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Democracy cannot be taken for granted in Brazil: the risk of the politicization of police forces

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The attempted coup by far-right groups, including the invasion of the headquarters of the three branches of government on January 8, 2023, has put Brazilian democracy at risk. Investigations have shown links between the extremist protesters, members of the Armed Forces and the country’s police forces. If democracy won, the episode left a legacy that had been growing stronger over the last four years, under the government of former president Jair Bolsonaro: the hijacking of the country’s security forces by politics. The article argues that Brazil faces a significant task in the future: the process of instilling republican principles (defense of republicanism and public thing) in the security forces. During the Bolsonaro years, the government unduly interfered in the police and military forces and, at the same time, politicized them. This was evident not only in Bolsonaro’s weaponizing speeches and practices, facilitating civilian access to firearms and building up a huge contingent of armed civilian support, with a clear threat to democracy. The author analyses the phenomenon that the Sou da Paz Institute, a Brazilian non-governmental organization, has called Policialism: a trend on the political scene in the last decade, characterized by the increasing politicization of public security forces. This translates into partisanship and greater participation by police and military personnel in electoral disputes, the proliferation of police profiles on social networks, and the adherence of security agents to specific ideologies and political positions. Recalling that the militarization of politics and the excess of weapons in the hands of civilians in Brazil are today a heavy legacy for Brazilians, and that democracy cannot be taken for granted, the author says that the federal government, sub-national governments, the National Congress and civil society need to pay special attention to this issue. The article describes the risks of this politicization and presents recommendations to reduce these risks, including suggestions to modernize the Brazilian legislation that regulates police corporations.


democracy, Brazil, policialism, public security, politicization of public security forces in Brazil, Brazilian armed forces, Brazil’s civil and military police, jair bolsonaro, Sou Da Paz Institute