The Republican Era, 1889-1985
The history of the republic has been a search for a viable form of government to replace the monarchy. That search has lurched back and forth between state autonomy and centralization. The constitution of 1891, establishing the United States of Brazil (Estados Unidos do Brasil), restored autonomy to the provinces, now called states. It recognized that the central government did not rule at the local level, that it exercised control only through the local oligarchies. The empire had not absorbed fully the regional pátrias , and now they reasserted themselves. Into the 1920s, the federal government in Rio de Janeiro would be dominated and managed by a combination of the more powerful pátrias (São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, and to a lesser extent Pernambuco and Bahia). After the revolution of 1930, the trend would be strongly toward absorption of the pátrias , reaching a peak in the New State (Estado Novo) of 1937-45. Centralization extended into the smallest remote villages as the nation-state's bureaucracy and power grew to previously unknown levels. Renewed autonomy would come with the constitution of 1946 but would disappear under the military regime. The constitution of 1988 once again restored a degree of state autonomy but in the context of a powerful, all-embracing nation-state. In the 1990s, the pátrias are more folkloric vestiges than autonomous centers of power.
The history of the republic is also the story of the development of the army as a national institution. The elimination of the monarchy had reduced the number of national institutions to one, the army. Although the Roman Catholic Church continued its presence throughout the country, it was not national but rather international in its personnel, doctrine, liturgy, and purposes. By the time of the 1964 coup, the political parties were not national parties; they were oriented more along regional, personalist, and special-interest lines. Only in the struggle to reestablish civilian rule in the 1980s did a fitful process of creating national parties take shape. Thus, the army was the core of the developing Brazilian state, a marked change from the marginal role that it had played during the empire. The army assumed this new position almost haphazardly, filling part of the vacuum left by the collapse of the monarchy and gradually acquiring a doctrine and vision to support its de facto role. Although it had more units and men in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul than elsewhere, its presence was felt throughout the country. Its personnel, its interests, its ideology, and its commitments were national in scope.
The republic's first decade was one of turmoil. It appears to be a pattern of Brazilian history that seemingly peaceful regime changes are followed by long periods of adjustment, often scarred by violence. Years of "regime change" in 1889, 1930, and 1964 introduced protracted adjustment that involved some authoritarian rule. Curiously, because the violence occurred over long periods, usually without overturning the government in Rio de Janeiro or Brasília, Brazil acquired an undeserved reputation for having a nonviolent history of political and social compromise.
The Old or First Republic, 1889-1930
The founders of the Brazilian republic faced a serious question of legitimacy. How could an illegal, treasonous act establish a legal political order? The officers who joined Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca in ending the empire were violating solemn oaths to uphold emperor and empire. The officer corps would eventually resolve the contradiction by linking its duty and destiny to Brazil, the motherland, rather than to transitory governments. In addition, the republic was born rather accidentally: Deodoro had intended only to replace the cabinet, but the republicans manipulated him into fathering a republic.
The Brazilian republic was not a spiritual offspring of the republics born of the French or American revolutions, even though the Brazilian regime would attempt to associate itself with both. The republic did not have enough popular support to risk open elections. It was a regime born of a coup d'état that maintained itself by force. The republicans made Deodoro president (1889-91) and, after a financial crisis, appointed Field Marshal Floriano Vieira Peixoto minister of war to ensure the allegiance of the military. Indeed, the Brazilian people were bystanders to the events shaping their history. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the United States, much of Europe, and neighboring Argentina expanded the right to vote. Brazil, however, moved to restrict access to the polls. In 1874, in a population of about 10 million, the franchise was held by about 1 million, but in 1881 this had been cut to 145,296. This reduction was one reason the empire's legitimacy foundered, but the republic did not move to correct the situation. By 1910 there were only 627,000 voters in a population of 22 million. Throughout the 1920s, only between 2.3 percent and 3.4 percent of the total population voted.
The instability and violence of the 1890s were related to the absence of consensus among the elites regarding a governmental model; and the armed forces were divided over their status, relationship to the political regime, and institutional goals. The lack of military unity and the disagreement among civilian elites about the military's role in society explain partially why a long-term military dictatorship was not established, as some officers advocating positivism wanted. However, military men were very active in politics; early in the decade, ten of the twenty state governors were officers.
The Constituent Assembly that drew up the constitution of 1891 was a battleground between those seeking to limit executive power, which was dictatorial under President Deodoro da Fonseca, and the Jacobins, radical authoritarians who opposed the Paulista coffee oligarchy and who wanted to preserve and intensify presidential authority. The new charter established a federation governed supposedly by a president, a bicameral National Congress (Congresso Nacional; hereafter, Congress), and a judiciary. However, real power was in the regional pátrias and in the hands of local potentates, called "colonels". Thus, the constitutional system did not work as that document had envisaged. It would take until the end of the decade for an informal but real distribution of power, the so-called politics of the governors, to take shape as the result of armed struggles and bargaining.
Article 14 on the military was particularly important for the future. It declared the army and navy to be permanent national institutions responsible for maintaining law and order and for ensuring the continuance of the three constitutional powers. Officers insisted on the statement of permanent status because they feared that the elites would disband their services. The armed forces were to be the moderator of the system, and military officers were Brazil's only constitutionally mandated elite. The article also required the military to be obedient to the president but "within the limits of the law." Thus, the armed forces were to obey only if they determined a presidential order to be legal. Oddly, military officials were less than enthusiastic about discretionary obedience, which they saw as subversive; the civilian politicians, however, wanted it as a check on presidential power. Interestingly, the constitutions of 1934 and 1946 kept the discretionary clause unaltered. However, the 1937 constitution of the dictatorial Estado Novo, which was a military regime in civilian dress, put the military securely under obedience to the president.
In the election that followed the adoption of the new constitution in 1891, Deodoro da Fonseca and Floriano Peixoto were elected president and vice president, respectively, but with the former gaining only 129 votes and the latter 153. The first president, Deodoro da Fonseca, had difficulty adjusting to sharing power with Congress and, in imperial fashion, dissolved it in November 1891, provoking rebellions in the navy and in Rio Grande do Sul. To mollify the opposition, he resigned in favor of Vice President Peixoto (acting president, 1891-94). Peixoto, known as the "Iron Marshal" (marechal de ferro ), ousted all the state governors who had supported Deodoro, provoking violence in many parts of the country. One of the bloodiest of these struggles was the civil war that exploded in Rio Grande do Sul in 1893 and soon spread into Santa Catarina and Paraná, pitting former monarchist liberals against republicans. Concurrently, the fleet in Guanabara Bay at Rio de Janeiro challenged Peixoto, and the naval revolt quickly became linked to the struggle in the South. Peixoto's diplomat in Washington, Salvador de Mendonça, with the help of New York businessman Charles Flint, was able to assemble a squadron of ships with American crews, which proved decisive in ending the standoff in Guanabara Bay. The United States government, interested in Brazilian commerce and in the republic's survival, permitted this mercenary effort to occur and sent several cruisers to provide a barely concealed escort. This was the first documented American intervention in Brazil's internal affairs, and significantly it was organized privately.
Deodoro da Fonseca's dissolution of Congress, his resignation, Peixoto's assumption of power, and the outbreak of civil war split the officer corps and led to the arrest and expulsion of several senior officers. Although the power struggles that produced the fighting in Rio Grande do Sul during 1893-95 were local in origin, Peixoto made them national by siding with republican Governor Julio de Castilhos. The savage combat and the execution of prisoners and suspected sympathizers, in what historian José Maria Bello called the "cruelest of Brazil's civil wars," was shameful on both sides. Peixoto's fierce defense of the republic made him the darling of the Jacobins and from then on a symbol of Brazilian nationalism. In November 1894, because of his ill health (he died in 1895) and the military's disunity, Peixoto turned the government over to a spokesman for the agrarian coffee elite, São Paulo native Prudente José de Morais Barros, also known as Prudente de Morais, the first civilian president (1894-98). Prudente de Morais negotiated an end to the war in the South and granted amnesty to the rebels and the expelled officers. He weakened the army's staunchest republicans and sought to lower the military's political weight. He promoted officers committed to creating a professional force that would be at the disposal of the national authorities, who would determine how it was to be employed. A General Staff (Estado Geral), established in 1896 on the German model, was to shape this new army.
However, before the new army could take shape, it was used in 1897 to destroy the religious community of Canudos in the sertão of Bahia, which the Jacobins thought mistakenly was a hot-bed of monarchist sedition. The Rio de Janeiro government, which saw monarchists everywhere, threw a force of 9,500 against a population of perhaps 30,000. Some 4,193 soldiers were wounded between July and October 1897, and the townspeople were killed, taken prisoner, or fled. Canudos was erased in the same fashion that Indian villages had been and continued to be erased. Although the campaign's symbolic value as a defense of the republic faded as the reality became known, it remained a powerful warning to marginal folk throughout Brazil that they would not be permitted to challenge the hierarchical order of society. In this sense, Canudos was a step in creating mechanisms of social control in the postslavery era.
Canudos affected the political scene immediately when a returning soldier, the foil in a high-level Jacobin conspiracy, attempted to assassinate President Prudente de Morais but killed the minister of war instead, thereby acting as a catalyst for rallying support for the government. The abortive assassination made possible the election of Manuel Ferraz de Campos Sales (president, 1898-1902). In the army, the attempt consolidated the hold of generals who opposed Floriano Peixoto and were interested in professionalizing the institution.
The turmoil of the 1890s and particularly Canudos suspended the military's capability to exercise the moderating role that it supposedly inherited from the monarchy. By 1898 the rural-based regional oligarchies had regained command of the political system. Their fiscal policies reflected their belief that Brazil was an agricultural country whose strength was in supplying Europe and North America with coffee, rubber, sugar, tobacco, and many natural resources. Brazil produced 75 percent of the world's coffee. With competition increasing, however, prices fell continually, causing the government to devalue the currency against the British pound. This devaluation forced up the price of imported goods, thus lowering consumption and government tax revenues from imports. Those shortfalls led to suspension of payments on the foreign debt, and the generally poor economy caused half of the banks to collapse. The oligarchy responded to the situation by attempting to preserve its own position and by limiting national industry and infrastructure to that necessary to support the agricultural economy. The society that the economy underlay was one in which the elites regarded the majority of the people merely as cheap labor. The elites encouraged immigration to keep labor plentiful and inexpensive, although they also wanted to "whiten" the population. They considered public education of little use and potentially subversive.
The political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century had apparent and real aspects. There was the constitutional system, and there was the real system of unwritten agreements (coronelismo ) among local bosses, the colonels. Coronelismo , which supported state autonomy, was called the "politics of the governors." Under it, the local oligarchies chose the state governors, who in turn selected the president.
The populous and prosperous states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo dominated the system and swapped the presidency between them for many years. The system consolidated the state oligarchies around families that had been members of the old monarchial elite. And to check the nationalizing tendencies of the army, this oligarchic republic and its state components strengthened the navy and the state police. In the larger states, the state police were soon turned into small armies; in the extreme case of São Paulo, French military advisers were employed after 1906.
The "politics of the governors" kept a relative peace until the end of World War I. Urban Brazil, the one foreigners saw from the decks of ships, prospered. But there was no integrated national economy. Rather, Brazil had a grouping of regional economies that exported their own specialty products to European and North American markets. The absence of overland transportation, except for the mule trains, impeded internal economic integration, political cohesion, and military efficiency. The regions, "the Brazils" as the British called them, moved to their own rhythms. The Northeast exported its surplus cheap labor and saw its political influence decline as its sugar lost foreign markets to Caribbean producers. The wild rubber boom in Amazônia lost its world primacy to efficient Southeast Asian colonial plantations after 1912. The national-oriented market economies of the South were not dramatic, but their growth was steady and by the 1920s allowed Rio Grande do Sul to exercise considerable political leverage. Real power resided in the coffee-growing states of the Southeast (Sudeste)--São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro--which produced the most export revenue. Those three and Rio Grande do Sul harvested 60 percent of Brazil's crops, turned out 75 percent of its industrial and meat products, and held 80 percent of its banking resources.
One factor that eventually would draw "the Brazils" closer together was the heightened sense of nationalism that developed among the urban middle and upper classes before World War I. This sense of nationalism can be explained partially by the Brazilian elite's focus on Rio de Janeiro as the center of their world. Although the national government was weak, it was still the source of prestige and patronage. Rio's sanitation projects and its remodeled downtown (1903-04) were soon copied by state capitals and ports.
The elites had reason to think that Brazil's status in the world was rising. In 1905 the archbishop of Rio de Janeiro received Latin America's first cardinalate. Brazil hosted the Third Pan-American Conference, raised its Washington legation to an embassy (1904), sent a notable delegation to the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907), gained possession via arbitration of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of disputed territory, established the Indian Protective Service, tied together the far reaches of the country via telegraph, and purchased two of the world's largest dreadnoughts for its navy. Many cheered writer Afonso Celso when he asserted that the era was "the dawn of our greatness . . . . We will be the second or first power of the world."
However, the enthusiasm was not sufficient to overcome the resistance of Brazilians of all levels to military service. When an Obligatory Military Service Law was enacted in 1908, it went unenforced until 1916. Military service was unappealing because members were called on continually to take up arms. During the presidency of Marshal Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca (1910-14), nephew of Deodoro da Fonseca, turmoil spread across Brazil. In 1910 sailors protesting extreme physical punishments in the navy seized the new dreadnoughts São Paulo and Minas Gerais and some smaller vessels in the bay at Rio de Janeiro and threatened to bombard the city. Hermes da Fonseca was forced to grant the rebels their demands and to give them amnesty.
The image of national stability with which the earlier Campos Sales administration had tried to dazzle foreign bankers also was shattered by a series of military interventions, known as the Salvations, that replaced a number of state governments. The national government, somewhat against Hermes da Fonseca's inclination, sponsored what amounted to coups d'état against state governments in Sergipe, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Pará, Piauí, Bahia, and Ceará. In disorderly fashion, one oligarchic alliance substituted for another, often with an army officer in charge. In the disastrous case of Bahia, the local army commander bombarded the governor's palace and surrounding buildings. In 1911 São Paulo's French-trained Public Force (Força Pública) and civilian Patriotic Battalions saved the city from similar federal intervention.
Struggling to keep control of the army, Hermes da Fonseca replaced the minister of war three times in sixteen months and forced the retirement of about 100 colonels and generals. But to keep them from rebelling, they were all retired at higher ranks and salaries. The Brazilian political system was not so much one of compromise as of co-optation. With this internal army purge, the Salvationist Movement spent itself, and the tide turned away from federal military interventions to replace dominant regional oligarchies toward neutrality or preserving the status quo. The movement can be seen as a messy attempt to reduce state autonomy and to heighten the power of the central government.
Meanwhile, the vision of Brazilian order and progress as seen by the urban elite, intellectuals, and newspaper editorials was challenged again by the supposedly anarchic sertão , this time in the South. In August 1914, as world attention focused on the outbreak of war in Europe, a very different conflict burst forth in the Contestado region of Santa Catarina. A popular rebellion, also known as the Contestado, confronted the "colonel"-dominated socioeconomic and political system. Where the Salvationist Movement aimed at substituting one oligarchy for another, the Contestado rebels rejected the national system and wanted to remake their part of the Brazilian reality. As with Canudos, the response of state and federal authorities was pulverizing violence.
The region's economy was based on livestock, the collection of maté, and lumbering. Its social structure concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a few "colonels," around whom lesser landowners were arrayed. Most families lived at the sufferance of those men or had shaky land titles. A jurisdictional dispute between Santa Catarina and Paraná arose because each state issued deeds to the same land. The no-man's-land attracted fugitives from throughout Brazil. The construction of the São Paulo-Rio Grande do Sul Railroad and the timbering and colonization operations of United States capitalist Percival Farquhar added foreign elements to the already volatile mix. The Brazil Railroad and the Southern Brazil Lumber and Colonization Company forced Brazilians off their expropriated lands, imported European immigrants, and sawed away at virgin pine, cedar, and walnut trees. People whose families had lived in the region for a century suddenly saw their lands rented or sold to others. As if that were not enough, in 1910 the threat of war with Argentina loomed, and authorities speeded the railroad's construction and expanded labor crews to about 8,000. In this environment of tumultuous destruction of the forests, social tensions rose with evictions and the sudden introduction of foreigners and modern technology. The local "colonels" secured their own interests, abandoning their customary paternalism and leaving the mass of people adrift. The Contestado was afflicted with a collective identity crisis, which caused many to turn to messianic religion as solace.
The people of the Contestado followed a local healer, Miguel Lucena Boaventura, known as José Maria, who soon died in a confrontation with Paraná Military Police. His followers refused to accept his death, however, and believed that he was either alive or would rise again. His story mixed with the Luso-Brazilian belief in supernatural assistance in desperate times. This phenomenon, called Sebastianism, transformed the submissive population, accustomed to acting only with the "colonel's" approval, into a resolute fighting force. Their attacks on the railway and lumbering operations and the failure of negotiations with federal authorities led to an escalation of hostilities in 1912 and a fierce military campaign that in 1915 involved 6,000 troops, modern artillery and machine guns, field telephones and telegraph, and the first use of aircraft in a Brazilian conflict. The fighting was spread over a wide area, and the many redoubts of about 20,000 "fanatics," as the army called them, made suppression slow and difficult and also revealed the military's weaknesses. The number of casualties was uncertain but sizeable, and henceforth the army maintained a garrison in the region. The Contestado was subdued by the end of 1917.
Army reformers, a key group of whom returned from training in Germany by the end of 1913, wrote commentaries on the campaign in the new military monthly, A Defesa Nacional . They regarded the Contestado as "an inglorious conflict that discredited our arms." They blamed the republic for its "lack of elevated political norms, the abandonment of thousands of Brazilians . . . segregated from national society by the lack of instruction, by the scarcity of easy means of communication, by the want of energy, and by the poverty of initiative that, unhappily, has characterized the administrations generally since the time of the monarchy." They warned military leaders that "the lesson of the Contestado" was that the army's passivity in accepting poorly conceived political measures would only damage it "morally" and would bring Brazil "the most funereal consequences."
The Contestado joined Canudos as an important component in the army's institutional memory. Veterans played meaningful roles in military and national affairs in the next decades. Within a few years, the reformist critique would be part of the thinking that underlay the tenente or lieutenants' revolts of the 1920s, beginning with the Copacabana Revolt in 1922. The Salvationist Movement and the Contestado drew the army and the central government deeply into the internal affairs of the states, thereby whittling away at their coveted autonomy. The era's legacy of political intervention and suppression of dissent muddied the army's mission and self-image, but it amplified the power of the central government (Rio de Janeiro).
The growing power of Rio de Janeiro was reflected in Brazilian foreign affairs under the guidance of José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Baron of Rio Branco, who served as foreign minister from 1902 to 1912, under presidents Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves (acting president, 1902-3; president, 1903-6), and Afonso Pena (1906-9), Acting President Nilo Peçanha (1909-10), and President Hermes da Fonseca. His vision shaped both the boundaries of the country and the traditions of Brazilian foreign relations. In the heyday of international imperialism, he was instrumental in negotiating limits over which the great powers were not to intrude. He argued for military reform to back up energetic diplomacy, and he began the process of moving Brazil out of the British orbit and into that of the United States. The latter was taking half of Brazil's total exports by 1926, but Brazil still owed Britain over US$100 million in the mid-1920s. British banks financed the country's international commercial exchange, and British investors provided 53 percent of the total foreign investment until 1930. But by the late 1920s, United States banks held nearly 35 percent of the foreign debt. Rio Branco's goal, which was pursued by his successors, was to diffuse the country's dependency among the powers so that none could intervene without being checked by another. Trade and financial ties with the United States were increased at British expense, and these would be balanced by military links with Germany and then France. France would continue for decades to provide a cultural model for the elites.
The Rio Branco years were the basis for what became known as the Itamaraty tradition (named after the building that housed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro), but not every administration grasped its purpose. Some confused its tactical aspects--reliance on foreign loans and investments, Pan-Americanism, and alliance with the United States--with its essential substance, the quest for independence and national greatness.
World War I found Brazil with nearly half of its army committed in the Contestado. The war in Europe was traumatic for the army, which was then beginning a reorganization under the influence of thirty-two officers who had recently returned from service in German army units. A German military mission had been expected, but pressure from São Paulo and from Paris resulted in a mission contract with France instead. Economics, Washington's decision to enter the war, and German submarine attacks on Brazilian merchant ships pulled Brazil into the conflict on the Allied side. The military mobilized, but the generals, feeling over-committed and ill-prepared, declined to send troops to Europe.
Pan-Americanism provided some outlet for Brazil's international status pretensions, but the period between the world wars often found its neighbor Argentina suspicious of harmless improvements in Brazil's armed forces. Brazil's obligatory military service, its construction of new barracks, its purchases of modern weapons, and its contracts for a French military mission and a United States naval mission were viewed by military officials in Buenos Aires as threatening. Brazilian leaders wanted their country regarded as the most powerful in South America but understood that the public would not accept, and the constitution outlawed, a war of aggression. Regardless of what the Argentines thought, the military was not prepared to wage a foreign war. Tension between Argentina and Brazil and maneuvering for greater influence in Paraguay and Uruguay have been characteristic of their relations since the War of the Triple Alliance.
The interwar years in Brazil saw an increase in labor agitation as the economy expanded, industrialization and urbanization stepped up, and immigrants flowed into the country. Coffee overproduction by the turn of the century had provoked subsidization programs at the state and national levels that helped the planters but could not prevent the decline in the economy's capacity to pay for imported manufactured goods. Local industry began to fill the gap. World War I restricted trade further, and Brazilian industrial production increased substantially. The government stressed the need for more industrial independence from foreign producers and stimulated import substitution, particularly in textiles. Many of the factories were small, with an average of twenty-one workers. In 1920 about a million urban workers were concentrated in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazil was just beginning to develop its industrial base, but it was still mainly an agricultural country with 6.3 million people working the soil.
The living conditions of urban workers were bad. Housing, transportation, sewerage, and water supply trailed far behind the rapid population growth and produced serious public health problems. The clean-up campaigns at the beginning of the century struck at the high incidence of yellow fever, malaria, and smallpox in Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and Northeastern seaports. The city centers were made safer, but the workers who crowded into sordid "beehives" (cortiços --small crowded houses) and favelas (shantytowns) suffered all sorts of ailments.
The federal and state governments subsidized immigration from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Japan to provide workers for the coffee plantations. However, many immigrants soon fled the rough conditions in the countryside for better opportunities in the cities. They flooded the labor pools, making it difficult for unions to force factory owners to pay better wages. Women, who were the majority of workers in the textile and clothing industries, were frequently active in organizing factory commissions to agitate for improved conditions, freedom from sexual abuse, and higher pay. Strikes had occurred in 1903, 1906, and 1912, and in 1917 general strikes broke out in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Santos, and Porto Alegre. Because the mentality of the industrialists was rooted in the slavery era and emphasized their well-being over that of the commonwealth and because they functioned on a thin profit margin, they tended to fire workers for striking or joining unions. The industrialists also blacklisted troublemakers, employed armed thugs to keep control inside and outside the factories, and called on the government to repress any sign of labor organization. There were no large massacres of strikers, as occurred in Mexico and Chile, but the physical violence was marked.
Some advocates of reform were heard. For example, economic nationalists like Roberto Simonsen argued for improved pay incentives to prevent individual workers from unionizing. During the 1920s, the Roman Catholic Church, as part of its effort to revive its status, organized the Young Catholic Workers and preached the example of the Holy Family accepting "the will of Providence, in pain and in happiness." By 1930 church societies, private charities, factory-sponsored recreational clubs, and government agencies strove for more control over workers' organizations and leisure time.
During the Old Republic, Brazil changed at a frightening rate. As its population increased 162 percent between 1890 and 1930, it became more urbanized and industrialized, and its political system was stretched beyond tolerance. Concern over the resurgence of labor activity in the late 1920s was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Old Republic in 1930 and to the subsequent significant change in labor and social policy.
The Era of Getúlio Vargas, 1930-54
Just as the 1889 regime change led to a decade of unrest and painful adjustment, so too did the revolts of 1930. Provisional President Getúlio Dorneles Vargas ruled as dictator (1930-34), congressionally elected president (1934-37), and again dictator (1937-45), with the backing of his revolutionary coalition. He also served as a senator (1946-51) and the popularly elected president (1951-54). Vargas was a member of the gaucho-landed oligarchy and had risen through the system of patronage and clientelism, but he had a fresh vision of how Brazilian politics could be shaped to support national development. He understood that with the breakdown of direct relations between workers and owners in the expanding factories of Brazil, workers could become the basis for a new form of political power--populism. Using such insights, he would gradually establish such mastery over the Brazilian political world that he would stay in power for fifteen years. During those years, the preeminence of the agricultural elites ended, new urban industrial leaders acquired more influence nationally, and the middle class began to show some strength.
Tenentismo , or the lieutenants' rebellion against the army and governmental hierarchies, faded as a distinctive movement after 1931, in part because its adherents promoted the preservation of state autonomy when the trend toward increased centralization was strong. Individual lieutenants continued to exercise important roles, but they made their peace with the traditional political forces. In 1932 São Paulo, whose interests and pride suffered under the new regime, rose in revolt. The three-month civil war saw many officers who had lost out in 1930 or were otherwise disgruntled join the Paulistas, but federal forces defeated them.
A new constitution in 1934 reorganized the political system by creating a legislature with both state and social-sector representatives. It contained some electoral reforms, including women's suffrage, a secret ballot, and special courts to supervise elections. The Constituent Assembly elected Vargas president for a four-year term. However, the attempt to harness the revolution to the old system, somewhat remodeled, would soon fail completely and take Brazil into prolonged dictatorship. The left helped in that process by becoming a creditable threat. On misguided instructions from Moscow based on misinformation from Brazil, the Brazilian communists, led by a former tenente, staged a revolt in 1935, but it was rapidly suppressed.
In the 1930s, the civilian elites feared that Brazil would suffer a civil war similar to Spain's, and so for the first time in Brazilian history they supported a strong, unified military. The Estado Novo gave the army its long-held desire for control over the states' Military Police (Policia Militar) units. The elites of the old state pátrias gave up their independent military power in return for federal protection of their interests. This process was not always a willing one, as the Paulista revolt of 1932 showed, but federal monopoly of military force escalated the power of the central government to levels previously unknown. A significant turning point in the history of Brazil had been reached.
Under the Estado Novo, state autonomy ended, appointed federal officials replaced governors, and patronage flowed from the president downward. All political parties were dissolved until 1944, thus limiting opportunities for an opposition to organize. In the process, Vargas eliminated threats from the left and the right. At the local level, "colonels" survived by declaring their loyalty and accepting their share of patronage for distribution to their own underlings. The Vargas years had their greatest impact on national politics and economics and their least impact at the local level where the older forms of power continued well into the 1950s. Even in the 1990s, local political bosses were tagged "colonels." Vargas took care to absorb the rural and commercial elites into his power base. He had the ability to make former enemies supporters, or at least neutrals.
The Vargas years saw the reorganization of the armed forces, the economy, international trade, and foreign relations. The government restored the old imperial palace in Petrópolis and encouraged the preservation of historic buildings and towns. The average annual rise in the gross domestic product was nearly 4 percent. Brazil's first steel mill at Volta Redonda (1944) was the start of the great industrial output of the second half of the century. The 1930-45 era added corporatism to the Brazilian political lexicon.
Even as it channeled investment into industry, the Estado Novo classified strikes as crimes and grouped the government-controlled unions into separate sector federations that were not allowed to form across-the-board national organizations. The idea was to keep the lines of control vertical. The government decreed regular wage and benefits increases and slowly expanded an incomplete social security system. Its minimum wage levels were never satisfactory. The regime's propaganda touted state paternalism and protection and depicted Vargas as the benefactor of the working classes. He also was the benefactor of the factory owners, who saw industry expand 11.2 percent a year throughout the 1930s, which meant that it more than doubled during the decade. Indeed, growth and repression were the twin orders of the day. Journalists and novelists were censored, jailed, and discouraged. The army restricted access to the military schools to those with acceptable racial, familial, religious, educational, and political characteristics.
As a result of these repressive measures, the suspension of political activities, and the government's support of rearming and modernizing the military, the army gained a coherence and unity that it had not experienced since before 1922. The popular status that the army won by participating in the Italian campaign (1944-45) of World War II also permitted the High Command, under General Pedro Aurélio de Góes Monteiro, a long-time supporter of Vargas, to step into the successionist crisis of October 1945 to depose Vargas and to cut short the political mobilization of the masses that the generals believed would upset the social order. Not to have acted would have violated the implicit agreement made with the elites when the latter surrendered their independent state military forces to federal control.
The elected government over which President Eurico Gaspar Dutra presided from 1946 to 1951 opened under the decree laws of the Estado Novo and continued under the new constitution of 1946. This charter reflected the strong conservative tendency in Brazilian politics by incorporating ideas from the constitution of 1934 and the social legislation of the Estado Novo. Over the next years, the various cabinet changes traced the government's steady movement toward the right. The Dutra administration was supported by the same conservative interventionist army that had backed the previous regime. Indeed, Dutra, who though retired from active duty, was inaugurated in his dress uniform and was promoted to general of the army and then to marshal while in office, made the point that he still belonged to the military class (classe militar ), that he would not neglect its needs, and that he would guide the army politically.
More dispassionate observers see the ending of Vargas's productive leadership--during which the average annual rise in the GDP was nearly 4 percent--as the reaction of the landowning and business elite allied with the urban middle class against the processes of change. Dutra's years in office displayed a minimal level of state participation and intervention in the economy. It was indeed ironic that the man who led Brazil through the first steps of its "experiment with democracy" was a general who, in the early years of World War II, was so antiliberal that he had opposed aligning Brazil with the democratic countries against Nazi Germany. He was a fervent anticommunist, who quickly broke the diplomatic ties Vargas had established with the Soviet Union, outlawed the Brazilian Communist Party, and supported the United States in the opening phases of the Cold War. He exchanged official visits with President Harry S. Truman and sought American aid for continued economic development.
Dutra's government improved the railways, completed construction of roads that connected Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and São Paulo, and expanded the electrical generating and transmission systems. It also cooperated with the states in building more than 4,000 new rural schools and supported construction of new university buildings in various states. In 1951 it also created the National Research Council (Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas--CNPq), which would be important in developing capabilities and university faculties in coming decades. His mandate was marked by heated disputes over the nationalization of oil and plans for an international institute to study Amazônia. The latter were shelved amidst emotional charges that they would lead to the loss of half of the national territory; and the campaign for the former was suppressed violently.
Dutra's military program included domestic arms production, sending many officers for training in the United States, expanding air force and naval schools and modernizing their equipment, and establishing the War College (Escola Superior de Guerra--ESG), which played such an important role in the political crises of the 1960s. Although Dutra could be criticized for not containing inflation and for allowing an importing frenzy that soon exhausted the savings of the war years, he managed to govern without declaring a state of siege, and he was the first elected president since 1926 to pass the office to his elected successor.
As a candidate for president in the 1950 elections, Vargas advocated accelerating industrialization and expanding social legislation, and he was rewarded with a sizeable 49 percent of the vote. Vargas's attempts to base his elected government (1951-54) firmly on populism induced military, elite, and United States fears of nationalism. Even so, it was a period of deepening political polarization. Anticommunist military officers saw red in every attempt to expand labor's influence and objected to wage increases for workers when the value of their own salaries was eroding steadily. The United States refused economic assistance that Brazilian leaders believed they deserved for providing bases, natural resources, and troops during World War II. The lack of postwar benefits, especially for the service of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira--FEB), caused Vargas and part of the military to reject the idea of sending troops to fight in Korea.
Although the United States government did not want to provide economic aid, it also did not want the Brazilian government to take an active role in developing the country's resources. Washington's desire to secure Brazil as a safe place for private United States investment clashed with Brazil's treatment of foreign-owned utilities. Foreign interests had been too slow in developing energy resources, so the Vargas government created the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.--Petrobrás) in 1953 and the Brazilian Electric Power Company (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.--Eletrobrás) in 1961. The "Petroleum is Ours!" campaign of the nationalists caused arguments within the military over what was best to do. Some officers embraced the antistatist attitude that Washington was sponsoring. The bitterly fought, emotional debate over the creation of Petrobrás poisoned political life and contributed to the subsequent military interventions. The Vargas administration dissolved in frustration and charges of corruption; faced with military demands for his resignation, Vargas shot himself on August 24, 1954. His death produced considerable public sympathy, which in turn strengthened his reputation as "father of the poor." His influence in Brazilian politics was felt for decades.
The Post-Vargas Republic, 1954-64
If corporatism was the hallmark of the 1930s and 1940s, populism, nationalism, and developmentalism characterized the 1950s and early 1960s. Each of these contributed to the crisis that gripped Brazil and resulted in the authoritarian regime after 1964. At the core of the crisis was the continued unwillingness of the elite to share the benefits of Brazil's wealth with the majority of the people. By the early 1960s, the crisis was boiling in reverse, from the top down. The crisis had much more to do with elite fears of a mass uprising, supposedly instigated by international communism, than with the reality of social revolution. They, rather than the masses, believed the fiery rhetoric of leftist-populist politicians. What elites elsewhere might have seen as popular democratic mobilization, the Brazilian elites saw as revolutionary change that threatened their well-being. Because they portrayed their well-being as the same as the national well-being, and because they controlled the state and the instruments of power, they responded with a counterrevolution, what historian Joseph Page labeled "the revolution that never was."
Labor became more active in seeking to improve the status of the working class, and the population continued to grow beyond the state's ability to expand educational and social services. As a result, conservative elites feared that they were losing control of politics and of the state. The elites had opposed Vargas because he sought to use the state to spread benefits more broadly. The middle classes tended to identify with elite visions of society and to see the lower classes as a threat. Curiously, the term povo (people), which had meant the lowest class, the destitute, the squatters, the rural poor, had changed by the early 1950s to mean the politically active and economically mobile urban lower classes. Further, politicians appealed to the povo during election campaigns but once elected directed government benefits principally to the middle and upper classes.
Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-61), the only post-Vargas elected president to serve a full term, soothed opponents by avoiding the emotional appeals of the populists. Even so, his common touch reached millions, and his developmentalist and nationalist visions stirred the Brazilian imagination. Kubitschek co-opted the military by involving it in the decision-making process and by adequately funding it. He pushed the creation of an automotive industry, which in a generation would result in Brazil's leaping from the bull cart and mule train era into that of the internal combustion engine. The new factories turned out 321,000 vehicles in 1960. The great highway network of the late twentieth century and the world's eighth-largest automobile production are his legacies. And he yanked Brazil away from its fascination with the coast by moving the capital to Brasília in a new Federal District (Distrito Federal) carved out of then-distant Goiás. Thanks to the changes in transportation and the growing availability of motorized farm equipment, the vast countryside of Goiás and Mato Grosso would be cultivated in the next decades, and Brazil would become the world's number-two food exporter. The overall economy would expand 8.3 percent a year. There was a lot of truth in his government's motto: "Fifty Years' Progress in Five."
Brazil of 1960 was very different from that of 1930. The population, which had been 33.5 million in 1930, was now 70 million, with 44 percent in urban areas. A third of all Latin Americans were Brazilian. Life expectancy had improved noticeably. The number of industrial workers had more than doubled from a 1940 level of 1.6 million to 2.9 million, and the industrial share of GDP was higher (25.2 percent) than that of agriculture (22.5 percent). The underside of such progress was a continuous swelling of urban slums and inflation. The annual rate of inflation rose from 12 percent in 1949 to 26 percent in 1959, and then zoomed to a shocking 39.5 percent in 1960. Savings depreciated, lenders refused to offer long-term loans, interest rates soared, and the government refused to undertake orthodox, anti-inflationary programs styled after those of the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, the disparities between rich and poor remained, with 40 percent of national income enjoyed by 10 percent of the population, 36 percent going to the next 30 percent, and 24 percent being divided among the poorest 60 percent of Brazilians. Before national wealth could be redistributed, however, development had to be maintained.
Brazil had the potential, but it lacked the hard currency necessary to pay for the imports needed to sustain swift industrialization. Either it could cut imports, thereby paralyzing factories and transportation, or it could stop repayments on foreign loans and profit remittances from foreign investments. With such unpalatable alternatives, it is not surprising that Brazilian governments had difficulty formulating an economic plan that would both satisfy creditors and keep trade flowing.
The populist administrations of Jânio Quadros (January-August 1961) and João Goulart (1961-64) expanded the term povo once again to embrace the rural poor, thereby producing the image of a budding proletariat ready to join a reformist government against elite privilege and United States imperialism. Quadros, a former governor of São Paulo, could not keep his promise to sweep out corruption, because his bid for more presidential power ended with his sudden resignation on August 25, 1961. He had assembled a makeshift political coalition that gave him an impressive electoral margin but did not give him enough influence in Congress to get his legislation passed.
Frustrated, he planned to restructure the government, but before he could act, Carlos Lacerda, governor of Guanabara (the old Rio de Janeiro Federal District), revealed that Quadros intended to close Congress, decree reforms, and get the people's blessing in a plebiscite. Quadros and Lacerda clashed over the issue of an independent foreign policy. Such a policy, which Quadros supported, emphasized new markets for Brazilian products and a strong stance in favor of the developing world, while maintaining relations with the United States but refusing to isolate Cuba. Lacerda was particularly critical of Quadros's pro-Cuba policy. Quadros resigned believing that the military would be unwilling to allow Vice President João Goulart, a populist and former minister of labor under Vargas, to assume the presidency. Quadros hoped that his action would shock the povo into taking to the streets to demand his reimposition and would spur the military into pressuring Congress. He then flew to São Paulo, where he spent the next day at a military base waiting for the summons to return, but instead the head of the Chamber of Deputies was sworn in as acting president. People were shocked, but they tended to feel betrayed by Quadros rather than believe that "terrible forces" had risen against him. On that Friday in August 1961, the republic of 1945 began its painful death.
Instead of worrying how to restore Quadros, the politicians and military leaders focused on Goulart's succession. An uneasy country awaited Goulart on his return from a trade mission to China. Congress refused to agree to the request of the military ministers that it disavow his right to the presidency. His brother-in-law, Leonel de Moura Brizola, the fiery governor of Rio Grande do Sul, and the regional army commander announced that their forces would defend the constitution. The threat of civil war was ominous. Instead, a compromise changed the constitutional system from a presidential to a parliamentary one (1961-63), with Goulart as president and Tancredo de Almeida Neves of Minas Gerais as prime minister. In the next months, Goulart, chafing at the attempt to turn him into a figurehead, made heated appeals to the masses to mobilize in his favor. Goulart secured victory in a 1962 plebiscite, which restored the presidential system in January 1963. Unhappily, Goulart interpreted the five-to-one margin as a personal mandate, as opposed to a mandate for the presidential system.
Goulart's relations with the United States went from uneasy, when he visited President John F. Kennedy and gave a speech to the United States Congress in April 1963, to frigid, when President Lyndon B. Johnson took over in Washington in November 1963. The United States, smarting from Fidel Castro's radicalization of Cuba, resented Brazilian unwillingness to isolate Havana and became obsessed with peasants organizing in the impoverished Northeast. Washington poured millions of dollars directly into that region's states, bypassing Goulart's government. The regional elites happily accepted United States aid to expand their autonomy vis-à-vis Brasília.
Goulart carried his populism too far when he backed proposals for noncommissioned officers to hold political office and when he appeared sympathetic to rebelling sergeants in September 1963. The officer corps believed that the president was undermining discipline, thereby threatening military institutions.
Minister of Army General Amaury Kruel complained that the army had been subjected to a "survival" budget since 1958 and that most of its armaments and equipment were either obsolete, beyond repair, or required replacement. In 1962 every regional army headquarters reported that it was not in condition to hold regular exercises, and many officers concluded that their efforts were useless because of a generalized "disbelief and lack of incentive." General Kruel alerted President Goulart that inadequate funding was creating a "calamitous situation" in which the army was being "economically and financially asphyxiated."
The right and the military charged that Goulart's call for reforming legislation was merely a cover for a radical nationalist takeover. Publicly, they organized study groups, formed a shadow government, orchestrated an intense press campaign, and staged street marches. Secretly, they armed large landowners (fazendeiros ) in the countryside, developed plans to neutralize opposition and to topple the government, and sought help from the United States. The military was again about to break the bonds of obedience to a national government. The argument was that the armed forces should support any government as long as it was democratic.
Such logic grew more persuasive as political mobilization gripped the society. Peasant land seizures and urban food riots contributed to a sense of impending chaos. Brizola bragged foolishly that he had a 200,000-strong peoples' militia organized in groups of eleven. The opposition charged the government with arousing a "state of revolutionary war." In the months before March 1964, the staff and student officers of the Army General Staff School (Escola de Comando de Estado-Maior do Exército--ECEME) played a key role in convincing officers that they should support a move against Goulart. Even the highly respected chief of staff, Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, joined the conspiracy. Castelo Branco had served as FEB operations officer in Italy, director of studies at ECEME, and long-time head of the War College. The officers believed that rational economic development, internal security, and institutional well-being would occur only if economic and political structures were altered, and that the civilian leaders were unwilling to make the necessary changes. They believed that the left was so well-organized that the conspiracy might fail. They had plans to flee Brazil in that case, and United States officers had promised that they would receive training and logistical support to return to wage a guerrilla war.
Struggling to keep the impatient left on his side and to stave off the right, Goulart opted for a series of public rallies to mobilize pressure for basic reforms. In a huge rally in Rio de Janeiro on March 13, 1964, Goulart decreed agrarian reform and rent controls and promised more. A counter rally against the government, held six days later in São Paulo, put 500,000 people marching in the streets. Sailors and marines in Rio de Janeiro, led by an agent provocateur of the anti-Goulart conspiracy, mutinied in support of Goulart. However, Goulart mishandled the incident by agreeing that they would not be punished and that the navy minister would be changed. The uproar was immediate. Rio de Janeiro's Correio da Manhã published an unusual Easter Sunday edition with the headline "Enough!" It was followed the next day, March 30, with one saying "Out!" In the next two days, the military moved to secure the country, and Goulart fled to Uruguay. Brizola's resistance groups proved an illusion, as did the supposed arms caches of the unions and the readiness of favela residents to attack the wealthy. The period of the military republic had begun.
The Military Republic, 1964-85
The military held power from 1964 until March 1985 not by design but because of political struggles within the new regime. Just as the regime changes of 1889, 1930, and 1945 unleashed competing political forces and caused splits in the military, so too did the regime change of 1964. Because no civilian politician was acceptable to all the revolutionary factions, the army chief of staff, Marshal Humberto Castelo Branco (president, 1964-67), became president with the intention of overseeing a reform of the political-economic system. He refused to stay beyond the term of deposed João Goulart 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 Castelo Branco's reforms. The latter accused him of dictatorial methods, and the former criticized him for not going far enough. To satisfy the military hard-liners, he recessed and purged Congress, removed objectionable state governors, and decreed expansion of the president's (and thereby the military's) arbitrary powers at the expense of the legislature and judiciary. His gamble succeeded in curbing the populist left but provided the successor governments of Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva (1967-69) and General Emílio Garrastazú Médici (1969-74) with a basis for authoritarian rule. Anti-Goulart politicians understood too late the forces they had helped unleash.
Castelo Branco tried to maintain a degree of democracy. His economic reforms prepared the way for the Brazilian economic "miracle" of the next decade, and his restructuring of the party system that had existed since 1945 shaped the contours of government-opposition relations for the next two decades. He preserved presidential supremacy over the military and kept potential coup-makers in check, but in the process he had to expand presidential powers in the infamous Second Institutional Act of October 1965, and he had to accept the succession of Minister of Army Costa e Silva.
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 scoundrels ready to betray Brazil to communism or some other menace. 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 the alliance with the United States. As the citadel of anticommunism, 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 personalist dictatorship by requiring each successive general-president to pass power to his replacement.
The role of the United States in these events was complex and at times contradictory. 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. Washington immediately recognized the new government in 1964 and joined the chorus chanting that the coup d'état of the "democratic forces" had staved off the hand of international communism. In retrospect, it appears that the only foreign hand involved was Washington's, although the United States was not the principal actor in these events. 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 October 1969, when President Costa e Silva died unexpectedly, the democratic mask fell off as the officer corps of the three services consulted among themselves to pick General Garrastazú Médici for the presidency. Costa e Silva and Médici represented the hard-line, antipolitics segment of the military, which seemingly was content to hold authority as long as necessary to turn Brazil into a great power. The Médici government illustrated how it was possible to remain in power without popular support, without a political party, and without a well-defined program. It was the era of terrorist actions in the cities, replete with kidnappings of diplomats, including the United States ambassador, and an extensive antiguerrilla campaign in northern Goiás. The repressive apparatus expanded into various agencies, which spied on political opponents and engaged in dirty tricks, torture, and "disappearings". Those operations caused an open break between the government and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for the first time in Brazilian history. They also produced a deterioration in relations with the United States, whose leaders had expected the Castelo Branco vision of the revolution to win out.
The Médici administration wrapped itself in the green and gold flag when Brazil won the World Cup in soccer in 1970, began to build the Trans-Amazonian Highway through the northern rain forests, and dammed the Rio Paraná, creating the world's largest hydroelectric dam at Itaipu. From 1968 to 1974, parallel with the darkest days of the dictatorship, the military-civil technocratic alliance took shape as the economy boomed, reaching annual GDP growth rates of 12 percent. It looked as if Brazil's dreams of full industrialization and great-power status were possible. Sadly, in those years of the supposed "economic miracles," criticism and labor unrest were suppressed with arrests, torture, and censorship. Moreover, this apparent success of mixing authoritarian rule and economic growth encouraged officers in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Uruguay to seize power in their countries.
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 away from repression toward democratic 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. His government borrowed billions of dollars to see Brazil through the oil crisis.
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 percent dependent on imported oil, Geisel shifted the country from a pro-Israeli stance to closer ties with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iraq. His government also recognized China, Angola, and Mozambique and moved closer to Spanish America, Europe, and Japan. The 1975 agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to build nuclear reactors produced confrontation with the Carter administration, which was also scolding the Geisel government for the human rights abuses that it was fighting to stop. Frustrated with what he saw as United States highhandedness and lack of understanding, Geisel renounced the military alliance with the United States in April 1977.
In 1977 and 1978, the succession issue caused further 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 the return of exiles, 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.
The last military president, João Figueiredo, said that he took over the presidency more out of a sense of duty than political ambition. He signed a general amnesty into law and turned Geisel's distensão into a gradual abertura (the opening of the political system), saying that his goal was "to make this country a democracy." The hard-liners reacted to the opening with a series of terrorist bombings. An April 1981 bombing incident confirmed direct military involvement in terrorism, but Figueiredo proved too weak to punish the guilty. The incident and the regime's inaction strengthened the public's resolve to end military rule. Moreover, Figueiredo faced other significant problems, such as soaring inflation, declining productivity, and a mounting foreign debt.
Political liberalization and the declining world economy contributed to Brazil's economic and social problems. In 1978 and 1980, huge strikes took place in the industrial ring around São Paulo. Protesters asserted that wage increases indexed to the inflation rate were far below a livable level. Union leaders, including the future 1990 presidential candidate Luis "Lula" Inácio da Silva, were arrested for violation of national security laws. The IMF imposed a painful austerity program on Brazil. Under that program, Brazil was required to hold down wages to fight inflation. In the North, Northeast, and even in relatively prosperous Rio Grande do Sul, rural people seized unused, private land, forcing the government to create a new land reform ministry. Tension with the Roman Catholic Church, the major voice for societal change, peaked in the early 1980s with the expulsion of foreign priests involved in political and land reform issues.
To attack the soaring debt, Figueiredo's administration stressed exports--food, natural resources, automobiles, arms, clothing, shoes, even electricity--and expanded petroleum exploration by foreign companies. In foreign relations, the objective was to establish ties with any country that would contribute to Brazilian economic development. Washington was kept at a certain distance, and the North-South dialogue was emphasized.
In 1983 the economy leaped ahead with 5.4 percent GDP growth, but it was lost in the rising inflation and the failure of political leadership. Figueiredo's heart condition led to bypass surgery in the United States, removing him from control of the situation. In an impressive display, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in all the major cities demanding a direct vote (diretas já! ) in the choice of the next president. In April 1984, Congress failed to achieve the necessary numbers to give the people their wish, and the choice was left to an electoral college. Figueiredo did not act forcefully to back a preference, so it became a scramble as candidates pursued the collegial votes.
On January 15, 1985, the electoral college elected Tancredo Neves of Minas Gerais, Vargas's minister of justice in the 1950s, and former federal deputy, senator, and prime minister. Neves was a sensible politician with a reputation for honesty. However, he collapsed the night before his inaugural, and the presidency passed to Vice President José Sarney (president, 1985-90), long-time supporter of the military regime. Neves died on April 21. The hopes that 1985 would be a quick transition to a new regime faded as Brazilians watched this turn of events in a state of shock. Like the regime changes of 1822, 1889, 1930, 1946, and 1964, the 1985 change also proved to be long and difficult.
SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress