Brazil: Lula Fires Brazilian Army Chief, Accuses Bolsonaro of Genocide

FILE - Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the swearing-in ceremony of Tarciana Medeiros, the first woman to preside the Banco do Brasil, one of the country's main public banks, in Brasilia, Brazil, on Jan. 16, 2023. Lula fired Brazil's army chief Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, amid …
AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File

Socialist convicted felon Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, currently serving as president of Brazil, ousted the commander of the nation’s Army this weekend and refocused the nation’s attention towards what he called a “genocide,” caused by predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, of indigenous people in the Amazon region.

Lula’s firing of General Júlio César Arruda follows a purge of military officials and expanding investigation as a result of a riot by Bolsonaro supporters in the nation’s capital on January 8. An estimated 5,000 opponents to Lula returning to the Brazilian presidency, which he previously held from 2003 to 2011, stormed Brasilia that day, destroying the headquarters of the top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), and vandalizing parts of the Brazilian Congress and presidential offices.

The protesters were part of a movement that began after Lula narrowly won October’s presidential election, demanding the military intervene to prevent him from taking power. Lula was convicted on multiple appeals of taking crimes during his prior time as president, resulting at its peak in a prison sentence of nearly 25 years. In 2021, the STF abruptly overturned all his sentences on the grounds that the initial court to have processed the case did not have jurisdiction to do so.

Bolsonaro supporters contend that, as someone with multiple criminal convictions to his name, Lula should not have been on the ballot. They also make the controversial argument that the Brazilian constitution grants the nation’s military the power to intervene and prevent his inauguration because of the illegitimacy of the election due to his participation.

Lula reportedly ousted Arruda on Saturday as a result of a lack of trust that he would target and punish anyone involved in the January 8 riot. The accusation of “genocide” was part of an unrelated nascent scandal: growing reports of starvation deaths among the Yanomami people of the Amazon, which Lula blamed directly on the Bolsonaro administration’s negligence.

Lula’s administration quietly announced the replacement of the nation’s army commander in its official gazette on Saturday night, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo detailed. Lula replaced Arruda with General Tomás Miguel Ribeiro Paiva less than a month into the former’s appointment.

According to O Globo, citing both anonymous sources and on-the-record remarks from Defense Minister José Múcio Monteiro, Arruda was “surprised” by his firing, though he and Lula had almost immediately experienced a tense relationship, even before the riot. Citing Múcio, the newspaper said that Lula felt he could not trust Arruda because the president wanted immediate military action to vacate pro-Bolsonaro protest camps that had surfaced near the country’s army barracks and Arruda was concerned that taking sweeping military action could result in harm to civilians.

“There were the barracks camps. No matter how hard we tried, that was not a resolved situation,” Múcio narrated. “Then came the 8th of January, which created a lot of trouble. … We need to know who the culprits are. Obviously, the Army was not behind that, but it needs to punish the people of the Forces that were involved.”

The newspaper stated that Lula was “irritated” that Arruda was concerned about “women and children at the scene [of the protests camps] who could be victims in a possible confrontation with military police.” Lula also reportedly say Arruda as a Bolsonaro sympathizer.

Arruda is reportedly undergoing surgery that will require two weeks of recovery, preventing a formal ceremony for the transfer of his power to Ribeiro.

Arruda was fired on the same day Lula traveled to Roraima state to address the Yanomami situation. Lula’s Health Ministry declared an official emergency in the Yanomami indigenous community, empowering Lula officials to establish a new operation center for emergencies dedicated to providing food, medicine, and other services to the group. Lula published photos on social media of himself meeting with members of the indigenous group and directly accusing Bolsonaro and his administration of “genocide.”

“Beyond a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was a genocide. A premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to the suffering of the Brazilian people,” Lula wrote on Twitter. “Adults with the weight of children, children dying from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and other conditions.”

“There will be no more genocides. Indigenous peoples will be treated with dignity. Humanity owes a historic debt to indigenous peoples,” Lula concluded, “who preserve the environment and help contain the effects of climate change. That debt will be paid, in the name of the survival of the planet.”

A top Lula cabinet official, Minister of Institutional Relations Alexandre Padilha, described Bolsonaro himself as a “fugitive” on Monday. Bolsonaro is currently believed to be in the Orlando, Florida, area, where he traveled during his final days as president in December. Padilha accused Bolsonaro of “barbarities against indigenous people” and accused him of “cirminal negligence” regarding indigenous people.

Bolsonaro, who has largely remained silent during his time in America, responded to the accusations via his Telegram account on Sunday. The former president called the claims that he committed genocide against indigenous people “another left-wing farce.”

“Indigenous health care was one of the priorities of the federal government,” Bolsonaro wrote, referring to his administration. “From 2019 to November 2022, the Health Ministry provided more than 53 million [Brazilian reais, about $10.2 million] in primary care services to traditional peoples.”

“Another initial measure was the adoption of the sanitary protocol for entry into indigenous territories,” the former president added. “Both in the year of declaring the [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic and in the following, technical reports were produced to guide health services on diagnosis, testing, prevention, control and isolation.”

Brazilian leftists had previously accused Bolsonaro of genocide against the general population of Brazil as a result of his opposition to coronavirus-related civil rights violations, including lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Leftists in the Brazilian Congress reportedly considered a formal accusation of genocide by the legislature but ultimately did not agree on making the move.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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