THE military in Brazil have been charting its return to politics for a long time, and Jair Bolsonaro provided a civilian package for the military’s return to governing in 2018.
A year ahead of Brazil’s next democratic elections which will be held in October next year, the military is assessing how best to position itself, and behind which democratic candidate.
Bolsonaro militarised his government by making 10 of his 23 members of cabinet active duty reserve members of the military, appointing generals as his vice-president, minister of health and chief of staff, and handing the management of public enterprises over to the generals.
More than 6 157 military men and women have been serving in his administration – twice as many as those who served under former president Michel Temer. With 18.6% of government positions appointed under Bolsonaro occupied by military personnel, there are more military officers in power in Brazil than under the military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.
All this pleased the military top brass as it was a realisation of their plans, but to sustain their indirect military rule, they cannot afford to lose the trust of the people, and they are all too well aware that Bolsonaro has been a huge disappointment in terms of his governance record, and he is majorly discredited due to his catastrophic management of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left more than 566 000 dead. Brazil has the second-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world.
Many of the generals don’t want to end up sinking with Bolsonaro’s ship, and are distancing themselves from him, and preparing to come back under a more palatable and “credible” candidate.
From the perspective of the military, a potential plan B is the US trained and military decorated judge Sergio Moro, who had helped get Bolsonaro into power in 2018, by ensuring the jailing of former president Lula da Silva. Moro, who has a new home in the US, recently returned to Brazil to discuss his possible candidacy in the next elections with the centre right Podemos Party.
There were discussions around Moro on a presidential ticket with the incumbent Vice-President General Mourao as his deputy. There have been visits to Brazil in quick succession by the director of the CIA and the US National Security Adviser to show support for Moro.
Unfortunately, President Joe Biden has not indicated that he is ideologically opposed to the current administration or the militarisation of Brazilian politics. A militarised Brazil is strategically useful to the Americans, and big businesses in the US support the positions of the Bolsonaro government which has backed the capitalist elite, miners, loggers and multinational corporations.
Even beyond the US, Bolsonaro’s extreme right-wing politics has been palatable to foreign investors, who are not interested in whether the government delivers to its people.
The CIA think tank CSIS has been promoting closer ties to the Bolsonaro government, and has promoted the establishment of a bi-national institution to formalise the relationship between the two countries. Political analysts have suggested that this is part of a US-aligned, long-term, military power project in Brazil.
The entrenchment of the military in the corridors of power has been a long game. There are admissions from General Villas Boas and former president Michel Temer regarding the military’s guiding hand through the 2013 to 2016 coup, and in the 2018 election campaign.
As the armed forces had taken on more of a policing role a decade ago, they became wedded to the idea that they could govern. The military became particularly upset by the proceedings of the National Truth Commission in 2012, which condemned the crimes of the previous dictatorship.
This started the calculated process of military officers positioning themselves in the judiciary, social media and government. The military fielded candidates in the 2018 elections, applying the strategies of “hybrid warfare” to destabilise the political system.
Behind the scenes, the military played a role in the coup against Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Her impeachment left the door open for the rise of the military’s candidate, Jair Bolsonaro.
The greater control of the military over the political process is particularly dangerous, given that the military has long held the view that the Left needs to be excluded from politics. For them, the “new Communism” are leftists whom they consider to be the enemies of traditional Christian traditions.
The notions of feminism, the rights of indigenous people, the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and protection of the environment all run contrary to the agenda of the military establishment.
The great tragedy was the incomplete democratic transition in Brazil following the last dictatorship. There was no purging of those who had been in charge, and no imposition of civilian authority on the military.
As a result, there has been open nostalgia in the ranks of the military for the authoritarian order, and this presents a grave danger to the future of Brazil’s civilian democratic governance.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.