Jeitinho Land

In cases where regulations have to be confronted, Brazilians pride themselves on being especially creative in their array and variety of gambits suitable for bending rules. Some veteran despachantes seemed to have magical powers. Passports for which mere mortals had to wait on line for hours, then return to wait a second, third, or fourth time at the Federal Police headquarters, were issued in minutes. Documents not available at all by legal means materialized the same way.

Robert M. Levine

During most of the twentieth century, Brazil's political culture diminished the status of citizens. Part of the problem stemmed from the swollen bureaucracy at all levels of government. Everyday life in Brazil necessitated constant interaction with bureaucratic regulations, government officials, public agencies, and other representatives of authority. The system treated individuals differently according to who they were. The poorest Brazilians often were excluded entirely from the system and the social benefits it provided because, as marginals living below the thin safety net provided for salaried workers, they lacked proper papers. This problem was severest during the military dictatorship, when police frequently stopped people randomly and arrested them or beat them if they were found to be without papers. "Without identity documents," a large billboard in downtown Rio near the bus station proclaimed in 1969, "you do not exist." In the interior of the country, patronage politics maintained almost complete control of social and economic exchange.

Ordinary Brazilians living documented lives spent untold time entangled in the bureaucratic labyrinth. Some cases of hopeless dealings stretched out for years. For those who could afford it or who possessed political influence, however, an antidote soon emerged in the person of the despachante, a professional facilitator able to cut through red tape. Sometimes bribery was involved, or small favors, but usually despachantes simply got things done (for a fee) faster and without hassle because they knew the right people on the inside. Some veteran despachantes seemed to have magical powers. Passports for which mere mortals had to wait on line for hours, then return to wait a second, third, or fourth time at the Federal Police headquarters, were issued in minutes. Documents not available at all by legal means materialized the same way.

Most people had no access to these agile geniuses, but they used other devices to beat the system. M., a maid working in an affluent condominium complex in São Paulo, at age twenty-four married a seventeen-year-old young man and had a child. When her mother-in-law told her that she couldn't care for the baby all the time, M. sent for an eleven-year-old girl from the interior, telling people that she was "adopting" her. The girl, who presumably attended school a few hours each day, otherwise worked without papers (or wages) for M. as her servant.

What M. did is as much a part of the informal economy as a legal ruse since she did not have to obtain permission from any civil authorities to bring the girl to her home. In cases where regulations have to be confronted, Brazilians pride themselves on being especially creative in their array and variety of gambits suitable for bending rules. Most of these ploys work best, of course, for those with connections, even as low-level as a friend of a relative who works in a certain office or department. The system also bends for those who can throw their weight around. Thus, facing down a policeman trying to write a ticket on an illegally parked car is easy for someone who is wearing a Rolex and has been educated in an elite private school, because the weaker party to the action knows full well that society expects him to back away.

One element in the political culture that is available to almost everyone possessing a modicum of poise and self-respect is the jeito. The jeito (diminutive, jeitinho), is the "way" to grease the wheels of government or the bureaucracy, so as to obtain a favor or to bypass rules or regulations. Jeitos fall halfway between legitimate favors and out-and-out corruption, but at least in popular understanding they lean in the direction of the extralegal. Favors, in addition, imply a measure of reciprocity, a courtesy to be returned. One never pays for a favor, however; but a jeito, which is often granted by someone who is not a personal acquaintance, must be accompanied by a tip or even a larger payoff.

Peter Kellemen's 1963 tongue-in-cheek Brazil for Beginners offers an example of how the system worked even within the bureaucracy. A recent graduate of a European medical school was applying at the Brazilian Consulate in Paris for a visa to emigrate to Brazil. When he appeared, the Brazilian consul changed the applicant's profession from physician to agronomist. When the candidate protested, saying that he did not want to sign a false statement, the consul told him: "In that way I can issue you a visa immediately. You know how these things are? Professional quotas, confidential instructions from the department of immigration. Utter nonsense!... In any event, this way will make it perfectly legal." The consul explained that he was helping the applicant by employing the jeito. After the physician took up residence in Brazil, he understood: he had immigrated to a country, law professor Keith S. Rosenn notes, "where laws and regulations are enacted upon the assumption that a substantial percentage will be disobeyed," and where, quoting Kelleman, "civil servants, be they small or powerful, create their own law. Although this law does not happen to correspond with the original law, it meets with general approbation, provided that it is dictated by common sense."

Several kinds of behavior are associated with the jeito. Officials fail to perform a legal duty (e.g., they issue contracts to the highest briber); persons employ subterfuges to circumvent a legal obligation that is proper (they may underinvoice import shipments, or receive part of a purchase price abroad in foreign currency to evade currency control and taxes on part of their profits); speedy completion of paperwork is available only in exchange for a bribe or because the official knows the applicant; officials skirt an unreasonable or economically prejudicial legal obligation (for example, laws requiring compensating bank balances or deposits at low interest); they fail to enforce rules or laws because they think the law is unjust or unrealistic (as in the above example of the visa applicant). The first three cases are corrupt, but the last two fall into a gray area where public purposes are arguably served by evading legal obligations. Some applications of the jeito, of course, involve mixed kinds of motives, combining payoffs or favoritism with a sense that the outcome will be reasonable and even legitimate.

Jeitos affect everyone. Once I was traveling to the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, a desolate backlands region with few signs of life. The van in which I was riding broke down outside a tiny, dusty town. The passengers and driver walked to the town to attempt to find parts to fix the motor; while we were sitting in a café, waiting, a man came in and identified himself as the police chief. He wore no uniform and showed no badge, but everyone in the café showed him deference and we assumed that he was some kind of official.. He then asked to see our documents. The Brazilians had their federal identity cards; I had my passport. The official demanded that each of the Brazilians pay the equivalent of $6 for being given "refuge" in his town, and he "fined" the driver of the van a slightly lower amount for having obstructed the roadway. Then he turned to me. He asked me what a foreigner was doing in his town. I told him. He then asked to see my passport, taking it and thumbing through the papers one by one. "Why had I gone to Mexico?" he asked me, seeing a visa stamp issued in Merida. "Venezuela?" "France?" Was I working for the "U.S. Intelligence Service"?

I assured him that I was carrying out historical research. "Why are you carrying equipment?" he asked. I showed him my camera and lenses, and my notebook. He then grabbed my camera bag and my passport and stalked out the door.

More than two hours later, well after midnight, he returned. The van had been fixed and was sitting with its motor running because the driver was impatient to leave. By then I had visions of being stuck in this town or even being put in jail. Then the man returned. With a broad grin, he handed me my camera case and my passport. On one of the blank visa pages, he had painstakingly entered a "visa" for me to enter his town. It was handwritten, with various misspellings, and it had a cut-out printed paragraph from what probably was the state Diário Oficial pasted in—a regulation covering one rule or another that did not seem even closely pertinent to this case. He then demanded $140 for the "processing fee." At this point, my Brazilian host interceded, pulling him aside in conversation. He then hustled me and the others out to the van, and we drove off. He told me later that he had given the man about $2 and told him that he "should be honored to have a university professor passing through his jurisdiction."

Lívia Barbosa, a Brazilian social anthropologist, has argued that obtaining jeitos does not depend, at least directly, on elements that make up a person's social identity, such as wealth, status, family name, religion, and color. Someone who does not hold a privileged position in society is as capable of obtaining a jeito as someone who does, as long as he/she knows how to ask, is a good talker, and is pleasant and charming. This is so only to a certain extent. Such an assertion ignores the realities of Brazilian life and insults the poor, unless what is meant as a jeito in the case of a poor person is something as meaningless as a free cafezinho. Even if it is true that hapless peoples can benefit from jeitos, there must be an enormous difference in scale in comparison to the kind of arrangement or special favor a poised, educated, well-connected member of the affluent classes can manage.

Senator Roberto de Oliveira Campos, an economist, ambassador, and politician who seems to have obtained more than his share of jeitos during his public career, defined the jeito as a "paralegal" action, neither legal nor illegal, and understandable in the light of Brazil's historical (Latin, not Anglo-Saxon) and religious history (in Roman Catholic countries, he writes, dogma is rigid and intolerant, so ways have to be found around things). By granting the jeito legally neutral status, of course, Campos seems to be justifying it as a forgivable transgression. Without it, he suggests, Brazilian society would find itself either paralyzed by compliance or exploded over incompatibilities among laws, customs, and facts of life. For João Camilo de Oliveira Tôrres, another old-school critic, jeitos are a way of being "particularly Brazilian." Clóvis de Abreu, examining the results of an interview survey of twenty people at various bureaucratic levels carried out by a group of researchers in Rio de Janeiro during the early 1980s, came to some very specific conclusions about the jeito, calling it, in the end, a "recourse to power." Some of that study's conclusions included the following points: that the jeito system arises as a response to unbending bureaucracies; that jeitinhos occur anywhere people have to deal with hierarchies; that jeitinhos confirm the duality of a system that distinguishes between haves and have-nots.

Jeitos, in the end, say more about the system that rationalizes their value than about the theories spun about them. How far does the system stretch to accommodate sweet talkers, people who need personal favors or exceptions or exemptions? Anthropologist Barbosa asserts that according to Brazilian popular wisdom, women are more effective in obtaining jeitos because their personalities make them better able to twirl people around their fingers. They know how to charm. They are spontaneous. The need for jeitos, after all, arises unexpectedly; one cannot plan for them.

Rationalizing the jeito as a flexible tool to expedite action from an obdurate system implies acceptance of the unfair advantages given to those who know how to bypass the system or to gain speedy treatment, especially when payoffs are involved. Jeitos that facilitate the evasion of taxes or regulations drive up prices (since the price of corruption is passed on to the consumer), and hurt workers for whose benefit the bypassed regulations have been enacted. The economist Gunnar Myrdal adds: "Corruption introduces an element of irrationality in plan fulfillment by influencing the actual course of development in a way that is contrary to the plan or, if such influence is foreseen, by limiting the horizon of the plan."

Rewards of Incumbency

In Brazil, an underlying thread running from colony to republic in various guises has been the historical aversion to developing autonomous political participation. Political decisions have always been made by the elite stratum of professional government administrators drawn from the classe conservadora—the "conservative class." As early as 1885, the abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco complained that complacency had preserved a rotten system by which the state "sucked up all resources and redistributed them to its clients." For generations, politicians regardless of ideology saw themselves as members of a "political class," entitled to obtain patronage and resources for themselves, their families, and their clients. It was never important whether individual members considered themselves "liberal" or "conservative." Such distinctions in Latin America usually referred to views on religion, or on federalism versus centralism; but on most matters, opposing political views simply represented squabbling within the same family.

Members of this class were traditionally referred to as the gente decente, "the decent people." They offered little sympathy for the principle of citizens' rights because their privilege shielded them. The system presupposed the wisdom of hierarchy and rationalized its power as a paternalistic duty. Top-level administrators and civil servants rewarded supporters by bestowing favors—special investment incentives for a group of industrialists, for example, or the construction of a road or water storage facility for an important landowner. Business groups received exemptions from import duties. To the growing urban middle class and to the controlled labor unions, the system gave patronage benefits in exchange for acquiescence.

The political elite diversified after 1930, extending membership to industrialists, businessmen, and technocrats as well as large agribusiness interests. It expanded again still later to take in representatives of multinational firms, retired career military officers in the private sector, and financiers. Politicians had always taken for granted that holding an appointed or an elected office carried with it the right to generous patronage. With the advent of federalism (and the establishment of states as more autonomous units), opportunities for patronage multiplied. What all these versions shared was a closed, hierarchical, and elitist outlook dominated by insiders jealously guarding their prerogative to profit from their control of power. The political process permitted the ancient regime to survive, even if in new clothing; holders of political power, as always, agreed to make "concessions to new power contenders" only if they could hold onto their original privileges and benefits.

Weak central institutions early in Brazil's history led to the development of informal systems of local rule as well to informal (and extralegal) forms of enforcement. Conflicting interests and suspicion of a strong central state in deference to federalist demands hampered the development of a fair formal legal system. Land law tended to promote conflict, not resolution, because it set the terms through which usurpation of land was legalized. The extraordinary ability of illegal institutions to survive in symbiosis with the political and legal system—the jogo do bicho, for example, the century-old numbers game intricately tied in with police corruption, protection for racketeers, and political spoils—undermined efforts to reform the system.

For a country with a tradition of political stability, Brazil has experienced remarkably few open and direct elections in its history. Authoritarianism has had a long and unshakable tradition. During the transition from colony to Empire, in the early nineteenth century, voting rights were limited to literate adult males from "traditional families" of European background, whose annual income from property or employment exceeded 100 mil réis or about £10 in 1830. During the course of the Empire, these income requirements were made even more stringent, and prospective officeholders had to show even more substantial wealth, although at the same time participation in the voting process became more widespread. In 1846, illiterates were allowed to vote, a concession to the rising power of rural coronéis, who manipulated vote totals and sent mostly fraudulent results to their provincial capitals, contributing, in turn, to rural overrepresentation within most provinces. Voting rights for illiterates, however, were stripped away during later decades, and out of 8 million Brazilians in 1870, only 20,000 held the right to vote. The 1881 Saraiva Law, which implemented direct legislative elections and was supposedly an electoral reform, retained the income requirement for voting, although it expanded suffrage rather than contracting it.

There were many reasons for this reluctance to enlarge the power of voters. During the nineteenth century, slavery still flourished in Brazil, and elites kept a cautious eye on free people of color. The Brazilian Empire had been buffeted during 1848 and 1849 by separatist movements in the North and Northeast relatively analogous to the rebellions sweeping Europe from France to Hungary during 1848-51. Mountaineers in the Barousse, in Hautes-Pyrénées, destroyed government registers as well as schoolbooks in a protest against outsiders. Brazil saw efforts to launch a "Confederation of the Equator" in 1848 and a socialist-led insurrection in Recife, the Praieira, in 1848-49. In all cases, the uprisings were suppressed. They never touched the hearts of the ordinary population, unaware of the larger world.

Down to the present century, political power descended from family to family, anchored by powerful clans. The Albuquerques traced their lineage back to Jerônimo de Albuquerque and his brother-in-law Duarte Coelho, first proprietor of Pernambuco. Other powerful clans included the Cavalcantis in the North and the Prados, the Lemes, and the Buenos in the South, who were even more powerful when their dynasties merged, as in the case of the Albuquerque Cavalcantis. Secondary clans, no less powerful, rose to power at the provincial level during the nineteenth century: the Maltas (Alagoas), the Nerys (Amazonas), the Aciolis (Ceará), the Leites (Maranhão), the Lemos (Pará), the Rosa e Silvas (Pernambuco), the Garcias (Sergipe), the Pessoas (Paraíba), and so on. Political and economic leadership remained over the long term unusually close, at least down to the eve of World War II. In the Northeast and, especially, in São Paulo, political power continued to be concentrated in the hands of owners of vast properties, producing a powerful elite class always looking out for its own interests.

One reason for the power of family clans was the lack of alternative sources of power outside the landed oligarchy. Brazil had few effective voluntary associations or political clubs (as France did after the mid-nineteenth century), and the absence of comprehensive universities delayed the rise of a meritocracy. Access to positions in public life had to be obtained through direct dealings with the oligarchies and their agents. Newspapers reflected entirely the outlook of their owners, who invariably were prominent citizens with interests to protect. Freemasonry did exist across Brazil, but mostly in ceremonial fashion; unlike European masons, Brazilian masons rarely entertained revolutionary notions or proposals about democracy or fraternity. There is little evidence that Brazilian masons were interested in politics. Auguste Comte's doctrine of positivism was grandly influential in Brazil among power brokers, who used the philosophy as an excuse to hold off democratic reforms and to concentrate on material progress and the importation of foreign ideas. Republicanism, when it was organized in opposition to the monarchy in 1870, always remained a movement for the rich, although republican clubs superficially looked like their European counterparts. Republican proselytism reached virtually no one in the general population, unlike France, where towns and small cities were the centers of the movement and most republicans petty bourgeois or artisans. Nor were Brazilian republicans in favor of democracy. They abhorred the idea of reform, preferring to preserve class distinctions; in Argentina and Chile, in contrast, positivists demanded improved educational resources to elevate the population at large.

In the late nineteenth century, citizens who had enough money to buy newspapers could choose from a broad spectrum. In small cities there often were three or four newspapers from which to choose and in larger cities as many as twenty. The leading newspapers campaigned furiously for their political allies, and paid minute attention to the ins and outs of political fortunes. Every time a banquet was held honoring a landowner or a notable civic figure—and banquets were de rigueur in the years before the First World War—newspapers published photographs of the guests sitting down to eat, next to an outline key identifying each person sitting around the table or tables. By looking to see who was seated where and in proximity to whom at the banquet, readers could chart status and shifting political fortunes, just as Kremlinologists in later decades charted the rise and fall of Soviet political influence by analyzing photographs of the order in which officials stood on their balcony reviewing patriotic parades in Red Square.

When republicanism surfaced in earnest in 1870, its partisans did not advocate democracy. Rather, they endorsed long-standing notions about the inherent backwardness of the population and tended to ignore social problems in favor of economic development. After the fall of the monarchy in 1889 and the Republic's first elections a half-dozen years later, although income requirements were removed, fewer than 2 percent of the adult population voted in presidential elections. The 1891 Constitution gave the vote to literate males over twenty-one years of age who were employed or possessed certifiable sources of income. Through 1929, the median level of electoral participation remained at 3 percent. Fewer than 5 percent of the adult population voted in the hotly contested 1930 presidential election, when in any case the results were thrown out by the coup which placed in power the bloc that had officially lost the election, blighted by imposing fraud on both sides. From 1872 to 1930, the country's urban population had grown by more than 450 percent, but the electorate had remained static. The climate had grown more confrontational: some workers, especially stevedores as well as printers and textile operators, had become organized into unions, but after a wave of strikes in 1919 and 1920 in large cities that were repressed, labor activity dwindled.

Even after the fall of the First Republic in 1930, dominated chiefly by rural landed interests, sparsely populated rural areas remained overrepresented, whereas flourishing urban districts were underrepresented. At all levels of government, voting was manipulated; many officially certified results were plainly fraudulent. Getúlio Vargas's electoral reforms during the 1930s gave the vote to women and expanded the overall size of the electorate to 1.5 million of the total population of 39 million. However, between 1931 and 1945 the expanded electorate was permitted to participate in national elections only twice: to elect representatives to the Constituent Assembly in 1933 and to vote for one of two generals to replace the ousted Vargas in 1945. Women voted in 1945, but not illiterates or men in military service. The 1945 election saw the Communist Party candidate, Yeddo Fiuza, win 10 percent of the vote and carry the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Luis Carlos Prestes, the Communist leader imprisoned since 1935, was elected to the Senate. Still, the two major postwar political parties, the Social Democrats and the National Democratic Union, each headed by a general, prevailed, and in 1947 President Dutra decreed the Communist Party back into illegality.

Under the corporatist Estado Novo from 1937 to 1945, Getúlio Vargas decreed hundreds of laws and regulations, extending government protection and benefits to individuals and groups willing to work within the nationalistic framework of controlled, state-sanctioned agencies. One possible reason for the great attraction of Rio de Janeiro as a pole of internal migration was that rural people heard about Vargas's social security system, which was not extended to rural areas. Not only did the federal government make cities a mecca for bureaucrats and employment seekers, but it also instructed Brazilians how to act. Sambas were composed extolling civic virtues as well as punctuality, moral living, and honest work. The Estado Novo's 1942 Consolidation of Brazilian Labor Law maintained the decade-old practice of granting legal status only to unions authorized by the Labor Ministry, which collected an annual membership fee, the equivalent of one day's work per worker, to be used by the unions and their national and regional federations and by the state. These funds could be frozen if regulations were broken. The labor minister could remove union officials at will and close down unions entirely. If more than one group attempted to organize in a given sector, the Labor Ministry could choose one from among them; the others would have to disband or operate as outlaw unions. The Estado Novo forged a multiclass alliance shaped by an emerging populist pact based on acceptance of state corporatism.

The 1946 Constitution enhanced the forms if not the substance of democracy. It legalized the right to association and implemented a multiparty system on the national level. This probably was the inevitable result of the shift of the population from a rural to an urban majority, but electoral power remained disproportionately weighted in favor of rural areas dominated by large landowners and their patrons. By 1945, the electorate had grown to nearly 7.5 million. By 1950, when Getúlio Vargas, ousted by the military as president in 1945, ran and was elected to the presidency, the electorate had reached 11.5 million, about 20 percent of the population, in a system where voting was now obligatory for those who met the qualifications. In 1960, 15.5 million Brazilians voted, about a fourth of the total number of Brazilian citizens. By 1970, 30.6 percent of the population was registered to vote, although by then the military dictatorship rendered voting rights meaningless. The military also suppressed efforts at independent union organization, intervening in unions no fewer than 536 times during the 1970s and the early 1980s. Democracy was being restored nominally, but only under tightly controlled circumstances. A massive metalworkers' strike in the industrial region of São Paulo (dubbed the ABC region because it was centered in Santo André, São Bernardo, and São Caetano), was ruled legal by the labor court, but under military pressure the decision was reversed. More than 200,000 workers struck despite the ruling, and in retaliation the government ordered the union closed and arrested 1,600 union activists, including Lula, the union's president. Strikers returned to work after forty-one days without winning any of their demands. The regime was not ready to make any concessions to challenges to its hegemony.

Corruption became more open than ever. City government took on the shape of a top-down pyramid dispensing favors in exchange for votes, other forms of allegiance, and acquiescence. The classic example was São Paulo governor Adhemar de Barros, who maintained widespread popularity despite popular cynicism about his personal corruption ("Rouba mas faz," the slogan went: "He steals but he gets things done"), a darker version of Chicago boss Mayor Richard Daley's making sure that garbage was collected regularly and that his constituents always knew whom on his staff to approach for favors. Popular wisdom accepted avarice on the part of office-holders; it seemed simply to go with the system. Some political figures (for one, Getúlio Vargas), led austere lives, profiting little from their offices, but many went to the other extreme, flaunting their illicit gains.

At the same time, the growing size of the electorate indicated even more sweeping changes in the lives of Brazilians. In many ways, the turning point came in 1958. Vargas's death had rocked the system and threatened to return it to Old Republic levels of instability, but the inauguration as president in 1958 of Belo Horizonte's Juscelino Kubitschek, a populist politician skilled in cultivating relations with the mass of voting Brazilians, ushered in considerable change built on the foundation of Vargas's record. Kubitschek relied on patronage to buy political support, and counted on his massive public works projects to provide jobs. External factors contributed to make 1958 a fateful year as well. The drought of that year was the worst in decades: when President Kubitschek traveled to the Northeast to survey the calamity—the first sitting chief of state ever to have done so—he publicly cried about what he saw. The same year saw the inauguration of the construction of Brasília, not only a nationalistic symbol and a pork-barrel project of monumental proportions, but the impetus for streams of migrants from all parts of Brazil to flow to the vacant central part of the country. Brasília was a new pole of attraction that rivaled the gold rush to Minas Gerais in the eighteenth century.

The late 1950s also saw the massive influx of foreign investment capital, invited by Kubitschek as part of the rhythm of national development, and the acquisition by foreign multinational corporations of a share of domestic industrial production. Reformist Catholic clergy, drawing from what soon would be called "liberation theology," began to organize in favor of massive redistribution of agricultural land. Sputnik went up in 1958, highlighting Brazil's need to catch up in its scientific and technological capacity. Brazil's internationalization took other forms as well. President Kubitschek's daughter made her social debut in France, at Versailles. Brazil's first supermarkets opened in 1958, as did the first shopping mall, Iguatemi in São Paulo. Cultural patterns changed overnight. Men stopped wearing dour black suits with thin black ties—or, in more traditional places, suits of white linen with black ties—and began wearing fashions imported directly or copied from Italy and France. Teenagers in the 1960s began to wear jeans (Calças Lee) and sneakers, to go crazy over foreign music and films, and to chew gum. Hollywood always had been influential, but now a more generic, internationalized kind of popular culture soared in popularity, couched in the ambiguity of captivating affluent urban Brazilian youth wholly while at the same time spawning trendy anti-Americanism, attacking the United States for what was derided as its superficial culture and for its imperialist politics and economy. Millions watched the Miss Brazil and Miss Universe contests—before 1958 always lily-white and usually blond in the selection of its contestants chosen to represent Brazil abroad, lest foreigners get the wrong idea, and in later decades almost always white or light-skinned mulata. Television made a major impact in the late 1950s, giving greater power to skillful manipulation by handlers of telegenic candidates and ending the hallowed tradition of the comício, the public campaign rallies at which it was not only candidates who orated; common people could come up out of the audience and challenge speakers. Carolina Maria de Jesus did this often, and was known to the mayor and the governor of São Paulo even before her diary was published. Television and growing reliance on political advertising after 1958 made the comício obsolete.

The abrupt resignation from the presidency of reformist Jânio Quadros in 1961 elevated João Goulart, his vice president, to office. The getulismo of the 1950s, based on the personal popularity of Vargas, elected president in 1950 after five years of domestic exile, had given rise to two distinct but parallel political movements, the middle-class Social Democrats whose mantle had been assumed by Juscelino Kubitschek, and labor movement trabalhismo, headed by João Goulart, one of Vargas's protégés. Under his presidency, labor unionism grew in strength, reaching even the remote interior. The left, consistent with its past record, throughout the 1960s crippled itself by splitting into warring ideological factions. There were the Maoists, the Stalinists, a socialist Leninist group, and a radical Catholic movement that would ally itself with the Maoists. The official line of the Communist Party was, in the words of Emir Sader, in Without Fear of Being Happy: Lula, the Workers' Party, and Brazil "formally wedded to Goulart's government." The left's tiresome exercise in self-destruction alienated any potential followers among affluent groups except for militant students and academics, and the country slid into military dictatorship after the 1964 coup.

Brazilians were just learning how to deal with open elections in a multiparty structure when the door slammed shut. Military rule, especially after the term of Humberto Castelo Branco, who (unlike those who followed him) showed a human face to the generals, hardened. Left-wing militants led by Carlos Marighella, who had quit the Communist Party in disgust, launched guerrilla resistance to the regime, a tactic that resulted not only in its being crushed but in repression for thousands of moderates and liberals not connected in any way to the radical left. Under Chief of State General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, every branch of the armed forces perfected its own kidnapping and torture apparatus. A later military president, the ill-tempered General João Figueiredo, admitted that he preferred the smell of horses to the stink of the povo, and an equestrian photograph of him on horseback jumping over a prone subordinate was distributed widely. A few courageous individuals spoke out against the regime, including Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of São Paulo, a soft-spoken Franciscan who went to army bases and prisons and demanded information about prisoners, and Heráclito Sobral Pinto, a civil rights lawyer who defended persons charged with subversion. Most opposition was stifled by the blanket of authoritarian rule. Despite promises for democratization as early as the mid-1970s, the first direct election for the presidency since 1960 did not take place until November 15, 1989.

The bleak military years saw dramatic economic growth at the cost of human rights and meaningful civil participation in government, especially between 1969 and 1984. Strikes were suppressed and labor unions kept under surveillance or completely disbanded. Businessmen and industrialists welcomed the government's role and referred to Brazil's "economic miracle." Opponents called it the triumph of "savage capitalism," the victory of technocrats who combined countercyclical investment policies with exchange controls, subsidies, negative rates of interest, and the deliberate creation of monetary disequilibrium to achieve a forced transition from backwardness to modernity. The results benefited the wealthy and the powerful to the detriment of other Brazilians. Income concentration increased substantially during the period.

After 1985, when civilians readied themselves to return to power, domestic interests generally prevailed over military preferences, although the military continued to exercise decisive influence over governmental decision making. During the transitory period of "decompression," as it was called, during the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when civilians began to be reintegrated into political leadership, the old forms of political behavior resurfaced. Despite some talk on the part of individual high armed forces officers that Brazil should not return to its old political ways, clientelism survived, especially at the local level. This arrangement, by which officeholders and others in power distributed favors in direct exchange for political support, had dominated the political arena from the 1930s through 1964. Clientelism was especially dominant in the rural interior and in slum districts in the cities. The military's seizure of power, however, bent the rules of the game if it did not change them entirely, adapting clientelism to a political arena inhabited by powerful new players, most notably the television screen and, on the political left, the Workers' Party (PT). Lower-class Brazilians, however, rather than flocking to the PT's banners, responded to the advertising blitz and defeated the candidate who spoke for them.

More than anything else, the new atmosphere reflected new resistance to the authoritarian regime. Professional middle-class groups raised their voices, as did some members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, especially in São Paulo. New neighborhood associations, no longer tools of incumbent machines, began to organize and to join in statewide federations. The PT, which was founded in 1979, was led by intellectuals but emphasized a grassroots membership base. That political style proved very resilient, and it has survived well into the 1990s. Illustrating this is the example of Vila Brasil, a favela an hour's bus ride west of downtown Rio de Janeiro. Vila Brasil, founded in 1946, now was crowded, with many houses gaining new second stories because of lack of space to expand laterally. It was small for a mature favela, with 524 residences housing a total population of about 2,700. Although poverty-stricken, especially at its center, by 1986 it boasted running water, electricity, and paved roads and alleyways. Vila Brasil achieved this, Robert Gay asserts, through successful clientelistic negotiations on the part of the new president and directorate of the dweller association, first elected in 1979. Clientelism, in other words, may leave a bad taste in the mouth for purists, but for Vila Brasil's residents it was a valuable resource, a vehicle through which the favela's needs could be realized.

The arrangement worked through the alliance forged between the favela association and a local politician, for whom Vila Brasil's president worked as a political organizer (cabo eleitoral). The politician, Jorge Leite, spent most of his time cultivating a "network of personal relationships that [were] sustained through the trafficking of favors and the promise of favors." It paid off in 1982 for both sides, on the occasion of the first election for federal legislators permitted under the military regime. Leite received Vila Brasil's support and in turn saw that the favela's roads and alleyways were paved in the eight days leading up the November 15 elections. Leite also sent lorry loads of sand and cement to assist in the reconstruction of the association building. He won his election with more than 170,000 votes, by far the most voted-for candidate in his party. Not only did he come out ahead, but the association president's own influence increased enormously. He was credited personally for improving the lives of "his" favelados, in ways "that had seemed beyond the realm of possibility before he took office." Because the system had not worked for the favelados in the past, the president's success with it made it seem all the more a case of personal skill and effectiveness. Basking in his success, he was quoted as saying that politicians were "all thieves," but that he was "a much better thief than any of them." They are unconcerned with anything but personal power, he said; they manipulate the poor as a source of cheap votes. He expressed no allegiance to any political party or group: he simply extracted the best deal he could for his community. He expressed absolutely no loyalty to Leite, whom he had supported off and on for nearly five years.

When Leite decided to run for mayor in 1985, he promised Vila Brasil's president cash and patronage jobs for his children if elected. He lost, however, receiving only 8.6 percent of the vote. The favela's leadership was now open to offers from other candidates. In the gubernatorial election of 1986, Vila Brasil's president, receiving at least one call a day from candidates seeking to purchase the community's vote, finally made a deal with five of them, telling each one that the first to help complete the second story of the association building would receive his support. The asking price, however, was too high, and all of the candidates balked. Vila Brasil finally settled for the construction of two bathrooms in the building. Ten days before the election, the candidate showed up with a check for the agreed amount. He was immediately endorsed as the "president's candidate" and taken from door to door to greet his new followers.

The new practice of favelados using votes as leverage to gain favors was only a small part of the system. Favela associations, in fact, not only had to deal with elected and appointed officials, but with other latter-day coronéis, most notably numbers bosses and drug dealers (estimated to number 6,500 in Rio de Janeiro alone) using the favelas as sanctuaries or as institutional sources of power. Among the broader urban population, another category of coronéis, the cartolas, have held commanding influence for decades. Cartolas ("top hats," the men who control soccer clubs, federations, and their resources) amassed tremendous power when professional soccer emerged in the 1930s as Brazil's national passion. Indirectly (or directly) tapped into the patronage system, these men often commanded empires of fans, benefactors, players, and the media, holding more lasting power in local settings than more transitory elected officials.

Political alliances continued to operate through the networking system of the panelinha. Unlike the United States, where political ties are usually to a home district or locality, or to certain interest groups (the defense industry, or agriculture, or inner city residents), connections in Brazil usually follow personal business interests or other private agendas based on friendship or allegiances with inside people. Orestes Quércia, a veteran São Paulo politician and later governor, used his claimed lack of establishment panelinha ties to defend himself as an outsider discriminated against by the "insiders."

He was implicated in a corruption scandal when he was candidate for governor in 1986. Quércia, formerly a small-time local politician, declared, "What is being flung against me," he said, "is prejudice: I'm a businessman, I come from the interior, and I'm not connected to the university. Elitism is what is being used against me." Quércia, Maluf, and scores of other self-described "outsider" politicians thrived through the use of alliances bought with patronage and donations. As governor, Maluf personally sent ambulances to every município in the state of São Paulo, with the implicit message that more such plums would come in exchange for support. Clientelism remained alive and well despite the political changes that emerged in the 1980s. Vila Brasil's voting-age residents, nearly 60 percent of whom had not completed the first grade, put their trust in their association president to make the best deal. By 1986, he had become skilled enough to win gifts from more than one candidate (one sent two sets of soccer shirts to the favela, although in the end he was not supported). Vila Brasil's president, through pragmatism, good negotiating skills, and a single-minded determination to get things for his constituency, emerged as a kind of modern-day coronel, a power broker of sorts lacking any power or influence himself except for the value of the votes of his fellow favelados. The truth is, however, that he did not win jobs or schools, and except for the soccer shirts and bathrooms for its association building, Vila Brasil gained nothing through him but the paved roads that the municipality should have provided in the first place.

For the country as a whole, the slow pace of the restoration of democracy during the mid-1980s had brought widespread disillusionment. This was felt most keenly in the 1984 Diretas Já campaign seeking the direct election of the president. Under pressure from the military, Congress refused, despite overwhelming public support. Popular pressure for change then led to the election, by indirect vote, of Tancredo Neves, a civilian who had mildly opposed the military regime. His victory generated even higher levels of euphoria, but he died on the eve of his inauguration after being stricken unexpectedly. His death ushered in the opportunistic government of José Sarney, a Maranhão-based hardliner who had firmly backed the military government previously.

Sarney's five-year term (1985-1990) not only dampened the hopes of electors who had hoped for a sharp break with the civilian hardliners who had supported the military dictatorship, but saw Sarney, as president, use gross political bartering and payoffs to retain power, as a result crippling the federal government and fanning inflationary fires. The 1988 Constitution removed the literacy requirement and empowered sixteen-year-olds to vote. More than half of the population were now registered voters.

Robert M. Levine has chaired the Columbia University Seminar on Brazil and is past chair of the Committee on Brazilian Studies of the Conference on Latin America History. He is director of Latin American Studies at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, a corresponding member of the Instituto Geográfico e Histórico in Rio de Janeiro, and the co-editor of the Luso-Brazilian Review. He has published 16 books on Latin America.

Excerpted from Brazilian Legacies by Robert M. Levine, M. E. Sharpe, 1997, 212 pp