Brazilian authorities seek to punish pro-Bolsonaro rioters | lifestyle

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian authorities were picking up the pieces and investigating Monday after thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace, then destroyed the country’s highest places of power.

Protesters sought a military intervention to either restore power to far-right Bolsonaro or topple newly inaugurated leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in scenes of chaos and destruction reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 uprising at the US Capitol.

The rioters, who donned the green and yellow national flag on Sunday, smashed windows, overturned furniture, and threw computers and printers to the ground. They smashed through a massive painting by Emiliano Di Cavalcanti in five places, overturned the U-shaped table where Supreme Court judges meet, ripped the door off one judge’s office and vandalized an iconic statue outside the court. The interiors of the monumental buildings were left in ruins.

In a press conference late Sunday, Brazil’s minister for institutional relations said the buildings would be checked for evidence including fingerprints and pictures to hold people accountable, and that the rioters apparently intended to trigger similar actions nationwide. Justice Minister Flávio Dino said the acts amounted to terrorism and a coup, and that authorities had begun tracking those who paid for the buses that transported protesters to the capital.

“They failed to destroy Brazilian democracy. We have to say it fully, with all firmness and conviction,” said Dino. “We will not accept the path of crime to carry out political struggles in Brazil. A criminal is treated like a criminal.”

So far, 300 people have been arrested, the federal district civil police said on Twitter.

In the months that followed Bolsonaro’s election defeat on October 30, Brazil was on edge — questioning any path he might take to cling to power. Bolsonaro has fueled the belief among his staunch supporters that the electronic voting system is prone to fraud – although he has never produced any evidence. And his lawmaker son Eduardo Bolsonaro has met several times with Trump, Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon and his top campaign adviser, Jason Miller.

The results of Brazil’s election — the closest in more than three decades — were quickly recognized by politicians across the spectrum, including some of Bolsonaro’s allies, as well as dozens of governments. And Bolsonaro surprised almost everyone by promptly disappearing from view. He did not concede defeat, nor did he emphatically cry fraud, although he and his party submitted a request to nullify millions of votes, which was quickly rejected.

Brazilians have used electronic voting since 1996. Election security experts consider such systems less secure than hand-marked paper ballots because they leave no auditable paper trail. However, Brazil’s system is closely monitored, and neither domestic authorities nor international observers have ever found evidence that it has been used to commit fraud.

Still, Bolsonaro’s supporters refused to accept the results. They blocked roads and camped outside military buildings, urging the armed forces to intervene. The protests have been largely peaceful, but sporadic threats of terrorism – including a bomb found on a fuel truck headed for an airport in Brazil – have raised security concerns.

Two days before Lula’s inauguration on January 1, Bolsonaro flew to the US and temporarily settled in Orlando. Many Brazilians expressed relief that while he refused to take part in the transfer of power, his absence allowed it to happen without incident.

Or so it was until Sunday’s chaos.

“Bolsonarism imitates the same strategies as Trumpism. Our January 8 – an unprecedented speech in Brazilian politics – is clearly copied from January 6 in the Capitol,” said Paulo Calmon, a professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. “Today’s sad episodes represent another attempt to destabilize democracy and show that the authoritarian, populist radicalism of Brazil’s extreme right remains active under former President Bolsonaro, the ‘Trump of Latin America’.”

US President Joe Biden said on Twitter that the riots were “an attack on democracy and the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil” and that he looked forward to working with Lula again.

At a news conference from Sao Paulo state, Lula read a newly signed decree for the federal government to take control of security in the federal district. He said so-called “fascist fanatics” as well as those who financed their activities must be punished and also accused Bolsonaro of encouraging their insurgency.

Bolsonaro denied the president’s accusations late Sunday. He said on Twitter that peaceful protest is part of democracy, but vandalism and the invasion of public buildings are “exceptions to the rule”. He did not specifically mention the actions of the protesters in Brazil.

“He’s obviously the intellectual mentor of what’s going on, so he can’t distance himself from it,” said Mario Sérgio Lima, a political analyst at Medley Advisors. “These groups were created by him, by the radicalism he imposed on politics. There is no way to undo it. … It seems his group has already crossed the Rubicon.”

Unlike an attack in the US in 2021, few officials would be working in top government buildings on Sunday. And videos showed a limited presence of the capital’s military police. This has led many in Brazil to question whether the police ignored abundant warnings, underestimated their capabilities, or were somehow complicit.

One video showed a group of protesters fighting their way through a police barricade with only a few officers deploying pepper spray. Another showed police officers standing by as protesters stormed Congress, including one recording on his phone.

“It was a gross mistake by the federal district government. It was a predicted tragedy,” said Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at Brazilian political consultancy Arko Advice. “Everyone knew they (the protesters) were coming to Brazil. The federal district government was expected to adopt a response to protect the capital. They didn’t do any of that.”

In his press conference, Lula said there was “incompetence or bad faith” on the part of the police and promised that some would be punished.

The Governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, confirmed on Twitter that he has dismissed the capital’s head of public security, Anderson Torres. Local media reported that Torres was on vacation in Orlando and that he denied meeting Bolsonaro there.

“Two years since Jan. 6, Trump’s legacy continues to poison our hemisphere,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on Twitter, adding that he blamed Bolsonaro for instigating the actions. “Protecting democracy and holding bad actors accountable is essential.”

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