The volatility in the current Brazilian political scenario is only comparable to what Brazil faced in the 1960s, when an elected president, Jânio Quadros, resigned and his successor, João Goulart, was overthrown by a military coup, the effects of which would perpetuate for more than two decades.
This is the opinion of Peter Hakim, an American academic specializing in Latin America who spent a season in Brazil in the 1960s. A former professor at MIT and Columbia University, Hakim is president emeritus of the think tank Inter-American Dialogue, based in the American capital Washington DC, and dedicated to studies to foster democratic governance, economic development and social equality in the region.
On the day that the military coup turns 57, Hakim sees Brazil “on the verge of chaos”, but does not bet that the Brazilian military would embark on a new endeavor to seize power and maintain government for decades, as they did in the past century. .
For him, both the resignation of the Minister of Defense, Fernando de Azevedo e Silva, and the replacement of the command of the three military forces, in the last days, indicate that the military are not satisfied with the conduct of President Jair Bolsonaro in his relationship with the Armed forces. If they were to extrapolate their institutional functions, the military would pressure political actors to act, but they would not take the limelight, bet Hakim.
Faced with a hypothetical coup scenario, the scholar is also categorical in saying that the United States would take a very different position from the one they adopted in 1964. In the midst of the cold war, Democratic government Lyndon Johnson supported the military’s endeavor to end the democracy in the country.
The justification was that the measure would remove the risk of a communist threat reaching the largest country in South America. Now, says Hakim, US attention to Latin America is much less than it was at the time. Proof of this is what he considers the relative inaction of Americans in the face of the events of recent years in Venezuela and the last few months in Haiti.
“I do not believe that the United States would be involved in an attempted coup in Brazil today anyway. Neither to support it nor to curb it. The truth is that Americans today are not as interested in the region as they once were. “, says the scholar.
Read below the main parts of the interview.
BBC News Brasil – There was an expectation in Brazil that we would see a ministerial reform soon, but the changes in the Ministry of Defense and in the command of the three military forces were a surprise. How do you evaluate this move by President Bolsonaro?
“Hakim” Peter. Brazil seems to be on the verge of chaos, and this whole change is just one of the events that indicate this. The seriousness of the pandemic in the country, which President Bolsonaro seems to want to continue ignoring, the accumulated six or seven years of economic downturn, Lula’s return to the political scene as a strong candidate for the left. So Brazil is so fragile on so many fronts that the Defense Minister’s departure was not necessarily so surprising.
Very different, however, was the resignation of the three commanders of the Armed Forces. This is unusual and shows that they are very unhappy with the way Bolsonaro has been conducting things, with his attitudes of calling the Armed Forces “my army”, as he has done.
BBC News Brasil – Brazil went through a military coup in 1964 that led to a two-decade dictatorship in the country. Do you see the risk of a breakdown of the institutional order now?
Hakim – I do not see a risk or the possibility that the military will take power to exercise it for months or years, as they did in the 1960s. We are no longer in the 1960s, after all. What can happen is that the military exceeds its institutional role somewhat by exerting some pressure on the political process. Something similar to what they did recently in Bolivia, when they called Evo Morales to resign and ended up managing to force the president out. In Brazil, perhaps they could put pressure on Congress over Bolsonaro’s impeachment process. For me, the Army has maintained some degree of autonomy in relation to the president, he does not control him.
BBC News Brasil – Exactly 57 years ago, we lived through the coup. The end of Brazilian democracy was supported by the US government at the time. How would the Americans deal with a coup situation in Brazil today?
Hakim – I do not believe that the United States would be involved in an attempted coup in Brazil today anyway. Not to support it, not to stop it. The truth is that Americans today are not as interested in the region as they once were. If you look at it, the actions of the Biden government so far have focused on migration issues and on working with Mexico and Central America on the issue. The crisis in Venezuela is of some interest. And the rest is an attempt to reduce China’s influence in the region, but not exactly direct and private interests in the area.
We have witnessed what has been happening in Venezuela for years. The country is in shambles, there is an installed dictatorship, a deep economic and humanitarian crisis and what have the Americans done? Sound and fury only. They said “all options are on the table”, but have used almost none of them. There have been some sanctions and that is it.
In the case of Brazil, if something like that happened, I doubt that the Americans would even go as far as they did with Nicolás Maduro. There would be no sanctions, nothing like that. They would watch, they could make statements, but nothing more. See Haiti now. We have a president there governing by decrees, a situation of increasing violence, would the Americans be able to do anything there, and what have they done? Nothing.
BBC News Brasil – Brazil faces simultaneous crises: the highest number of daily covid-19 deaths in the world, the economy in disarray, the tension in military circles. How do you see the country in a few months?
Hakim – I would say that the level of volatility that we have seen in the country in the last few months is perhaps only comparable to the 1960s. (Political scientist) Bolívar Lamounier used to say something that seems even more true today: contrary to what happens with other countries, in Brazil you predict the distant future, but you have no idea what will happen tomorrow.
Bolsonaro is at a crucial moment, in which he seems to feel that he can lose everything. Its choice is between conforming to the traditional political structure of power, the need to expand spending once again on emergency aid, which last year ensured both the removal of poverty from part of the population and the health of its popularity indexes, and the what to do with the promises of liberalism and reform represented by (Minister of Economy) Paulo Guedes.
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