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Where similarities between government attacks in Brazil and the U.S. begin — and end

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro says he will return to his home country in the coming weeks, which is still reeling from the attack this past weekend on its government. It was thousands of Bolsonaro's supporters who stormed Brazil's capital city, demanding his reinstatement as president even though he lost his bid for reelection back in October. Well, meanwhile, Bolsonaro has been in this country, in Florida, since last month. It has all drawn comparisons to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and, of course, to former President Trump. Here to talk through what those parallels mean for Latin America's largest democracy is Guilherme Casaroes. He's a political science professor in Sao Paulo at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. Welcome.

GUILHERME CASAROES: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So we have been hearing a lot here in the U.S. about all these parallels, and they are very obvious. We're talking about a one-term president who lost his bid for reelection, claimed fraud, never provided evidence of fraud and then went to Florida. But I want a little bit of the background to that because the comparisons between Bolsonaro and Trump go way back, back to the beginning of their presidencies. Is that right?

CASAROES: Yeah, that's right. I'd say that Bolsonaro would never have been able to get elected if not for Trump getting elected in the United States two years before. And Bolsonaro back in 2018 used to love to be called the tropical Trump. That sounded great for him because it gave him some extra power to say, OK, I'm proposing things in Brazil that are already working in the United States. So many of us who do close research on the far-right kind of had seen it coming. I mean, the Capitol riots of 2021 in the United States were just a matter of time before they happened in Brazil.

KELLY: Yeah. So let's stay with that and the playbook and how it may have applied, what we all watched play out in Brasilia on January 8. So two years and two days after January 6 and the riot here, what do you see? Start with the similarities between the two attacks.

CASAROES: Well, first of all, it was a storming of the three main buildings of the Brazilian republic. They destroyed pretty much everything from works of art to furniture to windows. So in this sense, it was very similar to what we saw in the United States two years ago. But there are differences, though. The Brazilian protesters, the pro-Bolsonaro protesters - they believe in military dictatorship. They believe in the military intervention as a solution for the political impasse in Brazil. So it takes us back to the days of the military regime. We had a military dictatorship lasting from the 1960s through the 1980s. And many Brazilians still believe that they lived a better life under a dictatorship, which is absent from the American version of the far right.

KELLY: So a very different history overhanging this and then, I suppose, just a small practical difference, which is that January 8 was a Sunday. So the government offices were not occupied in the way that we saw with the Capitol here. I want to ask about Bolsonaro, where he is. We mentioned that he flew to the U.S. He flew to Florida two days before his term ended. Why?

CASAROES: The official narrative, what he claimed, was that his life was at risk because the left in Brazil that had won the elections - they were planning to forge a case to put him in jail. And that's why he left the country. And, of course, he didn't want to pass the sash to Lula, who Bolsonaro describes as a very corrupt politician, as some sort of nemesis of the right in Brazil.

KELLY: Well, and I suppose a key point is that now that he's no longer president, he would no longer enjoy broad immunity from prosecution. What charges might he face?

CASAROES: If Bolsonaro comes back to Brazil, he's probably going to face charges of crimes against public health thanks to his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic for almost two years. He may also be charged with corruption. And, of course, there's this - it takes a long investigation and a long time. And also crimes against democracy because ever since he took office, he's been challenging democratic institutions. And now, without immunity, that might become a problem for him.

KELLY: So what are the implications for democracy in Brazil moving forward? What's next for Bolsonaro? I began this interview by saying he plans to return.

CASAROES: It's very likely that he won't have - he'll still be the reference of a very radicalized group of supporters. But I see things taking place in Brazil very much along the lines of what we see in the United States with Ron DeSantis, for example, trying to become the moderate voice of the Republican Party, whereas Trump supporters keep very radical positions. So we might see something along the same lines taking place in Brazil even though the party system is different and the political logic is different. But I think it's possible to draw this kind of comparison.

KELLY: That is Guilherme Casaroes on the line from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. Thank you.

CASAROES: Thank you - my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.