Over 1,000 protesters detained after Sunday assault on Brazil’s Congress

After months of tolerance, authorities dismantled a large camp that had been set up in front of Army headquarters by supporters of former leader Jair Bolsonaro who claim the October election was stolen

A Bolsonaro supporter prays before a police cordon after the assault on government headquarters in Brasília.
Brasília - 09 Jan 2023 - 11:22

Brazilian police on Monday dismantled a protest camp that had been set up in front of Army headquarters in the capital, Brasilia, by supporters of former leader Jair Bolsonaro who claim that the October election was stolen. Between 1,200 and 1,400 people have been detained for identification according to the authorities, who are trying to determine who participated in Sunday’s mass assault on the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court buildings. The order to dismantle the camp was given by the Supreme Court after months of tolerance for the camped-out protesters.

President Lula da Silva, who was inaugurated a week ago, signed an emergency decree late on Sunday giving federal authorities control over security in the capital following the acts of rioting. Police regained control of the three buildings at around 5pm local time, and the president blamed his predecessor for the attack after arriving in Brasilia from the state of São Paulo and inspecting the damage to the presidential palace. The rioting also drew widespread condemnation from international leaders on Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, thousands of radical supporters of former leader Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court of Brazil while calling on the military to overthrow the leftist Lula da Silva and asking for protection against a “return of communism.”

By midnight, the Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Square), where the three breached buildings are located, was completely taken over by the police. There were roadblocks extending almost two kilometers in every direction from the square, making it impossible to get a good view of the damage caused by the rioters.

In the gigantic Esplanada dos Ministérios – a section of the large avenue leading out from Congress – not a soul could be seen, even though just hours earlier thousands of Bolsonaristas had marched there on their way to the square. The imposing thoroughfare was also closed off to vehicles and pedestrians, and the only sign that something serious had recently taken place was the reddish glow of patrol car sirens near the square.

Some of the Bolsonaro supporters who invaded the country’s main government buildings retreated to hotels or their homes, while others walked over to a camp that was first pitched in front of Army headquarters right after Bolsonaro was defeated by Lula da Silva at the polls last October. There was a bit more agitation there on Sunday night, as small groups discussed the events of the day and debated the next steps to take.

But after months of tolerance by local authorities, Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes ordered it immediately dismantled along with other protest camps scattered throughout the country. “Absolutely nothing justifies the existence of camps full of terrorists, sponsored by various financiers and with the complacency of civil and military authorities,” said the judge.

On Sunday night several people could be seen at the main camp outside Army headquarters after participating in the assault on Congress. “Here we are in a safe area, in front of the army headquarters, they [the military] are not going to betray us,” said a very confident-sounding woman in her sixties who refused to give out her name. “There are at least 1,000 people in here. We are many more than the police. In what prison will they put so many people? Are they going to fill a jail with patriotic Brazilians?” insisted the woman, who boasted that she had been camping out for 67 days.

This camp is, in a way, the embryo of what happened on Sunday afternoon. A good many demonstrators who stormed the headquarters of the three branches of government left on foot from here, calmly covering the five miles in a straight line, escorted by the police.

Regarding the acts of vandalism that took place on Sunday, when rioters destroyed offices, furniture, historical objects and works of art kept in Brazil’s most important public buildings, Bolsonaro supporters at the camp had an explanation ready: “Those who have done this are leftist infiltrators. We are peaceful people.”

These Bolsonaristas refuse to accept the outcome of the October election, when Lula da Silva – who governed Brazil from 2003 until 2011 – defeated Bolsonaro by less than 2% in a run-off, denying the far-right leader a second term in office.

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