On September 19, one of Brazil’s most distinguished military officials, General Antonio Hamilton Martins Mourão, published a Facebook post stating his support for military intervention to resolve the ongoing political crisis within the country. Augusto Heleno, a four-star general in the Brazilian army, defended the comments of his colleague, who had earlier hinted that the military might be compelled to take action to maintain stability. In a lecture at the Grande Oriente Masonic Lodge in the Brazilian capital of Brasília, Mourão stated, “[E]ither the institutions solve the political problem through the courts, removing those elements involved in illegal acts from public life, or we will have to impose the solution.”
Mourão’s statements made waves, in particular, by noting that his sentiments were also shared by his colleagues in Brazil’s military high command. And indeed, besides Heleno, who declared his “unrestrained support” of Mourão’s statements shortly after the speech, many other top military commanders appear to also have lined up behind his position. Commander of the Brazilian Army, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, instead of chiding his upstart subordinate, praised Mourão for being “a great soldier” and only admitted that “dictatorship is never the best [solution]” after being confronted on camera by a journalist. Bôas, however, quickly reasserted the army’s constitutional authority to intervene in cases where the country appeared “in the imminence of chaos.” Other top generals have also joined Mourão, Heleno, and Bôas in asserting the military’s right to act as Brazil’s supposed saviour. The sum total of these comments has led many observers to speculate that the Brazilian military elite may be floating the idea of a coup in order to test public reaction.
These rumblings from the Brazilian military are hardly surprising given the current political climate. Brazil, the largest country in Latin America by geography, population, and economic size, has been crippled by corruption and mismanagement for years. Operation Car Wash, an investigation into embezzlement charges surrounding the state-owned oil company, Petrobas, has swept up a large portion of Brazil’s political class. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, an extremely popular former president, was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison; however, Lula alleges that the charges were cooked up to prevent him from running again for the presidency. Additionally, Lula’s political protégée and presidential successor, Dilma Rousseff, was herself accused of corruption charges and impeached from office in August of last year. Succeeding the two fallen presidents of the left-wing Worker’s Party is current president Michel Temer, of the centre-right PMDB party. However, Mr. Temer has also fallen victim to a corruption scandal for allegedly taking bribes from the giant meatpacking firm JBS. Dozens of other politicians have also been implicated in accepting bribes from Odebrecht, the Brazilian-based construction firm and the largest in Latin America.
To many ordinary Brazilians, the political class appears thoroughly corrupt, particularly after the Brazilian National Congress voted against referring Temer’s corruption case to the Supreme Court, despite ample evidence supporting the charge and the embattled president only holding a 7% approval rating, according to a June poll. Without recourse to regular political channels, Brazilians can be forgiven for welcoming the military’s promise of a return to honest, competent government. However, for those who remember the military coup of 1964, where the Brazilian Armed Forces installed a 21-year dictatorship, the thought of a such a repeat of events appears much less desirable. For, despite all the problems of corruption and inefficiencies that mire the Brazilian government, there is a much greater threat to the norms and forms of democracy if it were to be overthrown in such an egregious manner as a military coup.
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