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Brazzil - History - April 2004
 

Brazil-64: A Coup Against the People

A week after the overthrow of the Goulart government, in 1964,
the Brazilian Congress declared the presidency vacant and the
military imposed Institutional Act #1. Forty-one politicians had their
political rights suspended, among them three former presidents:
João Goulart, Jânio Quadros and Juscelino Kubitschek.

Deigma Turazi


Forty years ago in Brazil, the government of João Goulart was overthrown. João Goulart was a politician with strong labor movement connections and a long-time political relationship with Getúlio Vargas who was President of Brazil during the period 1930-45 and then again from 1951 to 1954.

Goulart was elected vice president of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and vice president again in the Jânio Quadros government, which took office in January 1961 Goulart was not a member of either president's political group. In Brazil, presidential tickets are not only balanced geographically, they are frequently balanced ideologically, as well, with candidates from distant points on the political spectrum.

When Quadros shocked the nation and suddenly resigned after only eight months in office, on August 25, 1961, Goulart became President, effectively taking office on September 7, 1961, but only after overcoming strong opposition by conservatives and much of the military, which were upset with his links to labor and Vargas.

And so it came to pass that a little more than two years later, during the night of March 31, 1964, a military insurrection overthrew the Goulart government. The next morning the clock began ticking away the 21 years that the military dictatorship would last in Brazil.

A week after the overthrow of the Goulart government, Congress declared the presidency vacant and darkness descended over the political scene in the form of Institutional Act #1. Forty-one politicians had their political rights suspended. Among them were former presidents João Goulart, Jânio Quadros and Juscelino Kubitschek.

The same happened to the secretary general of the Brazilian Communist Party, Luiz Carlos Prestes, and former ministers Almino Affonso (Labor), Paulo de Tarso Neto (Education) and Darcy Ribeiro (Chief of Staff).

Other politicians who lost their political rights were Miguel Arraes, Leonel Brizola (a federal deputy and former governor of Rio Grande do Sul) and Celso Furtado (an important government economist, the architect of the Northeast Development Superintendency (Sudene).

The list went on: twenty-nine labor leaders had their political rights suspended. Over 120 officers were expelled from the Armed Forces. A total of over 10,000 civil servants were fired for subversive activities. Opposition political parties were banned, unions and student organizations were closed down and strikes prohibited.

A Counter-Revolution

Historian Jacob Gorender, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party at the time of the coup, analyzes the period in his book Combat in the Darkness: "To my way of thinking, the 1960-64 period marks the high point in the struggles of Brazilian workers so far this century [XX]. The culmination of the class struggle, in which the institutional stability of the bourgeois order was put in check in terms of property rights and the coercive power of the State.

"In the first months of 1964, a pre-revolutionary situation began to emerge, and the rightest coup defined itself, for this very reason, as counter-revolutionary and preventive in nature. The dominant class and imperialism had abundant reasons to act before the applecart was upset."

Waldir Pires, one of João Goulart's chief aides, reflects on the meaning of the coup in his commentary: "Nothing is more terrible for Brazil than the interruption in 1964 of the country's political development, of the gradual incorporation of the people into the global culture of Brazil, of each person's capacity progressively to become a citizen.

"All of this was interrupted by a lopsided vision, a small, obtuse vision that excludes the population from the process of civilization. Brazil is currently one of the countries that are world champions in criminality. Why? Why this exclusion?

"Was it the Brazilian people who changed? Did the nature of our people change? Did the character of our people change? Or is it that the social structures, which were terribly archaic and continued archaic, didn't change?"

The words of Almino Affonso sum up the feeling that analysts have about the period: "I declare with absolute clarity that the 64 coup was less against the President, João Goulart, or against other leaders who were regarded as to the left of the political spectrum or leftists. The coup was against the emergence of the people."

Special Interviews

Radiobrás, the official media outlet of the Brazilian government, has prepared a special series of reports on the 1964 military coup. The reports were in the form of oral history, reported by people from all walks of life who, in one way or another, were near, or in, the cyclone that hit the João Goulart government. Here is the list of the interviewees:

Waldir Pires today is the head of the government's main anti-corruption watchdog agency (Controladoria Geral da República). In 1964 he was a high-ranking government legal aide (Consultor Geral da República).

Almino Affonso today is a lawyer with a private practice and a member of the Council of the Republic which advises the president. In 1964 he was Minister of Labor.

Jarbas Passarinho today is retired. He is an advisor at the National Industrial Confederation. In 1964, as a colonel in the Army, he was the Chief of Staff in the Amazon Military Command.

José Sarney today is a senator from the state of Amapá (PMDB) and the president of the Congress. In 1964, he was a federal deputy (UDN) from the state of Maranhão.

Aldo Arantes today is the head of the Professional Training Program at the Ministry of Education. In 1964 he worked in the Superintendency of the Land Reform Plan.

Miguel Arraes today is the president of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and a federal deputy. In 1964 he was governor of the state of Pernambuco and was arrested in the first hours after the insurrection began.

Clodomir de Moraes today is a retired teacher from the University of Rondônia. In 1964 he was a member of the land reform movement known as the Rural Worker League (Ligas Camponesas) in the state of Pernambuco.

José Serra today is president of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB). In 1964 he was president of the National Student Union (UNE).

Franklin Martins today is a political commentator and the director of the Brasília offices of the Globo TV network. In 1964 he was an intern at the Interpress news agency.

Clara Charff today is an aide for the Worker's Party (PT) in São Paulo. In 1964 she was a leader of a feminist movement in Rio de Janeiro.

Frei Betto today is a Catholic priest, a writer and a special presidential advisor. In 1964 he was a student studying journalism.

Gilberto Gil today is Minister of Culture. In 1964 he was the secretary of the University of Bahia's Business School Cultural Center.

Maria da Conceição Tavares today is a renowned economist and teacher at universities in Rio de Janeiro and Campinas. She is also a senate aide to the Worker's Party. In 1964 she was employed in the Brazilian Development Bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social) (BNDES).

Paul Singer today is the head of the National Economic Solidarity program at the Ministry of Labor. In 1964 he was a teacher at the University of São Paulo.

Sepúlveda Pertence today is a justice on the Brazilian Supreme Court. In 1964 he was a teacher at the University of Brasília.


Deigma Turazi works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br
Translated by Allen Bennett.


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