“This was an assault on democracy itself, and these acts of violence, intimidation and vandalism were aimed at undermining President Lula da Silva’s newly elected Government.”
By Patrick Foley, Brazil Solidarity Initiative
On January 8th, a mob of far-right protesters stormed the Brazilian capital attacking Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court, and Presidential Palace. Supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who still refuse to accept the election result, laid waste to the offices, artwork and the buildings themselves while carrying banners and placards calling on the military to carry out a coup.
Brazil’s history has many examples of military coups and coup-attempts, with Latin America’s most populous country only returning to democracy in 1985, twenty-one years after the military coup against President João Goulart.
This context is an important factor when assessing the January 8th attack – this was an assault on democracy itself, and these acts of violence, intimidation and vandalism were aimed at undermining President Lula da Silva’s newly elected Government.
Bolsonaro’s administration was stacked full of military officials, with over 8000 active and retired military personnel serving at various levels of government. His long standing connections with military police are also well documented, leading activists and journalists to fear that the far-right will continue to lay down the grounds for a coup.
Thankfully, Brazilian civil society and the huge movement behind Lula were quick to respond. Members of the Supreme Court, state governors and national congresspeople immediately condemned the attack while tens of thousands of demonstrators took to cities across the country showing their support for democracy.
Internationally, leaders from across Latin America voiced their support for Lula, with Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Bolivian President Luis Arce amongst those sending messages of solidarity. Demonstrations for democracy also took place in cities across the globe, including a demo held outside the Brazilian embassy in London.
An Early Day Motion was also tabled in parliament by Brazil Solidarity Initiative (BSI) Chair Richard Burgon MP, and the motion has now been signed by 34 MPs. The BSI have also launched a public statement for activists to add their name in support of Brazilian democracy and stand with Lula against far-right violence and intimidation.
It’s important to remember that despite this disturbing attack, Lula’s historic victory over Bolsonaro is cause for international celebration. Lula has made it clear that after four years of far-right rule, his government will bring an end to this dark period of Brazilian history.
The fight to protect the Amazon; to tackle poverty and hunger; and to restore equality for Brazil’s diverse population are key areas where Lula can make an immediate and positive impact. His previous terms in office have shown that he will also make health, education and social progress a priority, with Lula promising that the world-renowned Bolsa Familia poverty-reduction program would carry on.
On an international level, Lula is a progressive leader who’s presence will be felt in the battles against the climate crisis, the far-right, and global inequality.
There is no doubt that his administration will run into challenges, as January 8th has shown us, but the last week has also shown us how important international solidarity can be.
While we show that the international community stands with the democratic will of the Brazilian people, we also must join the calls for vigilance for those responsible for the attack.
Huge questions remain over the role of Bolsonaro, despite his silence and cautious condemnation of the event, and the role of the military and security forces on the day.
Who financed the transport of thousands of far-right protestors to the capital? Where were the security forces as the far-right marched into these protected places of power? Just how far will Bolsonaro’s supporters go to overthrow democracy?
- Patrick Foley is the Coordinator of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative. You can follow the Brazil Solidarity Initiative on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- You can lobby your MP to sign the Early Day Motion condemning the attack on Brazil’s Congress here.
- You can add your name the public statement in support of Lula and Brazilian democracy here.
- This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to ‘Labour Briefing Co-op, PO Box 78639, London N16 1LA.