Trespassers on the ramp of the Congress Palace. Trespassers on the ramp of the Congress Palace. Photo: Marcelo Camargo / Agência Brasil. Licensed under (CC BY 4.0)

The failed coup this week demonstrates the far right forces still in play and the need for the left to take militant action to defend democracy, argues Orlando da Rocha Hill

Attempts by the far right in Brazil to overthrow the elected left government of President Lula da Silva have been met with popular protest in defence of democracy. Only a day after hordes of extremists supporting the defeated candidate Jair Bolsonaro stormed and trashed the presidential palace, congress, and the supreme court in the capital Brasilia, demonstrations were held across the country to protest at the acts of vandalism, to defend democracy and show support to the newly elected government.

The storming of the governmental buildings (which represent the three powers of Brazilian democracy) was a chronicle foretold. The extremists had been camping outside the army barracks pleading for a military intervention and planning terrorist acts for the last two months. The plans were shared on social media. Before the storming the extremists had attacked the Federal Police building in Brasilia and blocked the main motorways. One activist had been arrested trying to blow up an airport.

Over 100 coaches, financed by agribusiness (one of the two main engines of the Brazilian economy) arrived in Brasilia on Sunday. The crowd was escorted by the police force. Some officers took selfies with the far right demonstrators. When they got to the buildings they were met with minimum security and practically invited into the buildings. The damage caused by the vandalism is calculated in over millions of Brazilian reais.

In Brazil, demonstrations were held in several capitals of the country, organised by the Frente Povo Sem Medo (Fearless People’s Front) and Frente Brasil Popular. Among the groups that took part were the Workers’ Landless Movement (MST), the National Students’ Union (UNE), the Black Coalition for Rights. The largest of the demos was in São Paulo, where 60,000 people marched along Avenida Paulista. The most heard chants were jail Bolsonaro, democracy is non-negotiable and ‘sem anistia’ (no amnesty). The last one is in reference to the amnesty given at the end of the dictatorship in the 1980s to those who resisted and to the torturers at the end of the dictatorship. Brazil has a history of appeasement and not seeking justice. This time the demonstrators were having none of it echoing the chants in Britain and the US, ‘no justice, no peace’.

The demand for justice had been expressed forcefully in Lula’s inauguration in Brasilia. Now it takes on new contours, with the demand that the participants in the storming of the buildings in Brasilia along with their financiers, promoters and conniving state authorities be held accountable. Among them, the governor of the Federal District removed for 90 days by the Supreme Court, Ibaneis Rocha (a pro-Bolsonaro).

In London, a crowd gathered in front of the Brazilian Embassy. Representatives from the TUC spoke offering their solidarity to the workers in Brazil, specially to their sister organisation CUT. A representative of the RMT also spoke. Teachers from the NEU were present with their banner. Jeremy Corbyn spoke about his time in Brazil, his long friendship with Lula, and their shared interest in empowering people and redistributing wealth. In his talks with Lula during the presidential campaign, he realised the very powerful forces the new government would be up against. ‘Bolsonaro is the obvious figurehead of these forces. He is the figurehead, but not the reality. Bolsonaro has disappeared into the arms of Donald Trump in Florida. I’m sure they will be very happy together and I hope we will never have to hear of him again.’ He went on to explain that Lula’s victory in the elections wasn’t because of a policy of triangulation to satisfy the rich, but of popular mobilisation. The only way to confront the attacks on democracy, which we are also facing here in Britain with the proposed anti-strike regulations, is through popular participation.

What is clear is that Lula can no longer rely on his political ability of getting everyone around the table and reach some sort of agreement. As pointed out by Paulo Pasin, a trade unionist and activist, ‘the extreme confidence in Lula’s negotiating “expertise” and the “cordial” relationship with pro-Bolsonaro governors and mayors disarms the daily struggle that we need to wage against the coup leaders. The isolation caused by the extremists paves the way for a counter-offensive by forces on the left. But for this opportunity to be seized, firmness is needed against Bolsonaristas and an economic policy that meets the needs of the population, without giving in to the pressures of the financial market. The debate with the working class and with the poor people must go beyond speeches on the importance of the Democratic State. Even because, for a large part of the population, especially in working class neighbourhoods, democracy is very limited, almost non-existent.

‘The fight against coup attempts cannot be dissociated from the fight in defence of rights, for the fulfilment of electoral promises that people’s lives will improve. This is the only way to avoid a climate of disillusionment and electoral fraud, fuel for new coup demonstrations.’

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Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.

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