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Video shows Brazilian rioters breaching inadequate security

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It was an unfair fight in front of the Brazilian Congress. On one side of a metal barrier were a few dozen police, some armed with pepper spray, others with clubs. On the other was a growing crowd of more than 1,000 angry protesters, falsely convinced that the presidential election had been stolen and determined to do something about it.

At 2:42 p.m. Sunday, almost in unison, protesters at one end of the street easily tore down the metal barrier, while at the other end, protesters pushed through a plastic roadblock, according to a video obtained by The New York Times. A few policemen sprayed chemical agents, but within seconds the crowd was swarming.

The moment was the start of a riot that trashed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices and the country’s democracy under its worst threat in decades. The never-before-seen video of the moment lays bare the woefully inadequate security of some of the country’s most important institutions, which is now at the center of a wider investigation into how the chaos could have happened, despite numerous warning signs. runners.

Federal authorities have placed much of the blame on the handful of men who run the Federal District that includes Brazil’s capital, Brasilia. They accuse the governor and the district security chief of being either negligent or, worse, complicit, and they have already taken action against them.

Within hours of the riot, Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice, suspended Ibaneis Rocha, the district governor, from his post for at least 90 days. Mr. Moraes then approved a federal police warrant for the arrest of the district’s chief of security, Anderson Torres, as well as his chief of police, Fabio Augusto Vieira. In votes on Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld both orders.

Mr Moraes, a controversial figure who has been criticized for overstepping his authority, said evidence showed the men knew the protesters were planning the violence but did little to stop it.

Neither he nor other federal authorities have released this specific evidence. Instead, he cited the insufficient number of security forces and the fact that around 100 protester buses were allowed into Brasilia with little oversight.

What is clear is that the federal government has largely handed over responsibility to the district to protect the capital from protests that a slew of social media posts in the preceding days appeared likely to turn violent. The federal government pays the district about $2 billion a year for security, and the district has managed to protect the capital during several major tense political events in recent months.

A four-page security plan obtained by The Times showed that during protests scheduled for Sunday, much of the responsibility for protecting federal government buildings fell to district police.

The document, which was signed on Friday afternoon and sent to more than a dozen senior security officials in Brasília, instructed district police to prevent protesters from accessing Three Powers Square, which includes the Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential offices, and to “maintain staff reinforcement” throughout the protests.

But the plan did not sit well with Flávio Dino, Brazil’s justice minister, when he heard about it on Saturday morning during a phone call with Mr. Rocha, the district governor, according to an official in Mr. Dino who spoke on condition of anonymity. because officials had not yet agreed to release details of the call.

Mr. Dino did not want protesters on the National Esplanade, Brazil’s version of the National Mall in Washington, a long grassy stretch that leads directly to Brazil’s most important government buildings. In response, Mr. Rocha agreed to change the plan accordingly and make the esplanade off limits, according to the manager of Mr. Dino’s office.

Later that night, according to the official, Mr. Dino was surprised when he saw a news article saying that Mr. Rocha would let the demonstration proceed on the esplanade with “tranquillity and safety”.

Protests advanced, but tranquility and security were lacking.

On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, the ousted far-right president, marched on the esplanade, dressed in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag and carrying signs demanding a military coup and referring to long-held voter fraud conspiracy theories. by Mr. Bolsonaro.

The district police were there, but not in full force. Authorities did not provide a specific number of police present on Sunday, but according to videos and eyewitness accounts, there were far fewer police than at other recent protests in the capital.


What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is their motivation for telling us? Have they proven themselves in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with those questions answered, the Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The journalist and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

On the other hand, there were several hundred thousand people in the same place a week earlier for the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. While those crowds were there to celebrate, rather than wreak havoc, the district deployed all of its more than 10,000 police officers, far more than were on the ground Sunday.

Why there were so few police officers is now a central question for investigators. The security plan did not mention a certain number of officers, but simply suggested that the police should have enough personnel to handle the protests.

Federal authorities have singled out Mr. Torres and Mr. Vieira, chief of security and district police chief, who have been arrested.

Mr. Torres, in particular, has come under scrutiny. He was Mr Bolsonaro’s former justice minister and began his new post in the district on January 2. He quickly replaced much of the district’s security personnel, despite his recent election successes, and then went on vacation to Florida. , where Mr. Bolsonaro has also been staying in recent weeks.

On the day of the protests, Mr Torres, who was apparently in charge of security in the capital, was thousands of miles away.

Mr Torres said on Tuesday he would return to Brazil to defend himself. “I have always guided my actions with ethics and legality. I believe in the Brazilian judicial system and the strength of institutions. I am sure the truth will prevail.” he said on Twitter.

Mr. Rocha, the district governor, also began pointing fingers at his deputies for security breaches.

Alberto Toron, Mr Rocha’s lawyer, said in an interview on Wednesday that the security plans were adequate, but the security forces failed to execute them, even suggesting they did so deliberately.

“We’ve seen videos, for example, of police fraternizing with protesters,” he said. “There is a hidden hand here, which has not only demobilized the police and military from acting, but it seems there has been an orchestration for something larger to happen. “

“The governor was deceived,” he added. “He underwent a process of sabotage.”

Several videos appear to show police as indifferent to the protests. In one, a man asks a chatting group of policemen if he can walk to the end of the plaza and take a dip in the reflecting pool in front of Congress. “Is everything open today?” ” he asks. The police seem to answer in the affirmative and signal him to go to Congress.

Another video shows that after the protesters climbed onto the roof of Congress and broke into the building, about 10 relaxed police officers watched the scene, chatted with the protesters, texted and filmed the scene themselves.

It wasn’t until protesters broke inside government buildings that military and federal law enforcement arrived to regain control.

Federal security officials tasked with protecting the presidential offices did not expect violence during the protests and only asked for military reinforcements after rioters burst inside the building, according to an army general who spoke anonymously to discuss a sealed investigation.

Federal police said Wednesday night they had arrested 1,159 people, almost all of them suspected of taking part in the riots. Authorities have said in recent days that they are now turning their attention to the political and business elites who helped organize, finance and aid the riots.

The actions of security officials and police are expected to remain the focus of investigators in the months to come. Brazil’s Senate plans to open a congressional investigation next month. On Wednesday, 60 US and Brazilian members of Congress issued a joint statement, condemning extremism in both countries that has led to attacks on their capitals.

Lily Moriconi and Leonard Coelho contributed report.

nytimes Gt

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