Brazil's chief justice nixes peace talks with Bolsonaro

·3 min read

SAO PAULO (AP) — The Brazilian Supreme Court's chief justice said Thursday he cancelled a meeting that had been intended to mollify President Jair Bolsonaro and avert institutional crisis after the far-right leader continued railing against the court's justices.

Analysts said justice's decision to scrap the sit-down between himself, Bolsonaro and the leaders of both congressional chambers ratchets up the temperature and brings the nation a step closer to full-blown institutional crisis.

“The president has repeated insults and attacks on members of this court,” Chief Justice Luiz Fux said from the bench. “His Excellency insists on mistaken interpretations of this court’s rulings, and on sowing doubt about the health of Brazil's electoral process.”

“The precondition of dialogue between branches of government is mutual respect between institutions and its members,” Fux continued. “Unfortunately, we have not seen that.”

Fux spoke hours after Bolsonaro said Justice Alexandre de Moraes has been "playing outside the four edges of the Constitution for a long time.” De Moraes on Wednesday night made Bolsonaro a target of the court's investigation into the dissemination of allegedly fake news at the request of the nation's electoral court.

Bolsonaro, who polls say is trailing ahead of his 2022 reelection bid, has embarked on a crusade to discredit the nation's electronic voting system and authorities who defend it as reliable.

The electoral court has rebuffed his assertions as baseless, saying the system is trustworthy and there are several means of checking results. It also approved opening its own investigation of Bolsonaro, who has failed to present proof of his claim that past votes were wracked with fraud.

This week, Bolsonaro repeatedly insulted Luis Roberto Barroso, who is both a Supreme Court justice and the electoral court's president. Following the chief justice's comments, which were televised, Bolsonaro escalated his complaints, charging on a live social media broadcast that Barroso doesn't want clean elections next year and is working to benefit the expected election run by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads in early polling.

“We know about (Barroso's) love for Lula. It is his right. But he is using his powers to influence,” Bolsonaro said. “There is no attack on the Supreme Court here.”

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said Fux made it clear in his comments that "there is no use talking to the president.”

“Bolsonaro is applying pressure, so this is a moment of great tension,” Melo said. "We have to see what happens over the next few days, how the political system reacts. But this moment is very bad.”

One prominent conservative pundit and Bolsonaro backer, Rodrigo Constantino, wrote on Twitter that Fux had effectively declared “war.”

The verbal vitriol comes after more than a year of friction between the top court and the president, who fervently opposed governors' and mayors' restrictions on activity aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. At one point, he led a group of business leaders on an impromptu march to the Supreme Court to air his grievances face-to-face, and he also attended a demonstration where many were protesting the court.

As his government came under fire for its pandemic response, Bolsonaro has frequently repeated the false claim that the top court prohibited him from adopting measures to limit the virus' spread. In fact, the court ruling ensured mayors and governors also had jurisdiction to act.

Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of Americas, said the chief justice’s statements on Thursday are “definitely an escalation of an institutional crisis that has been building throughout 2021.”

“Everybody in Brasilia knows where this is headed,” Winter added. "Bolsonaro is laying the groundwork to question, or perhaps try to reverse, the election result in 2022 at a time when polls show him losing badly.”

Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press

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