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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 email@example.com
Translated by Allen