MILITARY COUP (20 years)


Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945)

The so-called "Republica Velha" (Old Republic) lasted until 1930 when, for the first time, the government was overthrown by force. The main aim of the victorious revolutionary movement headed by Getúlio Vargas was the reform of an electoral and political system which, in the absence of strong national parties, had led to the practice of electing presidents supported by the governors of the leading states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Getulio Vargas, a former deputy, minister, and governor in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, overthrows government.

The governors, in turn, secured the election of congressional representatives pledged to carry out the policies of the central government. Getúlio Vargas, who was to govern Brazil for the next 15 years, came to power at a troubled time.

The country was feeling the effects of the world depression which drastically reduced the price of coffee. The domestic political scene was affected not only by the resultant financial crisis, but also, as the decade advanced, by dashes between militant minorities inspired by ideas reaching the country from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the one hand, and by the Communist ideology imported from the Soviet Union on the other.

Great Depression

When the Great Depression hit, the government spent millions protecting coffee growers by buying crops at a guaranteed price.


In 1930 the Brazilian writer Gilberto Freyre had to seek refuge in Portugal and the United States because of his political activity. Gilberto Freyre was born in Recife in 1900. He attended Baylor University in Texas. Earned a master's degree from Columbia. He taught sociology. Later lived on a hill overlooking Recife.


The first initiative toward racial justice was the founding of the Brazilian Black Front in Sao Paulo in 1931. (Page 1995:74) It died in 1937 when Getuilo Vargas banned all political organizations.


brief civil war; troops from Minas Gerais put down the Sao Paulo against Vargas


The publication of Freyre's masterpiece Casa-Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). A sociological study of the formation of Brazilian society in the sugar-growing regions of the country during the colonial period. Emphasized the importance of the distinct ethnic mix. Made Brazilian upper classes feel pride rather than shame. Freyre described the positive impact blacks had on the social fabric and national identity.


In 1934, after the Vargas regime had been consolidated, a new constitution was introduced which greatly widened the franchise and gave the vote to women.


In late 1937, shortly before the presidential elections were due, the heated political atmosphere and disruptive activities led President Vargas to declare a state of emergency. Vargas followed up his declaration by dissolving Congress and assuming extraordinary powers to govern by decree under an authoritarian charter. However difficult the times, some important policies were adopted then which included the introduction of advanced social welfare legislation, a reform of the educational system, and substantial progress in industrialization, including the construction of Brazil's first big steel mill (1942-1946).

Failed Communist uprising by military officers; Vargas becomes dictator. His new state was inspired by Italian Fascism. It lasted until the end of World War II.

Vargas was very popular. The result was both political and economic success.


When World War II started, the Vargas government could not ignore the spontaneous preference of the majority of Brazilians for the Allies. Popular sentiment, further inflamed by the hostile actions of German U-boats off the Brazilian coast, forced the President to abandon a neutral stance. In August, 1942, Vargas declared war on the Axis powers. Brazil equipped a 25,000-man strong Expeditionary Force which, attached to the U.S. Fifth Army, fought in Italy. Brazil was the only American country, besides the U.S. and Canada, to send armed forces to the European theater of war.

US forced Vargas to allow Allied air bases on the northeast coast, the nearest point to Africa; German submarines retaliate, killing over 600; Brazil declares war on Germany


Abdias do Nascimento was a pioneer in the struggle against racial discrimination. In 1944 he cofounded the Black Experimental Theater.

post-war period

General Eurico Gaspar Dutra (1945-1951)

As the war in Europe drew to its close, Vargas was forced to resign and elections were held to appoint a successor. Going to the polls for the first time in 15 years, the electorate gave the majority of their votes to General Eurico Gaspar Dutra who had been Vargas' Minister of the Army during the war. Vargas grudgingly endorsed the army general Eurico Dutra.


A new democratic constitution was approved by a constituent assembly in 1946 which remained in force until 1967.


Carmen Miranda appeared in Copacabana.


Carmen Miranda starred in "A Date with Judy" and "Nancy Goes to Rio."



Vargas (1951-1954)

Vargas returns as elected president; gets US mad on oil industry matters. But powerful enemies in the armed forces and on the right made his second term a turbulent one.


Dutra's term came to an end in 1951. Meanwhile Vargas, who had sat out his exile at his ranch in Rio Grande do Sul, had prepared for the elections. Vargas had come to reap some of the rewards of his progressive measures in the fields of social welfare and trade union legislation. At the conclusion of Dutra's term, Vargas was constitutionally elected president of the republic.


Enactment of the nation's first antidiscrimination legislation as a result of the refusal of a Sao Paulo hotel to admit Katherine Dunham, a black dancer from the United States. (Page 1995:75)


Vargas proposed a lot of changes that in the charged climate of the Cold War brought charges of veering toward communism. An especially vitriolic attack was led by the ambitious journalist Carlos Lacerda. Forces defending Lacerda tried to assassinate him. They missed. Vargas was not behind it, but the press campaign rose to a crescendo. On August 25, 1954, the military High Command demanded his resignation. Vargas received the news calmly, went into his bedroom in the Palacio de Catete in Rio and shot himself in the heart.

A caretaker administration finished his term of office. Lacerda forced to flee the country during the following outcry. Eighteen months of tension followed, as an interim government marked time until the next election.


Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961)

From Minas Gerais, Juscelino Kubitschek elected to succeed Vargas. In 3 years he built Brasilia, 700 miles inland from Rio and Sao Paulo.


Brazil experienced five years of accelerated economic expansion under President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961), the founder of Brasília. He imported the extravagantly talented Oscar Niemeyer, whose brief was to come up with a revolutionary city layout. Kubitschek spent almost every weekend on the huge building site that became the city.


Brazil's triumph in the World Cup soccer championship in Sweden.


Cuban revolution


The voters elected a man who promised to sweep away corruption and reinvigorate democratic rule. The election of Janio Quadros provoked disastrous consequences.


Janio Quadros (1961-1961)

Kubitschek succeeded by Janio Quadros (supported Castro). President Jânio Quadros resigned after less than a year in office. He had won as an "antipolitician" reformist. He turned out to be quirky and erratic. (Page 1995:19) Quadros resigned in August, the anniversary of Vargas's suicide. He had wanted the masses to sweep him back into office. He shrunk from suicide and ended up shooting himself in the foot rather than the hear. The masses stayed home. Vice president João Goulart took office; US suspicious.

João Goulart (1961-1964)

Quadros' vice president was João Goulart. Goulart was sworn in as president only after Congress hastily voted in a parliamentary system which drastically curtailed presidential powers. In a plebiscite held four months later, however, President Goulart was able to persuade the voters to restore the old presidential system. Rampant inflation and political polarization between left and right led to two and a half tumultuous years of political and social unrest and economic crisis.

Goulart was a populist who deeply distrusted the armed forces and the economic elite. He inherited an economy wracked by inflation. His efforts to redistribute wealth led to a frightening of the middle and upper classes. Military overthrew him in 1964.

President Kennedy launches the Alliance for Progress; 600 Peace Corps volunteers to Brazil


Brazil wins the 1962 World Cup soccer championship in Chile

BACK TO MILITARY RULE (21 Years, 1964-1985)

The Northeast was being left behind the industrial south. The result was the Peasant Leagues movement. Peasants under the charismatic leadership of Francisco Julia and the governor of The Pernambuco, Miguel Arraes, began forming co-operatives and occupying estates to press their claim for agrarian reform. The estate owners cried communism and agitated for a military coup.


Fearing Goulart's Marxist leanings, the military overthrew him in a coup on March 31, 1964. The United States backed the military coup. The generals succeeded each other every 4 years for 21 years; troops from Minas Gerais moved against Rio to ensure success of the military coup.

General Humberto Castello Branco (1964-1967)

The period 1964 to 1985 was one of military rule, with some relaxation of control after 1979. This period saw five presidents, all of them military generals. The first, Humberto Castello Branco, came to power on a wave of anti-communism. His main task was to stabilize the country's political and economic situation. Extensive amendments were made to the Constitution to provide the government with the powers and mechanisms to achieve those goals.


General Costa e Silva (1967-1974)


By 1968, in the term of President Arthur da Costa e Silva, the economic strategies appeared to be working. Inflation was contained and foreign firms began to make new investments, assured of the regime's stability. Politically, however, in response to the continued unrest, the government became increasingly repressive.

During the next 15 years, 1968-1983, the government issued several Institutional Acts which were, in effect, presidential decrees. Many individual and collective rights were suspended during this period. New austerity measures affected economic and political life. Collective bargaining was eliminated, strikes were virtually outlawed, and the working class movement was curtailed.

In 1968 the black Abdias do Nascimento was forced into exile by the military regime because of his speaking out frequently on race-related issues. He spent the next 14 years at universities in the United States. (Page 1995:80)


economy averaging over 10% growth rate every year

Between 1967 and 1974 Brazil enjoyed one of the greatest rates of economic growth in the world with real growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reaching 14 percent in 1973.


Urban guerrilla campaign took off in the cities. Its most spectacular success was the kidnapping of the American ambassador in 1969.

President Costa e Silva resigned in 1969 because of illness. He was immediately succeeded by a military junta and two months later by Emílio Garrastazu Médici. The worst period of military rule began. Torture became routine. Lasted for 5 years.


Resuscitation of a black movement in Brazil partly inspired by the civil-rights struggle in the United States.


Maoist-inspired revolt lead to death of the 80 guerillas.

Also, military decides on a Transamazon Highway. Today much of the road has been washed away by heavy rains.

In 1972 a report by the Ministry of Justice investigation team detailed the woeful inadequacies of Brazil's prisons: filthy, overcrowded and undermanned.


The quadrupling of oil prices in the wake of the 1973 Middle East conflict caused the economic bubble to burst. By the late 1970s the country was mired in a deep recession. Brazil's foreign debt raced past the $100 billion dollar mark. (Page 1995:21)


General Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979)

The five bad years of darkness gave way to Ernest Geisel.


By the mid 1970's Ernesto Geisel, who was then president, proposed a period of political liberalization - gradual steps which would lead to restoration of democratic rule.


Metalworkers strike in Sao Paulo. Led by union that were still illegal, and the charismatic young factory worker Lula (Luis Inacio da Silva). There was a tense stand-off between army and strikers, until the military realized that having Sao Paulo on strike would be worse for the economy than conceding the right to free trade unions.


The death of a black worker at the hands of the police and the expulsion of four black boys from a volleyball team furnished the spark that led to the formation of the Unified Black Movement Against Racial Discrimination.


General João Baptista Figueiredo (1979-1985)

In 1979,João Baptista Figueiredo (hand-picked by Geisel) was inaugurated President. This was also the beginning of "opening" ("abertura"), the process of restoring the political rights which had been revoked. Many of the country's exiles were allowed to return. The year also marked an acceleration of the public's demand for re-democratization. Figueiredo maintained a steady hand on the opening process.

By 1979 Rio had become the ninth most violent city in the world. (Page 1995:242)


3/4s of the people are urban


A newspaper crime survey found that 772 women were murdered by their husbands or lovers in Sao Paulo and few perpetrators of these crimes were ever punished. (Page 1995:256)


In 1982, the country held direct elections for state governors, the first such elections since 1965.

Luis Ignacio da Silva founded the Workers party and ran for governor of the state of Sao Paulo in 1982. A union organizer in a country where strikes were then illegal, he tested the limits of Brazil's democracy and was compared to Lech Walesa of Poland.

Abdias returns to Brazil from the U.S. exile and was elected to the federal Chamber of Deputies. He was the only member who identified himself as a black. (Page 1995:80)


The mass campaign for direction elections.

CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT (1985 to the present)


In 1984, there were nationwide demonstrations demanding direct "Elections Now" ("Diretas Já ") to choose a new president.


Tancredo Neves (1985-1989)

back to civilian government; from Minas Gerais,Tancredo Neves, midwife to the rebirth of Brazilian democracy in 1985; Brazil 10th largest economy. Tancredo was ex-minister of justice under Vargas, ex-prime ministers and a wise old mineiro fox.

In January, 1985, Tancredo de Almeida Neves was chosen president by an Electoral College. His election was significant because he was not only the first civilian president to be elected in 21 years, but also because he was the candidate of an opposition coalition. On March 14, 1985, on the eve of his inauguration, Neves was rushed to a hospital overcome with a lingering illness he had endured for several months. He had a bleeding stomach tumor that proved benign. But while in the hospital he picked up an infection and six weeks later died of septicaemia.

The lingering agony and untimely demise of Tancredo Neves in 1985 touched off an unfettered outpouring of collective anxiety and grief. (Page 1995:16) His funeral was the largest mass event in Brazilian history; a crowd of two million carried his coffin from the hospital where he had died in Sao Paulo to Garulhos airport.

José Sarney (1985-1990)

The man who became acting president was Vice President José Sarney, a second-league politician from Maranhao. When Neves died five weeks later, José Sarney was sworn in as president promising to maintain the course set by Tancredo Neves. The first priority of President Sarney was to gather a National Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Never in the history of Brazil was one able to observe such a high degree of popular participation in the drafting of a law.

Sarney was a disaster. Very indecisive; lots of corruption; no progress on the economic front: hyperinflation. He actually made the military look good.


After 18 months of deliberations a new constitution was promulgated on October 5, 1988.

Assassination of Chico Mendes, leader of the rubber tappers' union and eloquent defender of the forest.


In the first direct presidential election held since 1960, Fernando Collor de Mello was elected President in November, 1989. The Brazilians had not cast their ballots for a president for almost 30 years.

Fernando Collor de Mello, an arrogant young outsider with a playboy lifestyle, plunges economy into recession


Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992)


September 29, 1992, allegations of corruption within his government. His own brother accused him of corruption. Collor was suspended by the Chamber of Deputies as President for 180 days during which time he faced impeachment before the Senate who decided to remove him permanently from office. On December 29, 1992, minutes after they had brought corruption charges against him, Collor resigned, but the Senate decided nonetheless to impeach him by a large majority.

Itamar Franco (1992-1995)

Three hours later,Itamar Franco, who served as Vice President under Collor, was sworn in as President to serve the remaining two years of Collor's five-year term. Collor's impeachment by the House of Deputies, his trial by the Senate, and his resignation mark a new chapter in the political history of Brazil.

Itamar Franco was a mediocre politician. He was ill-equipped to deal with the problems facing Brazil. He was a populist. The country drifted aimlessly. Weak leader.

His prime minister was former sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The real power in the government was with Cardoso. He claimed to succession was via his implementing the Plano Real in 1994.

In June 1992 Brazil was host to more than 100 world leaders for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit.


8 street children killed by police in Rio.


Brazil won the World Cup

Itamar Franco has some erratic personal behavior problems. At the 1994 Rio Carnival, a female participant in the parade joined him in his box and when she stood next to him and raised her arms to salute the crowd, it was revealed she was wearing only a T-shirt that failed to cover her private parts. (Page 1995:28)


The Plano Real helped tame inflation and stabilize the economy. A grateful public gave Cardoso an overwhelming first-round victory in the presidential election later that year. He trounced Lula in every state but Brasilia and the Distrito Federal.


Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-present)

In the first 3 and a half years, the Cardoso team succeeded in reducing annual inflation to less than 5 percent for 1995 and 1996.


the trial of 150 military police officials accused of the 1996 murder of 19 landless peasants during a protest in the remote north, in what could become the largest trial of its kind in Brazil's history.

The April 1996 massacre in Eldorado de Carajas in the Amazonian state of Para drew the world's attention to the problems of vast inequalities in Brazil's rural areas. Television captured the image of police opening fire on the crowd of demonstrating peasants led by Brazil's Landless Movement.

The group is the strongest voice for social change in a country where 40 million of 165 million people live in abject poverty. The group is struggling for land reform in the countryside, where more than 50 percent of arable land is owned by 2 percent of the population.

The Landless Movement has accused the government of tacitly supporting landowners and says President Fernando Henrique Cardoso is not doing enough to settle the 4.8 million families it estimates are still waiting for land.


Congress approves the amendment to the Constitution of a second successive term.


Analysts say Latin America's largest economy has taken a sharp turn for the worse since the real currency was devalued in mid-January. Since then there have been signs of recovery but unemployment remains near record highs and the real has been floundering this month on fears the government will fail to push more reforms to cut a gaping budget deficit.

Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso saw his popularity hit record lows in August, highlighting his government's struggle to regain confidence amid an economic slump and discontent with spending cuts. 59 percent of Brazilians believe Cardoso's government is doing a bad job. (Reuters, Aug. 16,1999)


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