Illustration Credit: Patrick Chapatte, The New York Times
While visiting Brazil last week, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned President Jair Bolsonaro against interfering with the country’s upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for October of next year. In recent weeks—amid slumping poll numbers, a staggered economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to kill an average of 1,000 Brazilians per day—Bolsonaro has taken to criticizing Brazil’s electronic voting system as vulnerable to massive voter fraud and has threatened to delay next year’s elections if a system reliant on paper ballots is not adopted in its place. Last Tuesday, as congressional lawmakers prepared to vote on a Bolsonaro-backed measure that would require electronic voting machines to print paper receipts recording all votes cast, the president presided over a hastily arranged military parade in the capital of Brasília, featuring convoys of tanks and other armored vehicles rumbling through the seat of Brazil’s federal government. (Such a spectacle was unprecedented in the history of modern Brazilian democracy, re-established in 1985 following 21 years of military rule.) While Brazil’s lower Congress of Deputies eventually rejected the proposal, the apparent mobilization of the military in the service of political ends by Bolsonaro—a former Brazilian army paratrooper infamously vocal in his praise for the military regime, who has consistently filled high-level government positions with military officers—was nevertheless roundly criticized from across the political spectrum as an embarrassing spectacle unbecoming of a democratic society, and as an implicit threat of Bolsonaro’s ability and willingness to mobilize the military in service of his own political aims.
During his visit, Sullivan also raised concerns about Brazil relying on the Chinese firm Huawei to build its 5G telecommunications network, warning President Bolsonaro that Huawei was facing “major challenges” that would leave Brazil and other international customers “high and dry.” Although Bolsonaro had previously adopted former U.S. President Trump’s stance of opposing Huawei’s involvement in Brazilian networks, arguing that the company shares confidential data with the Chinese Communist Party, he has faced resistance from industry and business interests wary of inflaming tensions with China, Brazil’s largest trading partner. In the end, Bolsonaro made no promises to the U.S. about whether it would use Huawei equipment in the construction of its 5G network.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), one of the country’s major Indigenous federations, filed a formal request with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate the Bolsonaro government for crimes against humanity, genocide, and ecocide allegedly committed against Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and their territories. APIB’s complaint cited Bolsonaro’s efforts to erode protections for Indigenous territories against commercial extractive industries and agribusiness and his effective endorsement of illegal mining and logging as “evidence for the crime of genocide […] because these events fueled the destruction of communities and increased violence and deaths.” Additionally, the complaint argued that Bolsonaro’s unwillingness to enact measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic—for instance, his opposition to lockdowns, mask mandates, and stay-at-home policies—disproportionately affected the lives, health, and integrity of Indigenous communities across Brazil, which suffer from high rates of poverty, vulnerability to infectious diseases, and lack of access to healthcare resources. If the ICC concurs with APIB’s assessment of the charges against Bolsonaro’s, and if Brazil’s domestic judiciary is unable or unwilling to hold a trial, APIB’s complaint will become an international criminal case.