RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s army is often called to help when things go wrong, so it was no surprise to see soldiers deploy during a crippling truckers’ strike. The difference this time: loud calls for the military to take over the country altogether.
Truckers launched their action 10 days ago, gumming up the food and fuel supply system across Latin America’s biggest economy.
Their protest began over rising fuel prices. However, public backing for the shutdown indicated much wider discontent at Brazil’s floundering economy, unpopular government and rampant corruption.
In response, center-right President Michel Temer ordered the army to escort non-striking trucks safely past picket lines.
But far from being angry at the arrival of troops, a number of strikers greeted them with banners reading: “Intervention now!”
“Intervencao ja!” as it goes in Portuguese, is shorthand for a return to the military dictatorship that ruled here between 1964-1985, or at least a coup, followed by new elections.
The slogan appears periodically on the fringes of mainstream anti-government rallies.
Now, though, it took center stage during national media coverage, with drivers unafraid to voice support for a takeover.
“We want military intervention, if possible, to sort out this country,” said Alexandre Bastos, 43, who was taking part in a truckers’ blockade of a refinery outside Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.
“Intervention would have nothing to do with dictatorship. We just want the army to intervene.”
There was even a fake news rumor spread on WhatsApp that the constitution required military intervention once the strike lasted seven working days and six hours, which would have meant on Tuesday.
The supposed deadline came and went. But all of a sudden this normally toxic subject had become that much more mainstream.
“It’s a feeling that is growing in the population, which sees the military as the solution to the nation’s problems,” reserve army general Augusto Heleno told Folha de S.Paulo newspaper Wednesday.
Heleno, who commanded UN peacekeepers in Haiti, insisted that the armed forces “do not intend, do not seek” a coup.
But he then went on to praise the dictatorship’s image of “a more organized country, where people had a better life.”
“I’m not saying it was like that. But this is the image a lot of people have.”