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Brazil’s congressional inquiry into the attempted coup recommends prosecuting Bolsonaro

The ex-president is accused of crimes that could lead to a 29-year prison sentence; 22 high-ranking military officers could also be charged

Congreso Brasil
Supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro riot in Brasilia on January 8, 2023.EVARISTO SA (AFP)

The congressional probe’s final report on the January 8 coup attempt in Brasília calls for the prosecution of 60 individuals, including former president Jair Bolsonaro. The far-right Bolsonaro has been accused of four crimes that could lead to a 29-year prison sentence, including violent suppression of the rule of law. The report states that Bolsonaro was responsible for the attacks on government institutions after his sustained campaign to undermine the credibility of the electoral process. The final report of the congressional inquiry was approved by a tense 20-11 vote, after which Lula ally Senator Eliziane Gama left the room protected by an armed escort.

Brazil’s Supreme Court is also investigating the former president for his involvement in the riot, but has not yet charged him. Bolsonaro faces numerous legal cases since leaving office and losing his immunity, and has already been barred for eight years from running for public office. On October 18, Bolsonaro gave a formal statement to Federal Police in Brasília regarding the riot.

A week after leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was inaugurated, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the seat of government in the most serious attack on Brazilian democracy since the dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s. The rioters vandalized buildings, furniture, and artwork for over three hours in the Brazilian capital. Over 1,500 people have been charged for their roles in the attempted coup, and Brazil’s top court recently imposed a 17-year sentence on the first person convicted.

Former President Bolsonaro speaks to the media as he leaves Federal Police headquarters in Brasília; October 18, 2023.
Former President Bolsonaro speaks to the media as he leaves Federal Police headquarters in Brasília; October 18, 2023.UESLEI MARCELINO (REUTERS)

The congressional report recommended that 60 individuals be charged along with Bolsonaro, including five ex-ministers and 22 military officers. The top army and navy officers under Bolsonaro and the ex-president’s personal secretary could face criminal charges, along with several retired generals. The participation of uniformed officers in the attempted coup is a key focus of the investigations, but it’s also a sensitive matter due to some military opposition to the attempted coup. “The coup failed because the army said no,” stated Arthur Maia, the president of the congressional inquiry commission. Maia belongs to a political party aligned with Bolsonaro.

The congressional recommendations put more pressure on the Supreme Court and Justice Ministry to prosecute the former president and his key allies. After hearing the report, Bolsonaro said, “I am only responsible for the things I signed.” He then asked rhetorically, “Did you see any soldiers mobilizing?”

Bolsonaro’s congressional allies pushed for the investigative commission despite initial resistance from President Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) who thought it would only create more chaos. The PT ultimately agreed to establish the commission and appointed Senator Gama to lead the investigation and report back. “Brazilian democracy faced numerous challenges,” Gama wrote in the final report. “The public was manipulated by hate speech, a digital army sowed fear, opponents were discredited, and attacks on the electoral system were encouraged. Security forces were co-opted, and there was a concerted attempt to corrupt, obstruct and annul the elections. In one last desperate act to hold onto power, a coup d’état was launched.”

Brazil’s investigative commissions typically do not produce tangible outcomes, but instead serve to wear down the opposition. A commission investigating the pandemic concluded that Bolsonaro should be prosecuted for genocide, but no charges were levied in relation to his abysmal handling of the coronavirus. Bolsonaro was also recently acquitted in court for charges that he intentionally delayed purchasing Covid-19 vaccines. The virus claimed the lives of over 700,000 Brazilians while he spouted Covid-denying rhetoric, endorsed unproven medications and boasted about not being vaccinated.

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