Why Brazilian fascists should not get amnesty after their criminal attack on democracy
Of all the excited cries echoing from the red tide that swept through Brasilia at the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) as Brazil’s president on Jan. 1, 2023, the most important – and the most difficult, especially from the institutional perspective of the new government – was the call for “no amnesty! “The crowds chanting these words were referring to the crimes perpetrated by the military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985 that still remain unpunished. Lula interrupted his speech, to let the voices be heard, and continued with a strong but restrained message about responsibility.
Lula’s restraint shows his respect for the executive’s civic restraint, in stark contrast to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s notion of political acumen. After all, one of the characteristics that correctly characterizes “Bolsonarism” as fascism is the deliberate conflation of the institutional exercise of power with counter-institutional activism. As president, Bolsonaro went beyond mixing these roles; he occupied the state in constant opposition to the state itself.
He has constantly attributed his incompetence as a leader to the restrictions imposed by the democratic institutions of the republic.
While Bolsonaro projected a strongman image in front of the cameras, which ultimately helped him climb the ladder of power, he maintained a low profile in Congress and his three-decade tenure in Congress is a testament to his political and administrative inadequacy. His weak exercise of power revealed his inadequacy as a leader when he finally took office as president. Bolsonaro became famous when he voted for the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
Before voting, Bolsonaro took the opportunity to pay tribute to Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, “condemned for torture” during the military dictatorship, whom he jokingly called “Dilma Rousseff’s haunt ! “Ustra was responsible for systematically torturing the former head of state when she, then a young Marxist guerrilla, was imprisoned by the dictatorship. From that day until Bolsonaro’s last public appearance – after which he fled the country to Orlando, Florida, prior to Lula’s inauguration – the only opportunity he ever had to put on his electoral persona was to incite his supporters with incendiary speeches. This combination has led to a powerless government, led by someone who encouraged his supporters to encourage him by using the ridiculously macho nickname ” Imbrochável” which translates as “unfloppable” .
By endorsing the need for accountability while respecting the solemnity of the presidency and allowing people to claim “non-amnesty,” Lula restores some normalcy to the representative/represented dichotomy that exists in a liberal bourgeois democracy. A small gesture, but one that will contribute to establishing the institutional trust necessary for fascism to be scrutinized. From now on, the ball is in the court of the organized left; the urgency and radicality of accountability depend on its capacity to theoretically and politically confuse the slogan “no amnesty”.
No amnesty for whom ? And for what? What kind of justice should be done to the enemies of the working class ? To the former Minister of Health who, pretending to be an expert in logistics, turned Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, into a “collective immunity testing laboratory” to deal with the collapse of the health system at the height of the COVID epidemic in Brazil; To the former Minister of the Environment who sanctioned the brutal colonization of indigenous lands by amending the environmental legislation; To a government that supported the expansion of civilian access to military grade weapons; To the national arms manufacturer that approved such a policy aberration and promoted the sale of weapons; To the health insurance company that conducted non-consensual drug tests on the elderly, while espousing the motto “death is a form of discharge”; To Bolsonaro himself, who among so many crimes, decided to repeatedly deny science and advertise hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as cures for COVID-19; To the chancellor who used the Itamaraty (the Brazilian equivalent of the U.S. State Department) to intentionally marginalize Brazil in the international community; To the media owners who have approved or tolerated all this misanthropy, whitewashed fascist rhetoric and offered a megaphone to amplify racism, sexism, LGBT phobia and, underlying everything, brutal classicism.
The list goes on. There are so many crimes, so many individual and corporate offenders, and so many victims – starting with the deaths of innocent people due to COVID and the trauma suffered by their families and extending to all vulnerable populations: indigenous people, black people, Maroons, and LGBTQIA+ – that a dedicated agency to investigate and prosecute all of these cases is needed. Perhaps the substance we need to inject into the cry of “no amnesty” is the creation of a special court.
As Professor Lincoln Secco suggested, this should be the Manaus court, named after the city that was used as a testing ground for Bolsonaro’s anti-vax propaganda, where patients were left to die at the height of the COVID pandemic. And I hope that the Manaus court, observing all the rites, all the civility and all the legal requirements, will be able to achieve the historical result that the Constitutional Assembly of 1988 failed to achieve: to close the doors of the Brazilian institutions to fascism, forever .