By Pedro Marin
The respected London newspaper Financial Times ran with the following headline last week: “The discreet U.S. campaign to defend Brazil’s election.” The report, written by Michael Stott, Michael Pooler and Bryan Harris, deals with a “pressure campaign” carried out by U.S. officials throughout 2022, in order to prevent the thesis of fraud in the 2022 Brazilian elections from unfolding into a coup d’état.
Translated and published in Brazil by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper under the title “U.S. campaigned to defend Brazil from a possible coup by Bolsonaro,” the article in the Financial Times quotes a series of sources in the U.S. government that agreed to talk about the movements carried out. Other than the statements of some of the sources, the report does not bring new facts, it only compiles them—although in fact this campaign was not “widely reported,” as the Financial Times claims, the journey of Brazilian social movements to Washington before the elections was reported, and the intricacies of some of these moves had already been revealed in Piauí Magazinein April. What is more disturbing is that this article, about U.S. help to “save democracy” in Brazil, misrepresents and confuses the facts, incurs in lies, and in the end itself constitutes a piece of “pressure campaigning”—in this case not against a coup d’etat, but in favor of the U.S. government’s interests in Brazilian foreign policy. Ironically, Bolsonaro’s defense apparently considered using the publication of the report as an argument to prevent the ineligibility of the former president, which is under discussion at the Electoral Supreme Court.
The first misrepresentation of the report consists in pointing to Bolsonaro as the singular source of coup-mongering—something that is in line with the trite interpretation of those who, here in Brazil, at the expense of seeking the just punishment of the former president, absolve in advance all of his coup entourage, especially the military, as well as his bases among the business community, particularly in agribusiness.
“Some generals were uncomfortable with Bolsonaro’s attempts to politicize an institution which had tried to stay out of politics since returning power to civilians in 1985 and were worried about the risks of the military stepping outside the constitution,” the story says in one excerpt, which states shortly after: “Hamilton Mourão, Bolsonaro’s vice-president, was one of those.” Mourão, the one who had threatened in the past with “successive approaches”; Mourão, the one who defended the 1964 coup as a way to prevent “the homeland from being communized”; Mourão, the one who radically opposed the Truth Commission; Mourão, the one who, on active duty, considered that Dilma Rousseff’s government collaborated with “incompetence, mismanagement and corruption”; Mourão, the one who paid homage to torturer Brilhante Ustra in the army barracks; Mourão, the one who considered that the 2018 elections “might not take place” if Lula was a candidate—this was the Mourão who, among some other generals, was “worried” about democracy in Brazil. The evidence on which the Financial Times statement is based? “A short sentence from the former vice-president in an elevator: [former U.S. ambassador to Brazil Thomas] Shannon recalls a visit by Mourão to New York for a private lunch with investors last July, while tensions were running high. After batting away questions about the risks of a coup, repeating that he was confident Brazil’s armed forces were committed to democracy, Mourão entered a lift to leave and the former ambassador joined him. “As the door was closing, I said to him: ‘You know your visit here is very important. You heard from people around the table regarding their concerns. And I share those concerns and, quite frankly, I’m very worried. Mourão turned to me and he said: ‘I’m very worried too.'””
The story acknowledges that despite the pressure campaign by U.S. officials, and despite the fact that one senior official had “the sense that the people around Bolsonaro were urging him to do the right thing,” “danger had not passed.” In this excerpt, journalists not only incur misrepresentation, but lies: “On January 8, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters staged an insurrection in Brasília, storming congress, the supreme court and the presidential palace demanding military intervention. Brazil’s military did intervene within hours—but to quash the protests.” The military did not intervene on January 8, except in front of the Brasilia headquarters—not to repress the protests (which the Army’s Presidential Guard Battalion should have done and did not), but to provide shelter for the coup plotters—as the Armed Forces had been doing since November—and to prevent them from being arrested by the Federal District Police troops.
Why does the Financial Times, in the week when the issue of coups in Brazil has returned to discussion due to Veja Magazine’s revelations about army Lieutenant-Colonel and Bolsonaro advisor Mauro Cid’s plans and conversations with other members of the military regarding a coup, carry such a thunderous headline for a story that reveals nothing new, that misrepresents the recent history of the country and that, in at least one case, lies?
The answer does not require conspiracy theories; it is at the end of the article itself: “For the Biden administration, relations with Brazil have improved but there has still been friction with the new government. Lula showed little public recognition of the U.S. campaign to protect the election. […] In April he took a big delegation to China for a three-day, two-city tour. On that trip, Lula rejected U.S. sanctions on Huawei, the Chinese tech company, lashed out at the west’s military support for Ukraine and endorsed Beijing’s drive for alternatives to the U.S. dollar. […] ‘People here understand that there are going to be political differences,’ says Shannon. ‘But there’s a tone of anger and resentment underlying all of this which really caught people by surprise . . . It’s as if he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to acknowledge what we did.'”
In short, the newspaper’s noisy story, based on statements by U.S. officials and republished in Brazil’s domestic media, consists of a charge by the U.S. government that Lula’s government should take more account of its moves last year in defense of the elections when thinking about its foreign policy. But doesn’t the one who trades in “democracy advocacy,” for which he expects a reward, reveal, precisely, his essentially anti-democratic nature?
Machiavelli has been exhaustively remembered these days, in the context of the Wagner Group mutiny in Russia, for his classic lessons on the use of mercenaries. It is also worth recalling the Florentine’s words about certain types of “allies”: “These arms may be useful and good in themselves, but for him who calls them in they are always disadvantageous; for losing, one is undone, and winning, one is their captive.”
This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with Revista Opera. Pedro Marin is the editor-in-chief and founder of Revista Opera. He is the author of Golpe é Guerra—teses para enterrar 2016, on the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, and coauthor of Carta no Coturno—A volta do Partido Fardado no Brasil, on the role of the military in Brazilian politics.