LONDON — Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on Sunday to protest his recent election loss, resulting in scenes reminiscent of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in 2021.
What is happening in Brazil?
On Sunday, more than 100 buses with roughly 4,000 Bolsonaro supporters arrived in the capital of Brasília for a planned protest over the presidential election results. However, just hours into the protest, people managed to break police barriers and stormed Brazil’s top political institutions, where they defaced government buildings.
Crowds of protesters draped in Brazilian flags and wearing Brazil soccer shirts were filmed breaking windows and destroying furniture, while parts of the Congress building were left flooded after the sprinkler system was set off. Newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist widely known as Lula, was forced to call upon emergency powers to quell the rioters. Two police cars were damaged in the riot, which continued for three hours.
The next day, police shut down an encampment that was held outside Brazil’s military headquarters, where demonstrators settled following the previous day’s uprising. Of the 1,500 arrested, 300 were detained on Sunday and another 1,200 were detained on Monday.
In a show of support for Lula, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro demanding those involved in the uprising be punished. “These people need to be punished, the people who ordered it need to be punished, those who gave money for it need to be punished,” a woman protesting the riot told Associated Press.
Why are they protesting?
Brazil’s presidential election, which was held in October, was one of the tightest races the country has seen in years. Lula won the polarizing election with just 50.9% of the vote. Since his loss, Bolsonaro has refused to concede to his rival and has echoed his previous remarks that Brazil’s elections are not free. Over a month after his loss, Bolsonaro argued that some voting machines should be “invalidated.”
Protesters on Sunday were demanding the election be overturned and the reinstatement of Bolsonaro as president. They called for the military to intervene to prevent Lula, who was away in São Paulo during the riot, from returning to office.
Lula condemned Sunday’s riot as “terrorist attacks,” and accused the country’s security forces of allowing rioters to reach government buildings. “The Brasília police neglected [the attack threat], Brasília’s intelligence neglected it,” Lula said on Monday.
“It is easy to see in the footage the police officers talking to the attackers," he said, going on to allege "explicit connivance" of police with the demonstrators. Brazil’s presidential communications minister, Paulo Pimenta, claimed on Monday that the riot could not have happened without “some level of facilitation” and added that the doors of the presidential palace and Congress were not broken — alleging the doors were opened for protesters.
“The main door was not broken, so people walked in through the door,” Pimenta said. “In the Congress building, the door was not damaged either. At the Supreme Court, you can see the door was destroyed — which clearly leads me to believe that investigations will mostly likely indicate that they may have come in here [into the Planalto presidential palace] and in the National Congress through the main door.”
What has Bolsonaro said?
Speaking from Florida, Bolsonaro rejected the accusations that he spurred on his supporters. He called the peaceful demonstrations democratic but said that some people had “crossed the line.”
Days before his term ended on Dec. 31, Bolsonaro traveled to the U.S., where he has since been lying low. On Monday, he posted to Twitter that he had been discharged from a hospital in Orlando, Fla., after suffering from stomach pains relating to an injury he sustained from a stabbing during his election campaign in 2018.
What has the Biden administration said?
“I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil,” President Biden tweeted on Sunday. “Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support, and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined.” According to a statement from the White House, Biden and Lula spoke on Monday during a call in which Biden “conveyed the unwavering support of the United States for Brazil’s democracy and for the free will of the Brazilian people.
"President Biden condemned the violence and the attack on democratic institutions and on the peaceful transfer of power," the statement read. "The two leaders pledged to work closely together on the issues confronting the United States and Brazil, including climate change, economic development, and peace and security."
During the call, Lula accepted Biden's invitation to visit Washington, D.C., in February, the White House added.
Meanwhile, Biden is facing pressure to extradite Bolsonaro back to Brazil. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted: “Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil. The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”
Other Democrats, including Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, also called for Bolsonaro’s extradition.
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