De Facto Coup in Brazil: General Walter Braga Neto is “Operational President”

BY VK SHASHIKUMAR

Brazilian military Generals constituting the High Command have carried out a silent coup at the Palacio Da Alvarada, the official residence of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. General Walter Braga Neto, a senior aide of Bolsonaro, has taken over as the ‘operational president’. He was the Chief of Staff of the Presidency of the Republic and this post is considered to be the second highest-ranking member of the Executive Office of Brazil. The post was established on 1 December 1938.

Reports suggests that General Neto has taken over the President’s role and is personally directing all Covid19 related crisis response as well as managing all government management, “at least while the crisis lasts”. Bolsonaro and his group has allegedly accepted this fait accompli in a negotiation according to information shared on the military website ‘Defesanet’.

The website says: “The new ‘informal mission’ [by General Braga Neto] was the product of a ‘top deal’, involving ministers and military commanders and the President of the Republic himself”. The website further states: “For many, Braga Neto’s ‘mission’ is nothing more than an intervention or a military junta coordinating the government”. The agreement reached between the Brazilian military and Bolsonaro’s team gives him leeway to officially send notes of disagreement to General Neto’s office on policy issues. Reports suggest that Bolsonaro will be “able to disagree and express himself contrary to the decisions of General Braga Neto” and “will be able to openly correct him”.

This is probably just a mechanism to ensure that the elected political executive is not seen as lame duck and ineffective. However, the agreement clearly ensures that the reins of real power will be in hands of General Neto.

The “exchange of functions” information has already been passed – “with due care” – to the ministers and main “authorities”, especially from the legislative and judicial branches. General Neto has been presented as the “chief operating officer” to the legislative, executive and judicial institutions in Brazil.

The military structure in the Brazilian Defence Forces has also undergone a shift. In the military , the position is being called “Chief of Staff of the Plateau”. It is not entirely clear what this role entails in the military domain.

Defesanet’s report also states that the message from the Brazilian Army Commander, General Edson Pujol, was interpreted as if this move was aimed at effectively responding to the crisis sparked by Covid19. The website, however, suggests another interpretation: “The gesture of the Strong Arm and the Friendly Hand shown in the video and the closing sentence taken from the Army song have transcendent meanings:‘ We will fight without fear! ’. The phrase ‘perhaps the most important mission of our generation’ was translated as the fight against Covid-19. Strategic observers who have read between the lines say that the message was clear – “The Brazilian Army will be ready and ready to defend the Brazilian State and Democratic Freedoms and above all the Nation”. This means that the Brazilian Army has taken a conscious decision to proactively play a political role going forward.

In fact, the secret military government formed by generals by project Bolsonaro as the ‘De Jure’ President, but not allowing him to wield any power, has established a new form of military run democracy in South America. Using Covid19 public health emergency in Brazil as an excuse the Generals of the Brazilian Armed Forces have consolidated their power at the negotiating table with Bolsonaro, ensuring that Military will forever have an influential political role in Brazilian politics through open, negotiated, power sharing deals. If there is anyone to blame for the weakening of democracy in Brazil and its transition to a democracy guided by the Brazilian miltary then its clearly Bolsonaro’s significant isolation in the political and military milieu and the plummeting public opinion on his ability to lead the country effectively and decisively.

The quiet coup effected by the Brazilian Army was preceded by few months of work, coordinated by the High Command of the Armed Forces (clique of Generals), right of centre political and civil society groups and large sections of the Brazilian media.. The capitulation of Bolsonaro has given Brazilian military to govern directly with a powerless elected government providing it a democratic facade. Apparently, the military has warned Bolsonaro that any attempt by him to regain political ground would lead to an expose of his shady ties with the “militias” in Brazil and his son’s corrupt deal. The blackmail of a long prison term for Bolsonaro and his son will ensure that they accept the military’s conditions.

Bolsonaro, perhaps, has acquired a unique distinction – the first elected head of state of any country who has voluntarily signed a deal to make his position titular in nature and give away the powers of the Presidency to Brazilian Army Generals in the High Command of the Armed Forces. The next few weeks and months will be interesting as the fluid situation in Brazil evolves even as the Covid19 pandemic continues to throw the international system out of gear.

(VK Shashikumar is an investigative journalist and a strategist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

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