Brazil’s Lula dismisses army chief in aftermath of Brasília riots

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has dismissed the chief of Brazil’s army after losing confidence in him following the storming of government buildings by supporters of former leader Jair Bolsonaro earlier this month.

The decision to replace General Júlio Cesar de Arruda, reported by local media on Saturday, has the potential to exacerbate tensions between Lula, who took office for a third term on January 1, and the army, which has long held an ambivalent attitude towards the veteran leftist leader.

Lula has been openly critical of the nation’s armed forces since radical Bolsonaro supporters stormed Congress, the supreme court and the presidential palace on January 8. He has accused them of being absent in their duties and even colluding with rioters.

Notably, the battalion to guard the presidential palace was missing on the day of the riots. Lula has also suggested someone may have opened the building from the inside, citing the lack of signs of forced entry.

Local media also reported the government’s Institutional Security Bureau, which is composed primarily of military officials, had dramatically reduced the number of security personnel in the political centre of Brasília just days before the riots.

Lula has criticised the military for allowing extremist pro-Bolsonaro supporters to camp for months outside army barracks after the rightwing populist was defeated in the October election.

The supporters, who claim the election was rigged against Bolsonaro, were demanding a military intervention, which Lula said was tantamount to seeking a coup.

Arruda was appointed army captain at the end of last year. He was dismissed after meeting several times with Lula, who concluded he was not willing to take sufficient measures to tamp down on political activism in the barracks, local media reported.

His replacement, General Tomás Miguel Ribeiro Paiva, the head of the south-east command based in São Paulo, has defended the result of the October election and the army’s role as a non-political institution.

The riots on January 8 were considered the biggest attack on Brazilian democracy since the military dictatorship, which began in 1964 and ended in 1985. As a result of an amnesty as part of the transition to democracy, however, soldiers were never punished for the crimes committed during the period, including included hundreds of murders and the use of torture.

Since then the armed forces maintained a presence in the background of the nation’s politics. During the Bolsonaro administration they were empowered with thousands of government jobs, generous budgets and unwavering praise.

Lula has taken a firm line with the military since the riots, potentially risking a backlash.

“The armed forces are not the ‘moderating powers’ they think they are,” he said last week. “The armed forces have a defined role in the constitution, which is the defence of the Brazilian people and the defence of our sovereignty against external conflicts. That’s what I want them to do well.”

Rafael Alcadipani, a military expert at the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, said the armed forces “needed to be more professional and less ideological.”

“They need to explain why their troops were so bad at defending the presidential palace. They need to make a full investigation of the matter.”

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