Brazil’s collusion between democratically-elected right-wing governments and the military is reminiscent of the region’s collective memory of dictatorships. However, the combination of government and military power will take the normalisation of human rights violations to an unprecedented level.
The latest appointment in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet is Army General Walter Braga Netto, who will be serving as Chief of Staff. Nine out of 22 Brazilian cabinet members have been involved in the military. Within the context of Bolsonaro’s glorification of dictatorships, including the Chilean dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, the appointment does not bode well for Brazilians. It is the first time since Brazil’s dictatorship period from 1964 to 1985 that the role of Chief of Staff has been assigned to a military officer.
Since assuming the presidency, Bolsonaro has affirmed his right-wing ideology with actions that have particularly targeted the foundations of society, in particular education, environment, human rights and indigenous rights. Offering Brazil’s natural resources to foreign investment companies has been the government’s far-reaching strategy to emphasise the gap between Brazil’s elite and the rest of society, including indigenous communities.
Braga Netto served different appointments under the previous presidencies of Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Roussef, assuming the roles of division general and director of Higher Military Education. He was tasked with security operations during the 2016 Olympic Games. In 2018 under the coup-installed Michel Temer, Braga Netto led the takeover of the civil and military police in Rio de Janiero. This period, during which feminist and councilwoman Marielle Franco was murdered, was marked with increased human rights violations directed against the poorer segments of the Brazilian population.
In response to the documented human rights violations in this period, Braga Netto declared it an experiment for Brazil. Violations included sexual aggression and executions, as well as inducing a climate of fear through repression, the latter disguised as a security concern.
For Bolsonaro, moving from ideology to implementing dictatorship practices is not just empty rhetoric. The democratic veneer provided by elections only facilitates a return to dictatorship practices without the association. Bolsonaro is advocating for closing Congress, on the basis of a dictatorship-era law that allows the suspension of constitutional rights purportedly to restore order. The motive behind such reasoning would be to prevent Brazil from erupting into a mass mobilisation against the exploitative, neoliberal policies embraced and pursued by Bolsonaro.
If Bolsonaro is openly advocating for a return to dictatorship practices under the guise of democracy, a dangerous precedent will be formed. Chile’s right-wing democratically elected president has resorted to dictatorship tactics in an attempt to quell the nationwide protests demanding an end to the neoliberal politics dominating the country since the Pinochet dictatorship.
On March 15, Bolsonaro will be lending his support to anti-democracy demonstrations. Public spaces are being taken over by far-right groups and supporters which pledge to annihilate the democratic process and institutions in Brazil, as well as distort the right of speech. As the left in Brazil, together with grassroots organisations and activists are branded dangerous, the right-wing’s narrative, bolstered by the government distorts the purpose of protests, demonstrations, free speech and human rights.
Bolsonaro is implementing changes in his cabinet which speak of dictatorship, while supporting endeavours within the public that pledge consent to his ideology and politics. Leftist politicians are imparting recollections of Brazil’s dictatorship past, reminding that the last time Congress was shut down, it was followed by decades of human rights violations. The blurring of human rights in a democracy which seeks military involvement raises new fears in terms of a collusion which will likely go unquestioned if the government does not overtly abandon the democratic facade. What and who will protect the Brazilian people from state violence?