Will Brazil’s independence commemorations be the pretext for a new standoff between President Jair Bolsonaro and the country’s democratic institutions? The participation of many military police in demonstrations in support of the Brazilian president, openly defying the constitutional order, is controversial. Just over a year from the presidential election, the country’s largest police force is resurfacing the ghosts of dictatorship.
Colonels calling on veterans to “fight communism” and “help” the president. Shares, likes, comments … On Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, no less than 27% of Brazilian military police interact with profiles qualified as “radical Bolsonarists”, according to a study published in early September by the Brazilian Security Forum public. A radicalism defined by this report as all the profiles of fans and activists in favor of President Jair Bolsonaro and his vision of the world, which calls into question the political game and the institutions at the base of democracy.
According to this same study, in 2021, adherence to “radical Bolsonarism” would have increased on social networks by 29% within the military police. Anti-democratic speeches that call in particular for the imprisonment of Supreme Court judges or the closure of Congress, as the far-right president himself has done on numerous occasions.
“We prevent the president from governing”
This movement does not stop with social networks. In São Paulo, where the main national demonstrations took place, the pro-Bolsonaro movements have many military police. Membership is difficult to quantify, as this state’s military police regulations prohibit active police officers from taking part in political protests. The latter therefore remain discreet. But in more than ten towns on the western outskirts of São Paulo, ordinary citizens and military police are jointly organizing their participation in the demonstration to be held on September 7 – National Day, which celebrates the country’s independence – and in which the president must take part in.
More than 100 buses have already been reserved to transport some 400 people, according to a military policewoman who organized the movement in Campinas, 100 km from São Paulo. Information she gives anonymously, fearing reprisals against her husband.
A major figure in the local mobilization, Major Jaime, a reserve military police officer, is also a conservative municipal councilor for the city of Campinas. “I called on people to participate in these demonstrations, of course,” he explains, stressing the urgency of a struggle “to support the president and his government, whose results are good, but which are now prevented from governing “.
A speech that echoes that of President Jair Bolsonaro. For several weeks, the Brazilian head of state has called on his supporters to take to the streets to “demand freedom”, to defend the country “suffocated by a minority”. Behind this obscure speech, the president and his supporters denounce the shackles of the judiciary and the restrictions on the right to free expression for the country’s conservatives – an allusion, in particular, to the numerous ongoing investigations targeting Jair Bolsonaro.
Promises of sanctions
On the eve of announced massive gatherings, Brazilian state governors have taken a stand: at least 8 of the 26 states promise sanctions against military police who will participate in the pro-Bolsonaro movements of September 7. Because the Brazilian military police, the deadliest in the world, depend on the government of each Brazilian state, and not on the federal power. This institution responsible for maintaining order and public security does not report to civil justice.
In Brasilia, the capital, prosecutors and a military judge took steps to prevent the participation of active members of the corporation. The Federal District Public Prosecutor’s Office demands that resting men be consigned to their barracks between September 6 and 8. These measures irritate the president: three days before the protests on September 7, Jair Bolsonaro reiterated his wish to see the active military join the rallies, publicly defying the governors of the states.
In São Paulo, João Doria, governor of the state and now a great opponent of President Jair Bolsonaro, says he will not tolerate any politicization of the armed forces. At the end of August, he dismissed Colonel Aleksander Lacerda, at the head of seven battalions and 5,000 men, from his post for having called on his “friends” military police to demonstrate in support of Jair Bolsonaro, through social networks. An isolated case, according to Colonel Alvaro Batista Camilo, secretary general of the military police of São Paulo: “It is true that many of our men are sympathizers of the government but we do not notice any radicalization.”
Threats of coup d’etat
Guaracy Mingardi, criminologist and member of the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, admits that the institution’s internal sanctions work: “Active soldiers know that their participation represents an attack on democracy and fear the repercussions within the military police itself. “, such as disciplinary advice which may lead to possible suspensions. But this public security specialist has also been worried for two years about the possible consequences of the radicalization of the military police for the presidential election of 2022.
Since coming to power in early 2018, President Jair Bolsonaro has enabled an unparalleled military presence in government and administration – across all armed forces. More than 6,000 soldiers today assume high responsibilities in ministries, federal agencies or even public enterprises. Although partly rejected by the military elite, the far-right president continues to threaten to act “outside the Constitution”, thus fueling rumors of a coup.
At the beginning of August, in the midst of a crisis with the judicial institutions of his country, President Bolsonaro went so far as to parade tanks and armored vehicles in front of Parliament. A first since the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985, but above all a symbolic gesture supported by the soldiers closest to the president. A very active minority, like General Augusto Heleno, great nostalgic for the dictatorship in charge of the discreet institutional security cabinet, which recently defended the constitutionality of a new military coup in Brazil.
For Guaracy Mingardi of the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, the consequences of radicalizing military police could be more devious than an assumed coup. “The participation of military police (in the demonstrations of September 7) will frighten and damage the democracy of the country, because the pressure of any armed force, whatever it is, causes a radicalization of the opposition”, affirms he does. A scenario all the more worrying as Jair Bolsonaro came out loser in August of a fight to repeal the electronic voting system, in force since 1996. After this defeat, faced with falling popularity, he has already expressed his intention to challenge the results of the 2022 election.