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Opinion: Change of command sparks fears of “venezuelanization” of Brazilian Army

By Luis Kawaguti*

(Opinion) The active military decided not to intervene in the institutions of the Republic after the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT).

The Armed Forces’ leadership held back the impetus of officers, mainly from the reserve, who mistakenly wanted a military intervention based on Article 142 of the Constitution.

But this was not recognized by the Lula government. The replacement of the newly appointed Army Commander, Júlio César de Arruda, made it very difficult to contain the mood and deal with the discontent in the barracks.

The military fears a possible process of political interference in the Armed Forces, similar to the process that occurred in Venezuela.

Change of command sparks fears of "venezuelanization" of the Army. (Photo internet reproduction)
Change of command sparks fears of “venezuelanization” of the Army. (Photo internet reproduction)

There, Chavism chose officers to the Armed Forces’ top in exchange for armed support for the regime’s indefinite perpetuation of power.

This is not the case with Arruda’s replacement, but the early change of the Army commander opened the door to fears about the Armed Forces’ future under Lula.

The military interpreted the fall of the Army commander as the result of a war of narratives.

While military commanders had been assuring Lula that there was no politicization (pro-Jair Bolsonaro) in the barracks, advisors to the president created the distorted image that the Armed Forces would be a threat to the government.

Lula replaced Arruda due to a supposed crisis of confidence after the encampments and vandalism in the Praça dos Três Poderes on January 8.

Defense Minister José Múcio Monteiro said there had been a “fracture in a level of trust” to justify his dismissal.

Múcio, who more radical wings of the PT have criticized, said that the replacement was an investment to bring the Armed Forces closer to President Lula.

But the effect seems to have been the opposite.

The troops were informed of their commander’s resignation early Saturday afternoon by a TV news bulletin, considered inelegant, to say the least.

Arruda had been in office for less than a month. The president’s attempt to show authority was very bad and put the pacification process in the barracks at risk.

Like a large part of the population, many military personnel is individually outraged by the lamentable normalization of Lula’s candidacy, by the illegal and abusive inquiries by the Supreme Court, and by the omission of Congress.

Institutionally, however, the Armed Forces never ceased to act as organs of state and disapproved of the acts of vandalism committed on Jan. 8.

Even the noblest of motivations cannot serve as a justification for vandalism or interruption of the functioning of institutions.


Last week, “allies of the Presidential Administration” allegedly told Lula that General Arruda had colluded with demonstrators participating in an encampment in front of army headquarters in Brasilia, according to columnist Paulo Cappelli of the Metrópoles website.

These advisors claimed that Arruda had ordered his troops to prevent the Federal District police from arresting protesters at the encampment after the vandalism on the 8th.

But this was a distorted version of events.

Military personnel told the War Games column under anonymity that the Army specifically prevented the arrests from taking place at night.

The objective was to avoid a violent confrontation between police and demonstrators. There were women and children in the group.

The decision was also influenced by the fact that the behavior of a crowd is always unpredictable.

The police operation took place in a military area, Crystal Square. Therefore, the Army had jurisdiction and the duty to guarantee the physical integrity of all involved.

The arrests ended up happening on the morning of Jan. 9th, peacefully and with the collaboration of the Army.

After the acts of vandalism, the STF’s order to dismantle the camp in Brasilia was perfectly understandable, correct, and necessary.

But the classification of the protesters as “terrorists” doesn’t correspond to reality.

It only justifies wider repression against anyone who expresses their displeasure with Lula or the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the “wholesale criminalization” made by the STF is technically unsustainable and beyond common sense.

The rumors created by Lula’s advisors seemed to have dissipated.

On Friday (Jan. 20), the day before the resignation, the president met with Múcio, Arruda, and the Navy and Air Force commanders.

After the meeting, Múcio said in an interview that there was no link between the vandalism and the Armed Forces.

Lula had said days after the events in the Praça dos Três Poderes that he suspected that police and military had opened the doors of the Planalto Palace for the protesters to enter.

One of the hypotheses for Arruda’s resignation is that Lula would not have been satisfied with the Army’s actions regarding his personal suspicions.

Another hypothesis would be a supposed refusal by Arruda to fire a military officer at the request of the PT.


The general chosen to replace Arruda was the then-military commander of the southeast, Tomás Miguel Ribeiro Paiva.

He participated in the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti and the Law and Order operations in the Alemão and Penha favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

He is a military man of unquestionable reputation and, days ago, defended respect for the results of the elections.

The President of the Republic has the prerogative to choose the Army Commander.

Lula had chosen Arruda following the institution’s tradition, by which the oldest officer should be chosen for command.

The choice of General Tomás is also in accordance with the seniority criterion, which is highly prized by the military.

However, the choice is considered controversial among part of the Army’s reserve officers, who are unhappy with the fact that the institution did not heed the request of demonstrators for military intervention in politics after Lula’s election.

Some of them have launched a misguided smear campaign against several officers to encourage intervention.

Without identifying themselves or providing evidence, they claimed that Tomás supported Lula and opposed military intervention. But there is no evidence of partisanship in the Army High Command.

According to the reserve officers, the alleged link between the general and the president is that Tomás has a friendship with former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

He took care of the security of the ex-president’s wife in the 1990s. However, no direct link was presented between Tomas, Lula, or the PT.


Military personnel interviewed by Jogos de Guerra under the condition of anonymity listed points that could mean the Workers’ Party’s political interference in the Armed Forces’ structure.

The main factors of interference would be political intervention in the promotion of senior officers, interference in the constitutional missions of the Armed Forces, and the restructuring of military schools to promote historical revisionism.


The selection of military officers for the highest ranks in the Army, Navy, and Air Force is currently made through internal processes in the three forces based on seniority and meritocracy criteria.

In principle, the Executive can do exactly what happened on Saturday with Arruda.

The logic of the maneuver had been described before the general’s resignation by professor Francisco Teixeira from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in an interview with the newspaper “Valor”.

“Military personnel is public servants who follow orders; they don’t represent anything, anyone. This has to be established. And it’s easy: send them to the reserve and appoint younger generals. The idea of ‘military power’ is the source of all deceit,” Teixeira said in the interview.

In 2021, Jair Bolsonaro changed his Defense Minister and the three Armed Forces commanders because of a lack of alignment with the government. But he followed the indications of the Army, Navy, and Air Force in choosing the replacements.

The former president of the PT, José Genoino, said on Friday (Jan. 20) in an interview with the channel DCM that he expects the Lula government to promote what he called a “democratic apparatus” through reforms such as the creation of a new National Defense Policy.

In it, for example, the choice of commanders would be made not by seniority criteria but by the fact that the officer accepts the authority of the president and the Constitution.

“We have the chance to make democratic reformulations about the role of the Armed Forces, the relationship with civil power, a product of popular sovereignty.”

“To change this structure, as Lula defined it, of this moderating power, as they [the military] think they represent since the Empire period until now,” said Genoino.

The fear in the barracks now is that the Workers’ Party will try to influence the Armed Forces to favor the promotion of specific officers – not necessarily to the command, but to the top of the institutions, using political criteria.

There is also the possibility of political pressure to send certain military officers to the reserve.

Both the removal of a commander and any pressure related to promotions can be seen as attacks on the cohesion of the Armed Forces.


José Genoino has said in the past to Opera Mundi that he would like to remove from the Armed Forces the constitutional attribution to act in crises related to public security.

This occurs today through the so-called GLO (Operations to Guarantee Law and Order), provided for in the Constitution and employed more than 150 times since 1988.

His idea is to create a kind of National Guard, supposedly in a different way from the current National Force.

The military is divided about the GLO missions. Many see them as a source of legal problems.

The former Army commander, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, defended in 2017 the approval of a series of laws to protect the military from lawsuits for civilian deaths in public security operations.

There are, however, those who think society cannot be deprived of a GLO in a calamity scenario just because the government does not want to give prestige to the Armed Forces.

The military also questions the viability of creating a National Guard with a “canetada”. This is because it takes many years to form personnel for a force of this nature.

The eventual Brazilian participation in UN peacekeeping missions, like the one in Haiti (2004-13), can also be influenced by frictions between the government and the Armed Forces, according to military men interviewed by the column.

In their opinion, Lula’s advisors would see this type of mission as a way to give prestige to the military that should be avoided.

“Brazil has to stay away from these so-called ‘humanitarian’ operations. First, because they work as a laboratory of knowledge in guaranteeing law and order, which was there, Haiti was a guarantee of law and order, it had no sense.”

“Second, because you enable Brazil to have an exchange with American intelligence (…) Repeating the Haiti operation would be a big mistake,” said Genoino.


One of the ideas of theoreticians and supporters of Lula that causes concern to the Armed Forces is the idea that civilians should command military training schools.

This leftist view was explained by João Roberto Martins Filho, a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos, in an interview for the newspaper “Valor” on Jan. 18.

According to him, there is the possibility of adopting civilian management models for military schools, as occurs in Spain or France.

However, he said this is a goal “we are still far from achieving”.

Military schools are considered today one of the main factors of cohesion in the Armed Forces.

They allow the officers who will one day reach the highest ranks of the military hierarchy to live with their peers from school, receiving a unified and complete education.

Active duty military personnel say that it would be very harmful to the Armed Forces if the curricula of these schools were changed.

They fear, for example, a historical revisionism that tries to reinterpret the young cadet’s historical episodes of the country.

The concern is focused mainly on historical events in which the military intervened or tried to intervene in deep political crises in Brazil.

The left usually associates such events with what it repudiates as “military tutelage” of politics.

Some examples of these episodes come from the imperial period, in the campaigns led by Marshal Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, the Duke of Caxias, in the Balaiada (1838-1841), the 1842 Liberal Revolts and the Farroupilha Revolution (1835-1841). They guaranteed Brazil’s territorial integrity.

The Republic was established in 1889 by a partly military movement, which instituted Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca as Brazil’s first president.

There are also the convulsions of the 20th century, such as the revolutions of 1922, 1924, the Communist Intent of 1935, and, mainly, the episode that the military and part of the population call the Revolution of 64 and that another part of society, composed by several political spectrums, calls the Coup of 64.


The early substitution of the Army Commander and Lula’s positions in relation to the Armed Forces during his first days in office sounded to the military like a speech to depoliticize an institution that has no politicization at all.

They evaluate that the president is listening to dangerous suggestions from advisors that, at best, have little understanding of the Armed Forces.

Until now, the Army has provided repeated proof that the sword of Caxias is not broken and that the institution can maintain its stability and defend legality, democracy, liberties, and the homeland.

But after what happened this Saturday, what will the commanders say to appease the indignation of their troops?

* Luis Kawaguti is a journalist specializing in Defense, Security, and International Politics. He has worked for the BBC World Service and international news agencies. He worked in Brazil for Veja, Diário de S.Paulo, Folha de S.Paulo, and UOL. He is the author of the book “A república negra” (Ed. Globo, 2006) about the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

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