RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil on Monday observed the anniversary of last year’s uprising in the capital when thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro invaded government buildings and called for a military intervention to remove President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.
Several demonstrations in defense of democracy were taking place across the South American country, hours after Federal Police carried out dozens of search warrants as part of its ongoing investigation targeting those responsible for the mayhem.
Prosecution plus a ban on Bolsonaro from running for office stands in contrast to the U.S., where Donald Trump is running again for president and has been dominating the campaign for the Republican nomination so far, even though he faces federal and state charges.
On Sunday night in the capital, Brasilia, the words “Democracy Unites Us” were projected on Congress’ annex buildings that tower behind its chambers.
The Supreme Court inaugurated an exhibition about “reconstruction, memory and democracy” displaying damaged pieces and other tangible traces of the attack, and Congress hosted another pro-democracy event, where officials presented a tapestry by renowned artist Roberto Burle Marx that was damaged by rioters and painstakingly restored. The latter event was attended by roughly 500 guests, including Lula, members of his Cabinet, Supreme Court justices, Senate president Rodrigo Pacheco and top military brass.
“Thousands of seemingly ordinary people were moved by falsehoods, conspiracy theories and resentment,” Supreme Court president Luís Roberto Barroso said. “They were transformed into criminals, apprentice terrorists … A sad defeat of the spirit.”
Street demonstrations took place in the afternoon on the streets of cities across Brazil, but there was little sign of opposing protests defending those who rioted and have faced prosecution. At a demonstration in Rio, some 500 people gathered. Many of them characterized Jan. 8 as an attempted coup, including Penélope Toledo, 42.
“It didn’t start on that day and it didn’t finish that day, because we are conquering democracy daily and, if we waver, a coup will come,” said Toledo, who works in the communications department of government health research institute Fiocruz. “If we waver, the forces damaging to society will return. That date represents our fight, it represents the resistance of the Brazilian people.”
On Jan. 8, 2023, Latin America’s largest country teetered on the brink of democratic meltdown when pro-Bolsonaro rioters bypassed security barricades around the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court, climbed onto roofs, smashed windows, urinated on precious art and damaged historic Brazilian memorabilia.
The scenes, broadcast live on television, recalled those seen during the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol and drew instant parallels.
A year on, Brazil has strived to move on from what Supreme Court’s Barroso called in an op-ed published Monday by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo “the most virulent attack on the country’s institutions” since the end of the military dictatorship nearly four decades ago.
Unlike in the U.S., Brazil’s judiciary has already sidelined Bolsonaro. Last year, the nation’s electoral court barred him from running for office again until 2030. The case was unrelated to the riots, but rather pertained to his repeated, unfounded claims that the electronic voting system was susceptible to fraud.
“When someone raises doubts about democracy in Brazil, it’s important that you are not afraid of using my story and that of my party,” Lula told the crowd gathered in the Senate, rebuffing Bolsonaro’s claims that electronic voting machines were prone to fraud. “No one here has run in as many elections as I have, has lost as many times as I did and has won as many times as I did.”
Lula, who is currently serving his third nonconsecutive presidential term, ran his first campaign in 1989, but didn’t win until 2002.
Most Brazilians seem to be rallying around the banner of democracy promoted by Lula since assuming office on Jan. 1, 2023. A December survey by pollster Quaest found that 89% of Brazilians surveyed viewed last year’s uprising negatively.
“They tried to do what happened in the Capitol, there in the U.S., but they weren’t successful,” Mychelle Alves Monteiro, 44, said at the event in Rio.
There also have been attempts at accountability in the U.S.: about 1,200 people have been charged over the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Trump faces both federal and state charges for seeking to overturn the 2020 election results. He has been barred from the ballot in two states in a matter that will now go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Brazil, federal prosecutors have filed charges against more than 1,400 people for their role in the riots. But the Supreme Court has only convicted 30 people since the first conviction, in September. Many of those targeted claim they are suffering political persecution. The Supreme Court is also investigating Bolsonaro over his role in the insurrection.
So far, senior officers of the armed forces have also escaped accountability, although important voices such as Supreme Court justices and opposition leaders have said that some, at the very least, were complicit.
In October, a congressional panel of lawmakers, mostly allied with Lula, concluded that Bolsonaro orchestrated the riots as part of a concerted effort to oust Lula from office. They said that the riots couldn’t have occurred without the complicity of some of the top military brass and police officers.
Their report called for the indictment of 22 military personnel, including the then heads of Brazil’s navy and armed forces, and Bolsonaro’s former defense minister and running mate, Gen. Braga Netto.
So far, no action has been taken against any of them.
On Monday morning, police carried out 46 search and seizure warrants and one arrest warrant, police said. The arrest warrant targeted a person that allegedly contracted a bus to drive protesters from Brazil’s northeast to Brasilia, according to Folha de S.Paulo.
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