Op-Ed: What Brazil rebel says about U.S. response to Trump

Brazil now has its personal model of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the defeated president, Donald Trump. Two years and two days later, supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Nationwide Congress, the Supreme Courtroom and the presidential palace in Brasília, solidifying Bolsonaro’s credentials because the “Trump of the Tropics.”

The uncanny similarity between Brazil’s failed rebel and the assault on the U.S. Capitol highlights the numerous parallels between Bolsonaro and Trump. Each are far-right, antidemocratic one-term presidents who supplied disinformation and bravado throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, costing lots of of hundreds of lives. Each harangued the press and challenged their judiciaries’ independence. Each claimed that solely large fraud and rigged voting machines may defeat their reelection bids. Their legacies are the thousands and thousands of residents who doubt the integrity of their nations’ elections and the hundreds who attacked their very own capitols and brutalized law enforcement officials in a futile effort to overthrow democracy.

However the refined variations between the post-presidencies of Bolsonaro and Trump underscore the significance of prosecuting antidemocratic former leaders. Many People concern that indicting Trump for inciting an rebel would produce a tit-for-tat dynamic during which every succeeding administration would use the courts to settle political scores. However Brazil’s historical past because the restoration of democracy in 1989 suggests in any other case.

Fernando Collor, Brazil’s first democratically elected president after the top of the navy regime, resigned in 1992 after being accused of affect peddling. He was impeached anyway, and thus disqualified from holding elected workplace once more. Collor was later acquitted of legal costs and finally had his political rights restored, permitting him to run for decrease places of work (and win).

Subsequent Brazilian presidents have been indicted, and a few have confronted judicial abuses, but Brazil didn’t descend into an countless cycle of retaliatory prosecutions. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who succeeded Collor, was a frequent critic of his personal successor (and the present president), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. However Lula’s administration didn’t use the judicial system to settle scores. Lula himself was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in jail earlier than his conviction was annulled, and he was launched in 2019 after serving lower than two years. Lula finally had his political rights restored and went on to run for president once more, beating Bolsonaro, however the grounds for his indictment weren’t purely political.

Bolsonaro himself may face costs linked to a fake-news troll farm that operated out of the presidential palace, in addition to for spreading misinformation about digital voting. When Bolsonaro’s political occasion requested the electoral courtroom to cancel thousands and thousands of votes, the courtroom fined it for making an attempt to undermine the nation’s digital voting system and froze its property. Brazilian media have reported that Bolsonaro is successfully making an attempt to keep away from jail, for himself and members of the family, by providing to cease attacking democracy in trade for amnesty. Some have speculated that his present sojourn in Florida is an try to flee potential costs at residence.

Bolsonaro’s authorized publicity could clarify why he instantly deviated from the Trump playbook after years following intently in his idol’s footsteps. Regardless of Bolsonaro’s refusal to concede the presidential election, his chief of employees acknowledged in early November that there could be a peaceable transition of energy. Whereas Trump nonetheless claims to be the sufferer of large electoral fraud, Bolsonaro has gone quiet. And whereas Trump rallied the rioters on Jan. 6 and continues to defend their actions, Bolsonaro emerged from his redoubt close to Disney World to decry this week’s violence in Brasília.

Venezuela illustrates the risks of permitting insurrectionists to get away with their actions. Because the nation’s expertise exhibits, when aspiring dictators re-emerge, they have a tendency to come back again emboldened. In 1992, a lieutenant colonel named Hugo Chávez led two failed coup d’états in opposition to the elected Venezuelan authorities. Chávez was launched early from jail by then-President Rafael Caldera earlier than being elected president himself in 1998. He then presided over the destruction of Venezuelan democracy and crashed its financial system.

Ecuador affords one other cautionary story. In 2000, a extreme financial disaster led to mass protests in opposition to the nation’s elected president, Jamil Mahuad. A military colonel on the scene, Lucio Gutiérrez, stood by and watched whereas demonstrators swarmed the Nationwide Congress. The protests then morphed right into a coup try led by Gutiérrez and different navy officers. Gutiérrez by no means confronted legal prosecution for the tried coup.

In 2002, Gutiérrez ran for president and received. The disdain for democratic establishments that he had beforehand displayed turned the defining characteristic of his presidency, throughout which he suspended the Supreme Courtroom and later declared a state of emergency. His time period ended with him fleeing Ecuador by helicopter after Brazil supplied him political asylum.

The ultimate chapter of Bolsonaro’s story has but to be written. However we already see hints that the concern of indictment has chastened him. People ought to take this lesson to coronary heart: Although prosecuting former presidents carries dangers, the price of letting insurrectionists and would-be autocrats escape accountability might be too excessive.

Susan Stokes is professor of political science on the College of Chicago and school director of the Chicago Middle on Democracy. She is the co-author, most just lately, of “Why Bother? Rethinking Participation in Elections and Protests.”