell us about how he was able to enter the U.S.?
Brian Mier: Bolsonaro left Brazil, on the presidential jet, without officially handing over power to his Vice President, leaving Brazil, technically speaking, 36 hours without an acting President. As he was still officially President when he arrived, his diplomatic status guaranteed his smooth entry into the US. I would assume he hasn’t done any paperwork for change of status yet, but it would seem relatively easy for him to switch to a tourist visa in Orlando, Florida.
MK: Bolsonaro has condemned the rioters. But is it plausible that they acted without his involvement?
BM: Bolsonaro only condemned the fascists who attempted to provoke a military coup d’etat yesterday, after it looked like they had failed. He may not have been directly involved in the planning, but it’s hard to imagine that his son Eduardo, who participated in the January 5, 2021 so called “War Council” meeting in Washington DC, was not in direct communication with the putschists. Bolsonaro is being accused of inciting the action, and there is a mountain of evidence that he did this and this is also a crime in Brazil.
MK: Bolsonaro’s presidency was partly the result of “lawfare” attacks against Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff which were coordinated with forces in the U.S. But there are already calls for him to leave the U.S. in the wake of the riots. Does he believe that the U.S. will still protect him now that his supporters have attacked the sitting president?
BM: Lava Jato (Car Wash in English) started during the Obama administration and represented a partnership between the Curitiba District Attorney’s Office, the US Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), which collected billions of dollars in fines from Brazilian companies during the course of the investigation. Three days after Dilma Rousseff was deposed without any legal justification in 2016, Vice President Joe Biden met with illegitimate coup President Michel Temer, at a moment when several South American governments refused to recognize his presidency, and told him that he had the full support of the Obama administration.
After Trump took office, the investigation continued, culminating in the arbitrary political imprisonment of Lula during the 2018 election season. At the time he was leading by over double the support of second place candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the polls. His arrest and illegal prohibition of running for office from behind bars, where he was still leading in the polls by a wide margin, directly led to the Bolsonaro presidency, and Bolsonaro immediately appointed US asset and Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro, who, through a loophole in Brazilian law dating back to the inquisition, was able to rule on both the investigation and the trial (with no jury), as “Super Justice Minister”. Together, Moro and Bolsonaro visited CIA headquarters almost immediately after taking office.
After Biden took office, his administration made a big effort to try to work with him. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan flew to Brazil to meet with Bolsonaro and his top generals, then CIA Director William Burns made a visit. However due to his own stupidity, Bolsonaro took sides in a dispute that he had nothing to do with, publicly buying into to Trump and Bannon’s big lie narrative and being the last world leader of a big nation to (begrudgingly) acknowledge Biden’s electoral victory, months after the fact. Due to this, and the ongoing close relationship between Bolsonaro’s children with Steve Bannon and other actors on the billionaire-funded US far right like Jason Miller and Mathew Tyrmand, it became impossible for the DNC to sustain support for the Bolsonaro administration – if only out of their own opportunistic self-interest. On top of that, a group fluctuating in size between one and two dozen Democratic lawmakers led by Hank Johnson and including people like Raul Grijalva, Susan Wild and Danny Davis, have made repeated shows of solidarity to Lula and the Workers Party during the entire slow motion coup process, even starting a congressional inquiry into the US DOJ role in Lava Jato. All of these factors have led to the incredibly ironic situation of a political party apparatus that created and actively supported the lawfare investigation which resulted in the arbitrary impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and Lula’s political imprisonment, to be publicly supporting the Lula administration now, as are the governments of Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela, among others. Due to these factors, the US may not end up protecting Bolsonaro as much as he thought they would. Even Trump apparently canceled his invitation for Bolsonaro to spend New Years with him in Mar-a-lago. Bolsonaro has become so toxic that even a large sector of the international far right seems to be rejecting him, despite the best PR efforts made by BBC/PBS with their “Rise of the Bolsonaros” election propaganda documentary series and constant international social media supporter from hybrid war operatives connected to the Mercers and Steve Bannon.
MK: Lula has promised to punish the rioters. Won’t that be difficult?
BM: Lula, to his credit and occasionally in my opinion to his own detriment, has always been a firm believer in the democratic rule of law. What he means when he says this is that the Justice Department, now led by former Communist Party governor of Maranhao, Flavio Dino, will use all of its legal powers to investigate the crimes committed, and do everything it can to guarantee that everyone gets a fair trial and, if found guilty, are sentenced according to the gravity of their crimes. These statements should not be interpreted as warning signs of authoritarianism – after all, whenever a leftist takes power in Latin American they are either accused by Anglo progressives of being “complacent with neoliberalism” or “practicing authoritarianism.”
MK: The Bolsonaro supporters publicly announced their intention to gather in Brasilia but officials seemed to have been unprepared. Will there be repercussions?
BM: There are already repercussions. Brasilia, the space age mid-century modernist city which sits deep in the hinterland surrounded by cow pastures and soy fields, is a very conservative place full of right wing, prosperity gospel Christians. Federal District Governor Ibaneis Rocha has been one of Bolsonaro’s staunchest allies. So much so that he appointed Anderson Torres, Bolsonaro’s former National Justice Minister/Security Chief, as his Security Secretary on January 2. In Brazil, civil and military police forces are controlled by the governor and his or her security secretary. It has now become apparent that the Brasilia Military police simply opened the gates for the putschists. There are dozens of videos circulating around showing them smiling, hugging and taking selfies with the fascists, while, in the distance, a few made a show by launching a few tear gas grenades far from any major concentration of people. As events unfolded, it turned out that Torres had already flown to Orlando, Florida. An arrest warrant was issued, and then the Supreme Court suspended Ibaneis Rocha from his position of governor for 90 days pending investigation. It is important to note here that, four hours into the coup attempt, when it was clear that the governor was doing very little to stop it, Lula issued a decree turning control of Brasilia’s security over to the Federal Government until January 31. Twenty minutes later, all government buildings had been completely cleared of rioters by the Brasilia Civil Police and the Federal Police.
MK: Brazil has a large Black population. What is Lula’s relationship with Black people? What role did they play in the election and the aftermath?
BM: Lula is from a region of Brazil, the Northeast, whose poor residents have traditionally been considered subhuman in the wealthy South and Southeast, and his mother was Black. Since we know, including from your book Prejudential , that having some African ancestry doesn’t guarantee anything, I will focus on the Workers Party and its policies and why Lula’s largest voter base in this year’s election was Afro-Brazilian. Lula’s largest support in descending order of significance, was Afro-Brazilian women, Afro-Brazilian men, people of all ethnicities making equal to or less than the minimum wage (around 70% of the population) and women of all social classes.
There are many complaints about the Workers Party from the Afro-Brazilian movements. A very clear one right now is that Lula did not appoint the number of Afro-Brazilian cabinet ministers proportionate to the roughly 52% representation in the population at large. On the other hand, the Workers Party achieved equity of race in terms of elected officials during the second to last election cycle. The major policy advancement in terms of human rights during the Workers Party years was implementation of a class and race based affirmative action system. The Workers Party government opened up 52% of all slots in the free public university system – which was expanded through the construction of 17 new public universities – to members of the working class, with a small differential for working class Black and indigenous students. This increased the percentage of Black students in the public university system from around 2% from when he first took office, to over 50% today. The Workers Party has been less successfully at halting the genocide of police killings underway against Black, primarily male youth on the urban peripheries. To its credit, Workers Party lawmakers have introduced constitutional amendments to the floor of Congress and the Senate three times to abolish the Military Police, which studies show is the main culprit. Each time, the bills were defeated by more conservative parties in the PT’s governing coalition. Removing Brazil from the UN’s World Hunger Map and removing 30 million people from below the poverty line are examples of policies which improved the lives of a large portion of Brazil’s black population, which also explains their support for the Workers Party and Lula.
This article originally appeared in Black Agenda Report.
Cover photo by Nacho Lemus