Brazil riots: Ford School experts offer insight

January 9, 2023

In the aftermath of Sunday's riots, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promises to bring rioters to justice. This morning, he met with Rosa Weber, president of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, and other leaders to work "in defense of democracy." 

"The powers of the republic, defenders of democracy and the 1988 constitutional charter reject the acts of terrorism, vandalism, criminals and coup plotters that took place yesterday afternoon in Brasilia," Lula said. "We are united, so institutional measures are taken under the terms of Brazilian laws."

What do these protests by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right former president, represent for democracy in Brazil? What should Lula's next steps be? What are the similarities to the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy experts are available to comment.

Melvyn Levitsky is a professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School and a former U.S. ambassador to Brazil. 

"As we have experienced here in the United States, violence can occur after a vigorously contested election," he said. "Brazil's democratic institutions are well established and strong. Virtually every national leader in the world has condemned the attempt to attack Brazil's democratic institutions. 

"I believe a next useful step would be to bring the situation to an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States to show the hemisphere's support for Brazil's democracy. I am confident democracy will prevail in Brazil, but as always, 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.'"

Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Ford School, is a former senior U.S. government counterterrorism official.

"The storming of the Brazilian capital by aggrieved supporters of former President Bolsonaro harken back to similar events in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In both cases, it appears law enforcement did not have sufficient warning or intelligence in advance to prevent the insurrections, but news reports from Brazil indicate that authorities have already arrested hundreds of people.  

"Unlike what occurred in the United States, Bolsonaro did not appear to incite or provoke his supporters in advance. Hopefully, he can issue a statement that attempts to calm the situation and instruct people to leave the premises before further violence ensues."