The Reporter (Vacaville)
Haunted by post-election riot, Brazil's Lula reins in army
SAO PAULO >> When rioters stormed Brazil's top government buildings in January to dispute the outcome of the presidential election, many soldiers stood by as far-right protesters broke windows, defecated in offices and destroyed valuable art.
The images from Brasilia that day still haunt the leftleaning government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He has strived ever since to ensure that military leaders defend South America's largest democracy and stay out of politics.
The threat isn't just hypothetical. Brazil has lived through four military coups — the most recent one in 1964, followed by two decades of brutal dictatorship.
Lula's task is fraught. The military is filled with supporters of ex-president Jair
Bolsonaro, and its role in the new government is being diminished by the day.
Lula has already tapped more than 100 civilians to replace military officers Bolsonaro appointed to key positions, and he has moved oversight of the country's intelligence agency to his chief of staff's office, among other changes.
“Lula needed to manage his relationship with the military to be able to govern, and will continue to do so,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo.
Melo said Brazil's military has long believed that it has “some kind of guardianship of the country's political process,” and Bolsonaro only fueled that belief.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, appointed more than 6,000 military officers to jobs across his government and revived an annual commemoration of the 1964 coup to stoke nostalgia for the days of military rule.
Although that era was marked by human rights abuses and the loss of civil liberties, Bolsonaro and many of his supporters remember it fondly as a time of strong nationalism, economic growth and conservative values. They view Lula's efforts to tame the military as heavy-handed and misguided.
“Stop looking through the rearview mirror and govern for all Brazilians,” Bolsonaro's former vice president, Gen. Hamilton Mourão, who is now a senator, said in an interview.
The most significant move Lula has made so far has been to elevate Gen. Tomás Paiva to be the army's top commander.
Paiva, 62, has pledged to keep soldiers out of politics and to respect the results of October's election, in which Lula beat Bolsonaro by a razor-thin margin.
Yet Paiva has also acknowledged that most the military's leaders voted for Bolsonaro, and he lamented Lula's victory to subordinates just three days before the new president called to offer him the promotion — comments he later said were misinterpreted.