Sep 9, 2021 - World

Brazil's Bolsonaro backs down from Supreme Court showdown, for now

Bolsonaro rallies supporters in Brasilia. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro seemed to take a step back from the ledge on Thursday night, releasing a conciliatory statement two days after pledging to ignore Supreme Court rulings and declaring that only God could remove him from office.

State of play: Bolsonaro addressed rallies of around 100,000 supporters in Brasilia and São Paulo on Tuesday, Brazil’s independence day. They were intended as a show of force, with his approval ratings sliding and investigations against him stacking up.

  • “A lot of people were ready to commit violence for Bolsonaro,” said Gustavo Ribeiro, the editor-in-chief of the Brazilian Report, who covered the rallies. He spoke to Brazilians who had hoped to storm the Supreme Court building in a Jan. 6-style insurrection.
  • Bolsonaro’s feud with the court started in 2019 with an investigation into social media troll armies, and multiple subsequent probes have targeted Bolsonaro and his associates.
  • After Bolsonaro started launching attacks earlier this year on the electoral system — threatening to reject any election that wasn’t held with paper ballots — the high court opened further investigations that could potentially render him ineligible to run, Ribeiro tells Axios. “That’s when it turned into an MMA fight.”

The latest: Bolsonaro said in the statement that he’d spoken in “the heat of the moment” and had no intention of attacking the Supreme Court. Brazil’s currency rose after it seemed that Bolsonaro wouldn’t deepen the crisis.

  • “[I] would guess the explicitly impeachable nature of Bolsonaro’s threat this week to disobey Supreme Court rulings, & [the growing] support in Congress and political elite in favor of impeachment, contributed to this decision,” America’s Quarterly editor Brian Winter tweeted.

What to watch: Ribeiro says that Bolsonaro has committed multiple impeachable offenses, but “has kind of snookered the political establishment."

  • “Do you do nothing and just let him move the goalposts further and further? Or do you go for the full-scale confrontation and then you increase exponentially the risks of an abrupt rupture?"
  • “It’s a lose-lose situation right now,” he says.

Even if Bolsonaro is willing to take a step back, his supporters may not be.

  • Bolsonaro met on Thursday evening with the leaders of pro-Bolsonaro trucker protests that have blockaded highways around the country, Reuters reports.
  • Bolsonaro was initially reluctant to disavow the blockades despite the economic implications, but he eventually did so in an audio message last night.
  • Some of the truckers didn't believe the message was really from Bolsonaro. And one of the leaders who met with Bolsonaro told Reuters he didn't tell them to stop.

Meanwhile on Monday, Bolsonaro issued a decree temporarily banning social media companies from removing most content without a court order — the first time such a policy has been attempted at a national level, per the NYT.

  • The social media giants haven’t said whether they’ll comply, and the move could be blocked in the courts.
  • The backstory: YouTube has removed several of Bolsonaro’s videos for including misinformation about COVID-19. He and his supporters have also spread messages warning that the 2022 election will be rigged.
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