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Lawmakers in Brazil say Bolsonaro should be charged with attempting to stage a coup

Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press as he leaves the Federal Police headquarters where he gave testimony about his actions related to the Jan. 8 attacks on government buildings in the capital, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.
Eraldo Peres
/
AP
Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press as he leaves the Federal Police headquarters where he gave testimony about his actions related to the Jan. 8 attacks on government buildings in the capital, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian congressional panel on Wednesday accused former President Jair Bolsonaro of instigating the country's Jan. 8 riots and recommended that he be charged with attempting to stage a coup.

An inquiry panel of senators and representatives mostly allied with the current leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in last fall's election — voted 20-11 to adopt the damning report drafted by Sen. Eliziane Gama.

The move was largely symbolic for Bolsonaro because it amounts to a recommendation for police and prosecutors to investigate, and federal law enforcement officials separately have already been investigating his possible role in inciting the Jan. 8 uprising.

Bolsonaro has denied involvement in the rioting, which took place more than a week after the right-wing leader had quietly left the country to stay in Florida while refusing to attend Lula's inauguration.

"It's completely biased," Bolsonaro said Wednesday of the inquiry, in comments to reporters. "It's an absurdity."

One week after Lula took office, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace, refusing to accept his election defeat. They bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows and invaded the public buildings.

Many observers at the time speculated that the riot was a coordinated effort to oust Lula from office, and could not have occurred without the complicity of some of the military and police. Gama's report jibed with those claims, and went a step further in saying they were orchestrated by Bolsonaro.

The report recommends that Bolsonaro be charged on a total of four counts, including attempting to overthrow a legitimately constituted government and attempting to overthrow democratic rule. It also includes a slew of other charges against dozens of Bolsonaro allies, including former ministers, top military brass and police officers.

Those include Gen. Braga Netto, who served as Bolsonaro's defense minister and then was his running mate; Anderson Torres, ex-justice minister and secretary of public security in Brasilia; former institutional security minister Gen. Augusto Heleno; former Chief of Staff Gen. Luiz Eduardo Ramos; and the head of Brazil's defense, navy and armed forces.

Military and police forces are blamed for not getting rid of illegal encampments in several Brazilian cities, where protesters spent several weeks demanding a military intervention, and for their leniency toward protesters on Jan. 8.

"I don't remember in Brazilian history a (congressional inquiry) that included such a large number of high-ranking officers," said Eduardo Heleno, who teaches civil-military relations at the Federal Fluminense University. Heleno said the report's efforts to highlight the military's alleged role in the riots, even if passive, marked a stark contrast with the 1979 Amnesty Law, which turned a blind eye to human rights violations during the dictatorship.

"Without fear. This is how we end this (inquiry), because courage is the raw material of civilization. No amnesty, so that it never happens again and so that we never forget what happened," Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues said Wednesday before casting his vote backing the report.

Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco, said that Wednesday's vote by lawmakers was an important move toward accountability "even though it is symbolic."

"It is very important to have been able to take action against what happened," Pavão said.

The 1,300 page report is the fruit of months of investigation by a panel that interrogated nearly two dozen people and gathered hundreds of documents, including bank statements, phone records and text messages.

It includes a minute-by-minute account of the afternoon when thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the key government buildings in the capital, following a protest march that began about 1 p.m.

But the committee also explored the months and years that preceded the events — touching on rising polarization, and Bolsonaro's repeated efforts to cast doubt on the reliability of the nation's electronic voting system, which he claimed was prone to fraud, though he never presented any evidence.

Bolsonaro "not only instrumentalized public bodies, institutions and agents, but also exploited the vulnerability and hope of thousands of people," the report read.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press