Analysis. Jair Bolsonaro’s son and his economic minister both invoked the Institutional Act of 1968, which institutionalized torture, promising to prevent the Latin American protest movement from reaching Brazil.

Bolsonaro government threatens Brazilian protesters with dictatorship-era law

Frightened by the popular uprisings that have taken place in various Latin American countries, the government of Jair Bolsonaro is gearing up to the fullest extent possible to prevent this contagion from arriving in Brazil. And their explicit invocation of a “new AI-5” indicates that this is likely to further the authoritarian drift.

The Institutional Act promulgated in December 1968 by General Artur da Costa e Silva marked the beginning of the most brutal phase of the dictatorship, with the shutting down of Congress, the institutionalization of repression and torture, censorship of the media and the suspension of the political rights of the regime’s opponents.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, was the first one to hint at such a measure: “If the left becomes radicalized,” he said, “it will be necessary to find an answer, which could come from a new AI-5.” He was immediately echoed at a press conference in the United States held on Nov. 25 by the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, the most undemocratic representative of Brazilian ultra-neoliberalism, who noted—ostensibly in response to Lula’s exhortation to Brazilians to take to the streets against the government—that no one should be “startled … if someone asks for an AI-5.”

There will be no need, however, to go to such lengths: Bolsonaro is aiming to achieve the same effect of subduing all forms of resistance through somewhat less traumatic means, as he demonstrated on Nov. 21 when he sent a draft law to congress aimed at guaranteeing impunity for security agents who, during so-called “operations guaranteeing law and order” (GLO operations), may commit crimes or abuses of power (protecting all under the umbrella of a notion of legitimate self-defense).

Even though this measure is encountering strong resistance in Congress, just four days later, the president came up with another bill, aimed at extending the scope of GLO operations—so far applying only to emergency situations—to clearing out camps in rural areas, with the stated aim of ending once and for all the “invasions” of property by the Landless Workers’ Movement.

These measures, the LWM says, are intended to “amplify the extermination already underway,” which has been highly effective against the poor, the blacks and the landless. In Rio de Janeiro alone, 1,546 people were killed by the police during the first 10 months of 2019. As for the landless, on Nov. 25 alone they fell victim to three violent evictions in Bahia, after nine such evictions over the past five months in Paraná.

As one would expect, the government’s campaign is also directed against the indigenous peoples and those fighting for the environment, the last barrier against the destruction of the Amazon—a region where, as Brazilian writer and documentary filmmaker Eliane Brum has said, an unofficial AI-5 “has already been set up.”

Even more, Bolsonaro—like Piñera, Lenin Moreno, the authors of the Bolivian coup d’état and so on— will be able to count on the full support of the United States in implementing these plans. As Secretary of State Pompeo reiterated in a highly revealing speech made on Dec. 2 at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the US will be ready to help the “legitimate governments” of Latin America to prevent the protests from “morphing into riots,” since these do not reflect the “democratic will of the people,” having been supposedly “hijacked” by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

In this context, the recent visit to the Court of Appeals in Porto Alegre by Willard Smith, counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Brazil, takes on an ominous significance: this is the court that just recently ruled to extend Lula’s prison sentence in the Atibaia estate scandal. This represents an explicit stance taken by the US in favor of the attempt to neutralize the risk represented by the former president as soon as possible.

To his opponents, it matters little that Lula has chosen to pursue his struggle entirely within the institutional framework (and some are even saying that he is trying to revive an alliance with centrist and center-right forces). According to Steve Bannon, who described him as “the greatest idol of the globalist left,” the former president is destined to bring “a huge disturbance” to Brazilian politics—and, as Nixon said back in 1971, “wherever Brazil leans, so leans Latin America.”

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