Brazil riots: U-M experts can discuss

January 9, 2023
Military Police during a protest 2016 protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Image credit: iStock


In the aftermath of Sunday’s riots, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promises to bring rioters to justice. This morning, he met with Rosa Weber, president of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, and other leaders to work “in defense of democracy.”

“The powers of the republic, defenders of democracy and the 1988 constitutional charter reject the acts of terrorism, vandalism, criminals and coup plotters that took place yesterday afternoon in Brasilia,” Lula said. “We are united, so institutional measures are taken under the terms of Brazilian laws.”

What do these protests by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right former president, represent for democracy in Brazil? What should Lula’s next steps be? What are the similarities to the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? University of Michigan experts are available to comment.

Melvyn Levitsky is a professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School of Public Policy and a former U.S. ambassador to Brazil.

“As we have experienced here in the United States, violence can occur after a vigorously contested election,” he said. “Brazil’s democratic institutions are well established and strong. Virtually every national leader in the world has condemned the attempt to attack Brazil’s democratic institutions.

“I believe a next useful step would be to bring the situation to an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States to show the hemisphere’s support for Brazil’s democracy. I am confident democracy will prevail in Brazil, but as always, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.'”

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Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Ford School of Public Policy, is a former senior U.S. government counterterrorism official.

“The storming of the Brazilian capital by aggrieved supporters of former President Bolsonaro harken back to similar events in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In both cases, it appears law enforcement did not have sufficient warning or intelligence in advance to prevent the insurrections, but news reports from Brazil indicate that authorities have already arrested hundreds of people.

“Unlike what occurred in the United States, Bolsonaro did not appear to incite or provoke his supporters in advance. Hopefully, he can issue a statement that attempts to calm the situation and instruct people to leave the premises before further violence ensues.”

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Silvia Pedraza is a professor of sociology and American culture at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She can discuss the similarities about the riots in Brazil and the U.S. and the importance of the democratic system in Latin America.

“Jair Bolsonaro has resembled Donald Trump in every way. He has appealed to certain people in Brazil just like Trump did in the United States. So the response to the election results also resembled each other,” she said. “The other possibility is what sociologists call the diffusion effect, which means because this happened in the United States, it was more likely to also occur in Brazil.

“Regarding the protests’ responses, there is a difference between Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and Joe Biden. Lula is accepting it less than Biden did because Lula is calling all these people fascists and says that they will pay for what they have done. Biden tried very hard to stay above it, not descend at the same level protesters had descended. He essentially said we had a fair election and there was a recount of both votes in some of the states that were in question. I would rather see him react more like Biden, trying to stay above it instead of getting into the dirt and the mess.

“Brazil is such a divided country now, like the U.S. People need to realize that what is at stake is not just that election but the electoral system being the way one chooses presidents. I think that the implications are very important, and I don’t want us to lose the democratic process either in the United States or Brazil.”

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