BRASÍLIA — A senior judge on Brazil’s supreme court ordered the arrest of two top security officials in the capital on Tuesday, days after backers of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the congress, presidential palace and supreme court in the apparent hope of overthrowing the government.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and members of the supreme court have accused the police of colluding with the rioters who occupied and vandalized the buildings on Sunday. Torres, who was Bolsonaro’s justice minister, was fired Sunday. Augusto was relieved of his duties on Monday.
Authorities say members of at least five police forces were present in the Plaza of Three Powers when the rioting began Sunday afternoon. Many, they say, appeared to stand down as the Bolsonaristas entered the government buildings.
Communications Minister Paulo Pimenta said Tuesday that authorities now believe a significant portion of the security forces at the plaza were in “collusion” with the rioters, some of whom appeared to have been their family members.
“They’re not going to go after their own relatives,” Pimenta said. He said security forces appeared to believe the rioters would succeed in sowing enough chaos to trigger Brazil’s Guarantee of Law and Order, which would allow the military to assert control of the capital.
Some of Bolsonaro’s supporters have called on the military to stage a coup to keep him in power. Lula defeated Bolsonaro in the October election and was sworn in as president on Jan. 1.
“There was an explicit conviviality of police with the demonstrators,” Lula said at a governors meeting Monday.
amid A mass of intelligence about the rioters, including messages calling on “PATRIOTS” to travel to bring the capital “TO A HALT” on Sunday, security forces here appeared overwhelmed for several hours.
Among the questions now being investigated: How were rioters able to breach the buildings so easily? Was the lack of planning and preparedness a result of mismanagement—or complicity?
The violence Sunday underscores the challenge ahead. for Lula as he attempts to stitch up the stark divide here after the closest election in the country’s history.
Many police officers here are seen as sympathetic to Bolsonaro. Photos shared on social media showed officers buying coconut water or taking photos and videos. as rioters attacked the buildings.
On Tuesday, Brazil’s senate voted to approve a decree signed by Lula to authorize federal intervention to maintain public security in the federal district until the end of the month. Several Bolsonaro loyalists voted against it.
Authorities continued to interview some 1,500 people whom they have taken into custody. Police said Tuesday that they had arrested 527 of them. Nearly 600 people who had been detained for questioning, including elderly people, mothers with children and the homeless, were released for “humanitarian” reasons.
Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino said Tuesday that investigators have identified several business executives suspected of financing the attack, including by renting about 40 buses to transport Bolsonaro supporters to the capital.
Dino did not identify any suspects by name, citing the ongoing investigation, but he said some had links to the agribusiness sector and come from states in the southern and midwestern part of Brazil, areas where Bolsonaro’s electoral support is strong.
Bolsonaro, who worked for years to sow mistrust in Brazil’s electoral system with unfounded claims of corruption and fraud, has not conceded his loss to Lula. Last month, he called the result unfair and decamped to Florida, skipping Lula’s inauguration.
On Monday, his wife said he had been hospitalized in Kissimmee, Fla. He has suffered from abdominal pains since a stabbing attack during his successful 2018 campaign.
Several Democratic lawmakers have called for Bolsonaro’s US visa to be revoked. Bolsonaro said in a tweet Sunday that while peaceful protest is a part of democracy, the “depredations and invasions of public buildings” that had occurred fell outside the law.
The attacks did not come out of nowhere.
Since the election, thousands of his supporters have camped outside military installations, claiming without evidence that the election was stolen and calling on the military to block Lula from taking power.
Bolsonaristas have burned buses and attacked the federal police headquarters here. Police defused a bomb near the airport and arrested a man who they said sought to create havoc to draw military intervention before Lula’s inauguration.
In recent weeks, social media channels and messaging apps lit up with calls to attack gas stations and other infrastructure. Dino said this week that he had a “sense that something could happen.”
But despite the red flags, the security presence here on Sunday was far more limited than on the day of Lula’s inauguration. Police had not erected barricades that officials in Lula’s government said they had been told would prevent rioters from entering the Plaza of the Three Powers.
Ibaneis Rocha, the pro-Bolsonaro governor of Brasília, was suspended on Sunday. He allegedly assured Lula’s government that he had security Sunday under control. He condemned the riot and fired Torres on Sunday before his own suspension. He has denied colluding with the rioters.
Brazilian media reported that Torres is also in Florida. He has denied meeting Bolsonaro there.
Pimenta, the communications minister, said The police began to arrest rioters only after it became clear that there would be no military takeover and that Lula would declare federal control of the capital’s security forces. He singled out the presidential guard for failing to act.
“They just stood there, on the side,” he told The Washington Post, pointing outside the window of Brazil’s presidential palace to a corner of the square below.
Not all of the forces failed to act, he said. He said 160 members of the legislative police resisted the rioters and prevented them from entering the legislative chamber.
Pimenta said investigations have been launched into the police actions, but there have not yet been mass removals.
Is there a risk that disloyal security forces are guarding Brazil’s bastions of democracy?
“Absolutely,” Pimenta said.
Amanda Coletta reported from Toronto.
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