Bolsonaro’s return to Brazil is mired in lawsuits
Following the 6 January 2021 insurrection by followers of Donald Trump unhappy with his electoral defeat, then-President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro said if changes to the electoral system were not introduced his country would have a ‘worse problem than the US’. On 8 January this year, he made good on his threat.
Bolsonaro remained silent after his defeat to Lula last October, but his allies fostered coup-like acts across Brazil.
Thousands of followers blocked highways, causing supply shortages. On Christmas Eve, three were arrested for putting a bomb in a fuel truck to blow up Brasilia International Airport.
Unsuccessful in preventing Lula’s inauguration, Bolsonaro flew to Florida on 30 December – two days before the transfer of power to the new president.
Nine days later, the Brazilian Capitol erupted – much more seriously than the US original. The destruction was aimed not only at the legislature but also the headquarters of the executive and judicial branches of government. Ensconced in the US, Bolsonaro claimed he had nothing to do with it.
An investigation by the Federal Police is underway to find out who funded, organized and incited this attempted coup. The Workers’ Party (PT) points to Bolsonaro as the main culprit. Meanwhile his allies have claimed that ‘infiltrators’ from the PT were responsible for the violence – a bad joke.
For years, Bolsonaro spread lies that electronic voting machines were corrupted and manipulated to favour Lula; he made the presidents of the Supreme Electoral Court targets of his attacks; and he guaranteed his followers access to weapons and ammunition through presidential decrees. Finally, he called on them to take up arms to ensure ‘democracy will be preserved’.
Seeing his popularity and political influence wane during his self-exile outside Disney World, and watching other far-right figures making moves to occupy the space he had left, Bolsonaro returned to Brazil at the end of March.
Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice, quickly ordered Bolsanaro’s interrogation as part of the inquiry into who orchestrated the coup. The former president says the crimes were not committed by him. But to many it seems clear that him and his allies inspired citizens to act in his name.
Bolsonaro called these coup actions ‘spontaneous eruptions’, justified under the ideal of ‘maximizing individual freedom’. Behind this message is one of the pillars of his philosophy: the development of a vigilante society, where dealing out justice with one’s own hands is accepted.
The former president is likely to spend the next few years fighting allegations of crimes committed before, during and after his time as president. In addition to the investigations into the attacks on democracy, there are also accusations concerning the deaths of Indigenous Yanomami people, inaction leading to the deaths of 700,000 people from Covid-19, corruption in the Ministry of Education, and an attempt to buy votes from the poor.
The first major problem Bolsonaro is likely to face, however, is multiple lawsuits – he is facing 16 in total – calling for him to be convicted of electoral offences and to be barred from running in the 2026 and 2030 elections. Commentators consider it highly likely some will succeed.