WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Brazil’s economy minister caused anger at home by warning on a trip to Washington that a call by the left for anti-government street protests could provoke a strong reaction and making reference to draconian measures used during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship to suppress dissent.
The comments by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes to reporters on a visit to Washington on Monday were seemingly meant to criticize the polarization of Brazilian politics but set off a storm of criticism from the left in Brazil.
Asked about the threat of protests seen in many parts of South America spreading to Brazil following the release of leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva from prison, Guedes stressed he did not believe calling people to the streets was democratic.
“Is democracy only when your side wins? When the other side wins, after 10 months you convoke everyone to take to the streets? What kind of responsibility is that? Don’t be startled then if someone asks for an AI-5,” Guedes said, referring to a decree passed during the dictatorship which permitted the closing down of congress as well as censorship and torture.
Gleisi Hoffmann, leader of the leftist main opposition PT party, criticized Guedes on Twitter, saying he “defends the use of AI-5” and a view of politics that “the people must suffer in silence.”
The head of the Supreme Court, Dias Toffoli, came out against the comments saying the “AI-5 is incompatible with a democracy.” “You do not build a future with the failed experiences of the past,” he said.
Guedes tried to walk back on his comments, saying they were off the record. He later sought to clarify his position by saying the return of the decree would not happen.
“It’s inconceivable, Brazilian democracy would never have it, even if the left grabs its arms and breaks the Planalto Palace by force, it’s inconceivable,” he said, clearly irritated
His remarks come weeks after Lula was released from prison, setting off a political clash with right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula has vowed to unite the left to win the 2022 elections.
In October, Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of President Bolsonaro, suggested in an interview that his father’s government could consider issuing the toughest legal instrument from Brazil’s military dictatorship, the AI-5, if the left decided to radicalize. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Gabriela Mello and Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Alistair Bell)