Left: Augusto Heleno, and right: President Bolsonaro
Estado de São Paulo Tânia Monteiro
The Planalto Palace wants to contain what it considers the advance of the Catholic Church in the leadership of the opposition to the Jair Bolsonaro government in the vacuum of the defeat and loss of space of the left-wing political parties. In the evaluation of the President’s team, the Catholic Church is a traditional ally of the PT (Worker’s Party) and is being articulated to influence debates previously carried out by the party in the interior of the country and in the urban peripheries. The alert to the government came from reports from the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) and from the military high command. The reports tell of recent meetings of Brazilian cardinals with Pope Francisco in the Vatican to discuss the holding of the Synod on the Amazon, to be held in Rome in October, bringing together bishops from all the continents.
During the 23 day event, the Vatican will discuss the situation of the Amazon and cover topics considered by the Brazilian government as an “agenda of the left”. The debate will deal with the situation of indigenous peoples, climate change caused by deforestation and quilombolas (lands for ex-slave communities). “We are concerned and want to neutralize this”, said the chief minister of the Office for Institutional Security (GSI), Augusto Heleno, who is leading the counter-offensive.
On the basis of documents circulating in the Planalto, GSI officers have evaluated that sectors of the Catholic Church allied to social movements and parties of the left, members of the so-called “progressive clergy”, intend to take advantage of the Synod to criticise the Bolsonaro government and to have an international impact. “We think this is interference in the internal affairs of Brazil”, said Heleno. ABIN offices in Manaus, Belém, Maraba, in the south-east of Pará (the epicentre of land conflicts), and Boa Vista (which monitor the presence of foreigners in indigenous Yanomami lands and Raposa Serra do Sol) are being mobilized to accompany preparatory meetings for the Synod in parishes and dioceses. The GSI also obtained information from the Military Command in Amazonas, based in Manaus, and from the Northern Military Command in Belém. On the basis of intelligence reports, the Federal government will seek out state governors, mayors and even ecclesiastical authorities who have good relations with the military, especially in border regions, to strengthen their attempt to neutralize the Synod.
The Estado de São Paulo newspaper found that the GSI plans to involve the Itamaraty Foreign Office to monitor discussions abroad, and the Ministry of the Environment to detect any participation of NGOs and environmentalists. Asking to remain anonymous, another military officer from the Bolsonaro team said that the Synod is against “all” policies of the government for the Amazon; which seeks to defend the “sovereignty” of the region. “The meeting will serve to inflame the ideological discourse of the left”, he said.
As soon as the first reports from ABIN arrived at the Planalto Palace, the generals soon made a connection with the criticisms of the National Bishops Conference of Brazil (CNBB) towards Bolsonaro during the electoral campaign. Bodies linked to the CNBB, such as the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI) and the Pastoral Lands Commission (CPT), were not kind in their attacks, and continued after the election and swearing in of Bolsonaro to the Presidency. All of them are historical allies of the PT Worker’s Party. The Prisoner’s Pastoral, for example, issued a press release last week criticising the anti-crime package of the Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro, who as a judge sentenced ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Lava Jato.
In the campaign, the Land Pastoral published a report from Bishop André de Witte of Bahia that indicated Bolsonaro as a “real danger”. The networks supporting Bolsonaro counter-attacked spreading word on the internet that Pope Francisco was a “communist”. As a result, Bolsonaro gave up on the CNBB and invested incessant support for the evangelical churches. At first, he wanted the ex-Senator and gospel singer Magno Malta (PR-ES) to run as his Vice-President. Once elected, he nominated the pastor Damares Alves, assistant to Malta for the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.
History. The tense relationship between the military and the Catholic Church began back in 1964 and has remained even in the “de-tension” governments of Generals Ernesto Geisel and João Figueiredo, the last President of the military dictatorship. The CNBB maintained friendly relations with the democratic governments, but was classified as an arm of the PT Worker’s Party by Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The body criticised the agrarian policy of the FHC government and the decision of his PSDB party to end religious education in public schools.
The government of ex-President Lula, who was close to Don Claudio Hummes, ex-Cardinal of São Paulo, was surprised in 2005 by the hunger strike of the Bishop of Barra in Bahia, Don Luiz Cappio, who opposed the transposition of the São Francisco River.
With the arrival of Dilma Rousseff, the relationship between the CNBB and the PT Worker’s Party was damaged. The body held a series of events to criticise the President, especially on questions such as abortion and agrarian reform. However, the CNBB was opposed to the impeachment process, alleging that it “weakened” the institutions.
‘Let’s get right into this’, said Heleno
The Minister of the Office for Institutional Security (GSI), Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, said there was a “concern” in the Planalto about the meetings and preparatory meetings of the Synod on the Amazon, which were held in the Brazilian States. ”There has been influence from the Catholic Church and NGOs on the forest”, he said.
The closest adviser of President Jair Bolsonaro, Heleno criticised the activity of the Catholic Church, but said their capacity for causing problems for the government was not high. ”It will not be a problem. The work of the government of neutralizing impacts of the meeting will only strengthen Brazilian sovereignty and impede that foreign interests are able to prevail in the Amazon”, he said. “The question will be studied carefully by the GSI. Let’s get right into this.”
Both the Minister Augusto Heleno and the ex-commander of the Army, Eduardo Villas Boas, now assistant to the GSI and in charge of the monitoring of the Synod, were military commanders in Manaus. The Vice-President Hamilton Mourão also worked in the region, leading the 2nd Jungle Infantry Brigade in São Gabriel da Cachoeira.
What is the Synod? It is the global meeting of Vatican bishops to discuss the situation of indigenous tribes, riverside populations and other peoples of the Amazon, the development policies of governments of the region, climate change and land conflicts.
Participants 250 bishops.
19 January 2019: symbolic opening with the visit of Pope Francisco to Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian jungle;
7 to 9 March: preparatory seminar in the Arch-Diocese of Manaus;
6 to 29 October: final phase in the Vatican, with Mass in the Basilica of Saint Peter celebrated by Pope Francisco.
Theme of the meeting
Amazon: new paths for the Catholic Church and for a whole ecology.
The three directives of the event
“To see” the clamour of the Amazonian peoples;
“To discern” the Gospel in the forest. The cries of the indigenous peoples is like the cries of the people of God in Egypt;
“To act” in the defence of a Church with an “Amazonian face”