Photo Jonathan Blair

Friday, April 30, 2021

Bolsonaro and the Brazilian military

Reacting on Facebook to my recent piece on Lula in Open Canada, Fraser Taylor pointed out that, aside from the Covid situation, the key variable was the role of the military: "the role of the military. I think that a coup is unlikely but who will the military support and what deals will be made."
I answered that "the military issue is complicated. Bolsonaro's has strong support among the rank and file, as he does among the states-based "military police," which has its own command in each state, and 50% more members than the federal military. Officers are another story: Bolsonaro has talked the talk and brought several generals in his cabinet--and they have brought other officers in their own cabinets. When he talks about "his" military and disrespect standard rules of promotion, however, the establishment is reminded that he was expelled for violating military discipline as a captain, and they don't like that at all. Lastly: Brazil will be a mess for at least another decade and they may want to leave the management of the mess to civilians..."
Here is more meat around that bone: As the Thais Oyama suggests, the top brass are doing their best to protect the military from the increasingly broad backlash against Bolsonaro's criminal mismanagement of the COVID crisis.
Here is the Google translation of a column on a recent letter by the head of the Military Club and the link to the letter itself:

Thaís Oyama

Pazuello's summons to COVID Parliamentary Commission Inquiry [CPI] irritates the Army and makes the Military Club go wild

04/29/2021 11h52

The president of the Military Club, Reserve Division General Eduardo José Barbosa, published yesterday a text in which he defends the application, by the Executive Power, of the infamous article 142 of the Constitution - the one that talks about the use of the Armed Forces to guarantee "the law and the order "and which is brandished by President Jair Bolsonaro every time he feels run over by the Supreme Court.

In the text, General Barbosa points to the Supreme Federal Court, the National Congress, the press, Minister Gilmar Mendes [a Supreme Court Judge], ex-President Lula and Senators Omar Aziz (PSD) and Renan Calheiros (MDB) - President and CPI rapporteur for Covid. None of the characters was named in the article, entitled "The power of darkness in Brazil". In it, Eduardo José Barbosa also says that the criticized institutions "chickened out" and now want to blame President Jair Bolsonaro "for what they did not let him do".

The general's text needs to be read in perspective.

The Military Club, a bunker for Army reserve officers, is the Force's most strident political voice. There, the generals, free from the restraints of active duty, shout at will against whom and what they want. General Hamilton Mourão presided over the Club when he accepted to be candidate for vice on Bolsonaro's slate, when he called Colonel Brilhante Ustra, a former DOI-CODI [military investigation units during the dictatorship, infamous for their use of torture] chief and the first military man to be recognized by the courts as a torturer, as a hero.

But if General Barbosa's text is one or two shades higher than what even some of his most prominent reserve colleagues would adopt, it is certain that, at some points, it reflects precisely what even active duty officials think.

As one of them says: "It is intolerable to hear someone like Renan [the President of the CPI, a conservative anti-Bolsonaro who happens to be one of the most corrupt members of Congress] wanting to teach a moral lesson and summoning a uniformed general to testify".

Covid's CPI scheduled for next Wednesday the testimony of the former Minister of Health, General Eduardo Pazuello, who is still active and is now in the General Secretariat of the Army, in Brasilia.

Not that Pazuello is very prestigious in the ranks of the Force. The maskless parade he performed in a shopping mall in Manaus last Sunday even angered the Army High Command (those who attended the inauguration ceremony of the new commander, General Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira, could see how the members of the institution take the recommendations of the anti-covid manual to the letter: with the exception of Minister Braga Netto [the new Minister of Defense], who took off his mask for a moment when speaking, no one was without it for a second).
Pazuello's display of nonchalance in the mall, therefore, was seen as deserving even of a public reprimand by the Force command, which did not happen.

But it is one thing for a general to suffer internal criticism from his peers and quite another to be "publicly embarrassed by people like Renan", as an active official in the government says.

General Barbosa's text may call attention to the stridency, but it contains a message shared by generals, from active duty and in pajamas: it will be noisy if Covid's CPI, when targeting Pazuello, hits the Army.