Brazil: Antinational Military and the Evangelical Taliban

Júlia Dolce
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  • For João Quartim de Moraes, this phenomenon is characteristic of the Brazilian Armed Forces, historically linked to the USA

The nationalism of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) has been put in check by opponents and intellectuals who question the surrendering nature of the measures announced by the retired army captain.

The Armed Forces, formerly associated with the defense of the national interest, reappear in the Brazilian political scene with an empty patriotic discourse, which even contemplates radical privatization proposals.

It was not always like this. In the 1950s, the military participated in the founding of Petrobras and claimed its public and state character. The privatist and anticommunist narrative of the military dictatorship, begun in 1964, was soon abandoned in the name of the valorization of national companies. Bolsonaro himself defended that 13 years ago former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) was shot for defending the privatization of Vale do Rio Doce.

For political scientist and retired professor of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) João Quartim de Moraes, this contradiction is not only a feature of the elected government, but of the Armed Forces themselves. Moraes is a researcher of ancient philosophy, political theory and Brazilian institutions, and has published several books on militarism in Brazil and Latin America, such as “A Tutela Militar”, 1987, “The Military Left in Brazil”, 1991, and “Liberalism and Dictatorship in the Southern Cone”, 2001.

” I agree that there is an objective contradiction, it is as follows: the Armed Forces as an institution are identified with the Brazilian State, and if it becomes weak, they also remain. On the other hand, ideologically, they are identified with what they called the Colossus North, the United States – today, Trump. It is a contradiction of them, which we have to take into account”.

Check out the full interview:

Brazil de Fato: Do ​​you see a contradiction in the anti-nationalistic military character of Jair Bolsonaro’s government?

João Quartim de Moraes: We determine a contradiction by clearly identifying what their polaraties are. In the coup of 1964, in the first government of the dictatorship, General Castelo Branco, they were privatists, liberals. Who ruled the economy was Roberto Campos, an extreme privitatista, liberalóide fanatic. Paul Guedes, the so-called “superminister” of economic issues, is a continuator, perhaps less intellectually prepared – because Roberto Campos was a man of a certain culture – but it is the resumption of that extreme liberalism, socially indifferent and cruel. This we had in the first phase of the dictatorship. There was a slow inflection for a policy of strengthening the national state, which reached the peak during the government of Ernesto Geisel and an attempt at economic development planned and centered in Brazil that failed because it was overrun by the international oil crisis, a very adverse international situation. In this sense, it can be compared to Dilma Rousseff’s government from 2012.

He did not carry out a considerable portion of his project of accelerated industrialization, of powerful development of the transport routes. He invested heavily in rail, but the success was partial. The interesting thing is that the contradiction then was between the São Paulo high bourgeoisie, bankers and industrialists, FIES, Febraban, and Geisel, because they launched an anti-statist campaign – which dominated the Brazilian political scene between 1977 and 1978.

In general, military governments are expected to be more nationalistic. This is partially true, but we usually forget it because we have the repression and the DOI-CODI. But we must see more broadly. The military is not all monolithic. There are people with different ideas of national economic autonomy there.

Now, in the Bolsonaro government, how is it configured? I do not know. Bolsonaro himself throws the phrases, as much to terrify the boys, but behind it he is not a fool. He speaks a bit of bullshit, but when he realizes it, he retreats. Take the case of China: they explained to him that the largest importer is Brazil, and that if China breaks relations, Brazil is the biggest loser.  He stopped and considered this.  We fear what he can do, but silly, he is not.

But, historically, do the military tend to have nationalism as its inherent value?

It is complex because, just as there were many military men in the 1950s who bravely fought, even close to the then illegal communist party, the nationalist intellectuals, Petrobrás, and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, there was also the military right that received orders from Washington directly and indirectly. These were in favor of unconditional alignment.

Bolsonaro saluted the American flag, which is regrettable, but it is difficult to identify this contradiction. I agree that there is an objective contradiction, and it is this: the Armed Forces as an institution are identified with the Brazilian State; if that is weakened, they are also. On the other hand, ideologically, they are identified with what they called the Northern Colossus, the United States. It is a contradiction we have to take into account: a contradiction within the Brazilian Armed Forces.

Is this related to the US influence in the 1964 coup?

This did not begin in 1964. Just as the candidate’s victory of language and, perhaps, fascist ideology, did not begin with the 2018 election campaign. I would say it began in June 2013, when the right began to take care of the street, surpassing and maneuvering those protests. Similarly, in 1964, it began much earlier. It began with a victory from the left, the victorious resistance of 1961 to the first attempt to prevent João Goulart from becoming president, with the resignation of Janio Quadros.

They did not want Jango, so there was a mobilization, from which emerged the figure of this great leftist leader, Leonel Brizola, and coordinated resistance to the coup. But they lost there. I wrote a book 20 years ago, “The Military Left of Brazil”, in which I cover this. The São Paulo high bourgeoisie was strongly in contact with the military until 1961.

US tanks were donated to the Brazilian Army in October, and the US Armed Forces have already trained in the Amazon this year. Do you believe that these actions symbolize a loss of sovereignty, perhaps an entry of Brazil into a war against Venezuela, in the shadow of the United States?

Giving a base to the United States here in Brazil is something that calls into question national sovereignty. Trump was partially defeated in the US elections, the Democrats are a majority in the House – I do not know if they would passively accept an invasion in Venezuela.

Now, if Brazil accepts the miserable role of US auxiliary troops in a US invasion, then that would be a demotion of our sovereignty: we will be a satellite again. But this is not configured yet. What is set up in Venezuela is that immigrants are coming to Brazil, because the economic situation there is tremendously difficult. So they can use the argument that reinforcing border security is preventing chaos. But I think that Brazil, for the time being, does not yet play a fundamental role in destabilizing Venezuela. This comes from the US blockade and a hyperinflation that they have not been able to control.

People are very worried and frightened about what this government represents. Do you believe in the possibility of a military coup?

The military does not need it. If they won an election, why do they need to strike? This can be configured later, in a few months, at least, if, what is possible, from the outset Bolsonaro’s bridles create an unsustainable economic situation. I do not think that will happen soon. Or perhaps because of excessive violence, at the front line of it is the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), then the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) and the Workers’ Party itself.

Now a military coup with General Mourão, who seems unstable psychologically if it is not pretense, I do not know. But we will know soon, because he will have to define whether it will be a reprint of Janio Quadros, which lasted six months.

We have to use historical comparisons with caution and not anticipate or aggravate the already difficult and worrying situation, because alarmism is bad. I have no doubt that the love of democracy in the military eschelons is small, and that in the face of communist threat or crisis, something they invent, or a real and objective situation of economic ruin, economic paralysis or intense social revolt, then the specter of a self-coup with Bolsonaro, with the military pushing Bolsonaro, if he proves too unbalanced, it is possible. But it is more complex, internationally. Have you ever imagined a military dictatorship in Brazil? The only country … they have a notion.

But, in your opinion, can we become a much more militarized society?

The worst thing that is happening right now is that those who are pushing the militarization of society are not the military itself. It is the evangelical Taliban…The main problem of cultural retrogression is the evangelical extremists…

The worst thing that is happening right now is that those who are pushing the militarization of society are not the military itself. It is the evangelical Taliban that Dilma Rousseff has uselessly tried to placate going to visit the Temple of Solomon.

What the left has to do is fight an ideological struggle for culture and the light. Let’s diagnose the thing correctly. The main and ideological problem of Brazil is not the military, because Bolsonaro is a fanatic, and this is the main ideological environment that has propelled him. The main problem of cultural retrogression is the evangelical extremists, and this is what we have to pay attention to, a brave struggle, as it has been fought in public schools and universities, against this aberration that is the “School Without a Party”.

Edition: Daniel Giovanaz

Translated by Internationalist 360°