Brazil’s attempted coup was thwarted by Lula’s decisive action, minister says

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Alexandre Padilha says insurrection by Bolsonaro supporters was well-organized ‘act of terrorism’ aimed at toppling government. Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro invade the National Congress in Brasília on 8 January. Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro invade the National Congress in Brasília on 8 January. Photograph: Sérgio Lima/AFP/Getty Images. The insurrection that shook Brazil’s capital was a well-organised coup attempt that was thwarted thanks to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s swift and firm reaction, one of the president’s top ministers has told the Guardian.

Speaking at the presidential palace on Tuesday, the minister of institutional relations, Alexandre Padilha, said he believed Sunday’s far-right assault on the three branches of Brazil’s government was “an act of terrorism” designed to bring down Lula’s week-old government.
A vandalized painting at the national congress in Brazil, a day after Jair Bolsonaro supporters invaded the congress, presidential palace and supreme court.
‘Bottles, glass, bullets’: inside the wreckage of Brazil’s failed coup
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And Padilha said the insurrection in support of the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro might have succeeded had it not been for Lula’s decision to order a federal intervention that put his administration in charge of security in the capital, Brasília.

Ibaneis Rocha, the pro-Bolsonaro governor of the federal district which contains Brazil’s capital, was suspended from his post on Sunday night amid outrage that local security forces had failed to stop thousands of radical Bolsonaristas ransacking the presidential palace, congress and supreme court.

Late on Tuesday, a supreme court judge ordered the arrest of Brasília’s public security chief, Anderson Torres, who was previously Bolsonaro’s justice minister.

Torres was removed from office on Sunday after security forces failed to stop the invasion of the key government buildings. He had previously told local media that he was on holiday in Orlando, Florida, where Bolsonaro is also staying.

“If the government of the federal district had acted as agreed with the minister of defense and the minister of justice, none of what happened on Sunday would have happened,” Padilha said, denouncing what he called “terrorist attacks” on the heart of Brazilian democracy.
Brazil: how exactly the storming of government buildings unfolded – video timeline

“Perhaps, if we hadn’t had a leader with the popular support and ability to build political bridges that President Lula enjoys … Brazilian history might have been different when it came to the attempted coup, [and] the storming of the supreme court, congress and the presidential palace,” Padilha said.

The minister also praised the unity shown in the wake of the attacks by the leaders of Brazil’s supreme court, lower house and congress, and Brazil’s 27 regional governors, who gathered in the rubble-strewn plaza outside the presidential palace on Monday night in a powerful show of support for Lula’s new administration and Brazilian democracy.

“All of this was halted, it was stopped thanks to the firm response of President Lula,” and the pro-democracy consensus between political leaders of all stripes, added Padilha.

Exactly who orchestrated and bankrolled Sunday’s violence – and what their precise goals were – remains unclear.

But Padilha said he believed the insurrectionists had come to the capital convinced they could close down the Brazilian presidency, congress and supreme court and that a parallel “political command” would be able occupy that space with the help of sympathetic military or other security forces.

“Many of them [imagined their actions] might open the door to some kind of action from security officers or members of the armed forces that would make it impossible for the Brazilian government to operate and impair the role of the supreme court,” he said.

Padilha said the government had intelligence showing that Bolsonarista reinforcements were set to be bussed into the capital on Sunday night from three Brazilian states – São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Goiás – to bolster the coup attempt.

There is no evidence that Jair Bolsonaro was directly involved in any such a plot. The former army captain and president, who is currently in the US, has denied involvement in the mayhem.

But Lula’s minister blamed Bolsonaro’s relentless undermining of Brazil’s democratic institutions for creating the backdrop for the upheaval.

“For four years the ex-president Bolsonaro spread and cultivated an atmosphere of hatred in this country, not just against political parties, the opposition and in particular the leadership of President Lula, but also against Brazil’s supreme court,” he said.

Padilha admitted that Brazil’s security forces had been “contaminated” by Bolsonaro’s antidemocratic ideals.

“We know that numerous institutions have been contaminated by Bolsonarista hatred and the putschist practices of the Brazilian far right,” he said.

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Tom Phillips in Brasília
Tue 10 Jan 2023 22.46 GMT
First published on Tue 10 Jan 2023 17.25 GMT