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”Aqui a gente faz polícia de espetáculo” – The Coup, the Army, and How ‘Quasi’ our Dictatorship Is

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Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Brazil is currently living under a coup government. There is no disinterested discussion over this issue; there is no middle ground. The country is being governed by one of the most hated politicians in Brazil, Michel Temer, a non-elected president who could truthfully say, “fear is my last name” (Temer translates directly as, to fear).¹  In those terms, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Literally.

Brazil’s coup, just as any other Staatsstreich everywhere else around the globe, is strongly denied as such by the de facto government and its institutions. Setting aside for the moment the blatant unconstitutionality of elected President Dilma Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment, it is momentous to analyze the scope and implications of Michel Temer’s ongoing belligerent use of the federal government.

The Presidential Decree

On February 16, Temer’s presidential decree initiated a so-called “Federal Intervention” in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The decree evokes the need for a “Garantia da Lei e da Ordem” (Law and Order Guarantee, GLO), appointing General Walter Souza Braga Netto as “the Intervenor.”²

The presidential decree gives Braga Netto all the means necessary for the achievement of the intervention’s goals,” which include the financial, technological, structural, and human resources capacities of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, Temer granted the Intervenor clearance to command any [federal government] agency, civil and military, of the State, in the same teleological fashion.

With his decree, Temer has placed Braga Netto hierarchically above the elected State Governor of Rio de Janeiro and below only himself. The very mandate of the law is precarious; as it directly states, “[The Intervenor] is not subjected to State Laws that happen to conflict with the necessary measures of the intervention.”

Expert Criticism of the Military Intervention

Immediately after the decree was issued, the Governor of Maranhão, Flávio Dino (PCdoB – Partido Comunista do Brasil, Communist Party of Brazil),  the legitimacy of the presidential decree via Twitter: “There are some juridically abnormal rules in the Intervention’s Decree on Rio. For example, ‘the intervenor’s role is of a MILITARY nature.’ And also the ‘revocation’ of state’s norms. What Constitutional Law is this???” [style original to Twitter post].³

For those unfamiliar with Brazil’s domestic politics, it must be highlighted that Dino is not a standard politician, but a former Federal Judge. Like many Brazilians jurists, his criticism of Temer’s administration is connected to the democratic illegitimacy of the post-coup federal government, which is driven by a strong neoliberal agenda that has been rejected by the nation in every election since 2002.

“Maybe Temer wants to broadcast to the population that he is working,” suggests Celso Amorim, Brazil’s former Minister of Foreign Relations. “At first glance, it is possible that the measure would produce a positive psychological effect, for it has a spectacular flavor [as in dramatic, theatrical content].” Amorim’s valuable interpretation corroborates speculations that Temer still has some semblance of plans to run for president later this year. Giving that he is repudiated by 92 percent of the Brazilians, it only makes sense that the illegitimate president would try to allure the conservative masses with a tried-and-true tactic: drawing on the public’s fear and feigning the need for public security through police action, citing criminality as the root cause.

‘We must take down those Criminals if we want to be Safe!’

Whether voluntarily or not, the word criminality paints a stereotype of the individual “criminal,” meaning the person who commits a crime. But the hegemonic use of the term “criminality” in this incautious manner suggests that crime—as a social conceptoriginates from the individuals of a given community (e.g. favela homeowners), instead of from the macrostructure that generates violence within its own framework of labor exploitation, wealth concentration, and structural racism.

Knowing this, the discourse of public security as opposed to “criminality” is an antiquated trope of the right-wing agenda: oversimplifying social crises and overlooking structural problems, this rhetoric presents the government as a mere guard-dog of property and privileges. It is the epitomical definition of a police state.

As stated by Igor Leone and Brenno Tardelli, lawyers from the Brazilian progressive think-tank Justificando, in a conversational manner: “For years, we’ve lived in a failed state on education, health, transportation, housing, and the guys pick just one aspect to address: Security, as if it were just an isolated matter, instead of another symptom of the overall crisis.”

[Real] Prospects of the Military Intervention

Temer’s recent attention toward public security is not, by definition, a long-term policy aimed at the resolution of urban violence in Rio de Janeiro and throughout Brazil. The use of brutal, militarized force as the only way to “fight criminals” further aggravates social and racial inequality, exposing the poor to state violence and exacerbating the drug cartels’ retaliation against it.

The use of brutal force against “organized crime” encourages cartels, for example, to purchase more weapons (many of those from the police itself); consequently, drug-dealers are compelled to fund its organizations, which further aggravates public insecurity.

As seen, the vicious cycle demands more than blind force in order to be broken. “In terms of research […] it is the discrete activity (not the noisy, spectacular one) of investigation and intelligence that is able to dismantle criminal economies,” affirms Professor Jaqueline Muniz, expert on public security at the Universidade Federal Fluminense. The professor, during a live interview, denounced the “theater rationale” of Rio’s police and its “political rewards, electoral rewards, media rewards, but with little tangible outcome.”

Aqui a gente faz polícia de espetáculo,” said Professor Muniz with great depth. This sentence, due to its structure and nuance, could never be translated fairly. Essentially, Professor Muniz is saying  that the Brazilian standard of policing “is just for show”; meanwhile, it highlights the “theater rationale” of the operations in Brazil’s favela’s; but, above all, it might mean that Brazil’s very definition of “police” is just an actor in a play, using lethal violence for nothing more than dramatic purpose, as if we Brazilians constantly live our lives on a stage… But, heads-up: the play is an unfinished tragedy of terrible taste.

A wise man once wrote, “To formulate a question is, in itself, to contemplate the answer.” Along this train of thought, given Brazil’s current coup d’état status and the significant number of Brazilians (at home and in the United States) attempting to deny the coup by pointing out discrepancies in its characterization, trying to make a point that we are not living under a dictatorship – yet.   Now, it begs the question: how quasi is our dictatorship?

Democracy has Left the Building

Pro-coup outlets often rely on legal language—with a generous splash of Latin—to talk themselves out of the realm of layman’s understanding with a self-declared eloquence, thus avoiding any questioning of the State of Exception.

Such was the case when Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber denied a petition questioning the constitutionality of the “federal intervention,” submitted by Brazilian lawyer Rafael Fachinello.

Without going into further detail, the case put forth by Fachinello exposes how impractical it is to defend the inexistent lawfulness of the decree since it breaks the brazilian organized federalist division of governance among the political entities. Justice Weber, cornered by the legal points brought to court, instead chose to promptly dismiss the case using technical subterfuges to bury the issue.

On the other hand, Minister of Justice Torquato Jardim is clear as to the exclusionist agenda of the de facto Temer government. As gathered by investigative journalist João Paulo Charleux, Jardim presents his point-of-view about the struggles faced by security forces: “You see a cute little child, [about] 12 years old, going into a public school, [but] you do not know what they are going to do after school. It is very complicated. [Maybe he] has a gun and [maybe that same kid] has already killed four [people]. What now?” Faced with such an unlikely dilemma, the Minister obtusely concludes that “Anyone can be the enemy, there is no uniform, you do not know what the weapon is. You are ready [to engage] against everything and everyone, all the time..”

Torquato Jardim forgot, or did not bother to mention, that those “cute little” potential enemies are citizens as well. He says, unapologetically, that “everyone can be the enemy” and “there is no uniform.” Jardim’s remarks reinforce the problematic narrative championed by the Brazilian right wing:  that everyone living in favelas can be the enemy, thus making blackness the enemy uniform.

The Rise of Brazilian Fascism Emerged from the Bloodstains on Uniforms (I)

Brazil is currently living under a coup government, if not a dictatorship. The illegitimate occupant of the presidency has deployed the federal army to target a phenotypically distinct part of the population in order to look more appealing to the aristocratic classes; a scene which resembles Germany at the time of the infamous 1943 speech by Joseph Goebbels, in which he asked the German middle class: “Do you want a total war?”

In a matter of fact, this “total war” is nothing new in the country. Every 21 minutes, a young black citizen is killed in Brazil. Every year, 23,100 young black people are victims of murder. There is an ongoing genocide of the black population in Brazil, articulated side-by-side with the dismantlement of social policy programs that had aimed to improve life and opportunities for black youth.¹⁰

Marielle Franco’s Assassination

We were reminded of this reality once again on the night of March 14, when Rio City Councilwoman Marielle Franco was assassinated by several gunshots.¹¹ Franco, a 38 year-old sociologist with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, was a prominent voice of the Brazilian left, but more than that, she was a voice for the very same communities that are now occupied by the army and the military police at Temer’s bidding.

Franco dedicated her life to denouncing the atrocities perpetrated by law enforcement against the poor black communities of Rio de Janeiro. Just four days before her assassination, Marielle brought to light the misconduct of the 41° Batalhão da Polícia Militar (41st Battalion of the Military Police) on Acari Community, where police killed two young boys, dumped their remains in the trash, and threatened the community with further violence to ensure their silence.¹² In June 2016, the same police section brutally murdered three young black men and two teenagers with 111 gunshots, as the group was out celebrating a recent job offer.¹³

Michel Temer, in a despicable attempt to harness political capital from Marielle’s assassination, declared that it is “because of this” sort of crime that the military forces were deployed to black communities. Without heart or political acuity, the unelected president accuses abstract “organized crime” of murdering Marielle, saying, “criminal organizations will not kill our future. We will destroy [them] first.”¹⁴

Attempting to capitalize on the public commotion and fear caused by Franco’s execution while struggling to control the narrative around the shooting, the de facto president reduces Marielle’s assassination to a petty community crime. But this callous behavior is just another transparent attempt to silence her voice and her legacy, heard by so many Brazilians. In Marielle Franco’s own words: “moving into the political space is the first step toward reducing inequality. Are you with me?”¹⁵

The 2016 coup is more than a minor political issue, just as Marielle’s murder is more than a random act of violence. Each of these acts represents the further destruction of a peaceful and integrated future for Brazil. The (white) elite’s use of brutal force to assure illegitimate power is nothing but muscle memory: slavery’s legacy remains their only logic of social domination.

The Rise of Brazilian Fascism Emerged from the Bloodstains On Uniforms (II)

“Rio de Janeiro is a test lab for Brazil”, said Braga Netto as the Intervenor, wearing a military outfit at a press conference; an anachronistic image that left no one without chills.¹⁶ Adding to this, Army Commander General Eduardo Villas Bôas stated that the intervening military should be guaranteed the freedom to act “without the risk of another Truth Commission,” referring to the establishment of the National Truth Commission (2011-2014), which was set up to investigate the crimes committed by the state, including those perpetrated during the 1964-1985 Military dictatorship.¹⁷ ¹⁸

In the allegorical Brazilian theater of politics, the power-hungry Army is one step away from taking the stage from the “Spectacle Police,” consequently engulfing the cheering audience, the theater, the bystanders and the whole city.

Brazil’s 2018 dictatorship is a work-in-progress.

Additional editorial support provided by Aline Piva, Research Fellow, Liliana Muscarella, Extramural  Research Fellow, and the Research Associates Olivia Anderson, Alexandra Gale and Keith Carr at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

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