Democracy advocates march in São Paulo on January 9, 2023

Democracy advocates march in São Paulo on January 9, 2023, one day after supporters of Brazil's far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro invaded the country's presidential palace, Congress, and Supreme Court.

(Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images)

'No Amnesty!': Brazilian Democracy Defenders Call for Imprisonment of Pro-Bolsonaro Attackers

Demonstrators in Brazil are demanding accountability in the wake of a failed "January 6-style" insurrection carried out by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro.

Thousands of Brazilians hit the streets of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo on Monday night to demand jail time for the right-wing activists who attacked the country's capital along with everyone who aided and abetted them.

"No amnesty! No amnesty! No amnesty!" democracy defenders wrote on banners and chanted as they marched in the wake of a failed "January 6-style" insurrection carried out by supporters of far-right former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro one week after leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was inaugurated.

"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," Bety Amin, a 61-year-old therapist with the word "DEMOCRACY" stretched across the back of her shirt, said on São Paulo's main boulevard, The Associated Press reported. “They don't represent Brazil. We represent Brazil."

Just as devotees of then-U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 in a deadly attempt to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's win, Bolsonaristas on Sunday ransacked Brazil's presidential palace, Congress, and Supreme Court in Brasília in a bid to oust Lula, who was not in the capital at the time.

Marcelo Menezes, a 59-year-old police officer from northeastern Pernambuco state, described Sunday's coup attempt as "unacceptable" and a manifestation of "terrorism." Joining a march in São Paulo on Monday, he said, "I'm here in defense of democracy, I'm here in defense of the people."

"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."

Approximately 1,500 people have been arrested since Sunday's attack, according to Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino. Most were arrested Monday when authorities dismantled a protest camp erected near military headquarters in the federal capital.

The Federal Police's press office told AP that "it plans to indict at least 1,000 people, and has begun transferring them to the nearby Papuda prison."

Lula's administration "says that is only the start," AP reported. "Dino vowed to prosecute those who acted behind the scenes to summon supporters on social media and finance their transport for crimes including organized crime, staging a coup, and violent abolition of the democratic rule of law. He also said authorities would investigate allegations that local security personnel allowed the destruction to proceed unabated."

According to AP:

Protesters' push for accountability evokes memories of an amnesty law that for decades has protected military members accused of abuse and murder during the country's 1964-85 dictatorship. A 2014 truth commission report sparked debate over how Brazil has grappled with the regime's legacy.

Declining to mete out punishment "can avoid tensions at the moment, but perpetuates instability," Luis Felipe Miguel, a professor of political science at the University of Brasília, wrote in a column entitled "No Amnesty" published Monday evening. "That is the lesson we should have learned from the end of the military dictatorship, when Brazil opted not to punish the regime's killers and torturers."

Dino, for his part, said that "we cannot and will not compromise in fulfilling our legal duties," adding: "This fulfillment is essential so such events do not repeat themselves."

Lula on Sunday signed a decree putting the federal government in charge of security in the capital. The measure has moved to the Senate after being approved by the lower Chamber of Deputies on Monday night.

The riot in Brasília, fueled in part by disinformation spread on social media, was a reminder of the ongoing threat to democracy posed by far-right forces that refuse to accept Bolsonaro's loss.

Following Lula's victory in a late-October runoff election, some of Bolsonaro's most ardent backers blocked hundreds of roads across Brazil and spent more than two months calling for a military coup to keep the defeated incumbent in power.

Last month, Bolsonaristas set fire to cars and buses and tried to breach federal police headquarters in Brasília. That preview of this past weekend's violence came just days after Bolsonaro broke his post-election silence to tell supporters that his political fate rested in their hands.

"Who decides where I go are you," Bolsonaro told a crowd outside the gates of the presidential residence on December 9. "Who decides which way the armed forces go are you."

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's anti-democratic assault, Lula vowed to hold "fascist fanatics" and their financial backers accountable. The president also accused Bolsonaro—a vocal admirer of Brazil's former U.S.-backed military dictatorship, in which he served as an army officer—of encouraging the violence.

Bolsonaro quickly denied Lula's accusation from Orlando, Florida, where he traveled just two days before the presidential transition, after which his diplomatic visa would have expired.

After what happened on Sunday, "we need to go to the street," Marcos Gama, a retiree who participated in a Monday night march in São Paulo, told AP. "We need to react."

Gama's sentiment was shared by Olavo Passos de Souza, a doctoral student in history at Stanford University, who wrote Tuesday in Jacobin that "the anti-democratic thuggery in Brasília has exposed the authoritarianism of Bolsonaro's political camp and underlined the need for a decisive fightback."

Passos de Souza continued:

The riots in the capital have peeled back the veneer of democratic renovation and peaceful transition associated with Lula's inauguration to reveal a shattered republic. We will have to see whether the promises of sweeping punishment for those responsible are going to be delivered upon. But the decisive response of the new administration shows that Lula and his cabinet are not willing to tolerate a violent challenge to democracy from supporters of a disgraced politician who has fled the country to avoid arrest.

The far-right coup attempt has been condemned by heads of state throughout the Americas, including Biden, who said that "Brazil's democratic institutions have our full support."

Numerous Democratic lawmakers have called on the U.S. to stop providing refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) is among those who have urged the U.S. to revoke Bolsonaro's visa and extradite him back to Brazil where he can face accountability.

The fascist mobs that tried to overthrow the democratically elected governments of the U.S. and Brazil were inspired by Trump and Bolsonaro's thoroughly disproven but relentless lies about how their respective presidential contests were "stolen."

While more than 950 U.S. residents who participated in the January 6 insurrection have been arrested so far, federal lawmakers and prosecutors have failed to hold Trump and the far-right members of Congress who continue to spread the "big lie" responsible for the damage they have done to U.S. democracy, with many now holding key levers of power in the House.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.