Newly elected President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva remains in hotel accommodation in Brasília, still unable to reside in the Alvorada Palace due to material damage and security concerns.
On the 21st of January, Brazilian president, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, sacked general Júlio César de Arruda as head of the armed forces. Tomás Miguel Ribeiro Paiva, military commander of the country’s southeast region, will assume the post. The move, according to an unnamed source in Brazil’s military high command, caused “disaffection” within the company.
Arruda assumed head of the military on the 30th of December last year, just two days before the presidential swearing-in ceremony and the start of Lula’s third term in office. However, the military’s inaction on January 8th, when thousands of supporters of former Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, stormed the Three Powers Plaza in Brasilia, ransacking the main buildings housing the country’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches, meant Arruda could not be trusted.
Four days before Lula sacked Arruda, on January 17th, Brazil’s new government relieved 40 military officials of their duties as members of the Administrative Coordination team at Alvorada Palace, the official presidential residence.
Less than one month into his third term as head of state, Lula has repeatedly expressed reservations and a lack of trust among segments within the country’s military. “I’m waiting for the dust to settle,” he told journalists, after which he wants to “view all of the recordings captured inside the Supreme Court, inside the palace. Many security agents were complicit. Many PMs [military police] were complicit. Many from the armed forces, here inside, were complicit.” Lula went on to state that he was “convinced” the door to Planalto Palace, the official workplace of the president, was intentionally opened “because the door isn’t broken, otherwise, somebody facilitated their entrance.”
Speaking poignantly to state governors, supreme court judges, the attorney general and presidents of the House and Senate on January 9th, Lula emphasized that his government would not react in an “authoritarian” manner, still they “will not be tepid with anybody. We will investigate and find out who financed” the arrival and stay of hordes of pro-Bolsonaro rioters in the capital city.
The removal of the 40 military officials stationed inside Alvorada Palace will not result in their discharge from the armed forces. Instead, they will resume activities at their previous posts.
Also last week, Lula’s government replaced 26 of the country’s 27 Federal Highway Police chiefs, as well as 18 Federal Police directors.
Persistent Old Wounds
As part of the effort to clean house of untrustworthy military authorities operating within Brazil’s executive branch, soldiers of the Institutional Security Office (GSI), responsible for the security of the president, vice president, and their official workplace and residence, were formerly relieved of their duties.
Included among this group was Marcelo Ustra da Silva Soares, a relative of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, an ex-colonel considered to be one of the main torturers during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1984) when he was head of the Department of Information Operations—Center for Internal Defence Operation in São Paulo from 1970 to 1974. Ustra was accused of the disappearances and deaths of at least 60 people and, in 2008, became the sole military official who was accused by Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office of having committed torture during the dictatorship.
Despite Brazil’s Truth Commission citing Ustra’s name among 377 other officials involved with torturing and killing people during the dictatorship, as well as being found guilty of kidnap and torture by a judge in São Paulo, a sentence that was later overturned by the state’s Court of Appeals, Ustra remained a free man until he died of cancer at the age of 83 in 2015.
“The crimes that he committed were not completely addressed,” said attorney Aton Fon Filho, a victim of torture during the military dictatorship. “Ustra was a torturer, a criminal. The fact that he was not judged, that the acts that his actions were shamelessly covered up by the STF (Federal Supreme Court), against the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, demonstrates that Brazil’s judicial system is still designed to protect criminals at the service of the dominant class.”
Renan Quinalha, another attorney and member of the Truth Commission, added that “choosing whom we punish is symptomatic of our society. While a maid can be arrested for stealing a bon bon, Ustra, responsible for deaths and grave human rights violations, his impunity remains. This is why torturing, killings, and disappearances persist in our democracy.”
In 2016, during the parliamentary vote to start impeachment hearings against former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, then-Congressman Jair Bolsonaro took to the lectern and, before voting in favor of the motion, paid homage to Ustra. “They lost in 64. They lost in 2016. For families and the innocence of children in school classrooms, of which the PT [Workers’ Party] never had. Against communism. For our liberty. Against São Paulo Forum. In memory of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, the dread of Dilma Rousseff…For our armed forces. For Brazil above everything and God above us all, I vote yes.” In subsequent years Bolsonaro would refer to Ustra as a “national hero.”
Lula has opted out of GSI protection for now, choosing the federal police for security instead. Following the 8th of January attacks in Brasília, the president mandated that an emergency decree remain in effect until the end of January. Describing the rioters as “vandals…fascists…[and] fanatics,” he blamed the mayhem on his predecessor and military officials hostile to his third term in office.
Ronaldo Ribeiro Travasso, a GSI military official, stated that he was “certain the thief [alluding to Lula] would not ascend the ramp” to be sworn in as president on January 1st. When asked why he believed that, Ribeiro Travasso said “because I trust in the people at the QG [Army General Barracks], in barracks across Brazil. I trust the truck drivers and the Indians. If the armed forces do nothing, we’ll do it.”
Persistency and Consistency
Days before the inauguration ceremony, police in Brasília detained and charged George Washington de Oliveira Sousa and Alan Diego dos Santos Rodrigues with placing a bomb beside a fuel tanker near Brasília’s International Airport. However, flames against a potential third-term presidency were being fueled before he ascended the ramp.
In July 2022, Brazil’s vice-president and former army general Hamilton Mourão, said Lula “is not respected by the armed forces.” The previous year he called the ex-president a “mannequin,” someone who operates in “analog,” while Bolsonaro’s administration functions “digitally.” He added that it “has been widely proven in three instances that he [Lula] is involved in corruption and money laundering.”
“A coup attempt” was how Brazil’s Minister of Communication, Paulo Pimenta, described the attacks. “It was worse than what happened in the U.S. Capitol because here the three powers of government were invaded.” Camped in front of army headquarters countrywide ever since Lula’s presidential victory on August 31, hard-line Bolsonaro supporters, believing unfounded claims of election fraud, pleaded for military intervention. Their claims, rebutted by the Electoral Supreme Court and with no concrete interventionist steps taken, loyalists of the former president blocked roadways and ignited vehicles less than 24 hours after Lula’s victory. Shortly after assuming office, Lula ordered the military to decamp the interventionist-seekers at their doorsteps but no action was taken until after the attacks on January 8.
Eventually, over 1,400 rioters were arrested. Since then, Supreme Court Justice, Alexandre de Moraes, has maintained 942 of the detainees in prison, while 464 were released on cautionary measures, such as the use of an ankle monitoring device.
Triangle of Peril
Some Lula supporters fiddle with the idea that the U.S. response to the attacks in Brasília is “correct.” U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, in part, that “using violence to attack democratic institutions is always unacceptable.” Forty-one U.S. congressional representatives, all from the Democratic Party, have signed a letter urging President Joe Biden’s administration to revoke Bolsonaro’s U.S. visa and called for an FBI probe into his possible involvement with the January 8 riots in Brasília.
The former head of state, refusing to hand the official presidential banner to Lula on inauguration day, flew to Orlando, Florida, just days before the ceremony. However, no such investigation was requested in relation to the 13 FBI agents operating in Brazil, participants, directly or indirectly, in the maligned evolution of the Car Wash scandal and judicial hearings.
The same qualifies for Karine Moreno-Taxman, the former U.S. Department of Justice’s Resident Legal Counsel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Brasília in 2007. During her tenure in Brazil she was a mentor of Sergio Moro, the former federal judge who condemned and sentenced Lula to 12 years and 11 months in prison on charges of corruption and money laundering. U.S. officials, by-and-large, held their tongues about any miscarriage of justice in his case, a textbook lawfare operation bar none. The former president would go on to spend 1.5 years in prison before being absolved of all 25 charges and inquiries.
Also, Anderson Torres, Brasília’s Secretary of Public Security as of January 1st, and Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Justice and Public Security, went on holiday to the U.S. prior to the attacks in Brasília. Just eight days into his new post he was removed from office and, upon his return to Brazil, arrested by federal police citing dereliction of duty.
The Biden administration has expressed unhappiness and confusion about events in Brazil as well as Peru with the ouster and imprisonment of former President Pedro Castillo and killing of protesters by newly installed President Dina Boluarte. It is as if the official statements released by the U.S. and British governments following the 11 of September (1973) attacks were nothing short of lament and sorrow for the fate of Chilean President Salvador Allende—“it was never an honest word,” recalled Coldplay in its hit song “Viva La Vida.”
As of January 17, seventeen days into his third presidential term, Lula remains in hotel accommodations in Brasília, still unable to relocate to the Alvorada Palace due to material damage and security concerns. Whether or not his government’s efforts to gain control over the military will succeed remains to be seen—a military institution that has metastasized in conviction and function against a presumed communist “domino effect” threat dating back to the early 1960s and has never been held accountable nor paid for its crimes during its 20-year dictatorship.
One thing is for sure: It has become a top government priority. If it were not for the military, the non-stop media roar referencing Lula, through commission or omission, as “corrupt” and ideologically politicizing, the armed forces might very well serve as precursors for another lawfare campaign.
In an effort to confront the barrage of fake news, Brazil’s executive branch has suggested a more proactive approach. Whereas punishment for the publication of misinformation and disinformation baring legal ramifications remains the sole responsibility of the judiciary, an institution that has proven insufficient in the role, Lula’s government has suggested the intervention of the Attorney General of the Republic (AGU) in such cases. Some specialists claim that such a move would set a precedent representing a risk to “freedom of expression,” a means to instrumentalize the executive branch to go after critics and opponents.
As of January 23rd, at least 90 military officials stationed at Brazil’s official presidential palace have been removed from their post. Of this total, thirty-eight were GSI members.
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