Go Back

Brazzil - Media - April 2004

Brazil Coup: Still Enigma 40 Years Later

40 years later, the fundamentals of the 1974 military putsch in
Brazil—the before, the during and the after the coup—remain
diffuse and incomplete. All the infographics don't inform anything.
The Brazilian media has no humility for self-analysis and no
courage to raise "politically incorrect" questions.

Alberto Dines

It was the longest, darkest and most researched chapter in Brazilian history. It lasted 21 years and ended formally two decades ago—yesterday—but the following generations—today—still can't quite understand it fully.

Questions galore remain unanswered and the most important ones have never even been formulated. Coup? Countercoup? Military movement or civil-cum-military movement? Did the résistance aim at restoring democracy or simply wearing down the military regime?

The best formulator of questions is time. The 40th anniversary of the overthrow of President João Goulart and the installation of an implacable military dictatorship would likely be a good opportunity to raise questions and produce more didactic and less passional reports. Unfortunately, all the radicalisms that generated the fact were carried on to evaluations four decades later.

The press, first accomplice and later victim, seems to be restrained—it fills ill at ease to have its image mirrored in its own pages. It prefers to generalize, forgetting 1962 and 1963, confusing 1964 with 1968, chocking with its own role in the myth of the "Brazilian miracle", passing through the 1974-78 period as if everything had been duly clarified and preserving some of the villains who proved very useful (Delfim Netto, Paulo Maluf and the big guys who are still well lodged in power, such as Sarney and ACM).

The press is content with melodramatic titles such as "The Lead Years". It remembers the romanticism of songs and walks forward dreaming that in 2014, 2024 or, who knows, in 2064, all the ii will get their dots.

Neither "Horas Estelares" nor "Momentos Supremos" (Stellar Hours" and "Supreme Moments") exist isolated and disconnected from its predecessors. They don't happen by work of the Divine Providence, either. Between the re-democratization of 1945 and the coup of 1964, several military interventions took place (the ultimatum to Getúlio in 1954, which led to his suicide); the counterblow of 1955, favoring JK; the embargo to Jango's swearing-in ceremony in 1961). Stunning, surgical or timid, none of these happened in such a large scale or as penetrating and deep as the military uprising initiated in Minas Gerais to overthrow João Goulart.

A reaction this huge requires some very serious causing action. The succession of bloodless mutinies flowed into the largest exhibition of cruelty in our history and to this day we still don't know the mechanics of this metamorphosis.

Shots and Intimidation

The full body portrait, front and back, of that fateful March 31st, 1964, has still not been featured in the press, although the series of stories in Folha de S. Paulo, with their countdown style, tries to reconstruct the progression of events. Some isolated texts of witness-journalists (Carlos Heitor Cony, at Folha, Márcio Moreira Alves, in Globo) or protagonist-feature writers (José Sarney, Folha) have offered some timely elements.

On the other hand, the bursts of paranoia published in the AOL portal - http://noticias.aol.com.br/brasil/fornecedores/aol/2004/03/26/0019.adp and in Carta Capital ("A imprensa golpista", nº 284, 31/3/04) show how distant some journalistic circles are from their commitments to the cause of providing clarification to the public.

The fundamentals—the before, the during and the after the coup—remain diffuse and incomplete. All the infographics published in the last few days with the chronology of what really happened don't really inform anything.

The reports do not list antecedents and the huge trauma, therefore, is diluted into a kind of ephemerid-coverage that sounds a bit sly.

Except for some small focal points of light, the press gives the impression of wanting to get its obligation over with by providing an uncomfortable agenda, with no humility for self-analysis and no courage to raise "politically incorrect" questions.

If we take the printed media to be the kind of media that provides citizens with the informative density necessary to form opinions, it is easy to foresee that the providers of the subsidies necessary for a serene understanding and a tragic vision of what the military dictatorship really was will be the new books or reprints of old works—and not the newspapers and magazines of the moment.

Once more, Brazilian society shows its strong compulsion to escape pain. It's more comfortable to throw slurs, detach yourself from the subject and forget that, in spite of all formal differences, 1964 and 2004 are both part of the same process.

The party most visibly absent from the re-visitation of 1964 provided by the press is the press itself. Modesty, in this case, is incriminating. Since 1945, all abrupt cuts in the political process have always counted on the press as a pivot.

The first fall of Getúlio Vargas was hurried by the interview José Américo gave to then journalist Carlos Lacerda, in Correio da Manhã. That interview marked the end of censorship and the end of the Estado Novo.

The second fall of Getúlio was first assembled by the same Lacerda in his Tribuna da Imprensa, allied with the media barons, when he denounced the financing of Última Hora by Bank of Brazil.

Jânio Quadros resigned one day after a long televised rally by the same Lacerda. And when the movement to prove that João Goulart was legal and should take office started to grow, the three military ministers decided to control the informative process. The Diário de Notícias (Rio) of August 30th, 1961, featured great white stains in its first page. It was the first act of military censorship of modern times.

The second attempt to control the press, this time by a portion of the troops faithful to Jango, happened on March 31st, 1964, when Contel (the National Telecommunications Council) ordered all radio broadcasters to abstain from carrying "alarmist" news. Later in the afternoon, a platoon of Marines (the shock troops of admiral Aragão in defense of Jango), in combat uniform, stopped at the door of the old head offices of Jornal do Brasil (Avenida Rio Branco, 110), fired some shots into the air, invaded the building and stood right in the middle in the newsroom. They didn't know what they wanted, or maybe they simply wanted to intimidate everyone. Then they left (Os idos de março e a queda em abril ) (The Ides of March and April fall), page 341).

The Following Days

The signal for the troops to leave the barracks was given by Correio da Manhã with a succession of first page editorials on March 30th and 31st, 1964 ("Basta" and "Fora!") ("Enough" and "Out!"). The same newspaper that shouted angrily in 1961 against the attempts to stop Goulart from taking office was now at the helm of his overthrow.

The press left its mediating role aside and installed itself as a protagonist. In a mere 15 days, from herald of what we then called "revolution", the Correio da Manhã converted itself into its sole opponent (Última Hora, attacked by a mob of hired assassins, was forced to shut up). The rest of the great newspapers of Rio and São Paulo who participated in the conspiracy gave full support to the new government.

The economic blockage imposed on Correio da Manhã did not start immediately. It took time. Ten years later (1974), after having co-opted for groups of "developmentists" military men and "development-opportunists" entrepreneurs, the huge paper closed its doors.

The punishing imposed on journalist Hélio Fernandes, director of Tribuna da Imprensa, occurred during the period of the ditadura envergonhada (embarrassed dictatorship), which converted to ditadura escancarada (flung-open dictatorship), long before the AI-5 (Institutional Act nr. 5) (according to the expressions used by Elio Gaspari).

Everything was reported in the news, nothing was held back, but the garrote was slowly tightening. There were some focal points of resistance from both journalists (many) and from business owners (rare); we should not minimize them, because totalitarianism feeds on generalizations and simplifications.

On the other hand, we can't forget that the reaction to censorship in 1968-69 was neutralized by the fact that the big press concurred widely to self-censorship, sustained in great part by the power of Finance Minister Antonio Delfim Netto over journalistic enterprises.

The alternative press, yes, was a veritable trench. With courage and intelligence, it managed to create a conscience of opposition. It was more effective than armed fighting. It formed teams and created consciences. Instead of burial grounds, it left us a handsome inheritance. Unfortunately, it too was forgotten.

Newspaper entrepreneurs learned to conspire in 1964 and enjoyed it. In 1973, Jornal do Brasil conspired with then general-president Emílio Garrastazu Médici for a continuistic solution and the only reason it was not punished by the Geisel-Golbery pair (who won the game) was because it decided to adhere body and soul to their scheme. The "distensão lenta, gradual e segura" ("slow, gradual and safe distension") itself only existed as a journalistic metaphor—reality was much different.

In a general way, we could say that, from 1808 through 1937, journalists engaged in causes; Getúlio Vargas was the first one to engage them in his interests; and, from 1964 onwards, the press-government partnership became concrete and part of the political process.

These notes do not intend to review what happened in the 7,665 days that followed March 31st, 1964. The idea here is merely to remember, suggest references, locate omissions, identify gray areas and black holes. History is not a tribunal and its sentences are always provisory, but the continuation of the journalistic process is part of the records. In the next few days, we will know if this anniversary has added any new pages.

Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br
This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa — www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.