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Brazil Protests Go Radical, Draw Government Suppression

CURITIBA, Brazil—The breach of key government institutions in Brazil’s capital, including the parliament and Supreme court, and national Palace sent shockwaves across the country, with newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vowing to crack down on protesters and protest leaders claiming some of the violence was instigated by left-wing agitators.

The events over the weekend propelled Latin America’s main regional power onto the front pages of major newspapers worldwide. Hundreds of people occupied the government buildings, some repeated chants commonly heard during months of post-election protests. These included allegations of election fraud, chants highlighting a fear that hard-left authoritarianism had taken over the country, and calls for the military to “save Brazil.” “Our flag will never be red,” some sang.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Damage to the Brazilian National Congress following a riot the previous day amid protests in support of former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, on Jan. 9, 2023. (Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

Previous protests against the new government covered by The Epoch Times in November and December had been peaceful. However, that’s not what was seen on the weekend. Videos of the events show people raiding the offices of elected officials, water flooding rooms, firearms wielded, and various forms of vandalism.

Meanwhile, Brazilian conservatives, including a leader in the protest movement, believe the events were the result of leftist infiltrators, namely Antifa and the National Students’ Association (UNE), a historically left-wing organization.

The government’s response to the riot was swift. Newly inaugurated Lula da Silva—who returned to power after having ruled for two terms in the 2000s—spoke from the city of Araraquara on Sunday evening. He condemned what went on that day and nominated a special envoy to temporarily take over the security apparatus of the Brasilia region. Orders for other anti-Lula protests to be disbanded swiftly followed.

Brazil is the fourth largest food producer in the world, is home to key strategic resources, and is a historic U.S. ally dating back to World War II.

What Caused This?

Brazil’s recent landmark election, called the “most important ever” by supporters of both major parties, saw conservative President Jair Bolsonaro up for reelection against leftist Lula da Silva. The latter won by a razor-thin margin during an Oct. 30 run-off election, becoming the first Brazilian president to clinch a third-term since the establishment of Brazil’s “redemocratization” that put an end to military rule in the 1980s.

Bolsonaro rose to prominence as a new conservative movement arose in Brazil, gaining momentum especially after the 2013 Brazilian protests and the 2016 impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. By the time Bolsonaro was elected in 2018, the public’s distrust for Lula’s Worker’s Party had grown significantly. Corruption scandals involving the party and its allies had become constant news in Brazil and Lula himself didn’t run as many expected that year, instead spending time in prison on corruption and money laundering convictions.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Brazilian ex-president (2003-2011) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrives at the Federal Police headquarters where he is due to serve his 12-year prison sentence, in Curitiba, Parana State, Brazil, on April 7, 2018. (Heuler Andrey/AFP via Getty Images)

Lula’s reputation had become more controversial over the years as news coverage exposed his longstanding ties with the Cuban dictatorship and with the socialist regimes of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, sparking fears among many Brazilians that he himself might go radical.

Then, instead of serving the more than 12 years he was sentenced to, Lula was released from prison after just 580 days as a result of a Supreme Court ruling not specific to his case regarding legal proceedings. Subsequent rulings from the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that Lula hadn’t been judged in the right geographical jurisdiction, and then that judge Sérgio Moro was biased in the case’s ruling. As a result, Lula became in early 2021 eligible to run for office again and a favorite to unite opposition parties in a presidential bid against Bolsonaro—capitalizing on his newfound “martyr” reputation.

The Supreme Court’s handling of the case led to increased distrust of the bench among the populace, especially since most of its Justices were nominated by Worker’s Party officials. Notably, judge Edson Fachin who was instrumental in overturning Lula’s sentence, had been a Worker’s Party activist in the southern state of Paraná prior to his nomination.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Brazilian lawyer and jurist Luiz Edson Fachin speaks during his confirmation hearing at the Senate in Brasilia on May 12, 2015. Fachin was nominated by President Dilma Rousseff for a seat in the Supreme Court in replacement of Minister Joaquim Barbosa. (Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images)

As the presidential elections approached, Supreme Court-led investigations had conservatives arrested amid accusations of a lack of due legal process.

Days prior to the vote, Brazil’s main conservative-leaning news outlet was pressured to self-censor regarding Supreme Court and election-related commentary.

Ahead and after the run-off vote, the Bolsonaro campaign claimed irregularities and illegitimacy in the electoral process for a number of reasons, only to have its concerns dismissed, with the campaign eventually being fined by court order for disputing the results. Supporters claimed unwillingness of law enforcement to investigate the allegations.

As soon as the results were called, with Lula coming out on top, protesters gathered in front of military facilities, placing their hope in the military to stop Lula from taking office. Protests eventually gathered millions around the country on weekends and holidays.

The military did not answer the protesters’ calls for intervention or their allegations of illegitimacy in the electoral process.

Bolsonaro mostly kept quiet after his defeat, and flew to the United States days before Lula’s inauguration, unwilling to partake in the ceremony.

Hopelessness seemed widespread among Bolsonaro’s supporters, as Lula started his administration by reversing the government’s stance from pro-life to pro-abortion; pro-gun rights to anti-gun rights and brought back to office people linked to the Worker’s Party. Although the protests hadn’t disbanded, the new administration constantly announced plans to quash them.

Tensions came to a head on Sunday in the nation’s capital.

Allegations of ‘Left-Wing Infiltration’

On Monday, claims of infiltration by leftist activists were spread widely on social media. The Epoch Times contacted sources among the protests’ leadership, who said that local “Antifa and UNE” were behind the violence.

Videos went viral showing protesters dressed with green and yellow soccer jerseys from Brazil’s National Team yelling against vandalism amid the raids on the country’s capital. The Epoch Times couldn’t independently verify the information.

In one video circulating online, a protester is heard claiming that “Worker’s Party supporters are setting fire” to facilities and that “we’re trying to stop them”.

Another shows groups of people chanting “Don’t break it! Don’t break it!” as many invade the federal government’s headquarters.

A video, allegedly of Bolsonaro supporters defending facilities from vandals during the invasion, was shared by conservative influencers.

Aftermath: A Divided Nation and a Dangerous Precedent

In response to Sunday’s events, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes announced orders for all of the anti-Lula protesters who gathered, some camped out in tents, around military facilities, peaceful or not, to be disbanded within 24 hours and that arrests be made.

The Civilian Police of the Federal District, which covers the capital of Brasília, has made at least 300 arrests.

Conservatives and Bolsonaro supporters have voiced concerns that the events will be used as a pretext for large-scale suppression of future opposition. Prominent pro-Bolsonaro congressman Paulo Eduardo Martins wrote on Twitter: “Many Brazilians will now see legitimacy in acts that curtail our freedoms. This is a tragedy.”

Lula in turn named by decree a “federal interventor” to the Federal District. Ricardo Garcia Cappelli, who was named interventor, will receive extraordinary powers and broad access to resources to take over the region’s public security affairs, answering directly to Lula, over the next few weeks.

Cappelli is a former member of the Communist Party of Brazil. As a far-left activist in his youth, he presided over the National Students’ Union from 1997 to 1999. He was one of the organizers of a Fidel Castro trip to Brazil in 1999.

Lula, during his Sunday evening speech, called the protesters “vandals, nazis, and fascists,” and placed the blame on Bolsonaro. He also alleged that members of agribusiness—a sector with substantial political leverage in Brazil—might be involved.

Bolsonaro condemned the violence and cited previous episodes of left-wing vandalism at the country’s capital.

“I repudiate the baseless accusations the current head of the executive branch has attributed to me,” said Bolsonaro in a Sunday night tweet.

Marcos Schotgues

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