Note: This piece was originally published in Portuguese on August 27 by IREE (O Instituto para Reforma das Relações entre Estado e Empresa), a Brazilian think tank based in São Paulo. On September 7, hundreds of thousands of supporters from across Brazil heeded embattled President Jair Bolsonaro and converged on the capital of Brasília and other major cities nationwide, calling for the impeachment (and even the dissolution) of Brazil’s Supreme Court and a military takeover of Brazil’s democracy while battling police and blocking access to government buildings. On the same day, however, thousands of Brazilians mobilized in the streets of São Paulo and other cities, in a demonstration of “democratic resistance” to Bolsonaro and his government.
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The political crisis that has dragged on in Brazil since 2013 reached its most critical point three weeks ago. Harassed by the legal siege against his far-right allies, President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro doubled down and asked the Federal Senate to impeach justice Alexandre de Moraes of the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF, Brazil’s highest court). This is the first such request to be made in the 132 years of the Federative Republic of Brazil.
At the same time, the president is waving to the Centrão—the so-called “big center,” the 230-deputy-strong congressional bloc consisting of lawmakers from Democratas, Progressistas, the Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (MDB), Republicanos, the Partido Liberal (PL), and other center and center-right political parties—by entertaining the possibility of handing over four more ministries to the parties of the traditional center-right, an effort designed to bury once and for all the possibility of an impeachment process against Bolsonaro passing through the Chamber of Deputies.
Bolsonaro is not doing this for nothing. Given the results of the latest opinion polls, the president has little choice but to cling tooth and nail to [President of the Chamber of Deputies] Arthur Lira’s shock troops, who have to this point prevented a case against Bolsonaro from progressing in the Chamber of Deputies. With the economy showing signs that it will not recover any time soon, and with hunger, inflation, and unemployment ravaging thousands of families, Bolsonaro had no choice but to extend further concessions to the Centrão.
But that is not all. The president has also sought to reclaim the leading role in the streets, further radicalizing his fanatical base. To this end, he has called for mobilizations in defense of the government and against the STF on September 7 [Brazil’s Independence Day] in order to demonstrate the political clout that he still commands through his mass movement. But there is a problem: this is the same day for which the Fora Bolsonaro [literally, “Bolsonaro Out”] campaign has called for mobilizations against the president. And now what?
In São Paulo, the state government has determined that Avenida Paulista, a traditional venue for political demonstrations, will be at the disposal of Bolsonaristas. The social movements and opposition parties that make up the Fora Bolsonaro campaign must discuss how to proceed. Faced with evidence of the growing participation of military police and even truck drivers in Bolsonaro’s calls for a de facto coup, sectors of the opposition have begun to advocate a tactical retreat to avoid “confrontations” or “deepening polarization”—an embarrassing position.
In mid-2020, when the far right was comfortable in the streets while the left respected social distancing guidelines, some within the social movements responded, with groups of anti-fascist supporters led mobilizations in different capitals. The opposition once again took the lead in street mobilizations, even despite internal resistance. The results were clear: for six months, the extreme right hid under the bed.
Since May of this year, as the second wave of COVID-19 began to retreat, the opposition has resumed its leading role in the streets. On four different dates—May 29; June 3 and 24; and July 19—parties and social movements have demonstrated a willingness to take the fight for impeachment directly to the government, rejecting the tactic of “letting the Bolsonaro government bleed” until the 2022 elections. The call for new demonstrations on September 7 represented part of this broader movement.
How then could we, as the opposition, justify—as the Bolsonaro government is arguably at its weakest point since it came to power, unable to face the economic crisis, seen as responsible for the uncontrolled pandemic, falling in opinion polls and increasingly dependent on the Centrão—simply backing down and cancelling the protests scheduled for September 7?
Threats of a coup, as we already know, are nothing but bravado. Backing down now would be a demonstration of weakness that would only further encourage the opponents of democracy. It would be enough to spread half a dozen fake news stories to scare the opposition off the streets. This is not acceptable. We must double the bet. To return to the streets on September 7 is to say no to coups, to intimidation, and to attempts at destabilization. To retreat now is to show fear. And fear will get us nowhere.
On September 7, we have a new date set with history. And history will not forgive cowards.
Juliano Medeiros is a Brazilian historian, holding a Master’s in history and a Ph.D. in political science from the Universidade de Brasília. Since 2018, he has been the national president of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL). He is the author and co-organizer of the books “Um partido necessário: 10 anos do PSOL” (FLC, 2015) and “Cinco Mil Dias: o Brasil na era do lulismo” (Boitempo, 2017).
All opinions and content are solely the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Global Americans or IREE.