"The prestige of the judiciary has led to an unusual interpretation of the law." PHOTO: Ricardo Stuckert/Instituto Lula

*By Lincoln Secco and Fernando Sarti Ferreira

History helps us to reflect on the present with the most dangerous of methods: that of comparisons, as the French historian Fernand Braudel said. What, then, is there in common between the political crisis that led to the April 2016 coup and the cycle of tenentist revolutions between 1922 and 1935?

The so-called “tenentes”, children of the urban middle classes of the Old Republic, were middle-ranking officers, therefore without the command of the institution; its top leaders were expelled and spent years in the midst of conspiratorial activity with civilians.

The tenentist ideology consisted of defending electoral reform and the fight against corruption. They wanted to overthrow the government to hand it over to an honest civilian. An ideology as ambiguous as the fate of many of its actors: some former lieutenants adhered to communism (as the main one: Prestes) and others would get involved with integralism and in various coup attempts.

As his speech corresponded to the old civilist campaign against electoral fraud and was easily manipulated by the dissident oligarchies, they assumed the political direction of the movement in 1930 and the lieutenants found themselves marginalized.

The judges on the scene

The Judiciary does not have the same powers as the Armed Forces. After the decline of tenentismo, every coup action of a military nature was invoked under the ideas of hierarchy, discipline and centralization of command. Judges do not directly exercise violence – despite always ratifying them – and they have no unity. Many decisions of its members are invalidated by higher courts.

It turns out that, since the judgment of criminal action 470 (known as monthly allowance), that power has been marked by a leading role never seen in our history. It was formed through the collusion of the media and a militant middle-class social base against the PT. All under the unlikely leadership of Joaquim Barbosa.

It fit like a glove for a racist right to absolve itself of blame for the sharp attack on the government that, despite anti-popular choices, directed policies of social, gender and racial equality that had never been implemented in the country.

The prestige of the Judiciary led to an unusual interpretation of the law. The domain of fact theory, invoked by Joaquim Barbosa, was only used that time. Just like himself. Once the treasurer and two former PT presidents were punished, Barbosa and his theory left the stage. After all, behind the scenes, nobody thought of keeping it in the script to cancel the amnesty for criminals of the military dictatorship or punish presidents of other parties.

The righteous ambition comes from the judgment of the monthly allowance. It counted on the collusion of the media and the applause of a militant middle class against the PT. For a racist right to absolve itself of blame, the leadership of Joaquim Barbosa fit like a glove

In 2013, another innovation: the plea bargain was extended to criminal organizations. Thus, it was possible to coerce large businessmen to selectively inform in exchange for alternative sentences. This was the case of the Federal Public Ministry’s refusal to accept Odebrecht’s whistleblower in March 2016, since it extrapolated the target of the operation: funding through PT’s Caixa 2, and not from the other parties that the company promised. deliver.

These changes were accepted by a system that was foreseen, but not implemented in the 1988 Constitution. The Public Ministry gained new power in the State and the Federal Police ceased to be a police agency of the Executive to act with political authority, although it is It is likely that the hypertrophy of these powers only showed up under the PT's ineptitude.

The political dispute of 2014, in spite of everything, pointed to the continuity of that party in the Presidency. That was enough to invoke the serious comedians of Act II.

Operation Car Wash

The righteous ambition of the members of the Lava Jato task force, all of whom passed highly disputed public contests, stems mainly from their class origins, as well as the lieutenants. Would we be in the terrain of comparison or the long duration of Braudelian in which certain realities change with a more than secular slowness?

The truth is that the middle class moves like a pendulum, oscillating between the political representations of our country's overexploited populations and the conservative modernization project of the dominant classes.

By having its previously privileged spaces – federal universities, airports and transit routes – occupied by sectors that palely benefited from the distributive tripod – income transfer programs, expansion of credit for consumption and raising the minimum wage – built during the PT governments , the urban sectors once again clung to their particular worldview of those who do not produce and do not appropriate what is produced, only manage it. This generates a mystical and voluntaristic reading of the world, in which there would be a fight between the good and the bad, the corrupted and the pure.

Lieutenant João Cabanas, during the 1924 Revolution, reports that a few days after the beginning of the uprising in the city of São Paulo, a mob invaded and looted the mills of the Matarazzo and Gamba companies in the working-class neighborhood of Brás. In front of these establishments, Cabanas reports a kind of improvised rally by workers of all types who listed the ills that afflicted them. Of course, there were protests against corruption, but there were also complaints against Messrs. Matarazzo and Gamba, the “explorers of the people”, the land grabbers and large landowners, “that half a dozen that formed a caste where positions were inherited between parents, children, nephews, etc.

João Cabanas later became definitively linked to popular struggles. Unlike some current magistrates, the lieutenants risked their lives, lived underground and received no privileges, much less high salaries like those of some well-known judges.


Operation Car Wash has a selective character and has already shown that it is not a crusade against corrupt and violent Brazilian businessmen and their representatives in the State. Today's vigilantes will not even go half a meter on foot against today's “Misters Matarazzo and Gamba”. The new lieutenants indulge in global awards, book signings and Miami apartments.

The reign of virtue is not tolerable for so long, as the guillotine taught the incorruptible Robespierre. It is clear that the strength of judicial moralism was based on real cases of corruption. But judges cannot replace politicians. Even when elected, they enter a system based on denials, negotiations and bargaining. There are no disinterested benches in Congress, even if you vote in the name of God, country and family, a trinity in which our deputies have proved not to believe much.

Our comic virtue is far from a revolution, so on June 21, 2016 the launch of a book about Judge Moro and the members of Lava Jato became an act of celebration. With their spouses, they were treated with selfies and autographs.

On September 30, 1791, when Louis XVI signed the decree dissolving the National Assembly, a group of people welcomed Robespierre with shouts of “Long live the incorruptible!”. Robespierre got out of the carriage and shouted: “Citizens! What humiliating attitude are they adopting? Have they forgotten that they are a free people?”

* Lincoln Secco is a full professor of Contemporary History at USP. Fernando Sarti Ferreira is a master and doctoral student in Economic History at USP

1 comment

    Excellent humor text!

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