Amidst the political crisis, criticism even from his allies and the threat of giving reasons for an impeachment request, president lowers the tone of his defense of the military dictatorship, which will complete its 55-year anniversary on Sunday
Camila Abrão and Fernando Martins
In the middle of a week filled with conflicts with the National Congress, president Jair Bolsonaro opened another flank to be targeted by criticism, increase the political crisis and even provide reasons for an impeachment request: the “celebration” of the 55 years of the 1964 military coup, next Sunday (31).
The opposition, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF), civil society entities and even some of the president’s allies criticized his intention of celebrating the military dictatorship (1964-1985). The MPF warned that celebrating the coup could be an impeachable offense – and that could lead to his removal from office. Besides, the possibility of celebrating the coup was also another element to increase the crisis between Bolsonaro and Speaker of the House Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ) – who is the son a politician exiled by the dictatorship.
In the end, Bolsonaro backed down: he transformed the “celebration” into a “remembrance” of the coup. And the Army command commissioned judicial reports to decide whether they will maintain the activities scheduled for Sunday.
The “due celebrations”
Last Monday (25), the presidential spokesman, general Otávio Rêgo Barros, announced “due celebrations” would be held on March 31. At the time, Rêgo Barros also added that Bolsonaro did not consider that the seizure of power by the military had been a coup.
In an interview with journalist José Luiz Datena, Bolsonaro classified as “small problems” what happened during the regime, comparing it to a marriage. “We have to know the truth. I don’t mean it has been wonderful; no regime is wonderful. Which marriage is wonderful? Every now and then there is a small problem, it is a rare thing for a couple not to have any problems, right?”, he said during TV Band’s Brasil Urgente.
The impeachment threat
The idea of “celebrating” the coup placed the government under scrutiny by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecution offices of the Republic coordinated actions in at least 19 states recommending military commands and barracks of the Armed Forces to refrain from any form of celebration of the 1964 military coup.
A document of the Federal Attorney General’s office points out that such celebrations violate the Federal Constitution, and adds that the president should also be subjected to the country’s laws: “Not having the discretionary power of disregarding all legal provisions which recognize the regime which began in March 31, 1964, as anti-democratic, (…) the Brazilian state’s duty is not only that of addressing the damages suffered by victims of abuses committed by the state during the aforementioned period, but also not to inflict on them new forms of suffering, something that would certainly be caused by an official celebration of the beginning of a regime responsible for severe human rights violations.”
The Office of the Federal Prosecutor for the Rights of Citizens, an organ under the umbrella of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, was even more incisive, and, in a statement, claimed that Bolsonaro could be charged with an impeachable offense for authorizing the celebration of the coup. “The support of a president of the Republic or high officials would also be an impeachable offense (article 85 of the Constitution, and Law 1,079/1950). The alleged motivations for the coup – of a controversial and disputed narrative – are absolutely irrelevant to justify a movement of an unconstitutional overthrow of a democratic government, in any hypothesis and context,” points out the statement made by the institution.
Article 85 stipulates that attempting against the free exercise of the three branches of government is an impeachable offense which may cause the removal of a president from his office. The Prosecutor’s Office understands that celebrating the coup may be considered an attack against this constitutional principle. “It must be remembered that, in 1964, the 1946 Constitution was in force, and it established direct elections for the office of president of the Republic. The mandate of then-president João Goulart was following its normal course, after the renunciation of Jânio Quadros and the popular decision, through a referendum, of not continuing with the parliamentary experiment. Even though it was being contested and suffering from severe crises, which are not rare in the Brazilian political dynamic, as well as in other states which follow the rule of law, it was a constitutionally legitimate government,” the Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.
Victims and relatives of victims of the dictatorship have also filed a writ of mandamus in the Federal Supreme Court (STF) requesting the suspension of the president’s determination, and that any presidential norm which forced federal public organs to celebrate the date should be prohibited, even if they already existed. The judge who will analyze the matter is justice Gilmar Mendes. A lawsuit has also been filed in the São Paulo Federal Court.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the president is celebrating a “brutal dictatorship”. PSDB, PT, and PSoL have also repudiated any possible celebrations of the date.
Even allies criticized
Bolsonaro’s statements managed to displease even supporters of the president. State congressman Janaina Paschoal (PSL-SP) said the government “has to turn the page” and not govern “with its heads in 1964.” Musician Lobão, who supported Bolsonaro during the electoral campaign, recorded a video in which he criticized the period of the dictatorship.
Members of the military within the government were much more restrained than Bolsonaro, although they have also defended the 1964 coup. “The term ‘celebration’, in the military sphere, is not appropriate. We will remember and mark a historical date which Brazil went through, with a decisive participation of the Armed Forces, as we have always done,” said the Defense minister, general Fernando Azevedo e Silva, on Tuesday (26).
In a statement with orientations for the proceedings in the barracks on next Sunday, the military high command emphasizes the “transition for a democracy”. Vice-president and general Hamilton Mourão, a defender of the military regime, recognized the legitimacy of groups who oppose the regime to file requests in the courts to prevent acts of celebration in the date.
Speaker of the House Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), with whom Bolsonaro has been exchanging spats for more than a week, also declared being displeased with the “celebration” of March 31. On Wednesday (27), when questioned if he supported or opposed the celebration of the coup, he answered: “I am the son of a political exile.” Rodrigo’s father, former Rio de Janeiro César Maia, had to flee to Chile during the military regime due to his opposition against the regime. Maia is even Chilean by birth.
With the entire repercussion of the case, and amidst the crisis with Congress, On Thursday (28), Bolsonaro lowered his tone and denied he had made any determination for the Ministry of Defense in order to “celebrate” the coup. “It wasn’t about celebrating, but remembering, looking at what is wrong, what is right, and using it for the good of Brazil in the future,” he said while attending an event in the Military Courts.
The Army command gave orientations maintaining “previously scheduled solemnities” for March 31st, but informed that it is expecting judicial reports from two sectors about the issue. The caution has been adopted after the recommendation made by the Federal Prosecutor’s Court that the Armed Forces should refrain “from promoting or taking part in any public demonstration, in a military or uniformed environment, to celebrate or pay tribute to the period of exception installed after the military coup.”
Some ministers have shown themselves aligned with the president during the week. Foreign minister Ernesto Araújo said he does not consider the seizure of power by the military in 1964 a coup, when questioned about the subject in the Foreign Relations Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. “I don’t consider it a coup. I consider it was a necessary move to prevent Brazil from becoming a dictatorship. I don’t have the slightest doubt about that,” he said.
Women, Family and Human Rights minister Damares Alves said she planned to review the financial compensation granted by the Amnesty Commission. “These little boxes will be opened, right now, in this ministry. We want to understand whether everyone who needed this amnesty has been seen to, or if someone was left behind. We will also analyze the compensations which have been granted. There has been a great demand for this ministry to do this, in a very transparent way,” said the minister in an event which installed in office the 27 counselors of the collegiate body.
The Amnesty Commission has been instituted in 2002, during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, to analyze petitions of people who have been politically persecuted from 1946 to 1988.
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Em meio à crise política, críticas até mesmo de aliados e à ameaça de dar motivo a um pedido de impeachment, presidente baixa o tom na defesa da ditadura militar, que no domingo completa 55 anos