Interview. Lula’s strategist says the attack on Brasilia is a boycott of life-saving social programs. ‘When fascists invade spaces of power with an air of impunity, they are building an agenda parallel to democracy, distracting and blocking the social agenda.’

Pablo Gentili: Thieves taking selfies shows ‘the arrogance of impunity’

Pablo Gentili, one of Latin America’s leading intellectuals and one of the key figures of Lula’s election campaign, analyzes the threats to democracy that have been carried out in recent days by Bolsonaristas: a sort of Brazilian re-edition of Capitol Hill, staged thanks to the connivance of some parts of the local political and police apparatus.

The invasion of the Palácio do Planalto (the executive power), National Congress (the legislative power) and Supreme Federal Court (the judiciary): was it merely a grotesque Capitol Hill-style display, or a sign of serious danger to democracy?

Bolsonarist violence might give a sense of improvisation and spontaneity, but in reality it is part of a criminal organization based on the false idea of impunity. It’s enough to point out that more than 170 buses arrived in Brasilia: who financed them? How come they didn’t stop them? During the week, far-right militants had announced the coup attempt on social media. The acts of vandalism would not have happened without the protection of some parts of the police, who did nothing to prevent them. It seems that the protesters did not have offensive weapons, but they entered unchallenged, thrashing, stealing, and doing irrecoverable damage to Brazil’s public, cultural, and historical heritage. As a result, there are two things to consider here: the confirmation that Bolsonarism is a violent far-right force and will continue to offend and make threats against democracy; and the fact that there is a significant sector of Brazilian politics that holds public office and supports all that. In parallel, on Sunday, 1200 km from Brasilia, in the Paraná region, other Bolsonarista protesters occupied gas stations to prevent refueling and create chaos. This happened under the eyes of a Bolsonarista governor who did nothing to prevent it. In fact, the police took selfies with the protesters. I think there are many commonalities between Brasilia and Capitol Hill, but the peculiar aspect compared to the episodes in the U.S. lies in the fact that there are sectors of the public administration and local governments controlled by fascists who are doing nothing to defend democracy.

However, it seems that these organizations don’t really believe in coups in the style of the 1960s and 1970s, but rather want to give signals of destabilization, arrogance and impunity as forms of threat.

The historical contexts are very different: what is happening is part of a destabilization strategy to ridicule democracy, but it is not comparable to the coups of the 1970s. There is no army in the streets, no international support for a coup; however, we can think of contemporary forms of subversion. Consider the case of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, which was actually a parliamentary coup: although she committed no crime, Dilma was unjustly dismissed and only a few countries condemned this blatant abuse of power. Brazil in recent years has become a tragic laboratory of anti-democratic experimentation, control mechanisms, the distortion of democracy, elements of a mafia that threatens, sends out warnings, aims to show its power and impunity.

The arrogance of impunity, the manipulative use of religion, violence, threats, the ultimate boss acting in silence – these are indeed structural elements of the Mafia. Can the defense of democracy strengthen Lula?

According to the principle of the rule of law, it would be unthinkable for a group of people to act in this way and think they can do so with impunity. However, in the terms of the mafia mentality and its connivance with political power, all this is normal. The public safety secretary (prefect) of the city of Brasilia was in the United States with Jair Bolsonaro at the time of the vandalism. He has now been relieved of his duties, as has the governor of Brasília. I often went to the presidential palace, to Congress, and even though I was authorized to enter it was very difficult. I had to show documents, pass security checks – now I’m wondering how it’s possible that nobody even asked these criminals anything. This shows the arrogance of impunity. Imagine a thief taking a selfie while stealing, himself producing proof of his crime.

Lula responded with the tools of the Constitution, decreeing a “federal intervention” until January 31 with the state over functions such as public safety – which are the responsibility of individual regions.

I am sure that Lula will succeed in restoring order and ensuring democratic control; however, the goal of this government, even more than defending the country from fascist violence, is to lift millions of Brazilians up from misery and hunger. My concern is that all this is blocking an agenda of fundamental social policies, which needs to start urgently in order to respond to the needs of millions of Brazilians who have no more patience and no more time or ability to wait, and to whom Lula must respond immediately. These vandalisms are elements of a boycott against an agenda of restoring rights that the 2016 coup and the Bolsonaro government stole. Lula cannot waste six months defending democracy from Bolsonarist threats; instead, what he wants to do, and must do, is take care of the people who need housing, food, education. When fascists invade spaces of power with an air of impunity, they are building an agenda parallel to democracy, distracting and blocking the social agenda. Now the challenge for the Lula government is a much more complex one, and he cannot do it alone: we need political pedagogy, training, debates, culture, and a mobilization of the left that has given way too much ground to a violent, anti-democratic, well-organized and potentially destructive right.

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