Are we sure this is… Legal?

Many mainstream journalists, national and international, are prevented editorially from using the word “Coup” or even “Soft Coup” to describe Brazil’s situation, even in a personal capacity (An easy way to fact-check that is to ask them). Others swim with the tide and defer to the resulting skewed “consensus”. Some will, off-record, voice fears of professional repercussion, and in a precarious economy who can blame them? Given that a mountain of expert opinion including a UN panel, a Senate committee, and a myriad of local and foreign experts all affirm that Rousseff’s impeachment has no legal basis, there’s inevitable self-censorship and cognitive dissonance.

As a result of this, a compromise narrative has emerged in which Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment is “dubious”, but the process is “entirely legal”. Immediately this equivocation raises red flags.

In her 1979 book ‘United States Penetration of Brazil’, author Jan K. Black cited Brazilian Journalist Genival Rabelo, who characterised the dilemma facing his profession, even before the Coup of 1964, in the following terms:

“This is the sad choice, to swim against the current, standing firm on a legacy of convictions … or to leave ourselves at the mercy of the current, fattening ourselves like pigs for — who knows? — the inexorable sacrifice of the great feast of the conquerors”

For those unfamiliar with Latin American history and specifically its Coup d’états, this quote describes how the Government of Augusto Pinochet -following the overthrow of Socialist Salvador Allende - manufactured the appearance of legitimacy & legality.

“Instead of defying the juridical order, the junta utilized it to construct an elaborate facade of legitimacy around dictatorial rule. Recognizing Chile’s traditional respect for and observance of the rule of law, General Pinochet utilized the letter of the law to violate its spirit, and created the perfect fascist legal system to process “enemies of the state.” Constitutionally authorized states of exception were employed to their maximum effect. The jurisdiction of wartime military tribunals was expanded to encompass civilian violators of a multitude of crimes. In 1980, Pinochet presided over the drafting of a new constitution affirming and validating the legal system he had created by decree. Human rights violations were systemic, and fear and terror became institutionalized.”

Similar can of course be said about Brazil’s own Coup of 1964, which defeated Presidential Candidate Aecio Neves, as recently as 2014 referred to as “A Revolution”. Even more similar is what happened in Brazil following the Institutional act 5 in 1968 (AI-5), the “Coup within the Coup”. AI-5 was coincidentally (or not) drafted by the father of Miguel Reale Jr, co-author of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment.

The language of Government in the decades of dictatorship which followed was that of “Civil-Military” rule, a phrase which persists amongst many conservatives to this day, not least with the most vociferous supporters of Dilma Rousseff’s removal, by whatever means necessary, legal or not.

Gilmar Mendes, Justice of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court
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