On June 3, the Brazilian military announced that it would not sanction active General Eduardo Pazuello, former health minister, for participating in a political event with President Bolsonaro on May 23 in Rio.
The decision blatantly contravenes the military’s disciplinary regulations and the statute of the armed forces, which prohibit active military personnel from participating in political demonstrations.
Apparently, the army commander, Paulo Sérgio Oliveira, accepted a wish from Jair Bolsonaro, who would not accept the punishment of Pazuello, treated by the head of state as “our fat guy”.
According to Raul Jungmann, former Minister of Defense, “the army capitulated to pressure from President Jair Bolsonaro by not punishing former Minister of Health Eduardo Pazuello”.
The pressure is a response from Bolsonaro to the armed forces’ effort to establish an institutional separation between them and the current government, as made clear by General Azevedo e Silva, former Minister of Defense, General Pujol, former commander of the army, Admiral Ilques, former commander of the Navy, and Brigadier Lieutenant Bermudez, former commander of the air force, when they were dismissed by Bolsonaro at the end of March 2021, precisely for having rejected coup adventures.
If the farewell letter from General Azevedo e Silva, declaring that, for more than two years at the head of the Defense, he had preserved “the Armed Forces as institutions of the State”, was a gesture of rupture with Bolsonaro at the constitutional level – that is, the military does not accept the violation of the 1988 Charter – the decision not to punish Pazuello involves the surrender of the army in the political-electoral sphere.
That is, after fueling the Land Force with several ministerial positions, thousands of federal executive positions, and a generous budget and salary benefits, the president demands that officers, active and retired, be able to be used for explicit political purposes – whether to intimidate the opposition or for the re-election bill.
From Bolsonaro’s perspective, it is essential to present oneself to the national electorate in 2022 as the leader of a presidency that has and will have the military as one of its pillars. Punishing Pazuello would damage the credibility of this key part of the government and the re-election campaign.
By deciding not to punish Pazuello, General Oliveira, in addition to seeing his authority degraded and arousing indignation among several active and retired generals, deprived the organization of the ability to autonomously manage its relationship with the president. of the Republic.
While the gesture of rupture at the end of March remains valid – since there is no indication that the Armed Forces support the rupture of the institutional order – the political situation in the Army has become complicated, as Pazuello is closely associated with the Brazil’s failure in the fight. against the pandemic.
After having completely failed as Minister of Health and having participated in a political demonstration, Pazuello has just been appointed to the post of Secretary for Strategic Studies of the Special Secretariat for Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic.
In other words, the ex-captain is spinning the army like a cork in the Pocketnarist maelstrom. Without outside help, the Land Force has no way out.
This means that political leaders (in particular FHC, Lula and Michel Temer), former defense ministers, governors, ministers of the Federal Supreme Court and reserve generals must frequently and forcefully denounce the politicization of the Armed Forces. .
Their politicization, by undermining their hierarchy and discipline, ultimately points to civil war – no more, no less.
Only individuals are mentioned because the large collective body that could impose inevitable limits on the pocketnarist upheaval, the National Congress, is now controlled by right-wing lawmakers concerned almost exclusively with questions of political detail, notably in the Chamber of Deputies.
Moreover, historically, the Brazilian right has always felt comfortable with the presence of the military in politics, seeing it as a guarantee of last resort against the left. Thus, at a decisive moment for the future of democracy in Brazil, the Legislative Power abdicates its main role as a brake and counterweight to the autocratic tendencies of the Executive Power.
Finally, the role of the Navy in the Bolsonaro containment effort must also be taken into account. It is the force politically furthest from the president. Subject to the authority of the Head of State, it cannot publicly speak out against him.
Therefore, the members of the political elite mentioned at the beginning of this text must seek admirals in a very discreet and skillful manner, just as Tancredo Neves did with the generals in the early 1980s in order to accelerate the democratic transition. .
If, until recently, Brazil was the country of coalition presidentialism, it must now be, for a certain time, the country of civil-military coalitions.
Bolsonaro has already done his. It is now the turn of the democratic forces.
If the democratic civil-military coalition emerges victorious from the protest, it must not only depoliticize the Armed Forces but also prepare them for, from 2023, the full establishment of their control by the elective political powers, starting with the appointment of a civilian leader. at the head of the Ministry of Defense.
This article expresses the opinion of the author, and does not necessarily represent the institutional opinion of FGV.