Is a Military Coup Possible in Brazil?

Conditions for a coup still exist in Brazil. Lula must act quickly to purge the military of potential coup plotters.

The invasion of the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on January 8 in Brasilia has become a historic landmark. It denounces the risk of the country’s democracy, which has been fragile since the advent of the Republic in 1889. Since then, there have been dozens of anti-democratic practices such as coups, self-coups and congressional closures.

The current event seemed botched, but it was ordered to act as a trigger for a new insurrection attempt by the armed forces. What did they expect? For the military authorities to resort to a misunderstood provision in article 142 of the Constitution that states that the armed forces “are destined for the defense of the homeland, to guarantee the constitutional powers”.

However, the storming of government buildings had a very negative public reception. Publicly they were labelled as riots, vandalism, terrorism, an attempted coup, not raising the public outcry for a military intervention as the right-wing extremists had hoped for.

For months Bolsonarism has been preparing for this by using disinformation and attacks on the Brazilian democratic institutions and the electoral system. During the Bolsonaro Government there was a 113% expansion of Shooting Clubs. In addition, the registration of firearms rose from 117,000 to more than 673,000, increasing 475%.

The first attempt of the far-right supporters was the obstruction of highways in various parts of Brazil. In October 2022 they had more than 500 blockade points on Brazilian highways. This was followed by the organization of protest camps in more than 23 states. From these concentrations other episodes occurred: the burning of cars and buses and the pursued invasion of the Federal Police headquarters on the day of the President-elect’s inauguration, and the attempted explosion of a tanker truck at the airport in Brasilia on Christmas Eve.

It is also worth noting that these attacks had the support and participation of sectors of the construction, transport, and agribusiness industries. In addition to these groups, research has revealed strong interference by evangelical church leaders to persuade their followers to vote and stand for Bolsonaro.

The Bolsonarist leadership expected a popular surge at each of these events. Bolsonaro lost the 2022 election, but he received more than 58 million votes. If 10% of his followers took to the streets, there could be the artifice of a “popular outcry”. For this, they count on a powerful disinformation network that connects a large part of their supporters, who receive daily updates in order to create a favorable reading of what they are advocating. How should we name this? A bubble? The Cave Myth? A Parallel World?

The military forces seem uneasy about carrying out the so-called “classic coup” – placing tanks in the streets and overthrowing the government. They want chaos and “popular outcry” for an intervention. Especially because they no longer have the backing of the judiciary and part of the media as in 2016. There is also strong international pressure in favor of the legitimacy of the elections.

On January 8, the failure of the Federal District Government, the Military Police Command, the Legislative Police, and the Presidential Battalion became evident. The omission of the military institutions indicate that they are not in favor of the elected government.

Lula will have to tackle this. But it won’t be easy. He needs so-called governability. This is only possible with a broad coalition. This implies accepting even sectors that have come closer to Bolsonarism. However, he must dismantle the coup trend that is embedded in the military agencies, especially in the Armed Forces. He has started by repealing most of the laws on guns, shooting clubs, and the sale of ammunition from the previous government.

In his favor, President Lula has the endorsement of the Brazilian Court. And after the storming of the Congress, he is expected to receive more support from the Legislative Branch. However, it is still too early to be sure that Lula will be able to undermine and prevent further attempts at a coup by the extreme right in Brazil.