Jair Bolsonaro’s threats to democracy would sound different if Donald Trump had been re-elected. The Republican’s second term would likely mark America’s break with liberal democracy. In these conditions, multilateral institutions and democratic governments could do nothing against the authoritarian drift of governments protected by Washington.
But this is a counterfactual story. Joe Biden won and the terrorists who attacked the Capitol are being investigated and prosecuted. The signs for Latin America are unmistakable. Washington called Peru’s complex electoral process a “model of democracy” and questioned Keiko Fujimori’s coup movement. As for Brazil, Todd Chapman, known for his close relationship with Bolsonaro, is already packing his bags ready to leave the US Embassy in Brasilia.
Biden recognizes that the United States will have to fight to regain the lost space in Latin America for China. Governments in the region have learned to exploit superpower rivalry during the pandemic. In this context, it is in his interest that Brazil once again become a rational, predictable actor who at least follows the rules of the international system.
To think that Washington would abstain in the face of a breakdown in the country’s democracy is a fantasy that finds support only in the obsolete paradigms of the last century.
A shift to an authoritarian regime promoted by Bolsonaro does not attract interest from other parts of the world either. For the European partners, democratic continuity in Brazil is associated with the very existence of the Amazon. For its part, Beijing knows that economic integration between Brazil and China tends to improve without verbal abuse from the leaders of Brasilia.
The impossibility of international recognition of a Brazilian government that refuses to obey the rules of the electoral system should change the calculation of those who may be called upon to support an attempted coup in 2022. Bolsonaro’s co-optation of the Armed Forces is insufficient to direct its leadership to expose itself to international sanctions.
The colonization of the Venezuelan military apparatus by Nicolás Maduro, for example, continued the process initiated by Hugo Chávez. Under his command, the number of generals increased from 200 to 2,000.
In return for absolute loyalty, each received coins from key sectors of the economy through a process of pseudo-nationalizations. The verticalized power of the Petro-State is such that Maduro has created a caste of billionaire oligarchs ready to resist any international pressure to maintain their privileges and the Chavez regime. Thus, the election of 2022 will reveal the limits of the thesis of the Venezuelization of the armed forces in Brazil.
Living with a coup president for another year will be an extraordinary test of democratic maturity. But Bolsonaro’s threats need to be addressed for their real potential for impact, not for the fear they naturally arouse. It is important to point out that in the eyes of the world, the president’s bravado is seen as the last gesture of a politician condemned to ostracism.
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