SAO PAULO – Minister Luís Roberto Barroso, of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), assesses that Brazil is experiencing a “unique institutional moment”, of “some stress in the relations between the Powers”, but does not see any risks of the process escalating to a threat of coup.
The magistrate, who is also president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), participated, this Wednesday (25), in the panel “Fake News and democracy in the 2022 electoral debate”, by Expert XP 2021. Watch the highlights in the video above.
During the seminar, Barroso analyzed what he classed as a “democratic recession” in several countries around the world – in his view, the result of three main factors: populism, extremism and authoritarianism.
“It was the historic process that, to some extent, took place in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, most recently in El Salvador. This process is serious and even the United States, perhaps the oldest consolidated democracy, has experienced the shock of hate speech, disinformation speech, lying speech, election fraud, which resulted in the invasion of the Capitol,” he said.
“No country in the world is immune to this type of risk. In countries where this has happened, the Legislature and especially the Supreme Courts have not been able to offer adequate resistance. In Hungary it was co-opted; in Poland it was co-opted; in the United States, it was not co-opted; and in Brazil it was not co-opted”, he added.
In Brazil, the magistrate says that the different institutions have shown that they are working and that they were able to “set the appropriate limits”, even under stress, caused in his assessment by “artificially created turbulence”.
“People ask me: ‘is there a risk of coup?’. I liked to say no – and I like to say no, and I don’t think so. But the number of times I’m asked this starts to worry me. But I don’t see the conditions for a coup in Brazil, simply because there is no cause for a coup,” he said.
Barroso has been a frequent target of speeches by President Jair Bolsonaro (no party), especially after his emphatic position against the implementation of the printed vote in the country – a flag dear to the president.
“There is always, in all democracies, some tension between the Executive and the Judiciary. These tensions, in a democracy, are absorbed in an institutional and civilized way”, he said.
“Brazil is going through a peculiar moment, in which some decisions of the Supreme (…), all strictly guided by the Constitution, brought some degree of political stress, but a risk for the institutions should not be foreseen”, he pointed out.
Barroso highlighted three situations: the decision that culminated in the installation of Covid’s CPI in the Federal Senate; the understanding that, in matters of public health, the Union, states and municipalities share competences; and the creation of the Fake News inquiry – in which Bolsonaro himself ended up being included in the list of investigated after attacks on the electoral system.
Since the printed vote gained prominence in the national debate, Barroso became one of the main voices against the Constitutional Amendment Proposal (PEC) that dealt with the matter. In the discussions, he argued that there would be risks of breaching the constitutional guarantee of voting secrecy, difficulties in transporting millions of ballots in a country with a history of cargo theft and militia and organized crime, and greater risk of fraud during the manual counting.
Such positions and involvement in the legislative process made Barroso one of President Jair Bolsonaro’s main targets. Over the weeks, the crisis escalated and began to involve the higher courts, which took a stand in defense of their members.
Minister Alexandre de Moraes, rapporteur of the Fake News inquiry in the STF, was also attacked by Bolsonaro in the period, due to his inclusion in the inquiry and after an offensive against the president’s allies – which culminated in the arrest of Roberto Jefferson, national president of the PTB, and in searches and seizures against singer Sérgio Reis and deputy Otoni de Paula (PSC-RJ).
Bolsonaro, last Friday (20), filed a request for impeachment against Alexandre de Moraes in the Federal Senate, in an unprecedented move for the country since the redemocratization process. The gesture had already been promised a week ago and the president has said he will present another one against Barroso.
While the assessment behind the scenes is that the actions should not prosper, the case has deepened the level of political tension.
During the Expert XP 2021 panel, Barroso avoided directly addressing the clashes with Bolsonaro, but said that he treats personal attacks with indifference and that he will continue to act when he considers it important to protect institutions.
“Personal attacks I ignore, I treat them with the indifference possible. I’m not a political actor, I’m not an institutional actor, I don’t participate in bickering, I don’t stop to discuss small things. I only act when I consider it important to protect institutions, because that is the cause of my generation”, he said.
“The cause of my generation was the conquest and preservation of democracy, and I do not deviate from this path for anything and I think that Brazilian society is already mature enough not to accept any kind of institutional deviation – which, by the way, would make us world pariahs,” he warned.
Barroso also took advantage of the panel to send a message to political figures and economic agents who, in his opinion, flirt with undemocratic behavior, stressing that dictatorships do not usually tolerate freedom of expression or even free initiative and entrepreneurship.
“Brazilian society has matured enough. We’ve already gone through the cycles of delay. And some pre-Enlightenment manifestations that occur here and there, I think are not likely to undo this democratic spirit that permeates Brazilian society today. Democracy essentially means popular sovereignty, free elections, the rule of law, limited government, respect for fundamental rights,” he said.
“One can only say that there was no dictatorship in Brazil who does not know an opponent of the regime who had not been tortured. Who does not know a journalist who has not been censored. Or someone who doesn’t know a teacher who has been dispossessed. Dictatorships come with torture, censorship, impeachments. Nobody wants a return to that”, he pointed out.
“Dictatorships also don’t like free enterprise, entrepreneurship. Dictatorships don’t like innovation. This is true for these businessmen and entrepreneurs and for politics as well: don’t date this alternative, because dictatorships also eliminate politics. And the experience of Brazil [mostra que] there was never so much nationalization as in the military regime”, he added.
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