Brazil’s Bolsonaro should be charged with attempting to stage a coup, congressional panel says

Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press as he leaves the Federal Police headquarters where he gave testimony about his actions related to the Jan. 8 attacks on government buildings in the capital, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian congressional panel on Wednesday accused former President Jair Bolsonaro of instigating the country’s Jan. 8 riots and recommended that he be charged with attempting to stage a coup.

An inquiry panel of senators and representatives mostly allied with the current leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in last fall’s election — voted 20-11 to adopt the damning report drafted by Sen. Eliziane Gama.

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The move was largely symbolic because it amounts to a recommendation for police and prosecutors to investigate, and federal law enforcement officials separately have already been investigating Bolsonaro’s possible role in inciting the Jan. 8 uprising.

Bolsonaro has denied involvement in the rioting, which took place more than a week after the right-wing leader had quietly left the country to stay in Florida while refusing to attend Lula’s inauguration.

“It’s completely biased,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday of the inquiry, in comments to reporters. “It’s an absurdity.”

One week after Lula took office, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace, refusing to accept his election defeat. They bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows and invaded the public buildings.

Many observers at the time speculated that the riot was a coordinated effort to oust Lula from office, and could not have occurred without the complicity of some of the military and police. Gama’s report jibed with those claims, and went a step further in saying they were orchestrated by Bolsonaro.

The report recommends that Bolsonaro be charged on a total of four counts, including attempting to overthrow a legitimately constituted government and attempting to overthrow democratic rule. It also includes a slew of other charges against dozens of Bolsonaro allies, including former ministers, top military brass and police officers.

Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco, said that Wednesday’s vote by lawmakers was an important move toward accountability “even though it is symbolic.”

“It is very important to have been able to take action against what happened,” Pavão said.

The 1,300 page report is the fruit of months of investigation by a panel that interrogated nearly two dozen people and gathered hundreds of documents, including bank statements, phone records and text messages.

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