With a series of coordinated, limited statements, the United States appears to be distancing itself from Brazilian neofascist president Bolsonaro, the coup-threatened coming election, and its own involvement in the disgraced anti-corruption operation which brought Bolsonaro to power in the first place.
As then reported in Brasil Wire, US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns visited Bolsonaro and key Military allies in July 2021. It was one of several visits by members of the new Biden administration to reach out to the Bolsonaro government, triggering speculation that the US would continue in its support for the far right US-allied candidate, regardless of the change in president.
The visit came as Bolsonaro camp were intensifying pre-emptive attacks on Brazil’s electoral system and democratic institutions, centred around disinformation about the electronic voting machines, and a campaign to shut down the Supreme Court.
Biden administration discomfort with the perception that it supports Bolsonaro in this antidemocratic context has led to a series of statements by US government officials, including undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland, expressing confidence in Brazil’s electoral system, and denouncing Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine it ahead of an election he is on course to lose, to leftist former president Lula. Frontrunner then as now, Lula was prevented from running in 2018 by the joint anti-corruption operation Lava Jato, which was conducted with both open and covert collaboration with the United States. Lava Jato prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol was caught in leaked conversations calling Lula’s prosecution “a gift from the CIA“, which enabled Bolsonaro to be elected.
The UN human rights committee recently found that US-Brazil operation Lava Jato was biased, and violated due process, Lula’s privacy and his political rights. In another example of the distancing and damage limitation taking place, just prior to the ruling US Government linked think tank the Wilson Center, which had championed Lava Jato (Carwash) and hosted its now disgraced crusading judge Sergio Moro, held an interview with Lula’s defence laywers, Valeska Martins and Cristiano Zanin. The interview with the lawyers was conducted by Nicholas Zimmerman, who sought to reduce documented US involvement in Operation Lava Jato, and thus Dilma’s removal and Lula’s imprisonment – the fates of two successive presidencies – to an “insinuation”. It is not made clear to the reader that Zimmerman was, while Lava Jato was collaborating openly and covertly with US agents, “Director for Brazil and Southern Cone Affairs at the White House National Security Council.“
Following his inauguration in early 2019, Bolsonaro visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. He was the first Brazilian president ever to do so.
Reuters now report that unnamed sources claim that Burns “told senior Brazilian officials that President Jair Bolsonaro should stop casting doubt on his country’s voting system ahead of the October election”.
Reuters report that the “comments by CIA Director William Burns came in an intimate, closed-door meeting in July, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Burns was, and remains, the most senior U.S. official to meet in Brasilia with Bolsonaro’s right-wing government since the election of U.S. President Joe Biden.”
“A third person in Washington familiar with the matter confirmed that a delegation led by Burns had told top Bolsonaro aides the president should stop undermining confidence in Brazil’s voting system. That source was not certain whether the CIA director himself had voiced the message.”
Anglophone media has so far shied from talk of US involvement in Brazil’s democratic crisis since the 2014 election. Yet now, with a series of coordinated statements, the United States appears to be distancing itself from Brazilian president Bolsonaro, the coup-threatened coming election, and its involvement in the anti-corruption operation which brought Bolsonaro to power in the first place.
The Reuters report continues: “Two of the sources warned of a potential institutional crisis if Bolsonaro were to lose by a narrow margin, with scrutiny focused on the role of Brazil’s armed forces, which ruled the country during a 1964-85 military government that Bolsonaro celebrates.”
Reuters go on to reveal detail that Brasil Wire reported last July: “During his unannounced trip, Burns, a career diplomat nominated by Biden last year, met at the presidential palace with Bolsonaro and two senior intelligence aides – national security adviser Augusto Heleno and Alexandre Ramagem, then-head of Brazilian intelligence agency Abin. Both were Bolsonaro appointees.Burns also dined at the U.S. ambassador’s residence with Heleno and Bolsonaro’s then-Chief of Staff Luiz Eduardo Ramos, both former generals. Brazil’s military has historically enjoyed close ties with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence services.”
The final line in particular is highly unusual to see in anglophone media coverage of Brazil, where US involvement is practically taboo, and it reinforces the impression that the Reuters report is a CIA-scripted effort at damage control. If the institutional crisis does come to a head in October, the United States will want to have pre-emptively distanced itself, even as some US government-aligned commentators exaggerate the chances of a legitimate Bolsonaro victory at the ballot box.
One of the Reuters sources claimed that Generals Heleno and Ramos sought to dismiss the significance of Bolsonaro’s repeated allegations of voter fraud. General Augusto Heleno is head of Institutional Security and said to be one of the originators of the long term military plot to remove the Workers Party from power. On May 1 he addressed a pro-Bolsonaro protest themed around “freedom of expression”, and again centred on attacks upon the Supreme Court, Electoral Court and electronic voting system.
Heleno, who the US government know all too well, has a history of past statements threatening Brazilian democracy. In May 2020 he issued an unprecedented open statement to the country. In the letter, he warned of “unpredictable consequences” should the Supreme Court not abandon its demand for President Bolsonaro to present his mobile phones as evidence in an ongoing investigation into a criminal fake news operation, which spread lies about Bolsonaro’s political opponents during the 2018 election campaign.
In response to Heleno’s denials, the source claims that “Burns told them that the democratic process was sacred, and that Bolsonaro should not be talking in that way.”
“Burns was making it clear that elections were not an issue that they should mess with,” said the unidentified source, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “It wasn’t a lecture, it was a conversation.”
“It is unusual for CIA directors to deliver political messages, the sources said. But Biden has empowered Burns, one of the most experienced U.S. diplomats, to be a low-profile mouthpiece for the White House.”
Again, this is far more intimate information than is usually made available, and the reliance on unidentified government sources raises suspicion about the intent and integrity of the story.
Following Burns’ visit, as reported by Brasil Wire at the time, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also went to meet Bolsonaro and, the Reuters report claims he “raised similar concerns about undermining trust in elections” but “Burns delegation’s message was stronger than Sullivan’s, the Washington-based source said, without elaborating.”
Reuters sought out the US State Department for comment (or indeed vice versa, Reuters has history -editors).
“It is important that Brazilians have confidence in their electoral systems,” said an unnamed official “adding that the United States is confident of Brazil’s institutions, including free, fair and transparent elections.”
Faith in Brazil’s institutions, or “Brazil’s institutions are working” was a consistent US State Department and commentariat mantra throughout Operation Lava Jato, the 2016 coup, and election of Bolsonaro.
Reuters then elaborate on a “fresh sign of disquiet among some of Washington’s foreign policy establishment, the most recent U.S. consul in Rio wrote in a Brazilian newspaper that the United States should make it clear to Bolsonaro that any effort to undermine elections would trigger multilateral sanctions.” completing what looks like a concerted public diplomacy exercise, and effort to ensure that, whatever happens in October, the United States can not be blamed for it.