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Brazil military leaders told police Bolsonaro mulled a coup

March 16, 2024

Jair Bolsonaro discussed a plan to remain in power after he lost the 2022 presidential election, according to the testimonies of two military officers recorded in federal police documents.

Jair Bolsonaro
Police documents released on Friday give new insight into Jair Bolsonaro's final days in officeImage: Leco Viana/TheNEWS2/picture alliance

Two former Brazilian military commanders said former President Jair Bolsonaro discussed a possible coup d'etat to remain in power after losing the 2022 election, according to judicial documents released Friday.

The testimonies place Bolsonaro at the center of a plot to declare martial law and stop leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from taking office.

The alleged plot did not eventuate. Bolsonaro left the country to avoid handing the presidential sash to Lula but days later, his supporters stormed government buildings and shut down highways in an attempt to overturn the result on January 8, 2023.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the release of the documents as prosecutors investigate links between Bolsonaro and the riots in Brasilia on January 8.

Bolsonaro has denied that he and his supporters attempted to stage a coup.

What did the military officers say?

According to the police report, army commander Marco Antonio Freire Gomes testified that he and other top military leaders attended several last-minute and unscheduled meetings at the presidential palace after the second round of the elections "in which then-President Jair Bolsonaro offered possibilities of using legal tools... regarding the electoral process."

At one of the meetings, Bolsonaro allegedly said he wanted to create a commission to "investigate the confirmation and the legality of the electoral process," according to the testimony from Freire Gomes.

But Freire Gomes told federal police that he "always made it clear to the then-president that, under the conditions at the time, there was no possibility of reversing the result of the elections from a military standpoint."

More than 1,500 rioters arrested in Brazil

Another military officer, former air force commander Carlos de Almeida Baptista Junior, told police that he also rejected Bolsonaro's plans, according to the documents. He said Freire Gomes was a key figure in preventing Bolsonaro from acting on the alleged plot.

"If the commander (Freire Gomes) had agreed, possibly, a coup d'etat attempt would have taken place," the federal police documents quote Baptista Jr. as saying.

"Gen. Freire Gomes said that if such move was attempted he would have to arrest the president," the police documents add.

The documents state Baptista Jr. also testified that the former commander of Brazil's Navy, Fleet Admiral Almir Garnier, "said he would put his troops at Jair Bolsonaro's disposal."

How did Brazil's politicians respond?

The chair of Lula's Workers' Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said the revelations on Friday proved that "the president's victory was fundamental to keep democracy" in Brazil.

"We are on the right side of history," Hoffmann said on social media.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro's lawyer Fabio Wajngarten said he had never heard of any plot for the former president to stay in office and lashed out at the officials who testified to police.

"They are friends of whoever holds power. Their insignificance is their biggest and best trait. Sycophants. Dazzled by microphones, waiters and drivers. Mediocre," he said, without mentioning them by name.

zc/sri (Reuters, AP)