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Brazil’s Military Coup Mongers Linger On, Top Lula Adviser Says

(Bloomberg) — Concerns about Brazilian military connivance in the Jan. 8 insurrection against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva persists in the new administration even after the leftist president reasserted his authority over the armed forces, according to a top cabinet member.

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Justice Minister Flavio Dino said authoritarian groups that envision a political role for the armed forces remain active within the institution, even if their numbers have declined since riots in Brasilia led to widespread public outrage, thousands of arrests and the firing of the army’s top commander.

“The Jan. 8 riots served as a general alert,” Dino said in a recent interview in his cabinet office. “Coup mongers inside the army were defeated, but they did not disappear.”

Dino, a former federal judge who served as state governor before joining Lula’s cabinet, found himself in the hot seat just a week after taking office, when supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, refusing to accept his defeat, ransacked congress, the top court and the presidential palace in Brasilia.

The minister helped coordinate efforts to secure the capital, launching an intervention in police forces that responded to the federal district governor. Now he’s leading an autopsy of the events leading to such a breach of security.

A major issue was what Lula has described as the failure of generals who “did nothing” about Bolsonaro’s supporters who camped outside of army headquarters across the country — and demanded a military intervention to stop the new government from taking office.

Active-duty military officials have refrained from publicly responding to Lula’s complaints, particularly after it became clear that such campsites weren’t only a meeting place for peaceful Bolsonaro supporters, but also a safe harbor for rioters who were plotting violent acts against the new government. .

Clarifying Roles

Dino sees an authoritarian vein in the armed forces that traces to the birth of the Brazilian republic over a century ago. More radical members of the military lost influence when the dictatorship ended in 1985 and they were replaced by leaders who positioned the forces as an apolitical institution that accepted the limits imposed by the constitution. But things started to change when Bolsonaro, elected in 2018, opened the door for their return to politics.

A former Army captain, Bolsonaro picked a general as his vice president, put military officials in control of prominent ministries and state-owned companies and handed public service jobs to more than 6,000 members of the institution. He regularly praised the dictatorship, and his conservative law-and-order and social stances resonated with the rank and file.

Authoritarian tendencies are “unfortunately a trait of the corporation since the dawn of the republic,” Dino said. “This needs to go away because the military is subordinated to civil power; they’re not a moderating power.”

Yet Dino sides with more moderate members of Lula’s administration, including Defense Minister Jose Mucio Monteiro, who prefers a softer approach when dealing with the military. In Brazil’s congress, a cadre of Workers’ Party lawmakers are currently drafting a proposed constitutional amendment that would place new limits on the armed forces’ powers to intervene in political affairs, a push they consider necessary to depoliticize the institution.

Dino worries that major changes could prove risky at a time when the new government is attempting to restore a sense of democratic normalcy to Brazil’s civil-military relations.

“I don’t think this is the moment. I think you can leave it for later,” Dino said. “In the current moment, it could serve to re-strengthen a more belligerent perspective.”

Shared Goals

In recent weeks, the humanitarian crisis facing the Yanomami indigenous tribe in the north of Brazil has also offered an opportunity for cooperation between the government and the military. Under the control of General Tomas Miguel Ribeiro Paiva, who has publicly called for respect for the results of the elections, the armed forces are now carrying out relief operations across Yanomami territory, sharing a common goal with Lula’s administration.

Even if the situation is still far from “ideal,” Dino said, he is optimistic about the government’s current strategy to weaken the segments of the military that remain tempted to “flirt with illegality.”

“I am absolutely sure that the pro-coup groups that still remain in the army and in the armed corporations are a minority,” he said. “They are smaller than they were on Jan. 7, one day before the insurrection.

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