The “new politics” as a repetition of the national authoritarian tradition

November 6, 2019

Mass protests have emerged in different countries of the globe. In Barcelona, ​​Spain, the Catalan independence movement has raised protests against judgments handed down by the Spanish Supreme Court against separatist leaders. In Hong Kong, protesters have organized themselves against Chinese interference and to claim for rights. In Latin America, many are struggling with austerity policies that result in worsening inequality and poverty. In Chile, the country with the highest per capita income in the region, anti-neoliberal movements are seeking the implementation of public policies that reverse social framework resulting from the economic policy of the last decades, seeking to guarantee access to minimal material goods for everyone. In Ecuador, the implementation of drastic measures seeking compliance with an agreement signed with the International Monetary Fund led to the establishment of a state of exception for 60 days.

The perspective that similar massive displays of dissatisfaction with the government would happen in Brazil has once again brought to light the undemocratic face of the current Brazilian political landscape, demonstrated in persistent and wide-open resource to authoritarian threats in the face of popular protest.

The authoritarian threat in the face of democratic manifestations in Brazil 

The outbreak of social protest movements in Latin America driven by the dissatisfaction with the living conditions generated by neoliberal policies has brought a cloud of uncertainty about the future of austerity policies that have been implemented in Brazil since 2016. Facing the possibility of uprisings such as the Chilean ones, Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, leader of the Party “PSL” in Congress and son of current President Jair Bolsonaro, threatened to retaliate movement with the government’s adoption of repressive measures, expressly mentioning a possible new AI-5, name of a notorious repression normative decree edited during the dictatorship.

In the midst of internal political crises – the name of President Jair Bolsonaro was recently mentioned in the course of the criminal investigation of the murder of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, in addition to the investigations of the “laranjal do PSL” (regarding the use of “straw-man candidacies” in last year’s election) and the Fabrício Queiroz case -, Eduardo Bolsonaro said in an interview: “If the left radicalizes to this point, we will need to have an answer. And one answer may be via a new AI-5, it may be via legislation passed through a referendum as it did in Italy. Some answer will have to be given”.

Such a threat, especially from a National Congress representative, shines a red light on what political scientist Larry Diamond calls a “democratic recession”: an incremental process that would involve different phenomena that would lead to a decline in the quality of newer democracies, a deepening of authoritarianism and problems that plague more consolidated democracies. In a context of similar occurrences in Brazil and around the world, it is necessary to reflect on an interruption and possible reversal of the wave of redemocratization that followed the end of the Cold War.

It is hard to imagine that in a country such as Brazil, which underwent a recent dictatorial period (1964-1985), based on political persecution, censorship, torture, forced disappearances and the killing of opponents, there are parliamentarians who deem it acceptable, in a subverted defense of political stability, to advocate the return of Institutional Act n. 5 (Ato Institucional nº 5/ AI-5).

What was the AI-5?

It is important to remember that the institutional acts, decreed during the military dictatorship in Brazil, were exceptional norms, which gave that authoritarian regime a high degree of centralization of the administration and politics of the country. Among the 17 institutional acts promulgated during the 21 years of dictatorial rule, the AI-5 is the one recognized for marking the radicalization of the dictatorship, called by historiography the “coup within the coup“, with the deepening and verticalization of the authoritarian system and repressive actions which had been practiced since 1964.

The AI-5 allowed the suspension of the habeas corpus guarantee for certain crimes; provided for the President’s powers to decree federal intervention (without constitutional limits) and state of siege; suspended political rights and restricted the exercise of others, and promoted the revokement of elective terms; suspended the National Congress, Legislative Assemblies and City Councils; among other measures.

There is no question that Brazil currently has a president who openly sympathizes with ultra-nationalist approaches, likewise radical right antiglobalists. Representatives of the Bolsonaro family, located in the center of the palace power, among them Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, are militants of a reactionary populism, and demonstrated within a few months of government – given Eduardo Bolsonaro’s speech mentioned above – the authoritarian character of the so-called “bolsonarismo”.

Ironically, even the National Security Act (Lei de Segurança Nacional), enacted during the military dictatorship to criminalize and persecute the enemies of that State, as long as it is considered to be welcomed by the 1988 Constitution, can be used to frame Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro’s conduct as a crime. The law typifies the conduct of publicizing violent or illegal processes in public to change the political or social order, and also prohibits incitement to subversion of the political or social order and animosity between the Armed Forces or between them and the social classes or the civil institutions. In addition, of course, the Federal Deputy violates a number of rules of the Federal Constitution of 1988, as explained in the Note of Support to the Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro’s Removal from Office.

On Tuesday, November 6, a representation was filled in the Board of Ethics of the House requesting the revoke of the mandate of Eduardo Bolsonaro, for incitement of breach of the democratic order. A similar request had been filed by the Network. In addition, a demand (notícia-crime, in Portuguese) was filed in the Supreme Court, also because of the declaration on AI-5, a discussion that will involve the limits of parliamentary immunity.

The “new politics” as a return to authoritarianism

The more time we have under the government of the Bolsonaros, more evident it becomes that the much-acclaimed “new policy” is, in fact, a kind of repetition – with appropriate updates – of the national authoritarian tradition. It is important to note the political uses of the “national interest” category, as it was precisely in 1968, when student demonstrations and criticism of the dictatorship by different sectors strengthened throughout Brazil, demanding political participation, the year which president Costa e Silva declared to be of “national interest” to put an end to the “counterrevolution”. As much as the design of the military dictatorship had been in place since 1964, nonetheless, the AI-5 imposes the emergence of power structures aimed at a total form of political domination.

In this sense, the statement by Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, in addition to undermining the 1988 Constitution and the Democratic Rule of Law, also alludes to the military dictatorial period, whether nostalgic or sympathetic. And, furthermore, it demonstrates how the absence of a process of collective recollection of the recent Brazilian authoritarian past represents, first, a possibility, through election, of a government composed of subjects not only linked to the last military regime, but nostalgic about it and, also, willing to deny its repressive practices as a strategy of legitimizing the past and, consequently, of the current authoritarian conduct of the politician.

By Vanuza Nunes [1], Jean Jerônimo [2] e Milena Angulo [3]

You can read more about the topic here:

“Facing Up to the Democratic Recession” –

[1] Masters in Law at UFMG. Researcher at the “Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição da UFMG” (CJT/UFMG).

[2] Law student at UFMG. Researcher at the “Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição da UFMG” (CJT/UFMG).

[3] Law student at UFMG. Researcher at the “Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição da UFMG” (CJT/UFMG).