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The New York Times warns of possible military self-coup in Brazil

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The threats revolve around the president: daily deaths from the virus in Brazil are now the highest in the world. Investors are fleeing the country. The president, his children and his allies are under investigation. Your choice could even be revoked.

The crisis has become so intense that some of Brazil’s most powerful military figures warn of instability, causing shudders that they could take over and dismantle Latin America’s largest democracy.

But far from denouncing the idea, the president’s inner circle Jair Bolsonaro seems to be demanding that the military enter the fray. In fact, one of the president’s sons, a congressman who praised the country’s former military dictatorship, said that a similar institutional breakdown was inevitable.

It is no longer an opinion on whether it will happen, but when this will happen,” the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, recently told a prominent Brazilian blogger, warning of what he called an impending “break” in Brazil’s democratic system.

The confrontation draws a sinister arc for Brazil, a country that got rid of military rule in the 1980s and built a prosperous democracy in its wake. In two decades, Brazil had come to represent the energy and promise of the developing world, with a booming economy and the right to host the World Cup and the Olympics.

Since then, its economy has faltered, corruption scandals have toppled or trapped many of its leaders, and a battle of impeachment toppled its powerful left-wing government.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, entered this melee, celebrating the country’s military past and vowing to restore order. But he has been criticized for minimizing the virus, sabotaging isolation measures and chivalrously presiding over one of the highest death tolls in the world, saying: “We are sorry for all the dead, but that is everyone’s destiny.”

He, his family, and his followers are also being prosecuted for accusations such as abuse of power, corruption, and illegal disclosure of misinformation. However, almost half of his cabinet is made up of military figures, and now, according to critics, he is confident of the threat of military intervention to avoid challenges to his presidency.

A retired general in Bolsonaro’s cabinet, Augusto Heleno, the national security adviser, rocked the nation in May when he warned of “unpredictable consequences for national stability” after the Supreme Court delayed an investigation into Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Another general, the defense minister, quickly supported the provocation, while Bolsonaro also lashed out, suggesting that the police ignore the court’s “absurd orders“.

This is destabilizing the country, just during a pandemic,” Sergio Moro, the former justice minister who broke with Bolsonaro in April, said of the threats of military intervention. “It is reprehensible. The country does not need to live with this type of threat.”

Political leaders and analysts say military intervention remains unlikely. Still, the possibility looms over the nation’s democratic institutions, which are analyzing Bolsonaro and his family on multiple fronts.

Two of the president’s sons are under investigation for the type of disinformation and defamation campaigns that helped get his father elected in 2018, and late last month the federal police raided several properties linked to influential Bolsonaro allies. The Superior Electoral Tribunal, which oversees the elections, has the authority to use evidence from the investigation to annul the elections and remove Bolsonaro from office.

Two of his children are also under investigation for corruption, and the Supreme Court recently authorized an investigation into allegations that Bolsonaro attempted to replace the federal police chief to protect his family and friends.

Even the president’s handling of the pandemic is under legal threat: On Monday, a Supreme Court judge ordered the government to stop deleting data on the increasing death toll in Brazil.

Threats of military intervention have provoked a violent reaction, including from some high-ranking members of the armed forces. And General Heleno, the national security adviser, said later that he did not support a coup, arguing that it was misunderstood.

Still, military and civilian officials from Bolsonaro’s own administration, as well as the president’s allies in Congress, evangelical mega-churches and military associations, say the manoeuvres aim to prevent any attempt by legislative and judicial institutions. from Brazil to overthrow the president.

Silas Malafaia, a right-wing televangelist close to Bolsonaro, insisted that the president had not told him of any plans for military intervention. Still, he argued that the armed forces had the right to prevent the courts from overshooting or even removing the president.

That is not a hit,” said Malafaia. “It is instilling order where there is disorder.”

Officials pro-Bolsonaro issuing such threats usually do not refer to how the blows were carried out often in Latin America, with the armed forces overthrew a civilian leader to install your own.

Instead, they appear to be urging something similar to what happened in Peru in 1992, when Alberto Fujimori, the right-wing leader, used the armed forces to dissolve Congress, reorganize the judiciary, and persecute political opponents.

Bolsonaro, who still receives the support of about 30 per cent of Brazilians, already introduces himself as the embodiment of Brazilian military culture, presenting the armed forces as efficient and ethical managers.

Brazil’s armed forces already exert an exceptional influence on its government. Military figures, including retired four-star generals, represent 10 of 22 cabinet ministersThe government appointed nearly 2,900 active duty military members to administrative positions.

The influence of Brazil’s armed forces was showcased when congressional leaders mostly exempted them from a 2019 pension review, allowing members of the military to avoid the deeper benefit cuts suffered by other parts of the society.

Bolsonaro’s pandemic response showed the growing profile of the military in his government, as well as the risks to military leaders when Brazilians begin to attribute blame as things go wrong.

Building on Brazil’s public health successes in fighting past epidemics, the Ministry of Health lobbied early in the crisis to take social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. Even Bolsonaro seemed to agree with the approach, deterring supporters from attending street demonstrations. Then he abruptly changed his posture, knocking his followers out of his palace.

Bolsonaro also changed the leadership of the pandemic response to another general, Walter Souza Braga Netto, it’s chief of staff.

On the sidelines and hindering the expansion of the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug promoted by Bolsonaro that has not been shown to be effective against the virus, the health minister was replaced. His successor lasted only a few weeks until he resigned, replaced by an army general, Eduardo Pazuello.

A former health ministry official said the abrupt changes created a sense of chaos within the agency, resulting in weeks of dysfunction and paralysis at the most crucial moment, when the country should have been struggling with the uncontrolled spread of the virus.

Separately, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the health minister at the start of the pandemic, said Bolsonaro appreciated economic stability over health priorities, preferring a military figure in command of the ministry.

“I needed someone like a general or a colonel who saw ministry as a stepping stone, a way to get a promotion for bravery,” said Mandetta.

Brazil now has more than 700,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, second only to the United States. At least 37,000 people died from the virus in Brazil as of Tuesday, and the death count often increased by more than 1,000 a day.

The turmoil in Brazil is leading investors to rush through the exits. Capital flight is reaching levels never seen since the 1990s. The World Bank expects the economy to contract 8 per cent this year. Auto production, a once-thriving pillar of the economy, has plummeted to its lowest level since the 1950s.

Carlos Fico, a historian from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro studying the Brazilian army, said that the growing power of the armed forces carries the risk of revealing its incompetence in crucial areas.

They think that the gigantic declarations will make things happen as in the military sphere, where an order is given and those of lower rank obey,” said Fico.

But now that the military is guiding the response to the pandemic, Fico added: “They risk being blamed by society for what will happen next.”

Bolsonaro’s main allies insist that the armed forces have no plans for a coup. “No four-star general is in favour of military intervention,” said Sostenes Cavalcante, a right-wing congressman.

But at the same time, Cavalcante argued that something must be done to curb the power of the Supreme Court. He argued that the talk of a coup d’etat by Bolsonaro’s son was simply a way to put pressure on the judiciary. “It could be interpreted that the Supreme Court has exceeded its authority,” said Cavalcante.

At the same time, some Bolsonaro administration officials are actively examining scenarios in which the military could intervene. A government military officer who was not authorized to speak in public said an intervention remained off the radar for the time being, but that certain movements of the judiciary, such as ordering a search at Bolsonaro’s palace as part of an investigation, could change that.

Similarly, the official added, any possible annulment of the 2018 elections by a judge would also be considered unacceptable, because it would eliminate not only Bolsonaro but also his running mate and vice president, Hamilton Mourão, a retired general.

Mourão has repeatedly stated that no type of military acquisition is being considered. But even the debate over military intervention is raising concern about the resilience of Brazil’s democratic institutions and the return to chronic political instability, with constant military meddling.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former civilian president who was exiled during the military dictatorship, said he did not believe that a coup was imminent. But he was concerned that Bolsonaro’s intimidation tactics might escalate.

How do democracies die? No military coup is needed,” Cardoso, 88, who has already urged Bolsonaro to resign, told reporters. “The president himself can seek extraordinary powers, and he can take them.”

(C) The New York Times.-

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