Bolsonaro Might Be Deliberately Driving Brazil To Authoritarianism
Recent moves in the public security agenda could be leading the country into democratic chaos in 2022.
The fact that Brazil represents today the biggest sanitary threat to the entire international community due to the evident mismanagement of the COVID-19 epidemic within its own borders overshadows other nefarious facts and trends of the current Jair Bolsonaro administration. On top of persistent economic recession and unemployment, increasing political polarization and the melancholic dismantling and closure of ‘Operation Car Wash’ (2014–2021) — the country’s largest anti-corruption investigation task force ever –, Brazil’s president has multiple plans to further relax gun laws in the country to make these more accessible and affordable to every so-called “good citizen”. He and his staff seem of course to be inspired by the logic behind the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which has no reflection whatsoever in the Brazilian Constitution of 1988. Nevertheless, president Bolsonaro might be strategically making such moves for totally different, and potentially harmful, purposes.
According to current legislation, public security is the duty of military police institutions situated under the control of governors, i.e. the leaders of the executive branches of each of the 26 states in Brazil plus the Federal District of Brasilia, the capital of the country. Strikes (e.g. for demanding higher salaries) are stringently prohibited by law for this category. Captains, lieutenants, sergeants, majors, cornels, agents, police chiefs and officers are trained, paid and encouraged to keep the society safe and remain restricted to do their technical jobs by conducting regular surveillance, detention and intelligence operations in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world. Furthermore, Brazil displays disastrous statistics regarding crime resolutions, assassination of civilians and bad conduct by minority groups of professionals.
Contrary to what has been designated as their constitutional duties, what Brazilians have been observing throughout the past few years is the increasing participation of members of military police forces in electoral processes as candidates. In 2018, many policemen were elected to the executive and legislative branches of government, both locally and nationally. Moreover, as this workforce becomes more and more politicized, it has been serving as a strong supporting basis for the current right-wing government, which turns on the alert for the potential formation of parallel and rebellious urban militias in the future, as it has historically happened in other countries. While Brazil has a total of 420 thousand military police officials distributed in all 27 states, it keeps only 335 thousand active Armed Forces officials in the country’s army, navy and airforce combined, which evidences the actual strength and influence of such institutions.
Having this scenario as a backdrop, the list below intends to summarize and systematize the situation in which Brazil finds itself right now, which raises many concerns about potential attempts of an authoritarian adventure led by president Jair Bolsonaro in the near future, considering that presidential elections are scheduled to take place in October 2022:
1. During democratic periods — thus not considering Brazil’s military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985 –, there has never been so many Brazilian Armed Forces officials appointed to act in high-level governmental positions, places that should be supposedly occupied by qualified and technically-oriented civilians. By mid-2020, there were over six thousand military officials in Bolsonaro’s administration, representing an increase of 122% when compared with the previous tenure of president Michel Temer. Not to mention that both president Jair Bolsonaro and vice-president Hamilton Mourão took part in the military themselves.
2. The presidential degree #9,685, from 15th January 2019, altered the previous decree #5,123 which regulated Law #10,826, covering the registration, ownership and selling of firearms and ammunition, including much higher caliber guns. This meant a significant relaxation of Brazil’s gun laws by making the access to such items by regular citizens way more flexible. Since Jair Bolsonaro took over power in Brazil, his government has changed domestic gun policies 31 times until March 2021.
3. As of January 2021, Bolsonaro has eliminated import taxes for revolvers and pistols. The number of such firearms in Brazil arriving from abroad has doubled in 2020, when compared with the previous year, and tripled, when compared with 2018. In 2020 alone, 102.3 thousand items have legally entered the Brazilian market, while only 83.6 thousand units were imported over the entire precedent decade, between 2009 and 2018. By far, the US stands out as Brazil’s largest gun supplier.
4. In November 2019, the Bolsonaro administration has proposed a draft bill that intends to exempt security agents and military officials from being punished or prosecuted in specific operations — so-called Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO). The content of the ‘excludente de ilicitude’ bill is highly controversial as it overprotects State agents by considering potential crimes as acts of ‘self-defense’, by prohibiting that these professionals get arrested and by granting them with full defense by the Federal Attorney General’s Office (AGU) in potential judicial proceedings.
5. Another draft bill proposed by Bolsonaro’s staff that will be evaluated by the National Congress intends to implement a deep reform in the existing organic law of police forces by restricting states governments’ decentralized control over these institutions, by unifying their oversight at the federal level and by increasingly politicizing internal voting processes within the very police structures. Reflecting the logic of the Brazilian Armed Forces, the president plans to have all 27 existing military and civil police institutions subject to the federal government’s control, which represents a dangerous setback in the federative pact to which all three levels of government are submitted to and an imminent threat to the whole stability of the Brazilian Federation, for many reasons.
6. President Jair Bolsonaro’s proven personal proximity to the so-called ‘milícias’ in Rio de Janeiro — not to be confounded with traditional militias (e.g. a military forces that are raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency; or military forces that engage in rebel or terrorist activities in opposition to a regular army)– raises many concerns about his integrity and credibility as a legitimate commander-in-chief in Brazil. Brazilian ‘milícias’ are groups of retired policemen, military officials and firemen (i.e. former State agents) that exert and expand control in specific territories (i.e. slums and low-income settings, where the State seems to be completely absent), performing illegal or paralegal commercial activities, acting similarly to mafias.
As horrifying as it may sound, Brazilians and the entire world are now used to Bolsonaro’s modus operandi. His tactics and strategies are very well known and documented both in terms of communication and trying to pass new legislation. In many ways, the more chaotic and hostile the scenario for him, the better. The combination of the above-mentioned factors and several others indicate the president of Brazil might be deliberately building his ideal environment for late 2022, when his popularity will be tested. In case he loses the presidential elections, the country and the international community need to be prepared for witnessing something similar or even worse than the storming of the US Capitol in 6th January 2021. If politics is like a poker game, Bolsonaro plays it with open cards.