José Manuel Diogo: Democracy cannot be tolerant with those intolerant of itself, says Gilmar Mendes

José Manuel Diogo: Democracy cannot be tolerant with those intolerant of itself, says Gilmar Mendes

Sitting at the table at Cícero Bistrô, in Lisbon, close to his favorite neighborhood in the Portuguese capital, Príncipe Real, the dean of the Federal Supreme Court, Gilmar Mendes, rarely takes his eyes off his cell phone.

Look at the news, send and receive messages, interact with the protagonists of the political scene —institutional tensions between the government and the Armed Forces make Brasília red hot. And he doesn’t even miss a comma of the interview; manages, like few others, to do several things at the same time.

After the January 8 attacks on democracy, in which the destruction of the STF made him cry live on TV, Gilmar conveys a dispassionate and simple view of what happened, talking about the relationship between the Powers and the challenges that await Brazil, and questions whether it is prudent for democracy for the world to rely so heavily on globalization.

Twice president of the Supreme Court and its current dean, the minister that Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed to the court in 2002 is, 20 years later, a central figure in Brazilian society. Self-declared “Purple Santos”, he is also a teacher who never resisted politics.

This is the first part of the second conversation at Cícero’s table in which unavoidable personalities “from there and from here” debate, in this column, ideas and arguments and anticipate future trends based on the existing potential in Brazil’s relations with Portugal, Europe and the world.

What role can Brazil assume, in the geopolitical and socioeconomic context, after Lula’s election? Brazil has already proven several times that it has the capacity to reinvent itself. Just look at the context of the 1988 Constitution: uncontrolled inflation, uncertainty about the future and stability. However, we were able to find our way.

Mr. Do you think that Brazil will go through another period of innovation? I think so. The last four years have been a diversion, filled with threats to democracy. But now the status quo has returned—we’re back to focusing on the nation’s big questions.

Internally, the tax issue is back on the discussion table, which needs to be seen from a social responsibility perspective. It is important that it takes place, as it has been thought of since the FHC government. Externally, we have the environmental issue. In the previous government, Brazil was seen as a pariah, for destroying our forests. Legislation to protect the environment exists and is even very advanced.

Brazil is coming back. In addition to its economic and geopolitical importance, Brazil has a lot to offer the world: our culture, our Carnival and football, our good humor and the ability to innovate.

In international politics these are characteristics of “soft power”, but Brazil is a power. Perhaps not militarily, but, in the interview he gave about the 8th of January, Lula promised a Brazil with more attention to responsibilities at that level. I think so. Brazil was already playing this role, including with the blue helmets [em referência a missões da ONU na República Democrática do Congo e no Haiti]. I think we also have an important role in this, although we have no tradition of war.

In our current conflicts, as you know, even what was a latent conflict [com a Argentina] turned into a competition almost limited to football. And today, no one has any doubt that Pelé is the best [risos].

It is the economy that must be the priority. We made progress in Mercosur — a little abandoned in the last four years, but we are returning to the discussion about the agreement with the European Union. The War in Ukraine also placed certain elements that demand more cooperation from Brazil, even more participation with regard to the financing of clean fuels, production of green hydrogen. It’s all on the agenda [internacional]and we must know how to take advantage of it.

But the pandemic has changed many things. Is Brazil prepared? She indicated to us that there were wrong paths or misconceptions with regard to globalization itself. We shouldn’t trust so much in this extreme globalization — we saw the dependence we had on China, but a lot of medical material took a while to arrive. Taking into account the size of Brazil and Latin America, perhaps we can play an important role in this area, even rethinking our industrialization. And, of course, contact with Europe. For Portugal and from there with the other countries.

Looking at the 8th of January, what do you think other democracies, without recent experience with extremism, can learn from Brazil? Brazil has shown itself to be a resilient democracy. The results are auspicious, and the Judiciary has played an important role. It seems to me necessary, as a democracy, to have containment instruments that repudiate anti-democratic actions.

Let’s look at Germany, where militant or defending democracy is practiced, which consists of the idea that a rule of law cannot be tolerant of those who do not tolerate democracy itself. In this regard, Brazil has already demonstrated that it is moving in the same direction as Germany.

Are there examples of this? I remember the opening of the fake news survey, in 2019, or the reform, by the TSE [Tribunal Superior Eleitoral], which resulted in the generalization of electronic voting. It is good to remember that the Revolution of 1930 was due to electoral fraud in the Old Republic. The Electoral Justice was inaugurated in the 1930s and reinforced with the 1988 Constitution.

Before the electronic ballot box, Brazil suffered from a problem of “mapism” of written votes. By abandoning the analog model —which caused so many problems, for example in the USA, in the election of [George W.] bush and [Al] gore [em 2000]—, the country has made everything more transparent and trustworthy. Regardless of the controversy generated by some dissenting voices.

Combating fake news and a rigorous and transparent electoral process are two important measures for any democracy wishing to overcome a period of political extremism.

Can the Judiciary be more advanced or developed than the other Powers in Brazil? I don’t think so. There is a spirit of cooperation between the Three Powers that allows Brazil to advance at a single speed. The Legislature, for example, has played a very active role in modernizing many things.

Such as… It is necessary to remember that Congress is, in a way, a mirror of the reality of a country as complex and diverse as Brazil is. However, cooperation between Powers exists.

The electronic ballot box, which I mentioned earlier, only exists because Congress approved it. The Central Bank was formed after congressional approval and, regardless of Lula’s recent criticisms of the institution, its creation came at a time when Brazil needed to demonstrate robustness and stability in the financial markets.

Many of the pieces of legislation that are making important progress have come out of Congress. The so-called Sanitation Framework comes to resolve a historic deficit in this area, and is at the origin of much progress, leading to several privatizations. Rio de Janeiro was experiencing a debacle and underwent a revitalization with the privatization of Cedae.

Will the inquiry conducted by the Judiciary on January 8 have an outcome similar to what happens in the US, due to the invasion of the Capitol, or will it be a quick and smooth process? At that time custody hearings proceed. In addition, responsibilities need to be determined. It will not be difficult to understand that the situation is different for a person who helped to destroy and for someone who financed or organized it. But I believe that the process is moving forward in a serious way. The Attorney General’s Office [da República] it has already advanced with complaints against the cases identified in the Senate and in the Chamber, and the next step is the right of defense.

Is this whole process a priority for Brazil? Since Brazil submitted to the 1988 Constitution, there has never been an episode of this severity. What happened needs to be rebuked and repudiated. Surveys point in the same direction: the majority of public opinion, regardless of their political alignment, repudiates the events and defends that the intervening parties should be judged.

There is an even bigger problem: how to deal with social media and the misinformation that comes with it. Fifteen years ago there was great enthusiasm for the digital world, there was talk of building a social agora or direct democracy. Today we find serious problems with the online space. We have isolated people who have suffered true brainwashing through misinformation. Democracy cannot be tolerant of those who are intolerant of democracy itself.

Is misinformation and fake news the biggest problem? There seem to be reasons to be hopeful that the current paradigm may change. I see the fact that the TSE now has tools, albeit limited, to combat misinformation on social networks, as a victory.

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