I watched in horror on Sunday, Jan. 8th, as hordes of Bolsonaro supporters filled my television screen, screaming in delight as they pillaged and ransacked the Supreme Court, Congress and Palacio do Planalto, all located in Brasilia’s Praçados dos Tres Poderes (Three Powers Square).
Ironically, what had been described as an innovative achievement of Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa in the planning of Brasilia in the 1950s, helped facilitate the looting and destruction of the buildings that house these three powers.
It also looked like a page taken straight from the Jan. 6th, 2021, invasion of the US Capitol building by fanatic Donald Trump supporters. Their Brazilian counterparts all wore the ubiquitous yellow and green t-shirts of Brazil’s national football team, while others draped the Brazilian flag around their shoulders.
Videos showed them running into these government buildings yelling in delight and taking selfies of themselves sitting on the chairs of the Supreme Court justices. They also flooded many of the buildings by triggering the sprinkler systems. One video showed two men munching on crackers they found in one office, while stealing more food from a mini refrigerator.
But the worst destruction were the huge glass windows of the Supreme Court and presidential office, that were shattered one by one by the rioters. Brasilia police initially stood by and watched the mayhem unfolding before them, taking selfies of each other and pictures of the protestors. For sure many of them were sympathetic to the rioters, being supporters of the ex-president Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro himself flew off toFlorida a few days before President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sworn-in onJanuary 1st, refusing to accept that Lula had won the election (just like Trump did not accept Joe Biden’s victory) or handover the presidential sash to his successor as is normally done. Many viewed this flight out of the country as cowardice, as Bolsonaro was fearful that he could be arrested by the new administration for various unethical moves he made during his time in office.
News reports say that Bolsonaro met with Trump and Steve Bannon in Florida before the Jan. 8thattacks, making clear that Bolsonaristas copied the Jan. 6th rioters and were following a playbook devised by Bolsonaro and his aides.
In a drastic move, the Supreme Court and President Lula ordered the removal of the governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, for 90 days, and put the capital region under federal intervention until Jan. 31. They claimed that the governor and his security secretary had facilitated the entry of the protesters into the Praça dos Tres Poderes, when they should not have been allowed access in such great numbers.There is video of police cars escorting the marching protesters through the streets of Brasilia to the government buildings, which took around one hour.
More than 2,000 protesters were arrested and taken to a huge police gymnasium where they were kept for several days, until the police could interview all of them and decide who to release. Of course, Bolsonaristas quickly complained that the protesters were being kept in inhumane conditions, and that the elderly among them did not have access to medications and doctors. The government rushed to provide them with three meals a day, and medical assistance. Around 599 arrested, most of them elderly, or women with children, have been released. 1,444 protesters have been sent to the Papuda prison, awaiting trial for their criminal acts.
Will there be more attacks? Bolsonaristas had threatened to attack an oil refinery in the state of Rio deJaneiro to cause mayhem. Security forces have in the meantime beefed up protection of such vital installations.
What was most symbolic during Sunday’s violent protests was the huge banner held by protesters on the roof of the Congress that said: “Intervention Now!” What they were calling for, and have been for several years, is a military coup to take control of the country and stop its slide into what they believe to be the ungodly and freedom-hating ideology of communism.
Brazil suffered under a 20-year military dictatorship from 1964 until 1985, during which time leftist activists were arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed. All the press, movies, television, and songs were subject to strict censorship regulations, leaving little room for dissent and freedom of expression. Bolsonaro supporters now must decide whether they really want to return to those dark days or accept the election results and work peacefully within the political system.
The beauty of democracy is that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Bolsonaro and his rabid supporters cannot accept the system when they win an election, and then throw a violent tantrum when they don’t. It takes maturity to operate peacefully within a democratic system. Unfortunately, Bolsonaro seems to be sorely lacking in it.