RIO DE JANEIRO: By ransacking government buildings in their fervent opposition to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s January 8 rioters may have strengthened his hand, at least temporarily, analysts say.
Many even among supporters of the defeated far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro were shocked by the looting of buildings and objects of national heritage.
Immediately after the storming of the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, Lula brought together the leaders of the three institutions – many of them from the political right – for a unanimous condemnation of the events.
Presenting a united front, they publicly asserted that democracy would not be allowed to falter just three decades after the fall of the military dictatorship in Brazil.
“The events (of January 8) had the opposite effect” of what was expected, said Mayra Goulartprofessor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
“Lula will undoubtedly come out stronger. These assaults have created a climate of national unity for the defense of democracy,” she told AFP.
The riots occurred exactly a week after Lula’s inauguration took place with great pomp and ceremony, but in the absence of Bolsonaro who left the country two days earlier and ducked the traditional duty of put on the presidential sash.
Thousands of people forced their way into the seats of power, smashing windows and furniture, destroying priceless works of art and leaving behind graffiti calling for a military coup.
The soldiers did not respond to the call.
More than 2,000 suspected rioters have been arrested and authorities are tracking those suspected of orchestrating and financing the uprising that has rocked Brazil and the world.
An investigation has been opened into a possible role played by Bolsonaro, whose justice minister was arrested on Saturday for possible collusion with the vandals.
The foreigner’s condemnation was unanimous.
Washington, Moscow, Beijing, the European Union, Paris and Latin American capitals have expressed their full support for the new president of Brazil, a country isolated from the world stage under Bolsonaro.
“The international uproar will strengthen the position of Lula, who will be seen as an important leader who can help strengthen multilateral forums,” Goulart said.
Leandro Gabiati of consultancy Dominium said Lula’s image had been “boosted” by his firm but fair handling of the cleanup operation.
Bolsonaro in turn was wronged.
Lula “was challenged and he came through it pretty well,” Gabiati said, citing “a balanced attitude that kind of restored normality” without an air of revenge.
Lula’s government was firm: “fascists” found guilty of involvement in the riots face sentences of up to 30 years for “terrorism”.
As the net also tightened around the suspected organizers of the uprising, the government announced a reshuffle of the police and security forces.
Security at the presidential palace, he announced, will be cleared of any remaining Bolsonaro sympathizers from the previous administration.
Lula will have to “take exemplary sanctions in order to avoid a repetition of this type of demonstrations”, declared Gabiati.
And even as he urgently has to deal with pressing issues like poverty and hunger, Lula will be forced to “expend energy investigating…the putschists”, Goulart added.
Meanwhile, government work continued this week, with ceremonies held in official buildings still littered with shattered glass and broken furniture to swear in Lula’s new ministers.
Lula will face a difficult task trying to heal a country marked by deep divisions made worse by a vitriolic election campaign filled with misinformation and incitement to fear.
Left icon for many, he won the vote by a tiny margin of 60 million votes against 58 million for Bolsonaro.
Lula’s most radical opponents – fueled by anti-“communist” rhetoric and distrust of the election outcome – are unlikely to give up.
“I think what happened on January 8 was a huge shock. And I think a lot of those who voted for Bolsonaro didn’t expect what happened or didn’t welcome it. “, said Michael Shiftersenior researcher at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.
Even among those who supported the riots, many were disappointed by the army’s inability to intervene on their behalf, the analyst told AFP.
“I think what we’re seeing is (the anti-Lula movement) a bit fractured at the moment and I think the country has understandably and predictably rallied around Lula at the moment,” Shifter said.
“But I think at the same time that movement is still there and … we could probably expect some sort of lower-level upheaval and protests and violence,” he added.
“I don’t think it’s going to go away.”

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