Supporters of defeated far-right president storm government buildings in Brazil

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the center of power in Brazil’s capital, demanding the military take over and evict current president Lula da Silva. More than 1,500 have been arrested, and Bolsonaro, who is currently in Florida, was admitted to the hospital. Gustavo Flores-Macias joined Nick Schifrin to discuss the developments.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Good evening, and welcome to the "NewsHour."

    It was the most serious assault on Latin America's largest democracy in decades.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the center of power in Brazil's capital, demanding the military takeover and evict current President Lula da Silva. More than 1,500 people have been arrested.

    And, today, Bolsonaro, who is currently in Florida, was admitted to the hospital.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Brazil's capital today, riot police showed up in force and sent in the cavalry to try to dismantle the movement fueled by former President Jair Bolsonaro.

    Yesterday, they launched a frontal assault on Brazil's democracy. They rampaged through Congress, hoping to reinstall Bolsonaro. They assaulted the presidential palace and occupied it, hoping the military would overthrow new inhabitant, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

    They assaulted police officers who tried to resist. And they ransacked the Supreme Court and stole an official chair and a symbol of the state. Two years and two days since the January 6 riot in Washington, the echoes were overt, a violent attempt to undo an election in the name of a losing candidate who claimed fraud.

  • Speaker (through translator):

    Military intervention is what we're asking for, period. There is no going back. We're not leaving here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    They kept it up, even as they were arrested.

  • Maria, Bolsonaro Supporter (through translator):

    This is an injustice. There are no criminals here. We were just protesting. We want to save the country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Authorities blamed public security officials and ousted Brasilia's governor and the head of the capital security. President Lula called the rioters — quote — "fanatic fascists who committed terrorist acts."

  • Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Brazilian President (through translator):

    They will all pay with the force of law for this irresponsible, undemocratic gesture, this gesture of vandals and fascists.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Bolsonaro never accepted defeat in October's election, but did not try to stop transition. Yesterday, he tweeted: "Peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy, but violence such as that occurred today escape the rule."

    Bolsonaro remains in Florida on a visa he obtained while still president. Today, the State Department suggested he would need to leave or apply for a new visa within 30 days.

  • Ned Price, State Department Spokesman:

    It would be incumbent on the visa holder to take that action, either to depart the United States or request that change in status.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. also promises to cooperate with any Brazilian request for assistance in its investigation and reply to any Brazilian extradition request.

    To discuss this more, I'm joined by Gustavo Flores-Macias, professor of government and public policy and associate vice provost for international affairs at Cornell University.

    Thanks very much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Bolsonaro has been saying that the election is rigged. He's been calling for his supporters to take over Congress, to take over the Supreme Court. Was yesterday a culmination of his efforts to delegitimize his own defeat?

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias, Cornell University:

    I think that's right.

    I think yesterday showed the danger of undermining the credibility of the elections. And we have seen this in the U.S. Now we're seeing this in Brazil. It's very clear that, to a large sector of the population in Brazil, Lula is not the legitimate president.

    And this is in great part because of the concerns that Bolsonaro among the population during the campaign, after the first round of election, and even after the second round, he refused to concede. So what we're seeing right now is a direct consequence of that.

    And trust in elections is very difficult to rebuild. I think this will take quite a bit of time for Brazil to recover.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes. And does this go beyond even — even the election? In this country, we talked about Donald Trump's no longer president, but his ideas are part of the mainstream?

    Are Bolsonaro's ideas here to stay in Brazil?

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    I think that's right.

    And one very concrete way in which we will see his ideas endure is through Congress. Parties aligned with Bolsonaro actually did quite well and have a majority in Congress. There will be a strong conservative sector, a strong right-wing contingent of parties in Congress.

    And it'll be fairly difficult for President Lula to govern without trying to accommodate these positions to some extent.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Obviously, some of these challenges to democracies put pain and pressure on the institutions of the democracies. It appears yesterday that the institutions held. Can they continue to hold in Brazil?

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    It has been an important test for Brazil's democratic institutions.

    I think these pressures will continue throughout the Lula administration. If anything, they might become more and more frequent. It will be important to see what the new administration does to, let's say, address the situation and to punish, make sure that there's punishment, so that this doesn't happen again.

    Otherwise, supporters of Bolsonaro, if there is not a strong response, they might be emboldened, and they may attempt sort of more drastic measures in the future. But what we saw yesterday is that the specter of a military coup may be alive and well in Brazil. There was a coup in '64. The military was in power for about two decades.

    And what we saw is that a lot of these people participating in the riots were proactively sort of very, very outspoken in terms of inviting the military to step in to try to resolve the situation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And to your point about punishment, it seems that, in the past, Brazil has tolerated some of the extreme right. Could this lead Brasilia to do something that hasn't done before, which is rein it in?

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    So, the silver lining that could emerge out of this is that, in the eyes of some sectors, perhaps the most centrist sectors in Brazilian society, the far right will be very discredited, right?

    They're playing with fire here. It may be that perhaps they were willing to accommodate these sectors before, and now they may not be willing to tolerate that. During the Bolsonaro administration, there was an intense militarization of public life. And, hopefully, in Congress, and the new administration will have very little tolerance for that, and that will resonate among the sectors of society that used to tolerate these actions, and that will hopefully have very little tolerance for that in the future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's zoom out a little bit regionally.

    We have seen strains on other democracies. We're also seeing rising polarization. How important is Brazil's internal response to democracy across the region.

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    Brazil is not only a regional leader, but sort of, even in the world stage, it's very important what Brazil does.

    There are countries around the southern cone. And if we think of just Latin America in general, places like Peru or Ecuador, where there's a lot of political friction, a lot of political instability right now, and people are watching closely.

    And it is important for democratically elected governments around the region to close ranks and express support behind President Lula to make sure that this doesn't happen again in Brazil or anywhere else in the region.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And how significant is this, even more zoomed out, in the global context of right-wing populism and threats to democracy?

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    We see that right-wing parties, especially extreme right-wing parties around the world, are adopting some of the tactics, some of the strategies that we have seen, say, in the U.S., from places like in Spain, where the far right party Vox is adopting a lot of the same slogans, or same in Hungary.

    So we're likely to see more of this, unfortunately, not less. And as long as polarization continues to increase around in the world, we're likely to continue to see these situations.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Professor Gustavo Flores-Macias, thank you very much.

  • Gustavo Flores-Macias:

    Thank you, Nick.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the White House now says that President Biden spoke with Brazilian President Lula this afternoon to convey his support, and they agreed Lula would visit Washington in early February.

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