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Under shadow of 2023 riot, Lula plays down Brazil’s ’64 coup

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receiving salutes from the Armed Forces Chiefs
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receiving salutes from the Armed Forces Chiefs - Copyright BRAZILIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP Ricardo STUCKERT
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receiving salutes from the Armed Forces Chiefs - Copyright BRAZILIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP Ricardo STUCKERT

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of Brazil’s last military coup, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has canceled events honoring its victims, seeking to show unity with the army after several officers were linked to an alleged plot to keep him from power.

“We need to bring Brazilian society and the armed forces closer, not treat each other as if we were enemies,” the leftist president told reporters in late February.

On March 31, 1964, the Brazilian military ousted then-president Joao Goulart and went on to hold dictatorial power for 21 years.

The era, long a flashpoint in Brazilian politics, still counts among its defenders the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who served as president from 2019 to 2022.

The anniversary had seemed a natural one for Lula — a former union official who once led an historic workers’ strike against the military regime — to remember the 434 people who were killed or disappeared during military rule, according to the findings of a 2014 National Truth Commission.

In contrast to neighboring Argentina, which tried state agents for crimes committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship there, in Brazil that dark chapter ended with the 1979 passage of an amnesty law.

– ‘Political calculation’ –

But the 78-year-old Lula told reporters the 1964 coup was “already part of history,” adding that his government “will not dwell on the matter.”

“I am more concerned with the coup of January 8, 2023 than the one in 1964,” he added. 

That day in January, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters invaded the seat of power in Brasilia — the Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices — calling on the military to depose Lula a week after his inauguration.

Police are investigating Bolsonaro for allegedly taking part in plotting a “coup d’etat” to remain in power after his election defeat in 2022.

Several of his close allies have been linked to the plot, including government ministers and high-ranking army officers. Police have detained a major and a colonel. 

“There has never been a time as propitious to discuss the place of the armed forces in Brazilian society as there was after the Bolsonaro government and January 8,” historian Lucas Pedretti told AFP.

But Lula “made a political calculation placing a strategic accommodation with the armed forces in the foreground, to the detriment… of the historic needs of Brazilian society to review its past,” said Pedretti, a political scientist with the Rio de Janeiro State University. 

– Protests –

Lula’s decision meant the cancellation of events planned by his own government, including the Human Rights Ministry.

Silvio Almeida, who heads that ministry, had planned to deliver a speech at a Brasilia museum honoring those who were killed or persecuted by the former military regime, local media reported.

While Lula last year had reversed a Bolsonaro policy that allowed the military to hold celebrations of the 1964 coup, there will be no official reflections this year on the role of the armed forces then or since.

“It’s history; we don’t need to be stirring things up,” one army source told AFP.

Rights groups have insisted that Lula reinstate the Special Commission on Deaths and Political Disappearances, which was established in 1995 to investigate political crimes during the dictatorship years, then canceled by Bolsonaro in his final year in government.

The Brazilian Coalition for Memory, Truth and Justice — which groups more than 150 associations — sharply criticized the president’s decision not to commemorate the coup anniversary.

“Vigorously repudiating the 1964 coup is a way of reaffirming the commitment to punish current and possible future coup attempts,” the group said in a statement.

“We will not accept that governments again negotiate or abandon the rights of victims in order to be able to compromise with the military,” the statement added.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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