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Goulart and the fall of the Second Republic

After Juscelino Kubitschek, the right wing opposition elected Jânio Quadros, who based his electoral campaign on criticizing Kubitschek and government corruption. Quadros' campaign symbol was a broom, with which the president would "sweep the corruption."

In his brief tenure as president, Quadros made moves to resume relations with some communist countries. He also instituted some unusual laws, the most notable being one that banned bikinis from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

In the last days of August 1961, Quadros resigned from the presidency, apparently with the intention of being reinstated by popular demand. The vice-president, João Goulart, member of PTB, at that time was outside the country in a mission visiting Asia. Some military top brass tried to prevent the nomination of Goulart as a president, accusing him of being communist. The crisis was solved by the "parliamentarian solution." The parliamentary system was implemented to reduce Goulart's powers as president, placating the military.

João Goulart was forced to shift well to the left of his mentor Getúlio Vargas and was forced to mobilize the working class and even the peasantry amid falling urban bourgeois support. The core of Brazilian populism—economic nationalism was no longer appealing to the middle classes. Attempts at mild structural reforms by Goulart ended by his toppling by the military, supported by a bourgeoisie that much preferred an "associate development" subordinate to imperialism.

This political crisis stemmed from the specific way in which the political tensions of Brazilian development had been controlled in the 1930s and 1940s under the Estado Novo. Vargas' dictatorship and the presidencies of his democratic successors marked different stages of the broader era of Brazilian populism (1930-1964), an era of economic nationalism, state-guided modernization, and import substitution trade policies. Vargas' policies were intended to foster an autonomous capitalist development in Brazil, by linking industrialization to nationalism, a formula based on a strategy of reconciling the conflicting interests of the middle class, foreign capital, the working class, and the landed oligarchy. The landed oligarchy was co-opted by the Vargas compromise with the standing agrarian structure.

Essentially, this was the epic of the rise and fall of Brazilian populism from 1930 to 1964: Brazil witnessed over the course of this time period the change from export-orientation of the Old Republic (1889-1930) to the import substitution of the populist era (1930-1964) and then to the dominance of the multinationals of the neoliberal era (1964-present). Each of these structural changes forced a realignment of class forces and opened up a period of political crisis. The 1964 coup also ended a cycle in Brazilian history that began with Vargas' 1930 Revolution, a now bygone era marked by the marriage of middle class aspirations, nationalism, and state-guided modernization in Latin America. A period of right-wing military dictatorship marked the transition between this era and the current period of democratization.

Divisions within the officer corps

The Army could not find a civilian politician acceptable to all of the factions that supported the ouster of João Goulart. On April 15, 1964 fifteen days after the coup, the Army Chief of Staff, Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco became the appointed president with the intention of overseeing a reform of the political-economic system. He refused to remain in power beyond the remainder of Goulart's term or to institutionalize the military in power. However, competing demands radicalized the situation. Military hard-liners wanted a complete purge of left-wing and populist influences while civilian politicians obstructed Castello Branco's reforms. The latter accused him of hard-line actions to achieve his objectives, and the former accused him of leniency. He recessed and purged Congress to satisfy military hard-liners, removing objectionable state governors and decreeing the expansion of the president's, and by extension the military's, arbitrary powers at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. His gamble succeeded in giving him the latitude to repress the populist left but provided the follow-on governments of Artur da Costa e Silva (1967–69) and Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969–74) with a legal basis for authoritarian rule.

Castello Branco in his own right tried to maintain a degree of democracy. His economic reforms are credited with paving the way for the Brazilian economic "miracle" of the next decade. His restructuring of the party system that had existed since 1945 shaped the bipartisan system of government-opposition relations for the next two decades. Through extra-constitutional decrees dubbed "Institutional Acts" (Portuguese: "Ato Institucional" or "AI"), Castello Branco gave the executive the unchecked ability to change the constitution and remove anyone from office ("AI-1") as well as to have the presidency elected indirectly through a bipartisan system of a government-backed National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) and an opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party ("AI-2"). In effect, anyone who opposed the government was removed from office. The parties were popularly known as the "Yes" party and the "Yes, sir" party.

As in earlier regime changes, the armed forces' officer corps was divided between those who believed that they should confine themselves to their professional duties, and the hard-liners who regarded politicians as willing to turn Brazil to communism. The victory of the hard-liners dragged Brazil into what political scientist Juan J. Linz called "an authoritarian situation." However, because the hard-liners could not ignore the counterweight opinions of their colleagues or the resistance of society, they were unable to institutionalize their agenda politically. In addition, they did not attempt to eliminate the trappings of liberal constitutionalism because they feared disapproval of international opinion and damage to their alignment with the United States. As the pole of anticommunism during the Cold War, the United States provided the ideology that the authoritarians used to justify their hold on power. But Washington also preached liberal democracy, which forced the authoritarians to assume the contradictory position of defending democracy by destroying it. Their concern for appearances caused them to abstain from personal dictatorship by requiring each successive general-president to hand over power to his replacement.


The fall of João Goulart radicalized student groups. Unable to mobilize poor Brazilians, student groups adopted direct action tactics, much like the Red Army Faction in Germany in the 1970s.

The first signs of resistance were seen in 1968 with the appearance of widespread student protests. In response to this upsurge, the government issued Institutional Act Number Five in December 1968, which suspended habeas corpus, increased the power of the executive by shutting down the other branches of government, and declared a nationwide state of siege. Protests were suppressed with violence. The anti-military movement descended into the political underground and eventually armed action.

By the end of the decade there were twenty organizations involved in the urban guerrilla movement. The old-left, particularly in the shape of the Brazilian Communist Party, was seen as irrelevant and outdated, as Marxist-Leninist, Maoist, Trotskyist, Castroist, and all the other shades of left-wing ideology competed for the loyalty of the young militants, especially in places like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Recruitment drives were carried out in schools and universities, initially with lectures in Marxist theory. The most determined were drawn deeper into activism, some making the decision to leave their families and go underground altogether.

In 1969 the Revolutionary Movement 8 October kidnapped Charles Burke Elbrick, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil. The rebels demanded the release of imprisoned dissidents in exchange for Ambassador Elbrick. The government responded by adopting more brutal measures of counter-insurgency, leading to the assassination of Carlos Marighela, a guerrilla leader, two months after Elbrick's kidnapping. This marked the beginning of the decline of armed resistance. In 1970, Nobuo Okuchi, Japanese consul general in Sāo Paulo, was kidnapped and Curtis C. Cutter, U.S. consul in Porto Alegre, was wounded in the shoulder but escaped kidnapping. Also in 1970, Ehren von Holleben, West German Ambassador, was kidnapped in Rio and one of his bodyguards was killed.[1]

According to a government-sponsored truth and reconciliation commission in 2007, by the end of the 21 years of dictatorship there were 339 documented cases of government-sponsored political assassinations or disappearances. More were questioned, tortured, and jailed.[2]


The military regime introduced new domestic political restrictions, sharpened during the second mandate in 1967, under the command of Marshal Costa e Silva. In 1967 the name of the country was changed from Republic of the United States of Brazil to Federative Republic of Brazil. Meanwhile, Brazil's international agenda incorporated new perceptions. With nationalist military segments — who were also State-control devotees — in power, there was increased scope for the return of concerns questioning the disparities of the international system.

Interest in expanding state presence in the economy was accompanied by policies intended to transform Brazil's profile abroad. The relationship with the United States was still valued, but alignment was no longer comprehensive. Connections between Brazilian international activity and its economic interests led foreign policy, conducted by foreign minister José de Magalhães Pinto (1966–67), to be labeled "Prosperity Diplomacy."

This new emphasis of Brazil's international policy was followed by an appraisal of relations maintained with the United States in the previous year. It was observed that the attempted strengthening of ties had yielded limited benefits. A revision of the Brazilian ideological stand within the world system was added to this perception. This state of affairs was further enhanced by the momentary emptying of the bipolar confrontation in view of détente.

In this context, it became possible to think of substituting the concept of limited sovereignty for plain sovereignty. Development was made a priority for Brazilian diplomacy. These conceptual transformations were supported by the younger segments of Itamaraty, identified with the tenets of the independent foreign policy that had distinguished the early 1960s.

Based on the priorities of its foreign policy, Brazil adopted new positions in various international organizations. Its performance at the II Conference of UNCTAD in 1968, in defense of non-discriminatory and preferential treatment for underdeveloped countries' manufactured goods, was noteworthy. The same level of concern distinguished the Brazilian stand at the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) meeting in Viña del Mar (1969). On this occasion, Brazil voiced its support of a Latin American union project.

In the security sphere, disarmament was defended and the joint control system of the two superpowers condemned. Brazil was particularly judgmental of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with a view to guarantee the right to develop its own nuclear technology. This prerogative had already been defended previously, when the Brazilian government decided not to accept the validity of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TNP) in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil's position on the TNP became emblematic of the negative posture that it would, from then onwards, sustain regarding the power politics of the United States and the Soviet Union. Its initial detailing was influenced by the presence of Araújo Castro as ambassador to the UN and president of the Security Council in the years 1968-69.

Simultaneously, Brazil tried to strengthen its position with nuclear cooperation negotiated settlements with countries such as Israel (1966), France (1967), India (1968) and the United States (1972).

The changes in Brazilian diplomacy were to be also reflected in other matters on the international agenda, such as the moderate stance taken with regard to the "Six-Day War" between Arabs and Israelis. In the multilateral sphere, the country championed the cause of the reform of the United Nations Organization charter.


Third military government

The third military government (1969–74), led by general Emilio Garrastazu Médici and guided by directives already adopted in the previous period, intensified the transformation process of Brazil's foreign relations. At the same time, as domestic politics hardened, the scope of the country's foreign influence contracted.

The decreeing of Institutional Act #5 (AI-5, 1968) marked a new phase of political freedom restrictions in Brazil. The succession of kidnappings of foreign ambassadors in Brazil embarrassed the military government. The anti-government manifestations and the action of guerrilla movements generated an increase in repressive measures. The "ideological frontiers" of Brazilian foreign policy were reinforced.

At the same time, the results of the economic policy consolidated the option for the national-development model. Because of these results, the country’s foreign economic connections were transformed, allowing its international presence to be broadened.

United States involvement

Presidents Emilio G. Medici (left) and Richard Nixon, December 1971

An anti-Goulart press campaign was conducted throughout 1963, and in 1964 the Johnson administration gave moral support to the campaign. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon later admitted that the embassy had given money to anti-Goulart candidates in the 1962 municipal elections and had encouraged the plotters, that many extra United States military and intelligence personnel were operating in Brazil, and that four United States Navy oil tankers and the carrier Forrestal, in an operation code-named Brother Sam, had stood off the coast in case of need during the 1964 coup. A document from Gordon from 1963 to the US president also describes the ways João Goulart should be put down, and his fears of a communist intervention supported by the Soviets or by Cuba[3]

Washington immediately recognized the new government in 1964 and hailed the coup d'état as one of the "democratic forces" that had allegedly staved off the hand of international communism. American mass media outlets like Henry Luce's TIME also gave positive remarks about the dissolution of political parties and salary controls at the beginning of Castello Branco mandate.[4]

Indeed, the hard-liners in the Brazilian military pressured Costa e Silva into promulgating the Fifth Institutional Act on December 13, 1968. This act gave the president dictatorial powers, dissolved Congress and state legislatures, suspended the constitution, and imposed censorship.

In 1968 there was a brief relaxation of the nation's repressive politics. Experimental artists and musicians formed the Tropicalia movement during this time. However, some of the major popular musicians of this time were arrested; some of them (Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque) left the country, in self proclaimed exile.

In the military milieu, a series of geopolitical formulations inspired by the ideas of general Golbery do Couto e Silva reached their pinnacle. The valorization of the country's territorial attributes was accompanied by an increase in its defensive capacity. The need for a more effective occupation of the Amazon Rainforest was prioritized. The construction of the Transamazon Roadway (1970) began as part of the National Integration Plan (PIN). In this spirit, Brazil’s territorial sea was extended to 200 miles (370 km) off-shore.

French General Paul Aussaresses, a veteran of the Algerian War, came to Brazil in 1973. General Aussaresses used "counter-revolutionary warfare" methods during the Battle of Algiers, including the systemic use of torture, death squads and death flights. He later trained U.S. officers and gave taught military courses for Brazil's military intelligence. He later acknowledged maintaining close links with the military.[5]

Included among the "emerging powers," together with Mexico, Nigeria and India, the Brazilian government tried to dilute its identity as a Third World country. Its foreign policy began to be labeled "national interest diplomacy" based on the expectation that Brazil was becoming a power to be reckoned with.

The expansion of Brazil's international agenda coincided with the administrative reform of the Ministry of External Relations. Its move to Brasília in 1971 was followed by internal modernization. New departments were created, responding to the diversification of the international agenda and the increasing importance of economic diplomacy. Examples include the creation of a trade promotion system (1973) and the Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation (1971) to develop studies and research foreign policy.

Foreign policy during the Gibson Barboza mandate (1969-74) united three basic positions. The first one, ideological, defended the presence of military governments in Latin America. To achieve that, the OAS fought terrorism in the region. The second one criticized the distension process between the two superpowers, condemning the effects of American and Soviet power politics. The third requested support for development, considering that Brazil, with all its economic potential, deserved greater responsibility within the international system.

New demands and intentions appeared, related to the idea that the nation was strengthening its bargaining power in the world system. At international forums, its main demand became "collective economic security". The endeavor to lead Third World countries made Brazil value multilateral diplomacy. Efforts in this direction can be observed at the UN Conference on Environment (1972), the GATT meeting in Tokyo (1973) and the Law of the Sea Conference (1974).

This new Brazilian stance served as a base for the revival of its relationship with the United States. Differentiation from other Latin American countries was sought, to mean special treatment from the United States. Nevertheless, not only was this expectation not fulfilled but military assistance and the MEC-USAID educational cooperation agreement were interrupted.

Washington held itself aloof at the time of President Médici's visit to the United States in 1971. In response, especially in the military and diplomatic spheres, nationalist ideas were kindled and raised questions about the alignment policy with the United States.

The presence of J.A. de Araújo Castro, as ambassador to Washington in this period, contributed to the re-definition of relations with the American government. The strategic move was to try to expand the negotiation agenda by paying special attention to the diversification of trade relations, the beginning of nuclear cooperation, and the inclusion of new international policy themes.

In 1971 the military dictatorship helped rig Uruguayan elections, which Frente Amplio, a left-wing political party, lost.[6] The government participated in Operation Condor, which involved various Latin American security services (including Pinochet's DINA and the Argentine SIDE) in the assassination of political opponents.

During this period, Brazil began to devote more attention to less-developed countries. Technical cooperation programs were initiated in Latin America and in Africa, accompanied in some cases by State company investment projects – in particular in the fields of energy and communication. With this pretext, an inter-ministerial system was created by Itamaraty and the Ministry of Planning, whose function it was to select and coordinate international cooperation projects. To foster these innovations, in 1972 foreign minister Gibson Barboza visited Senegal, Togo, Ghana, Dahomey, Gabon, Zaire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

However, the prospect of economic interests and the establishment of cooperation programs with these countries were not followed by a revision of the Brazilian position on the colonial issue. Traditional loyalty was still towards Portugal. Attempts were made to consolidate the creation of a Portuguese-Brazilian community.

Brazilian diplomats began to support the demands of the Arab League in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Geisel administration, distensão, and the 1973 oil shock

It was in this atmosphere that retired General Ernesto Geisel (1974-79) came to the presidency with Médici's approval. There had been intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the hard-liners against him and by the more moderate supporters of Castelo Branco for him. Fortunately for Geisel, his brother, Orlando Geisel, was the minister of army, and his close ally, General João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, was chief of Médici's military staff.

Although not immediately understood by civilians, Ernesto Geisel's accession signaled a move toward a less oppressive rule. Geisel replaced several regional commanders with trusted officers and labeled his political program distensão, meaning a gradual relaxation of authoritarian rule. It would be, in his words, "the maximum of development possible with the minimum of indispensable security."

President Geisel sought to maintain high economic growth rates, even while seeking to deal with the effects of the oil shocks. He kept up massive investments in infrastructure — highways, telecommunications, hydroelectric dams, mineral extraction, factories, and atomic energy. Fending off nationalist objections, he opened Brazil to oil prospecting by foreign firms for the first time since the early 1950s.

Brazil suffered drastic reductions in its terms of trade as a result of the 1973 world oil shock. In the early 1970s, the performance of the export sector was undermined by an overvalued currency. With the trade balance under pressure, the oil shock led to a sharply higher import bill. Thus, the Geisel government borrowed billions of dollars to see Brazil through the oil crisis. This strategy was effective in promoting growth, but it also raised Brazil's import requirements markedly, increasing the already large current-account deficit. The current account was financed by running up the foreign debt. The expectation was that the combined effects of import-substitution industrialization and export expansion eventually would bring about growing trade surpluses, allowing the service and repayment of the foreign debt.

Brazil shifted its foreign policy to meet its economic needs. "Responsible pragmatism" replaced strict alignment with the United States and a worldview based on ideological frontiers and blocs of nations. Because Brazil was 80% dependent on imported oil, Geisel shifted the country from an acritical support of Israel to a more neutral stance on Middle Eastern affairs. His government also recognized the People's Republic of China and the new governments of Angola and Mozambique. The government moved closer to Latin America, Europe, and Japan. The 1975 agreement with West Germany to build nuclear reactors produced confrontation with the Carter administration, which also scolded the Geisel government for abusing human rights. Frustrated with what he saw as the highhandedness and lack of understanding of the Carter administration, Geisel renounced the military alliance with the United States in April 1977.

In 1977 and 1978 the succession issue caused further political confrontations with the hard-liners. Noting that Brazil was only a "relative democracy," Geisel attempted in April 1977 to restrain the growing strength of the opposition parties by creating an electoral college that would approve his selected replacement. In October he dismissed the far-right minister of army, General Sylvio Cueto Coelho da Frota. In 1978 Geisel maneuvered through the first labor strikes since 1964 and through the repeated electoral victories of the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro — MDB). He allowed exiled citizens to return, restored habeas corpus, repealed the extraordinary powers decreed by the Fifth Institutional Act, and imposed General João Figueiredo (1979-85) as his successor in March 1979.


Further reading

  • The Political System of Brazil: Emergence of a "Modernizing" Authoritarian Regime, 1964–1970, by Ronald M. Schneider (1973).
  • The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil, by Alfred Stepan (1974).
  • Brazil and the Quiet Intervention: 1964, by Phyllis R. Parker (1979).
  • Mission in Mufti: Brazil's Military Regimes, 1964–1985, by Wilfred A. Bacchus (1990).
  • Eroding Military Influence in Brazil: Politicians Against Soldiers, by Wendy Hunter (1997).

Film documentaries

See also

External links


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