Brazil’s leaders celebrate “Unshaken Democracy” on one-year anniversary of government attacks

By January 9, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – Brazil’s leaders gathered on Monday in the capital Brasília to celebrate democracy on the first anniversary of the January 8, 2023 attacks on the country’s government headquarters. 

One year ago, thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who had lost to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva months earlier in a run-off, stormed the Supreme Court, Congress and the official workplace of the president in an attempt to prevent Lula from taking office. The events of that day have been called a “dark day for Brazilian democracy.”

Since then, 2,000 rioters have been arrested and some sent to prison, and the Supreme Court is investigating Bolsonaro’s role in the insurrection. 

On Monday, President Lula, Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco, Supreme Court President Luís Roberto Barroso, and other leaders met in Congress for an event dubbed “Unshakable Democracy.”

During a speech, Lula celebrated “the victory of democracy over authoritarianism” and, without mentioning Bolsonaro’s name, called the former president a “coup plotter.”

“If the coup attempt had been successful, much more than windows, furniture, works of art and historical objects would have been stolen or destroyed,” he said. “The sovereign will of the Brazilian people, expressed at the election, would have been stolen and democracy destroyed.” 

He added that “lies, disinformation and hate speech were the fuel” for the attacks on January 8, which have been widely compared to the January 6, 2021 attacks on the United States Congress by supporters of defeated former President Donald Trump. 

Lula also said that those behind the financing and planning of the attacks should be punished and made an example of. “There is no forgiveness for anyone who attacks democracy, their country and their own people. Forgiveness would sound like impunity,” he said. 

President Lula with Supreme Court President Luís Roberto Barroso and Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco holding the Brazilian constitution. Image courtesy of Ricardo Stuckert/PR

Senate President Pacheco said that Brazilian institutions remain vigilant “against traitors to the country, a minority that wants to take power in violation of the Constitution.”

“We will always be open to debate, pluralism and disagreements. But we will never tolerate violence, coupism and disrespect for the will of the Brazilian people,” he added.

Justice Barroso, the Supreme Court president, referred to January 8 as a “day of infamy” and criticized the “fake patriots” and “fake religious people” who participated in the attacks in a “collective hallucination,” encouraged by fake news and conspiracy theories.

“False patriots who do not respect the symbols of the country. False religious people who do not cultivate good, peace and love. They demoralized God and the national flag,” said Barroso. “Anyone who thinks differently than me is not my enemy, but my partner in building an open, plural and democratic society. No one has a monopoly on the love of Brazil.”

Vandalism numbers

Since the attacks in Brasília, 2,151 people have been arrested and 65 remain behind bars. 

The Public Prosecutor’s Office has already filed charges against 1,431 people – 30 have been convicted by the Supreme Court for crimes such as criminal association and attempted coup d’état. 

Penalties have gone as high as 17 years in prison and fines that have already been imposed collectively amount to R$30 million (USD $6 million).

Bolsonaro supporters invaded congress, the federal government building and the Supreme Court. Image courtesy of Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

Authorities estimate damage caused by the attackers at around R$20 million (USD $4 million), which includes structural damage to government buildings, as well as the cost of restoring valuable works of art, antique furniture and expensive items gifted to Brazil by foreign governments. 

One notable artifact damaged in the attacks was Balthazar Martinot’s 17th-century clock, a gift from the French Court to Emperor Dom João VI, who ruled Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves from 1816 to 1825. The famous clock was completely destroyed by the vandals.

Martinot was the watchmaker for Louis XIV, and there are reportedly only two of these clocks in the world today. The other is on display at the Palace of Versailles, but it is half the size of the piece that was housed in Brazil’s government building.

After the acts of vandalism, the Federal Police also launched a permanent operation to identify more people involved in the attack, mainly financiers and intellectual authors. The “Lesa Pátria” operation has already had 22 phases, which resulted in the arrest of 80 people.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who is overseeing the January cases for the court, said at this Monday’s event that everyone involved in the insurrection will be punished.

“Everyone, absolutely everyone who cowardly agreed with the breakdown of democracy and the attempt to install a State of exception, will be duly investigated, prosecuted and held responsible to the extent of their guilt,” he said.