Categories
Power

Bolsonaro pushes for control in Rio de Janeiro

Though born in the state of São Paulo, it was in Rio de Janeiro that Jair Bolsonaro became a politician. Following his expulsion from the Army due to insubordination, Mr. Bolsonaro ran (and won) in eight consecutive races, one for Rio’s city council, and the rest for a seat in Congress, representing the southeastern state. It was also there that he ushered his ex-wife and three children into politics.

But Mr. Bolsonaro has never been a part of the Rio political establishment, which, in retrospect, worked to his advantage — Rio’s political elite has been ravaged by anti-corruption investigations, with every former state governor having been jailed at some point.[restricted]

Not even after winning the presidency with massive support in Rio de Janeiro did the president manage to wrestle control of the state. Instead, he saw Governor Wilson Witzel — who was elected on his coattails — break with the Bolsonaro family and present himself as a possible presidential challenger. At the municipal level, Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an ally, is as unpopular as an incumbent can be. Moreover, his eldest son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, saw himself being investigated for running money-laundering while serving as a state lawmaker.

But, with the twists and turns Brazilian politics is known for, the Bolsonaros now seem in position to plant their family flag over Rio de Janeiro and control the state.

In August, the Superior Court of Justice suspended Mr. Witzel from office, following embezzlement and money laundering accusations. Since then, the president has made multiple public gestures to acting Governor Cláudio Castro, who is also under investigation, and has intensely worked behind-the-scenes deals to put allies in key positions in the Rio de Janeiro establishment.

After the Rio State Congress decided to open impeachment proceedings against Mr. Witzel in a 69-0 vote, his ousting seems all but certain. And Mr. Castro, who should soon become the governor full-time, will take over a state that is on the cusp of a full-scale financial collapse and in need of federal support — giving the president tremendous leverage to get the best out of his relationship with the state administration.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

After being trusted with the state government in the most adverse of situations, Cláudio Castro spent six of his first 14 days as acting governor far away in federal capital Brasília, officially negotiating a renewal of Rio’s Fiscal Recovery Regime — a settlement with the federal government signed in 2017 to avoid Rio’s complete financial ruin. At one point, he posted on Twitter: “I’ve just gotten a call from Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, who put himself at our disposal to help the state of Rio.”

Days later, Mr. Castro flew on the presidential jet to attend the inauguration of the new Supreme Court Chief Justice, Luiz Fux.

“Alongside the [Rio] State Congress and our young governor, we will seek a way to bring Rio back from this dire situation. God willing, this way of doing politics will be left behind and a new era of politics will rise,” declared President Bolsonaro, two weeks ago.

If 21 months of Jair Bolsonaro as president have taught us anything, it is that his goodwill doesn’t come for free. The president demands unwavering loyalty from allies — and doesn’t take no for an answer when he wants to handpick names for public positions. And if Cláudio Castro wants to stay in Mr. Bolsonaro’s good graces, he better play ball.

Setting up the chessboard in Rio de Janeiro

The Bolsonaros have had their eyes on Rio’s law enforcement agencies ever since the family rose to national prominence. The president’s willingness to control the Federal Police state superintendency there led to a fallout with former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro. Late in March, Mr. Bolsonaro told Mr. Moro, via a text message: “You already have 27 superintendencies. I only need one [Rio].”

Now, the family has its sights set on the State Prosecution Office. Eduardo Gussem, the current head of the department — and responsible for presenting criminal charges against two of Jair Bolsonaro’s children — ends his current term in December. And it will be up to the acting governor to choose a replacement. 

The name of the Bolsonaros’ favorite for the job, ultra-conservative prosecutor Marcelo Monteiro, has made its way to Mr. Castro.

Indeed, one consequential change to cater to the First Family has already taken place. In mid-September, Allan Turnowski was named chief of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police after Senator Flávio Bolsonaro personally endorsed him to the acting governor, as sources told The Brazilian Report.

Since taking office, Mr. Turnowski has already swapped out the heads of 70 police divisions and precincts. When asked, he claims none of these changes were politically motivated.

Since Claudio Castro was named Rio’s acting governor and got closer to the Bolsonaros, a series of personnel changes have been made in the state’s security apparatus, with all of the new faces linked to the Bolsonaro family.

Among aides, President Jair Bolsonaro is described as having a persecution complex, made worse by the stabbing he suffered during the 2018 presidential campaign — as well as reports (later debunked) tying him to the murder of City Councilor Marielle Franco.

Officials who are aware of the president’s maneuvers to take control of Rio de Janeiro’s politics mention another reason for his moves: a willingness to control and contain investigations into his two eldest sons, who are accused of running rudimentary money-laundering schemes within their public offices in the state.

For a family who was once made out of bottom-feeders in Rio de Janeiro’s shady political scene, the Bolsonaros are now the most popular political figures in the country. However, President Bolsonaro’s goals in power have always seemed provincial — targeting his home state and making life easier for his family and allies, thus his full-blown assault on the political structures in Rio de Janeiro.[/restricted]

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Business

Brazilian labor courts not ready to deal with remote work

The Brazilian economy is steadily reopening and returning to something closer to normality in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. That said, most companies are unlikely to ever return to their “default” working practices. As we explained in our July 20 Weekly Report, most Brazilian companies — even those that have returned to office activities — are set to keep some of their employees working from home permanently. At the very least, firms are likely to include remote work in a form of employee-rotation system to mitigate the risk of in-company coronavirus spreads.

While remote work has allowed thousands of companies to keep their activities ticking over in exceptional times — [restricted]and shown bosses that some processes are in fact more efficient when done out of the office — many studies suggest that working at home is taking its toll on the labor force. [restricted]When not in the office, some superiors have expected their employees to be available at all times, making workdays longer than usual. 

“People are joining more meetings, answering more unscheduled calls, and having to deal with more messages than before the pandemic,” read a Microsoft study published last week.

This scenario creates regulatory uncertainties, with potential future litigation between employees and companies in labor courts. Disconcertingly, Brazil’s Superior Labor Court (TST) appears to be unprepared for this possibility. The Brazilian Report asked the court if it has been sought out to handle cases related to remote work, or if it is preparing to arbitrate in such situations.

The TST simply replied that it has no information of the sort.

Remote work in Brazilian law

Brazil’s labor legislation has included provisions related to remote work since 2011, stating, for instance, that distance work activities are equatable to in-person employment for all necessary legal purposes. 

In the 2017 labor reform pushed through by then-President Michel Temer, remote work is defined as “the provision of services predominantly outside of the employer’s premises (…) which does not constitute external work.” These legal changes also blocked the possibility of overtime payments for those working from home.

As may be gleaned from these vague and perhaps contradictory definitions of remote work, labor courts are set to receive a wave of complaints basing themselves on holes or inconsistencies in Brazil’s telework regulations.

Not everyone can work from home

A recent study by the Anísio Teixeira Institute of Studies and Educational Research (Inep) shows that the nationwide shift toward remote work will not be a universal one, with research coordinator Geraldo Góes affirming that the results show the “reality of Brazilian inequality.” According to the study, working from home is an opportunity predominantly offered to more qualified and high-ranking workers, largely white women.

“Of course some jobs, such as farming or shop work, cannot be carried out remotely, but what we have clearly seen is that the higher the level of study or qualification, the more likely the person will remain working from home,” says Mr. Góes.

The prevalence of remote work also runs along state lines. “The larger the state’s income per capita, the more remote work there is,” the researcher explains. Indeed, the three states with the highest average incomes — the Federal District, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro — are also home to the most employees working from home.

This works in the opposite direction as well, with the northern state of Pará having among the lowest per capita incomes, and the lowest numbers of remote workers.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

Brazil’s prosecutor general: unbiased professional, or Bolsonaro’s lackey?

Handpicked by President Jair Bolsonaro last September, Brazil’s Prosecutor General Augusto Aras is about to complete a full year in office. Initially depicted as the president’s strawman, Mr. Aras used his inauguration speech to reinforce his “unwavering commitment to [fighting] corruption,” while stressing that the Federal Prosecution Service he now oversees must be “pledged to the true spirit of the Constitution.”

His stint as prosecutor general has so far been littered with controversy, with questionable decisions that have led to internal and external criticism. Mr. Aras’s vow against corruption has been called into doubt, thanks to his series of attacks against Operation Car Wash — the largest anti-corruption investigation in Brazil’s history.[restricted]

Indeed, several of his decisions have raised a question mark over his actual dedication to the fight against corruption, and whether he is simply in the role of prosecutor general to act as President Bolsonaro’s lackey.

Just last week, Augusto Aras made at least three statements in favor of the Bolsonaro family. On Thursday, he told the Supreme Court that Senator Flávio Bolsonaro should be given the right to jurisdictional prerogative in the corruption case currently brewing in Rio de Janeiro.

When the events that make up the inquiry took place, Flávio Bolsonaro was a member of Rio state congress, meaning that — by the letter of the law — the president’s oldest son should not be granted any parliamentary jurisdictional benefits.

Mr. Aras also shelved a request to place President Bolsonaro under investigation for threatening a reporter from newspaper O Globo — Mr. Bolsonaro threatened to “punch [his] face in” — claiming the president enjoyed immunity.

He also ruled in favor of Mr. Bolsonaro in stating the president’s verified social media accounts should not be considered “official,” giving the head of state the right to block users as he sees fit. This statement came in a case pending before the Supreme Court, filed by a lawyer who was blocked by the president on Twitter.

Suing President Bolsonaro

The major litmus test of Mr. Aras’s time in office concerns a complaint issued by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who directly accused President Bolsonaro of undue interference in the Federal Police. The Brazilian Report spoke with several sources within the Prosecutor General’s Office, Planalto Palace, Supreme Court, and the General Counsel for the Federal Government — the general feeling is that Augusto Aras will nix Mr. Moro’s plea and save the president from investigation.

Before this, one of the most controversial decisions of the prosecutor general’s time in office also concerns Sergio Moro. Prior to examining whether Mr. Moro’s accusations are based in fact, Mr. Aras named the former Justice Minister as a suspect for alleged malfeasance. 

One source from within the Prosecutor General’s Office called Augusto Aras’s attitude towards Mr. Moro in the investigation as “subtle, but uncommon,” saying that it works in Jair Bolsonaro’s favor.

Indeed, the president’s allies are prepared to submit appeals in the case and are wary of celebrating prematurely. “In legal matters, you never know what’s around the corner,” said one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s interlocutors. However, all are in agreement about the “signals [Mr.] Aras is making.”

Constitutional Catch 22

Michael Mohallem, a law professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, says that the appointment of the Federal Prosecutor General is one of the weak links left by the Brazilian Constitution when it comes to the autonomy of the prosecution service. “The institutional framework does not favor independent stances from the [Prosecutor General] as the president is not forced to choose a candidate from the three-person list of suggestions [prepared by prosecutors],” he explains.

“It’s not unconstitutional, but it weakens the situation, as it allows any person who is close and aligned with the president to be given the job. It’s one thing to evaluate technical requirements, it’s another to evaluate preferences. One of the central responsibilities of the Prosecutor General is to carry out oversight on the Executive branch. If he/she is aligned [with the government], that’s a flaw.”

When appointing Augusto Aras as Prosecutor General, Jair Bolsonaro turned his back on a tradition in place since 2003, by which the president would choose the new head of the prosecution service in accordance with a three-person list of nominees selected by professionals in the field. Over the last 17 years, only President Michel Temer selected the second-name on this list — Mr. Aras’s predecessor, Raquel Dodge. On all other occasions, Brazil’s presidents have chosen the prosecutor with the most votes among their peers. 

Augusto Aras wasn’t even on the list presented to Mr. Bolsonaro.

Beyond simply having been handpicked by the president, suspicions around the prosecutor general’s credibility are increased by subtle hints from Jair Bolsonaro that Mr. Aras could be in the running for a seat on the Supreme Court. Two justices will retire before the end of Mr. Bolsonaro’s term and the chance of a spot on the country’s highest court could be making Augusto Aras toe the government line.

This issue is repeated to exhaustion among legal scholars and Mr. Aras’s peers. “Even if the prosecutor general has a neutral legal view, without bias, the doubt and mistrust around his actions weigh heavily against the image of his office. It’s not enough to have integrity, in this case, it is important that society perceives him as someone who works without political bias,” stresses Mr. Mohallem.

The law professor points out another problem with the constitutional rules regarding the role of prosecutor general: the possibility of being granted a further term after two years. “If someone does the job independently, if they file complaints against the president, cabinet ministers — in other words, if they do their job properly — there is a chance that the president will not want to give the prosecutor another term, inhibiting their work.”[/restricted]

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Coronavirus

Second Supreme Court Justice catches Covid-19

Supreme Court Justice Cármen Lúcia has tested positive for Covid-19 — making her the ninth person who attended the September 10 inauguration of Chief Justice Luiz Fux to have contracted the coronavirus. A source close to the justice told The Braziliian Report that Ms. Lúcia is well, despite her diagnosis.

Several high-profile authorities in Brasília have recently been infected with the virus, including Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, Tourism Minister Marcelo Álvaro Antonio, and House Speaker Rodrigo Maia — along with several members of high courts.

But while the inauguration ceremony is being used as a timestamp for these infections, there were multiple occasions during which the spread might have occurred. One was a massive dinner party hosted by the House Speaker the day before. The September 9 event — gathering everyone who’s anyone in Brasília politics — was in celebration of the inauguration of Luiz Fux as the new Supreme Court Chief Justice. Members of Congress were in attendance, as well as members of high courts and prominent business owners.

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Power

Bolsonaro’s misinformed address to the United Nations

In 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shocked the world with a speech at the United Nations that was filled with disinformation and elements of domestic culture wars — nothing for international consumption, but purely for his own support base in Brazil. On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Bolsonaro’s second hurrah at the UN General Assembly touched on more international topics, but once again relied heavily on gaslighting the global audience — giving fact-checking agencies a field day.

In 14 and a half minutes, Mr. Bolsonaro made six false statements and five claims that were baseless or exaggerated.

Readers of The Brazilian Report already knew what to expect, as we reported last week that Mr. Bolsonaro had ordered his advisors to “dig up all the data that can put Brazil in a positive light compared to other countries.” 

The most noteworthy part of the speech, however, [restricted]concerned Brazil’s positioning between the U.S. and China — especially in light of U.S. President Donald Trump’s slim re-election prospects. (Statistics website FiveThirtyEight gives challenger Joe Biden a 77-percent chance to unseat Mr. Trump.)

Mr. Bolsonaro said Brazil is open to the development of flagship technology, including 5G, with “any partner that respects our sovereignty, and cherishes freedom and data protection.” One Brazilian diplomat, who requested to remain anonymous, told The Brazilian Report that this was a nod to the U.S.’s lobby for countries to ban Chinese firm Huawei from 5G auctions — “while leaving the door open for a U-turn if necessary.”

Later in his speech, the president would make two more gestures toward Mr. Trump. 

First, by lashing out at Venezuela’s “Bolivarian dictatorship,” just days after a visit by Mike Pompeo to the Brazil-Venezuela border, during which the U.S. Secretary of State called Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a “drug dealer.”

Then, he mentioned Mr. Trump by name in praising his Peace to Prosperity plan as a “promising vision [to reach a] much-desired solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”


What to make of Bolsonaro’s UN speech

Aware of his woeful international image, the president adopted a defensive stance, deflecting the blame for the coronavirus crisis — Brazil has the world’s third-highest number of cases and second-highest of deaths — and for the recent environmental disasters ongoing in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands.

Instead, Mr. Bolsonaro pointed the finger at Brazil’s Supreme Court, state governors, indigenous groups, and alleged “shady interests” of global powers that want to prey on Brazil’s natural resources.

Below, we analyze the main points of Mr. Bolsonaro’s opening speech at the 75th UN General Assembly.

Coronavirus crisis in Brazil

Mr. Bolsonaro opened by briefly lamenting the almost 140,000 coronavirus deaths in the country. However, he claimed that from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, he has alerted the country about two crises: the spread of Covid-19 and the imminent job apocalypse — adding that he said both should be treated with the same importance. On May 1, we showed that was false.

“Mr. Bolsonaro once again washed his hands [of responsibility] for the pandemic, blaming the only possible policy to fight the virus we know at this moment: social isolation. The president also undermined science and patted himself on the back for things he did not do to mitigate the crisis,” says political scientist Carlos Melo, a professor at the São Paulo-based Insper Business School.

The president also praised Brazil’s coronavirus emergency salary, which has reduced poverty in Brazil to unprecedented levels — albeit only temporarily — and helped millions of citizens who lost the entirety of their income during the pandemic. It is worth mentioning, however, that Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration originally wanted to pay much smaller benefits to the population — but was outmuscled by Congress. 

The environmental disaster

At no point did Mr. Bolsonaro own up to his administration’s faults in managing the environmental crisis, instead claiming Brazil is the “victim of one of the most brutal disinformation campaigns” in the world, carried out by “international institutions and exploitative and unpatriotic Brazilian associations” whose goal is to hurt the government and the country.

But it is impossible to fight with the facts. Since the beginning of the year, fires in the Pantanal wetlands have already destroyed 19 percent of the entire region — which is the largest wetland in the world. Also, at least 90 percent of the main conservation site dedicated to research in the area, the Sesc Pantanal Reserve, was ravaged by blazes.

Shifting attention from land to sea, Mr. Bolsonaro declared that, in 2019, “Brazil was a victim of a criminal oil spill caused by Venezuela,” that caused environmental destruction on the country’s north-eastern coast. However, the Brazilian Federal Police later ended its investigation without officially holding Venezuela responsible. While the oil was of Venezuelan origin, the Feds were unable to conclude whether the ship responsible for the spill left from Venezuelan ports, or whether the incident was in fact a criminal spill.

Bolsonaro on indigenous populations

In last year’s General Assembly speech, Brazil’s far-right leader was critical of the country’s indigenous activists. The traditional communities were not left out of Mr. Bolsonaro’s address on Tuesday either, with the head of state blaming indigenous people for burning the Amazon rainforest. But the Federal Police has already found evidence that landowners are the ones responsible for igniting wildfires, in order to clear space for pastures.

He also said the federal government “gave assistance to over 200,000 indigenous families with food products and Covid-19 prevention products.” In reality, Mr. Bolsonaro did the opposite, vetoing a piece of legislation that would force the government to provide these communities with safe drinking water, hygiene products, and hospital beds.

The Brazilian Report has already exposed the worrisome situation of Brazil’s indigenous groups during the pandemic. Until August 22, according to the Articulation of Indigenous People, at least 700 indigenous people died due to Covid-19 — but anthropologists say the real figures are much higher.

The economy and foreign trade

Brazil’s nonchalant approach to the environmental crisis might cost the country its biggest diplomatic success under Jair Bolsonaro: the signing of a free-trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur, after more than 20 years of negotiations. 

A group of eight European countries — which account for 10 percent of Brazil’s agricultural exports — have formally asked the Bolsonaro administration to take “real action” against deforestation in the Amazon, adding that “the current trend is making it increasingly difficult for businesses and investors to meet their environmental, social, and governance criteria.”

Meanwhile, a group of 30 NGOs, including Greenpeace France, demanded that French President Emmanuel Macron “bury [the EU-Mercosur deal] once and for all,” citing its potentially “disastrous” impacts on forests, the climate, and human rights.

Mr. Bolsonaro seemed unfazed by the pressure, claiming he trusts in Brazil’s efforts to advance these agreements and even supported an overhaul of the World Trade Organization (WTO) — one again, falling in line with U.S. President Donald Trump.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus Power

Brazil Senate goes back work after high-profile Covid party

After a six-month coronavirus hiatus, the Brazilian Senate is once again holding in-person sittings. And the upper house hasn’t beaten around the bush, approving a request to summon Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo to provide clarifications about the visit of the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Brazil-Venezuela border.

But while a return is necessary — Congress has conducted its debates and votes remotely, but the pandemic has halted all activity in issue-based committees — it seems ill-timed. Senators are returning to meet in person just 12 days after a massive dinner party held at the official residence of House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, who has since tested positive for the coronavirus.[restricted]

The Covid party

The September 9 event — gathering everyone who’s anyone in Brasília politics — was in celebration of the inauguration of Luiz Fux as the new Supreme Court Chief Justice. Members of Congress were in attendance, as well as members of high courts, and prominent business owners.

While no-one is keen to owe up to the fact, The Brazilian Report was able to confirm that — beyond Mr. Maia and the guest of honor, Chief Justice Fux — among those in attendance were next-door neighbor Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, senators Nelsinho Trad and Chico Rodrigues, and lower house members Baleia Rossi, Carlos Sampaio, Efraim Filho, Fábio Trad, Marcos Pereira, Aguinaldo Ribeiro, and Arthur Lira. 

On the day after Luiz Fux was sworn in as Chief Justice, at least six authorities confirmed they had contracted Covid-19. Besides Mr. Maia and Chief Justice Fux, Attorney General Augusto Aras, head of the Superior Labor Court Maria Cristina Peduzzi, and Superior Court of Justice members Luís Felipe Salomão and Antonio Saldanha Palheiro. 

In the Senate, 38 of the 81 members are aged over 60, and several suffer from pre-existing conditions that pose Covid-19 risks, such as obesity and high blood pressure. The chamber’s press office did not respond to The Brazilian Report‘s inquiry about how many senators have been infected by the coronavirus, saying it “habitually does not divulge Covid-19 case numbers among its employees and members.”

According to Agência Senado, six senators had contracted Covid-19 until June, including Senate President Alcolumbre.

The Senate’s return to work is regulated by a normative act issued last week, which sees the installation of hand sanitizer dispensers at strategic locations in the chamber, increased distancing between senators on the floor, and ‘drive-thru’ voting stations allowing at-risk politicians to stay out of the main chamber.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

2020 Election: What is at stake in São Paulo and Rio

Brazil’s mid-term municipal elections are often seen by parties as a dress rehearsal for national races. History suggests that local disputes often anticipate trends that we will observe two years later, when presidential and gubernatorial candidates square off. In 2020, the municipal election will be as national as ever, with all the main presidential hopefuls using the November 15 vote to set up alliances that could carry them over the finish line in 2022.

In this game, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are disproportionately important, as the country’s two most-populated and wealthiest cities — with a combined GDP of nearly BRL 1 trillion (USD 190 billion), or 10 percent of the Brazilian economy. These two cities alone, account for over 9 percent of the Brazilian electorate.

Both races, however, are up in the air, less than two months before Election Day. We explain what is at stake in each of them.[restricted]

Key points in the 2020 election

  • While reelection rates are extremely high in state and national races, the same doesn’t happen for municipal disputes. The percentage of mayors who were granted a second term has continually decreased since 2008 to an all-time low of 21 percent in 2016.
  • The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) will try to preserve its dominance in major urban centers. Of Brazil’s biggest 96 cities, the PSDB is the ruling party in 30 of them. That is thanks to its continuous shift towards a “hard right” after leaving power in 2002 (especially on crime-related issues) and consolidating itself as the main opposition force against the Workers’ Party until Jair Bolsonaro emerged on the national scene. It remains to be seen how the rise of  Mr. Bolsonaro will disrupt PSDB’s prestige among conservative voters.
  • Meanwhile, the Workers’ Party is toothless and its power resides in smaller, poorer cities. Back in 2008, when then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had 80-percentish approval ratings, the party snatched up 25 of the country’s 96 biggest cities — more than any other political group. But in the 2020 election it held none of these cities. Both in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, however, the party has picked veteran candidates who lack the capacity to galvanize its own militants, let alone disillusioned voters in two cities where the Workers’ Party has become a bogeyman for large parts of the electorate.
  • We also must keep an eye on what role President Jair Bolsonaro will play in the election. As we anticipated in September 15 Daily Briefing, the president has refrained itself from publicly endorsing any candidate before the runoff stage, but is engaged in backstage negotiations with the goal to hurt his political enemies — i.e. the Workers’ Party and former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta. However, as a Bolsonaro aid told The Brazilian Report, “the president is unpredictable, and could decide to do a photo op with a candidate of his choice out of the blue.”

São Paulo’s mayoral race

The São Paulo mayoral race still has no clear-cut favorite, according to consultancy Atlas Político. The first major poll of this electoral cycle shows incumbent Mayor Bruno Covas polling at 16 percent — with left candidate Guilherme Boulos and Congressman Celso Russomano tied in second place, with 12 percent each. Meanwhile, 13 percent of voters in Brazil’s largest city still don’t know who they will vote for in November. 

Mr. Covas apparently has the inside lane, but it remains too early to slap him with the favorite tag. With the pandemic, the election has remained as a background subject — and early polls usually reflect more name recognition rather than popularity. He is backed by Governor João Doria — who has been quite open about his own presidential ambitions. A display of strength in São Paulo could help enhance his profile with voters outside of his home state.

Meanwhile, Mr. Russomano has tried all sorts of alliances over the past few weeks, but has come out still empty-handed. Still, he enjoys Mr. Bolsonaro’s sympathy — and could have his support should he reach the runoff stage, which is far from a certain thing. “Celso Russomano usually has strong polling numbers at the start of the mayoral race, but then his candidacy loses steam,” says Cristiano Noronha, a political scientist at consultancy Arko Advice. 

“However, support from Jair Bolsonaro could change his fortunes.” In 2018, the president won 60 percent of São Paulo votes in the runoff election.

The race in Rio de Janeiro

It is no overstatement to say that Rio de Janeiro is facing a municipal election while it descends further and further into a true political hell. Mayor Marcelo Crivella has just escaped his fifth impeachment, amid investigations that he ran a mafia-like scheme within City Hall to embezzle public funds — and launder money through evangelical churches.

But corruption allegations are not even the biggest obstacle in Mr. Crivella’s way. His administration has been rated as “disastrous” by most observers, and only 14 percent of voters approved of his job, according to a March 2020 poll. The city is nearly bankrupt, and most basic services are subpar at best. For 68 percent of voters, the municipal healthcare system is the city’s biggest problem — topping by far concerns about urban violence. 

Don’t expect any push for renewal in Rio, as the race’s head-and-shoulders favorite is Eduardo Paes, Mr. Crivella’s predecessor, who is vying for a third term as mayor. However, he has been recently accused by state prosecutors of pocketing BRL 10.8 million from construction group Odebrecht during his 2012 re-election campaign. He dismissed the probe as an attempt to interfere with the upcoming municipal elections.

But even Mr. Paes has not been able to excite voters. His leading 19-percent polling is below the 22 percent of voters who intend to spoil their ballots on November 15.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus

Supreme Court dodges responsibility for multiple infections

At least four high-profile authorities tested positive for the coronavirus after attending Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux’s inauguration ceremony — raising questions about whether all sanitary protocols were respected during the event. In response, the court issued a statement saying that “all safety measures recommended by the Health Ministry and by the World Health Organization were strictly followed during the ceremony. 

Still, it will “study new and safer procedures for the future,” says the statement.

The court did not inform the public about how many civil servants were working during Chief Justice Fux’s inauguration — or whether any of them showed Covid-19 symptoms and was put on leave.

Since last week, the Chief Justice himself tested positive for the coronavirus — alongside House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and two members of the Superior Court of Justice. All of them were in last week’s inauguration.

According to weekly magazine Veja, some members of the Supreme Court became irritated by insinuations that the court had become some sort of Covid-19 breeding ground, and anonymously poked at the House Speaker, who, according to one of the justices, “two a huge dinner party on the eve of the inauguration.” 

One justice says the party united most of Brasília’s political jet set — and many of the attendants also contracted the coronavirus.


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Power

It’s impeachment season in Brazil

It has become a cliché to say that the pandemic has precipitated processes that already existed. For Richard N. Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, “Covid-19 will not so much change the basic direction of world history as accelerate it.” In the case of Brazilian politics, this accelerated history means a faster process of political degradation. On September 17, a grand total of three separate impeachment proceedings will be voted on by legislators — which could result in the ousting of two state governors and one mayor.

To borrow from Tolstoi, every administration close to impeachment is crumbling in its own way. So we break down what is at stake here.[restricted]

impeachment crivella witzel moises
From left to right: Wilson Witzel, Carlos Moisés, Marcelo Crivella

Suspended Rio Governor Wilson Witzel

Of all high-profile politicians facing impeachment, none looks more doomed than Rio de Janeiro’s suspended Governor Wilson Witzel. He is accused of siphoning funds from the state’s Covid-19 emergency budget and launder kickbacks through his wife’s law firm.

Back in June, lawmakers opened impeachment proceedings in an unprecedented 69-0 vote against Mr. Witzel, showing how politically weak the Governor has become. His suspension also deprives him of his ability to distribute patronage which can be so persuasive in such situations.

At this point, a committee of 25 state lawmakers will decide whether or not to start an impeachment trial against Mr. Witzel — and anything other than a green light would be a shocker.


UPDATE: The committee unanimously voted for the impeachment process to continue, in yet another sign of Mr. Witzel’s lack of political support.


Mr. Witzel’s downfall is set to be as meteoric as his rise. In Rio’s 2018 gubernatorial race, he went from unknown candidate to winner in a matter of days, riding the conservative wave headed by Jair Bolsonaro. But after presenting himself as a possible challenger in the 2022 presidential election, relations between the two soured.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella

Marcello Crivella has proven to have many political lives. Despite overseeing an administration deemed as “catastrophic” by almost everyone, he has escaped four impeachment requests — the last of which was voted down just two weeks ago.

This time around, Mr. Crivella is accused of running a corruption ring inside City Hall, using evangelical churches (he is a preacher ) to launder the embezzled money. 

City councilors will vote on whether or not to kick-off an impeachment process, but despite the ongoing criminal investigation against the mayor, he is set to dodge impeachment yet again. Mr. Crivella is likely to limp his way into the November election, when he will ask for a new four-year term.


UPDATE: In a 24-20 vote, city councilors rejected the impeachment request, with six abstentions.


Santa Catarina Governor Carlos Moisés

Conservative Governor Carlos Moisés is accused of fiscal irresponsibility, for granting wage bumps to state prosecutors without authorization from lawmakers.

The impeachment process against him, as a matter of fact, is at a later stage than those of Messrs. Witzel and Crivella. A report recommending his ousting has been approved by a special committee, and now a roll call vote will seal his fate.

It will take 27 of the State Congress’ 40 members to remove Mr. Moisés.


UPDATE: Santa Catarina lawmakers voted in favor of opening impeachment proceedings against Carlos Moisés. Now, a committee formed by five lawmakers, five state judges, and the president of the Santa Catarina Court of Justice will have five days to analyze the accusations against the governor.


[/restricted]

Categories
Power

Supreme Court v. Bolsonaro has a new chapter

Justice Celso de Mello, the longest-serving member on the Supreme Court, is set for mandatory retirement as he turns 75 in November. His last months in the court, however, promise to be explosive — as his war of attrition against President Jair Bolsonaro continues.

The justice is the rapporteur of an investigation into Mr. Bolsonaro’s suspected illegal interference with the Federal Police. The probe started after former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro resigned, after accusing the president of trying to shield his family and friends from investigations by picking a friendly police chief for the Feds’ Rio de Janeiro office.

Back in May, Justice Mello made public the footage of an April 22 cabinet meeting that presented Brazilians with an explicit display of Bolsonarism in action. The president appeared on tape defending Brazilians’ right to arm themselves and fight against quarantine rules that had recently been enforced by state governors. [restricted]At one point, the pandemic was even described as an opportunity by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles. He mentioned taking advantage of the media focus on Covid-19 to “run the cattle herd” through the Amazon, “changing all the rules and simplifying standards.”

Then, Justice Mello sent a message to his colleagues, comparing the current moment to the crumbling of the Weimar Republic in Germany, as Adolf Hitler became chancellor. “With all necessary caveats, the ‘serpent’s egg’ seems to be ready to hatch, similar to what happened in the Weimar Republic,” he said.

Now, Justice Mello has once again put the government on the spot. He refused the Solicitor General’s request to allow Mr. Bolsonaro to give a written testimony to defend himself from the allegations of tampering with the Federal Police. Instead, the justice said that as a man “under investigation,” the president must be treated as any other citizen and not enjoy the “prerogatives usually reserved to heads of state.”

It is worth noting that other members of the Supreme Court granted that benefit to former Presidents Michel Temer and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Both found themselves facing corruption charges by Operation Car Wash. In his decision, Justice Mello said he respected his peers’ rulings, but didn’t agree with them.

Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello
Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello. Photo: STF

Fuel for an institutional crisis

“It remains to be seen how President Jair Bolsonaro will react to Justice Mello’s latest move — but we should expect a deepening institutional crisis on our way,” says political scientist Leonardo Barreto.

As The Brazilian Report revealed last month, Mr. Bolsonaro had discussed sending troops to “shut down” the Supreme Court on multiple occasions with close aides. While the president’s advisers were able to talk him out of such a move, Mr. Bolsonaro has consistently endorsed demonstrations against the Supreme Court.

And this clash comes at a time when the reputation of Brazil’s highest court has never been lower — after years of inconsistent judgements and perceived political overstepping. 

It also happens as the court has recently appointed a new Chief Justice, with Luiz Fux taking the court’s reins from Justice Dias Toffoli.

As our September 8 Weekly Report explained, Justice Toffoli’s stint as Chief Justice has been widely considered a total disaster — even by his peers — as he went out of his way to please the government. While Chief Justice Fux reportedly wants to restore the court’s image, he has a reputation of trying to appease all sides at the same time and has been a strong advocate of what he calls “institutional harmony.” 

While he insists this is not the same thing as appeasing the government, Mr. Bolsonaro has proven that he doesn’t accept disagreements harmoniously.

A divided court with a broken reputation faces an increasingly popular president who has been rather open that he would like to shut the Supreme Court down if he could get away with it. This seems like a perfect recipe for a prolonged institutional crisis. 

It remains to be seen who replaces Justice Mello, but Mr. Bolsonaro is likely to appoint a crony in his place if he can, perhaps a “terribly evangelical” judge, as he once suggested. The replacement would inherit Justice Mello’s case — meaning Jair Bolsonaro could be in the privileged position of choosing the person who will judge his alleged misdeeds.

We are confident to say that the president will be safe for the foreseeable future.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

Will the administrative reform pass in Congress?

This is Part 4 of The Brazilian Report’s special series on the Jair Bolsonaro administration’s proposal to reform public service in Brazil and its chances of passing in Congress. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. You can also download an eBook including all four parts at the end of this article.


Major reforms are, by nature, hard to pass in Congress. They must almost always come through amendments to the Constitution — which requires a 60-percent majority and two rounds of voting in each both the Lower House and Senate. But Jair Bolsonaro’s administrative reform has even more hurdles on its way to passing.[restricted]

For starters, the timing couldn’t be worse. The country is still trying to respond to the economic crisis inflicted by the pandemic — and there is little mood for unpopular measures. Moreover, the reform was presented just weeks before campaigns for the 2020 municipal elections are scheduled to kick-off, on September 26.

As our July 20 Weekly Report showed, one-quarter of Brazilian lawmakers face elections for municipal office. And even those who won’t run will have their eyes on local races, as they have to set up the alliances that are key for lawmakers’ re-election bids two years from now. Between September 26, when candidates are allowed to start campaigning, until November 29, when runoff elections will happen in major cities, nothing is expected to pass in Congress.

“We should return only on December 1,” says Congressman Júlio Delgado, from Minas Gerais. “And still, on December 16 we wrap up the year. There are too many things to be decided upon [regarding the reform] in just two weeks,” he adds.

Controversial reforms

As we previously explained in this series, the reform will enact the biggest changes in public service Brazil has seen since its return to democracy. Its core point is ending civil servants’ ironclad job stability, conditioning their permanence to periodic performance evaluations.

That is, however, precisely what is set to spark the fiercest debates in Congress, as the civil servant lobby is one of the strongest in Brasília. 

Another point of contention concerns a section which would enhance presidential powers over the government’s structure. The head of state would be free to alter the structure of any agency without congressional approval as long as it doesn’t raise public spending.

But as we explained in Part 1, it seems highly unlikely that Congress would waive its prerogative to approve or bring down presidential acts that reshape the government’s structure. Especially in a moment when tensions between the government and Congress are so high — to the point that House Speaker Rodrigo Maia declared that he no longer speaks to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes.

How the pandemic disrupts the reform’s calendar

Since March 20, Congress has worked remotely for the most part — and the work of various committees have been halted. However, no constitutional amendment can be voted on the floor unless it passes by multiple such committees.

While congressional leaders claim they want committees to return to action as soon as possible, it is unlikely anything will happen before the end of the municipal elections. Meaning that there is virtually no chance of the reform progressing this year.


You can download an eBook including all four parts of this series, here.[/restricted]

Categories
Society

“We are being forgotten about, abandoned”

September 5 is Amazon Day, commemorated around Brazil to mark the emancipation of the Province of Amazonas in 1850, a region that now encompasses the states of Amazonas and Roraima. These days, the date is largely observed by environmentalist NGOs and activist groups, concerned with the progressive destruction of Brazil’s largest biome. This Amazon Day, however, comes with an added taste of melancholy, as it marks the one-month anniversary of the death of indigenous chief Aritana Yawalapíti. A prominent leader for Brazil’s native peoples, he died from Covid-19, aged 71.

Aritana battled the symptoms of his disease for two weeks, but was unable to recover. And he became one of many indigenous victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has rocked the country’s traditional communities. One of Aritana’s 11 children, Tapi Yawalapíti lost his father, uncle, cousin, and grandmother within the space of less than a month.

Speaking to The Brazilian Report, he says that his mission now is to “uphold [his] father’s legacy of defending indigenous lands and the demands of indigenous peoples in Xingu and Brazil.” Aritana represented the interests of 16 indigenous communities in the Alto Xingu region: namely the Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuá, Kamaiurá, Waurá, Aweti, Mehinako, Yawalapíti, Trumai, Ikpeng, Kawaiwete, Judja, Suyá, Naruvutu, and Payuna peoples.

Data from the Health Ministry states that, as of Friday, 23,932 indigenous people have tested positive for Covid-19, with 398 deaths. However, one of the population’s leading representative associations, the Indigenous People’s Articulation (Apib), does not recognize the official counts. Claiming that the Health Ministry has not contemplated indigenous people living in urban regions, Apib’s figures suggest 29,824 cases and 785 deaths.[restricted]

In a statement sent to The Brazilian Report, the Health Ministry says it “does not comment on unofficial surveys,” but declared that it “records all cases and deaths by Covid-19 among people living in indigenous villages.”

Officially, Brazil has around 750,000 indigenous people belonging to 305 different ethnicities, living in approximately 5,800 villages. Organizations such as Apib have shown particular concern about isolated or recently contacted indigenous communities, highlighting that the coronavirus pandemic could decimate these villages.

Amid criticism of the Jair Bolsonaro government and the treatment it has given the indigenous population, Tapi Yawalapíti denounces the difficulty in accessing any form of medical care. According to Aritana’s son, the government has not set up any field hospitals in the Alto Xingu region and the closest health clinic is located in the Yawapiti village — with just one doctor — 10 kilometers away. “We are being forgotten about, abandoned, uncared for. It makes me sad to see my people dying without care, without medicine. One doctor to treat almost 3,000 indigenous people here in the Alto Xingu region. There is no land transport. This is the biggest difficulty we have,” he stated.

In accordance with the Health Ministry, 208 primary care units were set up within indigenous villages to provide first aid and identify early symptoms. The department also states that the health district of Xingu received 12 of these basic clinics.

Read the main excerpts of The Brazilian Report‘s interview with Tapi Yawalapíti below:

The arrival of Covid-19 and losses among the community

The first infection happened in July. My whole community was infected and there were five deaths. I lost my cousin, my uncle, my grandmother, and my father. There is only one doctor here, there are no hospitals to admit patients. Xingu is very isolated from the city and there is only one very small health clinic where patients are admitted.

Other communities lost their families, their chiefs. They always say they are sad and recovering from the virus, feeling the loss of the whole family. Some lost fathers, mothers, siblings, aunts and uncles.

Fighting the coronavirus

Here in Xingu, there are no field hospitals, nothing. The government hasn’t done anything. We are really being forgotten here in the forest, no-one gave us support, nothing.

We’re protecting ourselves and taking care of ourselves. We have a raizeiro [a traditional healer using remedies made from foraged roots] here who is working to treat the patients. The doctor assesses the patient and, once he is done, the raizeiro takes over. Raizeiros are traditional doctors, they understand everything about roots to treat any symptom of flu, diarrhea, headache.

At the moment, my community is recuperating, but the virus is passing and the doctor is still monitoring my people, after almost 60 days with the virus in the community. We hope it leaves soon so we can bring the village back to normal.

Impact of Covid-19 on indigenous culture

The worst thing the virus is doing is taking all of our elders. For us, elders are like an archive, a book in which we can research culture and history. It’s so sad to see these older people losing their lives. We have lost books, we have lost wisdom, people that can speak of our culture and traditional education.

In my village our culture is well preserved. We still do traditional paintings, sing traditional songs, play instruments like the flute, and use arrows and other traditional crafts. But we have to make our children and young people aware and encourage them to engage in the culture so it is not left abandoned. Our language has to be practiced, as it is part of the culture. If we do not speak our mother tongue we are losing something. This happens with other indigenous peoples who only speak Portuguese. I always tell my people that we need to keep our culture alive. 

Defending his father’s legacy

My father left a legacy for me and it is a great responsibility. He represented 16 indigenous peoples in Xingu, so today I have a lot of responsibility. I have to continue his struggle, speaking and meeting with people like my father would do. He was a spokesperson for the indigenous peoples in Xingu. 

Helping the indigenous population

Speaking of the current government, we are being forgotten about, abandoned, uncared for. It makes me sad to see my people dying without care, without medicine. One doctor to treat almost 3,000 indigenous people here in the Alto Xingu region. There is no land transport. This is the biggest difficulty we have.

I am not satisfied with what is happening in Xingu, with the entire Brazilian indigenous population. We are asking for help, I am not happy with the government’s actions to help indigenous people.

Sesai was set up to meet the demands of Brazil’s indigenous people, but so far we haven’t seen Sesai taking a stance and setting up field hospitals in indigenous villages.

Bolsonaro, indigenous people, and the right to land

We know that the current government has always attacked us with its words, threatening indigenous lands with a view to authorizing mining operations, and exploiting the wealth of these territories. So we do not expect the government to help us. On the contrary, the government wants to destroy the indigenous population. That’s how I see it. It’s a lack of respect, we are Brazilian citizens, the first inhabitants of the country. Indigenous people are the true Brazilians and we own this land. Since the year 1500 we have been threatened.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

Bending the rules to counter rule-bending Bolsonaro

Jair Bolsonaro is an easy target for politicians and detractors. The Brazilian president is crass, uncultivated, and is usually seen defending the indefensible — such as supporting the rollback of environmental controls in the Amazon, shrugging at the deaths of over 100,000 people from the coronavirus, or threatening to launch a self-coup. Mr. Bolsonaro actively tries to undermine democratic institutions and his actions have given other political actors in Brazil something of carte blanche to bend the rules to their self-interest, providing the justification is to “counter Jair Bolsonaro.”

On the grounds of containing the president’s “penchant for authoritarianism,” the Supreme Court is about to allow House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Senate President Davi Alcolumbre to circumvent the Constitution and pull off a highly controversial move to enable their own re-elections in 2021.[restricted]

In a letter sent to the court last week, Mr. Alcolumbre claimed that a 1997 constitutional amendment allowing presidents, governors, and mayors to serve a second consecutive term may also be applied to the heads of the Senate and House of Representatives. The law states that re-election rights are granted to the heads of federal, state, and municipal executive branches, and “those who have succeeded them.” In Mr. Alcolumbre’s view, the fact that the House Speaker and Senate President are number two and three in the presidential line of succession would allow them to extend their terms.

As The Brazilian Report has previously covered, the elections for the heads of each congressional house are highly consequential processes, as the Speaker and Senate President both have agenda-setting powers. Moreover, the Speaker is the sole person who can initiate impeachment proceedings against a sitting president. 

They can be a government’s best friend — or its worst enemy.


The rules of congressional elections

The rules for electing congressional leaders are complicated. Re-elections are not permitted — but there is a loophole. Lawmakers are elected to four-year terms — but each chamber’s directive board gets two-year terms. So, a Speaker could technically be re-elected if their two terms came in separate legislatures, i.e., after retaining their seat in a general election.

As the next general election is in 2022, that particular loophole will be sewn shut for 2021. But that isn’t stopping Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre from angling for another two years in charge.

The former has excelled in his ‘creative interpretation’ of the congressional rulebook, cherry-picking which directives to follow, according to his political ambitions. 

He became Speaker in 2016, when disgraced former Congressman Eduardo Cunha — who occupied the chair at the time — was arrested for corruption and impeached. Rodrigo Maia was re-elected in 2017, claiming his first year didn’t really count due to the exceptional circumstances of his ascension. Then, in 2019, he was properly re-elected, using the aforementioned legislature loophole, and promising this term would be his last. Now, he appears to have changed his mind.

bolsonaro maia
Rodrigo Maia in 2017. Photo: Ag. Câmara

Bad practices with good (?) intentions

Aiming at preventing Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre’s push for re-election, the right-wing Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court trying to reinforce the regulations that prevent mid-legislature re-elections for the heads of Congress. The move was aimed to please President Jair Bolsonaro — who has had his fair share of conflict with the duo — especially Rodrigo Maia.

But this could backfire and pave the way for a turning of the tables that could play in the favor of the Speaker and the Senate President, in which the Supreme Court could greenlight their re-election. In the words of one justice who spoke to The Brazilian Report, the court is leaning toward permitting re-election, due to “concerns about the president’s authoritarian impulses” and its willingness “to uphold democracy.”

Mr. Bolsonaro is already barely controlled by the existing democratic checks and balances, and insiders fear that having an ally in charge of the House and/or Senate could give him even more power. 

The problem with that reasoning is that political stakeholders are themselves engaging in the behavior they fear from President Bolsonaro. Last year, the Supreme Court launched a highly contested investigation into the spread of fake news against its members — a probe that evolved into something much broader — a case in which its justices are victims, judges, jurors, and executioners.

And in Congress, Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre are tearing up the rulebook, under the excuse that they are acting as a “buffer” to Mr. Bolsonaro’s worst impulses.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

Bolsonaro has threatened military intervention several times, say sources

In a meeting with at least six close advisors on May 22, President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to launch a self-coup by closing Brazil’s Supreme Court and replacing all 11 of its justices. “I’m going to intervene!” he repeated, several times, as was reported by monthly magazine Piauí. In conversations with sources close to the president, The Brazilian Report was able to confirm the veracity of this information. However, this was not the only time Mr. Bolsonaro threatened a coup.

The Brazilian Report spoke with two participants of the May 22 meeting, four sources who were told about the content of the private conversation, and two individuals from Mr. Bolsonaro’s inner circle. All eight sources requested to remain anonymous.[restricted]

People close to the president confirmed that the president did in fact threaten a self-coup in the May 22 meeting, and added that they have “chatted” to Mr. Bolsonaro in the past about “the possibility of an intervention” and “sending troops to close” the Supreme Court or Congress. “In private, when he’s letting off steam, he’s already mentioned it. But certainly not seriously,” says one member of the president’s inner circle. “In moments of anger, when the Supreme Court interferes with the executive, it is clear that his desire is to shut down the court,” adds another source. Both frequent the Planalto Palace on a regular basis.

Another source told The Brazilian Report that the Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo gathered the heads of Brazil’s three Armed Forces to discuss the May 22 meeting with the president. The individual says that Mr. Azevedo did not make any requests to the commanders, instead he merely informed them of what President Bolsonaro had said. “Because it is known that the heads of the Armed Forces are absolutely against any form of coup,” the source adds. 

May 22: another historic day in the Bolsonaro administration

“I’m going to intervene!” said President Bolsonaro, after hearing that Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello had inquired about the possibility of seizing Mr. Bolsonaro’s cell phone and that of his son Carlos Bolsonaro. Justice Mello is the rapporteur of the investigation into accusations made by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro upon leaving the cabinet, claiming Mr. Bolsonaro had illegally meddled in the Federal Police for his own benefit.

According to the Piauí article, the president entered the meeting in a livid state and planned to oust all 11 justices of the Supreme Court, replacing them with figures of his choosing “until everything is in order.”

None of those present were particularly surprised by Mr. Bolsonaro’s outburst. According to claims made by those in attendance, cabinet members from the government’s military wing supported the president, but pondered whether “now was the right time.” 

They then discussed how to react. “The president said that what was happening [in the Supreme Court] was very serious,” says one of the meeting participants, speaking to The Brazilian Report. President Bolsonaro has often criticized the “exaggerated decisions” of Supreme Court justices.

The result was the so-called “statement to the nation,” written and signed by General Augusto Heleno, the head of Institutional Security in the Bolsonaro government. In the statement, Gen. Heleno underlines that the potential seizure of the president’s phone would be “an evident attempt to compromise the harmony between the branches of power and may have unpredictable consequences for national stability.”

In the meeting, President Bolsonaro affirmed that he would not hand over his phone, even with a court order, which he later repeated in public. As he is the president, disobeying a court order would constitute grounds for impeachment, according to the Constitution. 

President sparks tension in Brasilia

Two months ago, when Fabricio Queiroz — a long-time friend of President Bolsonaro and former aide to his son Flávio — was arrested, Mr. Bolsonaro began maintaining his distance from quarrels between branches of government. After keeping his mouth closed, public tensions in Brasilia have decreased. 

However, since taking office, his relationship with Congress and the Judiciary has been poor, with many of his outrageous declarations being met with angrily worded responses from other branches of power in Brasilia. 

“There are some things he says, that these days we just ignore, because we’ve learned that this is part of who he is. But some things we cannot stand by without responding, because they are attacks against democracy and we cannot allow that,” says one Supreme Court justice, speaking to The Brazilian Report.[/restricted]