The (de) Politicization of The Military

2022 elections will show real distance between uniformed people and politics

Imagine a relatively cohesive group that supported a candidate for president not in their ranks, has a hold on the vice presidency, seven ministries, about 2,500 positions in the federal executive branch alone, ensured salary readjustments in the federal budget and, even with all of this, says that it has not doubled the politics.

What is the chance that this thesis will be accepted without much thought? High, if this group is the military and the reading of their movements is done by the press, as the episodes of the week showed.

On Monday (29), President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed, as expected, Ernesto Araújo do Itamaraty and changed, surprisingly, five more ministers, including Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva. Azevedo e Silva's departure was crowned the following day by the dismissal of the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

On Tuesday (30), the headline of the newspaper Estado de S. Paulo said that "Minister of Defense resigned for refusing political use by the Armed Forces," while the newspaper Valor Econômico pointed out that the military resisted alignment. On Wednesday (31), it was O Globo’s turn to point out that "Military members refuse political adhesion, and Bolsonaro changes heads of the Forces."

In Folha, the discussion about the “political use” of the uniforms appeared more prominently in an editorial (“Duty Fulfilled”), which addressed Bolsonaro's incentive to “objectionable politicization of the barracks,” indicating that “such an abject pretense” would not “[e]cho in the country's active high ranking”

The examples show the newspapers' adherence to the military's own version that the changes in the leadership of the Armed Forces are an unmistakable sign of the military's refusal to be politicized by the president.

As I have written before, the thesis follows the logic that has marked news coverage since the beginning of the Bolsonaro government, that the military would be disinterested actors hovering above politics and composing a government wing responsible for containing the president's excesses.

The justification for leaving the military command, according to Folha, was the pressure by the president to "align the Forces with the political defense of the government," especially in relation to the pandemic (a tragedy managed by an active general as the Ministry of Health). Less prominently, there was also talk of “coup intentions.”

The military has been aligned with Bolsonaro since before the elections, when they engaged in his campaign. In the past few days, the president seems to have demanded even greater alignment. The change of command, however, does not mean that the military did not bend to the politicization of the Forces.

It would be important to understand if there are limits that the Armed Forces were not willing to cross, what they are and, the maximum point of attention, if the state police would be prone to this. There are two good episodes of Folha's daily podcast, Café da Manhã, that address this.

As for the coup intentions mentioned, it is not the first time that Bolsonaro has revealed such inclinations. It would be worth investigating what kind of renewed coup this would be - to the point of Azevedo e Silva, who last year flew over Bolsonaro with demonstrations for the closure of Congress and the STF, found it well to say in his departure that he ensured the role of the Forces as a state institution.

In addition, the military seems to seek to move away from the political and health crisis currently in place, and the president may have given the group a way out of the labyrinth into which the group itself was willing to enter, as pointed out by an analysis published on Tuesday (30) by Folha.

Returning to the idea that the military refuses to adhere to politics, the tweets posted by then commander of the Army, General Villas Bôas, the day before the ex-president Lula's habeas corpus trial in 2018, prove that the conclusion requires much more caution.

After more than 30 years of redemocratization, the military has plunged into politics. If they are going to retreat, only the articulations for the 2022 elections and the attentive eye of the press will say.

In the print edition of Monday (29), Folha published the article, “Folha covered Car Wash with a critical eye over the 7 years of the operation.”

Many readers were uncomfortable. “Nothing is more tacky and arrogant than self-praise. In this regard, the newspaper matches the politicians who need to reaffirm their deeds and hide their ills all the time. It would be more honest, and more useful to readers, an article showing where the newspaper went wrong,” said a reader.

The title highlighted the Car Wash operation, but the content of the article mixed coverage of Car Wash and Car Wash Leaks - the latter serving as an important support point for the critical view of the operation.

The text underestimates the reader's power of judgment. Ultimately, it is up to him to say whether Folha covered the operation with a critical eye or not.

Flavia Lima: A reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon