Is It Against This Court That Generals Become So Irritable?

Conrado Hübner Mendes

Just a few days after the military coup of 1964, the writer Carlos Heitor Cony published two notable op-eds in the newspaper Correio da Manhã. He sought solace in the hope of a better day, in the hope that the march of history would not be stopped by military insanity.

In "The Act and the Fact", he contrasted the coup with the future that would come: "The Act is that moral and legal monster that mocked the Congress and shook the Nation. The Fact is that today's arrogance, today's arbitrariness, today's imbecility are preparing a better day, without hatred, without fear. And that day, even if it is hard to come, even if it comes to our children and grandchildren, will have justified and sublimated our protest and our anger."

In "Revolution of the Crabs", Cony defined the low stature of the "revolutionaries": "Since the Military High Command insists on calling it a Revolution, let us be generous and accept the classification. But we must complete it: it is a Revolution, indeed, but of crabs. Revolution that goes backwards. It ignores the epoch and the march of history. We will move forward, despite the deviations and threats."

History betrayed hope. A day without hatred and fear did not come for either Cony's children or grandchildren. The dictatorship officially ended in 1985, but military arbitrariness and imbecility survived 30 years of democracy. It was a decisive political failure of the redemocratization process. So much so that a new generation of crabs could awake and embrace someone like Bolsonaro.

President Jair Bolsonaro - Pedro Ladeira/Folhapress

What would be the Fact and the Act of 2020?

The Fact: a country with the worst global performance in containing the pandemic, an international health threat; a larger number of deaths and a deeper economic shock than the pandemic alone would trigger; an icon of contempt for the environment and native peoples; an unwelcome president in any country in the democratic West (from which the United States gradually withdraws). The tragedy is both tangible and intangible: the increasing number of deaths runs alongside the country's civic, spiritual and symbolic corrosion.

The Act: a threat of military coup based on a cynical and grotesque "interpretation" of article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution, as if there were, for those who disagree with Supreme Court decisions, a right to appeal to the generals.

When Juvenal, the Roman poet, raised the classic question of institutional architecture - "Who guards the guardian?" - he did not count on the cunning of Brazilian generals who are telling the guardian to shut up. Resorting to arms against democratic institutions is the autocratic response.

In the Brazilian Constitution, Juvenal will find only the democratic response: no one guards the guardian. The guardian's last word, however, is not immutable, nor infallible, nor exempt from responsibility. It may be challenged by new public deliberation, by the force of new arguments, facts and evidences, never by brute force.

When the Supreme Court makes a mistake, self-correction through a new legal process is the only legitimate institutional channel available. When the legislature disagrees with the Court's interpretation, it can also enact a constitutional amendment. External correction under a military stick does not fit the democratic bill.

The Supreme Court has been doing little. It has been doing little for too long. Had it taken the 1988 constitutional project more seriously, there would have been militaries arrested for crimes against humanity. In 2010, when the Court validated the applicability of the Amnesty Law for the crime of torture, it argued against "opening past wounds". It did not realize that the wounds had never closed. The Court rather made Jair Bolsonaro possible.

Is it against this timid Court that generals become so irritable?

There are no militaries in prison. There are military personnel in the presidential office. And also in the office of the president of the Supreme Court. Ungrateful, they are. The democratic fraction of the Armed Forces must respond accordingly and urgently.

Writer Luis Fernando Veríssimo, in a preface to the op-eds' anthology of Cony, distinguished the democratic from the authoritarian attitude in terms of character: "there was that guy saying everything we thought about the coup, about military imperiousness and civil pusillanimity, with a calm courage and acute rationality that made the obvious devastating".

Imperiousness and pusillanimity are the entry passports to the citadel of Bolsonarism. Inside and outside the closet.

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