Brazil launches parliamentary probe into January 8 riot

Brazil’s Congress is launching an official investigation into the January 8 storming of the nation’s political and judicial institutions, setting the stage for an acrimonious public battle between President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the rightwing opposition.

The launch of the parliamentary inquiry comes amid criminal investigations into the riots, in which thousands of supporters of rightwing former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed and ransacked the country’s parliament, supreme court and presidential palace in Brasília, claiming his election defeat in October was rigged and calling for a military intervention.

“The inquiry will find out who is responsible for the acts [on January 8] and who are the main intellectual authors. It seems obvious to me that the main one is Bolsonaro,” said Rogério Correia, a lawmaker with the governing Workers’ party, which has called the insurrection a “coup attempt”. Bolsonaro has denied any involvement.

Before the hearing begins, a commission made up of senators and lower-house lawmakers will be chosen to run the inquiry. The investigation is likely to continue for months and feature dozens of witnesses from across the political spectrum.

At its conclusion, the inquiry’s rapporteur may recommend charges, which state prosecutors would then evaluate. While politicians have framed the inquiry as a reckoning for an event that shook the country’s political establishment, many view it as a platform for grandstanding and mudslinging.

Beyond the parliamentary investigation, the supreme court is poised to launch cases against hundreds of alleged rioters. Bolsonaro was questioned by federal police this week.

Lula had long sought to prevent the inquiry, believing it would give a platform to opposition politicians to attack his leftwing administration, which took office a week before the riots in January. The probe could also distract from his political agenda, analysts said.

His stance, however, became untenable after video footage released last week showed one of his cabinet members — the head of the office of institutional security — in the presidential palace on January 8 as it was being raided. The minister, who in the video appeared unperturbed by the attacks, has since resigned.

“The reopening of this debate will oblige the government to allocate resources and political capital,” said Adriano Laureno at political consultancy Prospectiva, adding that the inquiry would probably slow down the passage of important reforms such as an overhaul of the tax system.

“On the government side, there is little to gain. On the opposition side, there is an opportunity to wear down the government and to keep its radical base mobilised on social media.”

Although some leftwing lawmakers support the inquiry, its creation was driven by far-right parties that want to recast the insurrection as a false flag operation secretly orchestrated by Lula. They have also accused the government of negligence.

“Countless times I visited the prisons where the supposed terrorists were detained. I saw elderly, autistic, homeless and people with serious health problems. Are these really the people responsible for vandalism? There are hidden issues that we need to investigate,” said Magno Malta, a senator and ally of Bolsonaro.

The 77-year-old Lula took office on sweeping promises that he would kick-start the economy, eradicate hunger and make big investments in infrastructure and social welfare.

But his popularity has gradually slipped, and he has become embroiled in a noisy spat with the central bank, which he accuses of keeping interest rates artificially high to the detriment of poorer Brazilians.

Internationally, Lula has caused consternation in the US and Europe when he this month claimed Ukraine was partly responsible for the war there and that western nations were “contributing” to the conflict.

A poll from Ipec this month found that the government had a 39 per cent approval rating, down from 41 per cent last month.

Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza

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