The Aftermath of the failed Coup in Brazil: what next for Lula?

Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat makes a recapitulation of the developments around the riots in Brazil and the international reaction to them. She also explains the specifics of president Lula’s interaction with the right in the domestic politics. 

Cross-Border Talks co-founder Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat comments on the failed coup attempt in Brazil, international reactions to the far right riots and the prospects of Lula’s further actions in a highly divided society. While 300 Bolsonaro supporters were arrested and nobody was killed during the storm of parliament and government buildings, the key question is: how big is the influence of the far right over the police and law enforcement agencies? The 8 January 2023 events showed to Lula that a section of the extreme right does not pay attention to anything he does, even to good relations he has built so far with the centrist and moderate parties, at the price of giving up anticapitalist dreams and agreeing to discuss the scope of redistribution plans. Małgorzata also comments on how both the US and Russia did not rush to express their solidarity, with Blinken and Biden finally speaking out only when the situation was clearly coming back under Lula’s control and Russia proving again that anybody is acceptable as Brazilian leader, as long as he does not stand for Ukraine like Western governments do.

Read the full transcription under the video.

In Cross-Border Talks we continue following the developments from Brazil. We had already published our interview with a Romanian political scientist, and now we are going to make a recapitulation of what happened in the last 24 hours with Malgorzata Kulbaczewska. Malgorzata, can we start with what happened in the last 24 hours? What is the situation now in Brazil?

The uprising of the bolsonaristas is over, if we can even call it uprising, because the people who stormed the government buildings in Brazil’s capital had apparently no plan what to do next, apart from shooting selfies and videos of themselves in the corridors. But in any case, there is now calm in the capital of Brazil. Those who are inside the government buildings are no longer there. Some of them were arrested, some of them dispersed around the city. And the big protest camp of the Bolsonaro supporters was also surrounded by the police as of now (we record at  5:00 pm CET).  

More than 300 people have been arrested and Lula is announcing that they will be punished with the biggest severity because, as he put it in his speech yesterday, there was nothing like this in the history of Brazilian democracy. No incident like this has happened. He said that people who were involved were ‘fascist fanatics’, and they deserve punishment for what they have done. 

Indeed, there are more questions now also in Brazilian political life. The essential question is why the police in Brasilia was very tolerant towards the protesters, Why the security measures introduced around the inauguration of Lula were limited by putting the barricades around the parliament building, which were very easily removed by the protesters. Why nobody bothered to do something about the big Bolsonaristas camp  in Brasilia’s street that was still there on the day of inauguration and later,, even though the extreme right supporters were violent, they have been violent since the first day when they heard that their favorite politicians lost the election.

 As I wrote on Cross-Border Talks, in December, there was an incident in Brazil when an extreme right supporter was arrested for planning a bomb attack in the airport of Brasilia, hoping that this act will actually enact the allow the military to step up and take power in the ensuing chaos. There was another incident of that kind in December as well, with the Bolsonaristas  trying to storm the headquarters of Brazilian police and individual acts of terror and violence were also numerous over the last weeks. So the question arises why, despite everybody knowing this in Brazil, the police were so calm on the day of the protest on the 8th of January, why it was so easy for the Bolsonaristas to cross the pickets, to cross these temporary barricades. Well, Lula is promising to investigate this. 

And it is, in fact, a key question  of the internal security of Brazil. To what extent the Bolsonaro supporters are present in the police, in the law enforcement agencies, and would they be able ever to try again staging a coup in a more organized manner? This is a question that everybody in Brazil is now asking. And definitely there is a big job from the point of view of security to resolve this.

We saw that there were a number of international leaders who expressed their solidarity with Brazilian democracy and with Lula. Could you also make some kind of a some up on the reactions which came from the international political leaders?

Indeed, there was a moment of hesitation yesterday when we needed to wait more than 2 hours for a reaction from the United States. And frankly speaking, when I posted in Polish on my Facebook page a short note about the events in Brazil, I was immediately asked by my readers: is the US staging another armed coup in Latin America? In fact, they were not, because we finally had both messages from the Secretary of State and then from Joe Biden, both of them expressing solidarity with Lula and staunch support from Brazilian democracy. But indeed there was a moment of hesitation that allowed us to think: and what if the American Empire is actually waiting for the events to go further and will just side with the winning side? 

In fact, the first heads of state to react on the events where the staunchly leftist or center left leaders of Latin American countries. The two who came first with solidarity messages were Gustavo Petro from Colombia and Gabriel Boric of Chile, both representatives of the new pink wave in Latin America. They were followed by the representatives of Argentina and Mexico. So we also are still around the social democratic rulers of Latin America.

 As for Europe, their message of solidarity came much later and, well, the biggest absence yesterday, the biggest absence was the one from Russia, because the Russian Foreign Ministry published their message of solidarity with Brazilian democracy only today, sSo when the situation was already calm and everybody knew that Lula will stay in the office. And this might be surprising given how visible was the Russian representation at Lula’s inauguration. And how close are the relations between the two states in both terms of trade and of some political cooperation.

 We must remember that Brazil is a pillar of the BRICS and it’s one of the strongest economies of the world who did not take the side of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In fact, after sanctions were imposed on Russia, the Brazilians trade with Russia actually grew. For instance, Russia is the top exporter of fertilizers and almost one fourth of all fertilizers used in Brazilian agriculture come from Russia, perhaps now it is even a bigger percentage. In any case, it was pretty surprising not to hear any Russian reactions for a while, but it becomes less surprising if we go back to what Russian media said after the elections, when everybody waited to see whether Lula would prevail over Bolsonaro or not. At the moment, when the Brazilians were choosing between the extreme right representative and the man who promised a better future to millions of Brazilians, the Russian position was like this: basically that they were happy with any outcome because they had good relations with both Lula and Bolsonaro, because any of them was going to continue international politics of Brazil as it was and none of them was really eager to stand staunchly against Russia in the conflict with Ukraine in the West. So as you can see, the Russians were just waiting. The Russians did not care much, neither about democracy nor about Lula. For the left wing sympathizers who still see in Russia some alternative for the United States leading the world order – well, this shows that even in a moment, a progressive leader is endangered by extreme right wing people, when we have really a situation which is clear from, I don’t know, moral, political, social point of view, whatever, even at this moment, Russians will not stand for the democratic option because they simply don’t care.

Our interlocutor Sergiu Miscoiu noted that right now throughout the world, including in Brazil, there is a division in the right and political tendency and a part of the right, let’s say the  centrist right or moderate right is in fact collaborating with the internationalist tendency and with the left wing, even though this is seen now in Brazil with Lula collaborating with some allies from the Brazilia right. Could you speak more about that?

Lula is determined to see Brazilians, people getting better here and now, and he understands that in the situation that he has here and now, he needs some allies in the right, on the right. On the other hand, the moderate right wing, as you put it, understands very well that Lula is no revolutionary, that he is not a person who would like to overthrow the capitalist system. And they are also perfectly aware of the fact that overthrowing capitalism today is way more difficult than it had ever been. So Lula is no longer their key enemy. For both sides, there is a field of compromise for both sides. 

Let us just have a look at the composition of Lula’s government, which has 37 ministries and only ten people being members of the Workers Party. Everybody else is either a technocrat or a person with a right-leaning political record on moderate right and in the centrist parties. Let us have a look at the person who was Lula’s running mate, who is now the vice president of Brazil. It is not a left wing politician, either. And this strategy of Lula for some has some results as he managed to get, for example, to get the agreement for the right wing in the Congress, to get the program that his famous program of Bolsa Familia began. The program, which helps to raise Brazilian families from poverty, was stopped by Bolsonaro in 2021. And now with Lula having secured enough votes of the moderate right wingers, it is most likely to come back this year. So as you can see, Lula is not striving at overthrowing capitalism in Brazil or anywhere else, and the moderate right wingers are seeing that their profits are not really in danger, their dominating position is not really in danger. So they can afford some concessions that assure public stability, social stability. This will not change. 

And so I think this is the line that Lula will be following in the coming months, in the coming years as the best strategy to get at least part of his program put into practice, especially in the not very good economic situation that Brazil is. This is, of course, not satisfactory for the extreme right wingers. As for extreme right voters of Bolsonaro, Lula is an incarnation of evil, whatever he does, and for its part, for some of those people who voted Bolsonaro, it really doesn’t matter whether Lula is on good terms with the moderate right wingers in the Congress, it doesn’t matter how cautious he is when doing some tax reforms or in improving or implementing some redistribution, he is the evil itself. 

This will be a key challenge of the politics in Brazil and not only in Brazil: what to do with these people who live apart of any parliamentary system, who don’t really take part in the debate, but instead who feed themselves with fake news, who feed themselves with some sensational information circulating in social media, and who are apparently no more controllable by anybody, for I don’t even think that Bolsonaro himself or anybody in anybody in his party would be really planning a coup d’etat with these people who try to invade the parliament of Brazil. Yesterday, as as everybody could see, nobody had a plan of what to do even in this very moment when the power in Brazil seemed to lie in the streets.

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