Former Brazilian military leaders said Bolsonaro proposed military coup a month before January 8 attacks on Brazil’s government headquarters

By March 15, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil – Two of Brazil’s top military commanders during the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro testified to Federal Police that in December 2022, the then-president presented them with a plan for a military coup following his loss in the October elections to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. 

The revelations came on Friday after Brazil’s Supreme Court released depositions from 27 former military personnel, ministers and presidential aides, taken by police earlier in March as part of their investigation into the alleged coup plotting in Bolsonaro’s administration.

Former commander of the Army, General Marco Antônio Freire Gomes, told police that a draft decree for the coup was presented by Bolsonaro and his ministers at a meeting at Palácio do Alvorada, the presidential palace, on December 7, 2022. At the time, according to Freire Gomes, Bolsonaro said that the document was still “under study” and he would “report progress to the commanders.”

At a second meeting on December 14, Freire Gomes said that a new version of the draft was presented, with the decree of a state of defense and the creation of an electoral regulatory commission to investigate the conformity and legality of the electoral process.

At the meeting, according to the general, the former commander of the Navy, Admiral Almir Garnier, the former commander of the Air Force, Lieutenant-Brigadier Carlos Baptista Júnior, and the former Minister of Defense, Paulo Sérgio Nogueira, were present. 

Freire Gomes said that he and Brigadier Baptista Junior “strongly stated their positions contrary to the exposed content” and said that Bolsonaro “would not have legal support to take any action.” 

However, according to Freire Gomes, Admiral Garnier “made himself available to the president” and even offered Navy seamen. 

General Freire Gomes told police that a draft decree for the coup was presented by Bolsonaro and his ministers. Image courtesy of Exército Brasileiro

Freire Gomes said he warned Bolsonaro that the Army “would not accept any act of institutional rupture” and that the proposal “could result in criminal liability.”

Brigadier Baptista Júnior’s testimony to police followed a similar narrative as Freire Gomes’. He said he participated in the meeting where Bolsonaro presented the coup draft and guaranteed that he spoke out against the measure. 

According to Baptista Júnior, during the meeting, Freire Gomes even threatened to arrest Bolsonaro if the then-president went ahead with the coup plan. “The then-Army commander, General Freire Gomes, stated that if he attempted such an act he would have to arrest the president,” said Baptista Júnior.

The former Air Force commander also said he warned Bolsonaro that there would be no chance of him remaining in power after the end of his term, and that the Air Force “would not accept any attempt at institutional rupture to keep him in power.”

Pressure from a deputy

Brigadier Baptista Júnior told the police that he even received an appeal from deputy Carla Zambelli, at the time one of Bolsonaro’s main allies, to join the coup d’état.

He said that, in December 2022, the deputy approached him after an Air Force event and asked him “not to leave President Bolsonaro in the lurch.”

Baptista Júnior said that he immediately reprimanded Zambelli, saying, “Deputy, I understand what you are saying and I do not accept that you propose any illegality.”

Brigadier Baptista Júnior said he was pressured by a deputy to join the coup. Image courtesy of CECOMSAER

Other testimonials

Among the 27 statements that were made public on Friday, there are 14 in which people remained silent, including former president Bolsonaro, who did not answer any questions from the Federal Police.

The former Minister of the Civil House and Bolsonaro’s vice-presidential candidate in the 2022 elections, Walter Souza Braga Netto, former Defense Minister Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira, and the former commander of the Navy, Admiral Almir Garnier, also remained silent. The three, according to the police, were directly involved in planning the coup.