Coup attempts have gone viral this winter season in Latin America. The contagion spread first to Argentina, then Peru, and finally Brazil on January 8. In addition, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua continue to suffer from long-term US regime-change efforts.
Coverage of this political pandemic by the US liberal press (i.e., the preponderance of mainstream media that endorse a Democrat for the presidency) reflects politically motivated agendas. Its spin on Brazil in particular reflects a trend among Democrats to greater acceptance of the security state.
December 6 lawfare coup in Argentina
Current vice-president and former president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was the leading contender on the left for the 2023 elections. But on December 6, she was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and barred from running for office. Although she is appealing what is considered a “lawfare” frameup, the right is anticipating a comeback in the upcoming October 2023 presidential election.
This incident in the third largest economy in Latin America has gone virtually unnoticed in the North American liberal press, and certainly no concern has been expressed about safeguarding democracy.
December 7 legislative coup in Peru
The day after the coup in Argentina, an already mercurial situation in Peru became more so. The elected president from a leftwing party was imprisoned in a parliamentary coup backed by the military. Pedro Castillo was disposed on December 7 when he tried to forestall a third impeachment attempt against him by dissolving Congress.
The former CIA operative and current US ambassador to Peru, Lisa Kenna, is widely credited with greenlighting the coup in Peru. US military police have long had a cooperative relationship with their Peruvian “partners” according to US Army.
A state of emergency has been declared by the government, while a general strike has been mounted. The Guardian reports disproportionate use of force against the protests, including firing live ammunition. Over 50 people have been killed in popular demonstrations in support of Castillo, who is seen by the poor and indigenous as one of their own in a society with deep fissures of class and race.
Most left-leaning leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean have condemned the coup in Peru. On the other side of the barricades, the US State Department “welcomed” Castillo’s replacement. But in Peru, polls show that only 30% approve of new de facto president and 83% support early elections.
In the US, the liberal press followed the flag if they paid any attention at all. The last time Peru warranted a New York Times editorial was 2017 in a human-interest story about a trek taken there by Barack Obama’s daughter.
Slow motion coup attempts in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua
Also conveniently ignored by the press are Washington’s protracted coup operations. Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela are bleeding, but their stories are not leading. US regime-change machinations against countries striving for socialism hardly offend the State Department stenographers in the liberal press corps.
Largely due to illegal US sanctions, these three countries are currently experiencing severe economic difficulties and their largest migration crises in decades. Being permanent targets of US intelligence does not make the news. Nor does the State Department’s admission that “we will continue to pressure the [Venezuelan] regime with sanctions” invoke much umbrage.
January 8 unsuccessful rightist coup in Brazil
In contrast, liberal media has worked itself into a dither over the storming of Brazil’s presidential palace, supreme court, and congressional building by supporters of defeated President Jair Bolsonaro on January 8. Unlike Peru and Argentina, this rightwing coup attempt failed.
But the Trump connection is the reason for the press’s hyper attention. Trump is noted without exception in nearly every report. Ties with Bolsonaro by Trump associates Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are cited. The Washington Post editorialized that the brawl in Brasilia was almost a “remake” of the assault on the US Capitol two years before.
US liberal media is in an absolute frenzy linking the two events, as if the Brazilians themselves had no agency. TV host Joy Reid described the “straight line from January 6 to what happened” in Brazil, noting that Trump’s “far right contagion is spreading around the world.”
With proper patriotic pride, the Post noted that the riot in Brazil was condemned by political leaders in Brazil and their “democratic counterparts around the globe” led by none other than President Biden. They counseled Brazil to “stand strong” and emulate the January 6th hearings in DC, though the Post respectfully refrained from naming which TV producer should stage the extravaganza.
Why January 6 so matters to the Democrats
In the US, the liberal press has been flogging the dead horse of January 6 for two years with no end in sight. With the Romney Republicans and the Bush bunch exchanging fist bumps with the woke crowd in the DNC’s big tent, the two-party system is revealing its underlying class unity. Hence the threat of Trump has become the Democrat’s biggest asset because they no longer have an agenda that distinguishes them from the Republicans on imperialist war and the repressive security state. Absent the Orange Menace, their electorate might get restive.
The former pinkos turned blue in Portside, for instance, are scandalized that “only one of the 222 House Republicans attended the January 6 ceremony honoring police officers.” Would these putative progressives, who continually warn about the “fascism,” rest more easily had the entire Republican caucus attended the Blue Lives Matter homage?
Rightwing attacks boomerang
It should also be noted that what the press dubbed the “parallel attacks” in Brasilia and DC helped consolidate public opinion against Bolsonaro and Trump and strengthened their opposition. In Brazil, Andrew Pasquier observed that the blowback “presents the country’s newly reelected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with an unexpected opportunity to govern with a consensus mandate after his narrow comeback win.”
Democrats to the rescue
assault on our democracy” by Trump’s followers. The former Brazilian president is holed up in Orlando, Florida.
The Democrat’s plea to uphold “democratic norms” in Latin America predictably did not extend to either Peru or Argentina.
Similarly, while sanctimoniously condemning Bolsonaro and his followers for not accepting the results of the 2022 election in Brazil, the Democrats did not extend the same courtesy to Venezuela where the US still doesn’t accept that President Maduro won in 2018. At least the Bolsonaristas and Trumpsters claim their respective elections were “stolen.” The stance of the present US administration is simply that the Venezuelan election is “illegitimate” because the people voted for the wrong guy.
Fortuitously for Lula, Biden has ignored the request from this fellow partisans to ban Bolsonaro. Nearly half the Brazilian electorate voted for Bolsonaro, his party has the largest number of seats in both houses of their legislature, and it swept some of the key governorships. Bolsonaro’s bolt to the Sunshine State self-decapitated a potentially more insurrectionary movement of his faithful. Why in the world would Lula want to reverse such good fortune?
The friendly fascism of liberal authoritarianism
The crackdown on the rioters is what has so enamored the US liberal media about Brazil. The central conceit of the press regarding the Brasilia riots was conflating the forceful use of the repressive apparatus of the state with preserving democracy.
[NOTE: I am not passing judgement on how Brazil should handle its internal security. This commentary is about how the liberal press in the US spins it.]
With over 1,500 arrested and prosecutions of funders and political backers promised, ABC News approved how “Brazil vows swift justice.” The New Republic gleefully reported: “The Brazilian government wasted no time in responding to the insurrection.”
Rachel Maddow had as her guest Timothy Snyder, the celebrity intellectual who built a successful career finding the commonality between Nazis and those who fought against them. Speaking in front of a montage of video clips from Brazil showing long lines of heavily guarded prisoners in handcuffs being carted away in buses, Snyder described how “pleased” he was with the response of Brazilian law enforcement compared to what he characterized as “flabby” democracies.
In short, the liberal press’s coverage of the winter coup season in Latin America is symptomatic of how their favored party has learned to love the security state at home (not to mention their romance with war abroad). As its current standard bearer, who takes major credit for the Patriot Act and the 1994 Crime Bill, says: “Lock the SOBs up!”
Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas, founded in 1985.