November 26, 2019 / 3:33 PM / 9 days ago

Brazil's economic minister causes uproar mentioning dictatorship decree

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two of Brazil’s former presidents, a chief justice and heads of both chambers of Congress on Tuesday repudiated the country’s economy minister for saying the government might take draconian steps if leftist opponents stirred up protests such as those in Chile.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Economy Minister Paulo Guedes speaks during a news conference in Brasilia, Brazil, November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Speaking in Washington on Monday about turmoil in neighboring countries, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes told reporters not to be surprised if somebody called for an AI-5, a measure decreed by the 1964-1985 military dictatorship to close Congress and suppress dissent.

His remarks come weeks after the release from prison of leftist ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, setting the stage for political confrontation with right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula has vowed to unite the left behind his Workers Party to win the 2022 elections.

The mere mention of the AI-5 decree by Guedes brought an outpouring of reaction from Brazilians who saw his remarks as an attack on the country’s democratic system.

“I think it is deplorable that people can speak about AI-5 as if it were something trivial. It wasn’t, it was serious, it hurt democracy. We managed to restore democracy in Brazil and we have to fight to preserve it,” former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso told the BBC’s Brazilian service.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Dias Toffoli said the AI-5 decree was “incompatible with democracy” and lower chamber Speaker Rodrigo Maia said Guedes had sown doubts about the democratic intentions of Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has frequently praised the past military regime.

“Let’s be clear, if there’s one party that defends democracy in Brazil it is the Workers Party,” Lula said. “It wasn’t us that elected a president that finds democracy repugnant.”

The leader of Lula’s Workers Party in the Senate, Humberto Costa, called on federal prosecutors to investigate the Guedes remarks, saying they were “an attack on democracy that cannot go unpunished”.

The AI-5 was first mentioned in October by Bolsonaro’s son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, who suggested such a decree could be issued if the left decided to radicalize the country.

Guedes tried to walk back on his comments, saying at first that 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 (presidential) Planalto Palace by force,” he said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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