In Brazil’s historical elections, on 30th October, 2022 two polar ideological opposites came afront but far-left leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took the lead and won by more than 10 points. 76-year-old da Silva led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, during which he initiated social welfare programs that dragged millions of people out of poverty and fostered economic growth. By then, he was regarded as the most popular politician globally, but in 2017 he was caught up in a corruption scandal that led to his imprisonment and a dent in his reputation and widespread acceptance. Lula remained behind the bars for 580 days and was released in 2019.
Conversely, Jair Bolsonaro, the 67-year-old far-right leader is mostly criticized for the destruction of the Amazon Forest and for being incompetent in the COVID-19 response. Moreover, he is under investigation for at least four criminal cases. He has also made people skeptical about the country’s electoral system. Even before electoral campaigns picked up the pace, Jair Bolsonaro spent months accusing his country’s voting system as rigged and manipulative.
According to the New York Times, Bolsonaro has often said, “There’s always the possibility of something abnormal happening in a fully computerized system.” The United States of America and Donald Trump’s close allies have significantly facilitated these false narratives as well. The US’s far-right blog, “The Gateway Pundit” published an article alleging massive fraud in Brazilian elections on the following day of elections.
Another far-right conservative activist, Matthew Tyrmand, has continuously raised speculations about the Brazilian electoral system without evidence. He has also shared similar views on Stephen Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, another Trump ally. Moreover, he tried to draw similarities between accusations about the US’s 2020 presidential elections and said that “People are absolutely crying fraud in Brazil because it’s the same thing we saw in 2020.”
Stephan Bannon has also been involved in this machinery of narrative building by describing the first round of Brazilian elections as, “a very stark warning to MAGA and to all the Republicans of the games that are being played in these elections.” A lot of experts feared that these narratives would polarize the people and make them fanatics and that is what Brazil experienced on 8th January, just a week after Lula took charge of the office.
On Sunday, 8th January, Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the Three Powers Plaza in Brasilia, the country’s capital by marching from Army’s headquarters. The Three Powers Plaza houses the Supreme Court, the Presidential Palace, and the Congress. By 3 pm, the attack started with mobs ferociously bombarding the Brazil Congress and placing a fire inside. Next, they stormed the presidential offices and wreaked havoc.
However, by 6.30 pm security forces had regained control of the building and had handcuffed a number of perpetrators. According to official reports, 300 individuals were arrested for the attack on the Brazil Congress. The next day, at least 1200 individuals were detained at a pro-Bolsonaro encampment.
The incident was immediately compared with the 6th January invasion of the US Capitol by Trump supporters in 2021. Immediately after the attack, Lula gave a very harsh speech blaming Bolsonaro and promising that anyone involved will be strictly punished. The incumbent President Lula has also ordered a federal inquiry into the attack on the Brazil Congress. He further stated that security forces showed “incompetence, bad faith and malice.”
He also stated that “These vandals, who we could call … fanatical fascists, did what has never been done in the history of this country and all these people who did this will be found and they will be punished.” Bolsonaro, who had fled to Florida 48 hours before the end of his mandate and was absent from Lula’s inauguration, defended his situation by tweeting, “Peaceful demonstrations, within the law, form part of democracy. However, depredations and invasions of public buildings like those that happened today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, are exceptions to the rule.”
Furthermore, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes has also ordered the removal of Ibaneis Rocha, the pro-Bolsonaro governor of the federal district, for 90 days amidst outrage that state authorities had failed to control the violence.
Role of Social Media
According to Natália Leal, the CEO of Brazilian fact-checking site Agência Lupa, Bolsonaro’s supporters have long used social media tools to spread lies to dent the transparent and unbiased image electoral process of Brazil. She further added that “since 2016, the former president and his supporters have been using social media and messaging apps to distort political, economic and social narratives, creating a parallel reality where all these people seem to be trapped.”
Brazilian newspaper, O Globo, reported that coded messages like “Festa da Selma,” started to float on social media during the last week of December. Their data analysis company, Palver, has interpreted the message and said that “the phrase is a play Portuguese word selva, a term associated with Brazil’s military.”
The newspaper further added that the messages included strategic and tactical details about ambushing the state authorities and according to reports, as people poured into Brasilia, YouTube users live-streamed it to attract more protesters and financial contributions.
US President Joe Biden released a statement on Twitter saying “I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil. Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined. I look forward to continuing to work with @LulaOficial.”
Vice President of the US, Kamala Harris has also said that “the attack is an obvious and clear attack on a democratic process.” The national security advisor of the White House Jake Sullivan expressed his views on Twitter by saying, “U.S. condemns any effort to undermine democracy in Brazil. Our support for Brazil’s democratic institutions is unwavering. Brazil’s democracy will not be shaken by violence.”
President of Chile Gabriel Boric described the attack as a “cowardly and vile attack on democracy.” Colombian President Gustavo Petro has also offered solidarity to Lula and has requested to immediately call a meeting of the Organization of American States, “if it wants to continue to live as an institution and apply the democratic charter.”
Canadian President Justin Trudeau also made remarks saying “Canada strongly condemns the violent behavior on display there today, and we reaffirm our support for President @LulaOficial and Brazil’s democratic institutions.” Conversely, pro-Bolsonaro supporters like Steve Bannon have labeled the mobs as “freedom fighters.”
Such a severe and brutal attack on the Brazil Congress is not unprecedented, but international unanimity is what world leaders have voiced in support of Brazil. So, it is high time for President Lula to grab this opportunity to regain political stability and demonstrate the strength of his government.
Also, from the reports, it is evident that narrative building on social media played a huge role in Sunday’s violence. So, security and intelligence agencies should adopt more regulatory measures to avoid these incidents.
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