The significant changes that took place in Brazil's politics and society in 1989 and afterwards are deeply connected to the larger global processes launched that year. In fact, they can be understood not as the product of the end of the cold war in the country but as the end of the cold war itself in Brazil.
Brazil's self-image at the time was of Shakespearean proportions. After twenty years of a military regime (1964-85), it was preparing for the first democratic presidential elections of a new era amid a deep economic and social crisis.
A race of twenty-two candidates was won by Fernando Collor de Mello, who defeated Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a run-off (Lula eventually reached the office in 2002 after two more defeats). The whole experience generated a convulsive political debate in Brazil, in which a great number of ideas about Brazil's economic model and international integration circulated.
The effect was a frontal challenge both to the framework of development that had prevailed since the 1950s (which continued Brazil's traditional economic isolation) and the export model established with the approval of the IMF after the debt crisis of the 1980s.
But this challenge was made possible only by the exciting context of 1989: namely, the notion of an unprecedented crisis in Brazil, and of a world in a process of radical transformation as the cold war ended and borders (and markets) opened. The experience of 1989 in Brazil opened spaces for the arrival of new ideas focusing on the need for a more integrated economy and a major reform of the state.
This crucial moment in Brazil's history belongs, in my view, within the wider dynamics of transformations of 1989. This approach, I believe, allows Brazil to be seen both as part of the global processes of the period yet also making its own contribution to it in terms of the development of a new political language and democratic framework in the country.
Arthur Ituassu is professor of international relations at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You can read more from him at his website: www.ituassu.com.br. This article appeared originally in Open Democracy – www.opendemocracy.net.
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