The storming of democratic intuitions in Brazil’s capital – the supreme court, the national congress and the presidential palace – on January 8 further exposed the deep divide that the nation’s new government has to address.
Newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, now faces even greater challenges than he might have expected. Lula’s slogan – “union and reconstruction” – already recognised this divide.
However, the words in this slogan should not be equated with an amnesty for or appeasement with the “enemies” of democracy and the rule of law. As Lula said in a meeting with politicians on January 11:
Any gesture that goes against Brazilian democracy will be punished within what the law provides for.
There are five central areas where the government must focus on to unite and reconstruct the country and deepen democracy.
1. Creating political stability
Lula’s first challenge will be to foster political stability. Bringing all 27 state governors together after the riots in a show of support for democracy was no minor feat. However, it is clear that , Bolsonarismo is still alive, and Lula now needs to open dialogue with political forces beyond the centre-left if he wants to govern.
In the first weeks of government, Lula’s government has already faced broad criticism – including from his party. The minister of defence, José Múcio, was criticised for his lack of action over the military’s failure to tackle the rioters. The minister of tourism, Daniela Carneiro, has also been criticised for her alleged links with militias in Rio de Janeiro.
Far-right politicians – including the sons of former president Jair Bolsonaro – are trying to blame the January 8 uprising on the current government by arguing that the crimes were committed by “infiltrated individuals”. The opposition is already showing it will be fierce and, on some occasions, will not play fair.
Lula will also have to keep an eye on those trying to fill the gap left by Bolsonaro. For instance, the Bolsonaro-supporting state governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, went as far as arguing, “Lula’s government facilitated it to pose as a victim.”
2. Stabilising state institutions
Another challenge for the new government is sorting out state institutions. According to a report written by Lula’s transitional government and several commentators, four years of Bolsonaro’s government has left the Brazilian state in trouble. They claim funds were not properly allocated, transparency was lacking and state agencies were not performing their functions properly.
This is illustrated by a statement from Bolsonaro’s former health minister – during the COVID pandemic – General Eduardo Pazuello. He said, after he took office: “I did not even know what the National Health System was.”
Similar trends are seen in departments responsible for fighting deforestation in the Amazon. Rebuilding these departments will be a massive job.
3. Sorting out the military
The military needs a separate approach to other parts of the state. Elements of the military have been accused of being involved in the uprising and failing to tackle the rioters. Lula has announced he is removing 40 soldiers from the presidential palace detail, a sign of his lack of faith in them after the riots.
Bolsonaro had a close relationship with the military. He launched his presidential bid at an event for army cadets in 2014 – these people are now in powerful positions. His government was filled with members of the military, from his vice-president, to various ministers and over 6,000 troops in different sectors of the administration.
Sections of the army appear to have been complicit in setting up conditions for the uprising, and not resolving it. For months, antidemocratic groups were allowed to set up camps around army barracks. Members of the military have, on some occasions, even defended the protesters against the intervention of state and municipal security forces.
The army should also have been responsible for protecting the presidential palace, but were not deployed on Sunday after the rioters had already invaded the complex.
Various sources allege that members of the military, retired officers, and their family members were involved the camps. There is even evidence that, after the attacks in Brasilia, the commandant of the army, General Júlio César de Arruda, was responsible for allowing some of those involved to flee, telling the minister of justice, Flávio Dino: “You are not going to arrest people here.”
4. Addressing antidemocratic values
There is evidence that a rise in antidemocratic values stem from agribusiness, the financial market, evangelical churches and the military police. Some of these sectors seem to have supported the uprising on January 8 and the anti-government narrative afterwards.
In some cases, Lula’s government is already trying to bridge the divide. However, it is necessary to separate what is honest and constructive dissent with that which is unlawful and criminal opposition.
5. Detoxing the internet
In order to tackle these matters, it is vital for the government to oppose radicalisation and spread of fake news online.
It has been argued that in Brazil the internet cannot be a “no man’s land”. To address this, supreme court and superior electoral court judge Alexandre de Moraes is leading an investigation into those who spread fake news or antidemocratic speech online.
The government has proposed a “network in defence of the truth” that will work online to counter fake news. Other measures to fight radicalisation and fake news are also under development, such as specialised state law offices to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for antidemocratic acts.
It is a difficult road ahead for Lula’s government. Nevertheless, the latest actions and announcements of the government are a source of hope for those who support Brazilian democracy.