Brazil’s Defense Chief Seeks Justice, Pacification After Riots

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(Bloomberg) -- Brazil will punish all those involved in the Jan. 8 insurrection against the new government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to ensure attacks against its democratic institutions never happen again, according to Defense Minister Jose Mucio Monteiro.

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Latin America’s largest democracy is still healing after supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, unwilling to accept his narrow defeat in last year’s election, vandalized congress, the top court and the presidential palace in Brasilia just a week after Lula’s inauguration. The episode triggered international outrage and a crisis between the government and Brazilian security forces, including the military.

“The rioters attacked our democracy,” Mucio, a seasoned politician who’s always had a good relationship with Lula and many generals, said during an interview in his cabinet Wednesday. “All those involved will be punished, and need to be punished so such episodes do not repeat themselves.”

Mucio’s emphasis on the “need” for punishment contrasts with his initial and softer strategy to deal with anti-Lula protesters and Brazil’s military — an institution that became deeply involved in the government of the previous president, himself a former army captain.

Since Bolsonaro’s defeat last October, his supporters had been camping in front of army headquarters across the country, demanding a “military intervention” to stop the new government from taking office.

Read More: Lula’s Ties With Military Are Strained by Crackdown on Rioters

Mucio’s appointment by Lula marked the return of a civilian to the defense ministry, which controls the armed forces. Yet he didn’t immediately order the army to disperse pro-Bolsonaro campgrounds, betting they would die down with time. His non-confrontational approach was heavily criticized within Lula’s coalition when it became clear that the camps were also sheltering radicals plotting to unseat the president.

Mucio survived calls for his resignation with Lula’s public support, and on Jan. 21 fired the head of the army, General Julio Cesar de Arruda. He declined to comment on the criticism from Lula’s allies but described the dismissal of Arruda as necessary to reset relations between the new government and the military.

Lula had complained publicly that the army, under its former chief, had done nothing to defend the presidential palace from rioters. His criticism, coupled with the potential punishment of military officials involved in the riots, risks further straining ties with the armed forces.

Mucio’s strategy to reduce tensions relies on his new pick for commander of the troops, Tomas Miguel Ribeiro Paiva, a general who has been vocal in his defense of election results and the apolitical role of the armed forces.

Paiva is being instrumental to reorganize the relationship between government and the military, Mucio said, adding that those changes will take some time to consolidate.

“We are now in a process of pacification,” he said. “I am certain that what happened on Jan. 8 will not happen again.”

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