The Brazilian Formula for Success: Dictatorship

Brazilian president Castelo BrancoThe Brazilian formula for success includes periods of dictatorship, and Brazil had three periods in its history when Brazil benefited from being under a certain form of a government: benevolent dictatorial regime.

Benevolent dictatorship is a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises political power for the benefit of the whole population rather than exclusively for his/her own self-interest or benefit, or for the benefit of only a small portion of the population.

We can say that the first period lasted three years (1821 – 1823) when José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva became Prime Minister of Brazil in 1821. The second period lasted eight years (Nov 1937 – Oct 1945) when Getúlio Vargas became a dictator in Brazil in 1937. And the third period lasted twenty-one years (1964 – 1985); these were the military dictatorship years which started in 1964 when General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, seized power through a coup d’état.

José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva – Prime Minister (1821 – 1823)

When Prince Dom Pedro asked José Bonifácio to be his Prime Minister in 1822, the Prince Regent was aware that he could not find a more qualified person for that job in Brazil. José Bonifácio told the Prince Regent that he would accept the position only when allowed to impose his unlimited authority. Dom Pedro did not hesitate. He armed José Bonifácio with the highest level of authority possible. The investiture of José Bonifácio carried with it the most extensive powers that any minister had in the history of the imperial or republican Brazil.

The Prince Regent, and later Emperor, on various occasions made a point of showing in public the high regard that he had for his Prime Minister by handing him in official ceremonies the bastion of mordomo-mor, symbol of uncontested prestige. This set the stage for José Bonifácio to assume his Prime Minister position which would enable him to do a masterful job that culminated with the independence of Brazil from Portugal.

To this day no one has accomplished so much in Brazilian history as José Bonifácio, and his accomplishments were done in a very short period of time in the three years from 1821 to 1823.

José Bonifácio had a clear vision, objective and realistic, of the functions of a modern State. In his writings and personal correspondence, in most documents, in government decrees, and in official and diplomatic correspondence to other governments, we can see that he understood the social and economic problems of his day. He also had a profound understanding of the political issues and of what could be realistically done.

His goal was to guide Brazil to a smoother transition than the one that he had seen in France during the French Revolution.  He also was aware of the current anarchy present in the new nations that were getting their independence from the Spanish Empire, as was the case in Argentina.

In his writings, correspondence, government documents and government decrees we can see that José Bonifácio and his brother Martim Francisco had an excellent grasp of economic theory and that their thoughts were way ahead of their time on that subject.

The Critical Period

There was a critical nine-month period from March 1822 to December 1822 in which José Bonifácio almost in a despotic fashion issued decree after decree establishing the foundations which would give the social, political and economic structure for the new nation.

José Bonifácio’s actions were arrogant, inflexible, firm, and irreconcilable with dissident groups, but at the same time they were compatible with the people and the nation whose interests he was defending.

When José Bonifácio participated in the provisory government of São Paulo, he prepared a document that was signed by the members of the provisory government on October 9, 1821 called “Lembranças e Apontamentos”. This document might be the most important document in the history of reforms in Brazil. The document provided a complete master plan for the new nation and covered in detail all the necessary building blocks of social, political and economic life.

José Bonifácio’s major accomplishment in Brazil was the consolidation of independence with national sovereignty, political unity and territorial integrity.

José Bonifácio was not about money; he did not care about money and he had many opportunities over the years to get all kinds of land and tittles in Portugal and in Brazil, and he turned them down every time. If he wanted, he could have been the first Emperor of Brazil, but he turned down a number of times the offers from Dom Pedro, first in 1822 and later when Dom Pedro abdicated in 1828, since he did not want to be Emperor of Brazil.

I need to remind the readers that José Bonifácio’s life does not include two of the most important aspects of modern life of today; greed and materialism. José Bonifácio never cared for material things, money or noble titles, and things of this sort. He was interested in science and the well being of society. He was a humanist, a social thinker, and a great statesman. He followed a high ethical standard for all of his life. He was a very honest man. He had integrity, honor and many other qualities which are out of fashion in the political arena today. He also had to participate in four duels on four separate occasions to defend his honor, in which his adversaries lost their lives.

Many of my ancestors and members of the “Andrada e Silva” and the “Souza Queiroz” families have been important players in Brazilian history at key moments of Brazilian history as follows:

1) Antônio Carlos and the Mason Revolution of 1817

Antônio Carlos was working in Olinda, Pernambuco Province as a magistrate when a Republican and Mason Revolution broke out in that province in 1817. He was asked to join the leadership of that revolution. He even sent a letter to José Bonifácio in Portugal dated April 14, 1817 describing what was happening. In that letter he mentioned how well the revolution had turned out.

A short time later José Bonifácio (in Portugal) found out that the revolution in Pernambuco had been a disaster for the revolutionists. Most of the leaders of that revolution had been hanged. The only reason they spared Antônio Carlos’ life was because they knew he was a brother of José Bonifácio. (The revolution in Pernambuco was crushed by the Portuguese and lasted only 75 days.)

Antônio Carlos spent four years in prison for participating in that revolution. When José Bonifácio returned to Brazil at the end of 1819, his brother Antônio Carlos was still in prison in the province of Bahia.

2) José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (The Patriarch of Brazilian Independence)

He was the architect and solely responsible for the independence and unity of Brazil in 1822 as I described above.

3) Antonio Carlos and Martin Francisco rocked the boat once more in 1840

José Bonifácio had died from cancer in 1838. But the influence of the Andrada Family had not diminished and his brothers Antonio Carlos and Martin Francisco were the most important figures that forced the emancipation of Dom Pedro II to become the second Emperor of Brazil in 1840 – and Antonio Carlos became the new Prime Minister, and Martin Francisco became the Finance Minister for the second time.

4) Senator Vergueiro became one of the 3 regents in 1828

In a time of political crisis in Brazil Senator Vergueiro became one of the 3 regents in 1828 when D. Pedro I abdicated on behalf of his 5-year old son. And he requested to not be reappointed in 1832 as a regent, because he wanted to go back to manage his businesses.

Antonia Eufrosina Campos Vergueiro de Souza Queiroz, a daughter of Nicolau Pereira de Campos Vergueiro, a senator and regent, was my great great grandmother and she married the Barão de Souza Queiroz and had 13 children of which my great grandfather was the youngest.

Getúlio Vargas – Benevolent Dictator (Nov 1937 – Oct 1945)

In 1937 Getúlio Vargas became a dictator in Brazil – a benevolent dictator.

A new Constitution was adopted in 1937 and the period was characterized by a large intervention of the State; Vargas used his nearly unlimited powers to implement deep changes in Brazil.

Vargas created the DASP – Administrative Department of Public Service, to adapt the civil service to the new times; before DASP, a job in government depended on political indications (with deletery consequences to the quality of services provided); DASP was the beginning of professionalization of civil servants in Brazil.

Noticing that industrialization was changing labor relationships in the country, Vargas instituted the minimum wage in Brazil and passed a labor legislation which is enforced until today. Because of these acts, which benefited a mass of urban workers, Vargas is often referred to as the “Father of the Poor.”

He declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan, driven not so much by principles, but by financial reasons. And taking advantage of the fact that US and United Kingdom wanted to have Brazil as an ally during the World War II, Vargas negotiated funds for the installation of heavy industries in Brazil, such as the first steel mill of Brazil; Vargas also laid the basis for the creation of future petroleum and electricity national companies.

Examples of these efforts include the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (or CVRD, as the company was better known prior to 2007), a company that was founded in Itabira, Minas Gerais, as a public company by the Brazilian Federal Government on June 1, 1942. And later President Getúlio Vargas created the government-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, in the early 1950s.

The creation of a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer was planned during the 1940s by the Brazilian Government as part of a technical development formed by the General Command for Aerospace Technology (CTA), the Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA) and Embraer.

The first step in the creation of a Brazilian aircraft industry was the creation of IPD – Instituto de Pesquisas e Desenvolvimento (Research and Development Institute), current IAE – Instituto de Aeronáutica e Espaço (Aeronautics and Space Institute), which was born inside CTA, on January 1, 1954.

The Military Dictatorship Years (1964 – 1985)

In March 31, 1964, the Brazilian Army, then led by General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, seized power through a coup d’état, beginning the Military Dictatorship in Brazil, which lasted 21 years.

On July 29, 1969 the Ministry of Aeronautics created Embraer in Brazil. By this time, the company had about 500 employees, including many former engineers from both CTA and ITA.

In the 1970’s when the generals were in charge of the Brazilian economy – Brazil’s Ministry of Aeronautics planted the seeds and made major efforts to contribute to the development of the aerospace and defense industry including the growth of Embraer.

During the 1970’s the generals also planted the seeds in Brazil for Brazil’s future energy self-sufficiency and independence from foreign oil.

Brazil did not fix its energy problem based on free market solutions. If Brazil depended on the goodwill of free market players to fix its dependence on imported oil, then Brazil still would be a slave to that market like the United States is today. During the oil shock of the 1970’s Brazil imported about 90 percent of its oil needs in Brazil, and in 2010 Brazil is an oil exporting country.

Who had the foresight to fix that problem in Brazil?

The generals did – in the mid 1970’s when we had that major global oil crisis the Brazilian economy was hurt very badly – Brazil had a military dictatorship at that time, and the generals decided that Brazil was going to fix that energy problem and they put in place all the rules and regulations to help develop ethanol production on a large scale in Brazil. And Brazil was able to develop the ethanol industry and its distribution system based on sugar cane because of government planning and implementation of the plan.

As we can see by the above examples some of the best economic policies adopted by the Brazilian economy were adopted courtesy of periods of benevolent dictatorships in Brazil  – First, when a civilian politician such as Getúlio Vargas was the dictator in Brazil (from 1937 to 1945) and finally the period of 21 years of military dictatorship under a Brazilian Military Government (from March 1964 to March 1985).

Under the dictatorship of a civilian politician, and later under the dictatorship of the military important economic changes were adopted and implemented in Brazil that planted the seeds for long-term Brazilian economic prosperity.

Conclusion: It is time for a new Benevolent Dictatorship in Brazil

Brazil has been doing very well economically for the last 10 years, and the future of the Brazilian economy looks outstanding for decades to come. But what good does all that prosperity do for the Brazilian people when the quality of life is declining more and more, year after year, and most Brazilians are afraid of even leaving their homes because of widespread crime with criminal gangs that terrorize the population.

Today the criminals are better armed in Brazil than any local police department, and in many cases police corruption is making the problem even worse for the civilian population. Only the military is equipped today to clean up this widespread social mess and bring back social order and harmony in Brazil.

I am not suggesting that the military seized power of the government in Brazil for ideological, or political reasons, or because I don’t agree with economic system that we have in Brazil. I am suggesting that the military should seize power again in Brazil through a coup d’état, because we all know that this massive crime problem that is devastating the Brazilian population can’t be solved under a democratic system of government, and because of the actions that have to be taken to bring peace to all neighborhoods in Brazil. It is time for a benevolent military dictator to take power in Brazil and get the job done.
I am not in favor of a permanent dictatorship system in Brazil, but Brazilian history has shown us that after a period of time the Brazilian economy always benefits in a big way from a period under a benevolent dictator. And in 2010 the situation in Brazil is ripe for a new period under a military dictatorship, since Brazil has been engulfed for many years in a completely out of control massive crime wave with no end in sight.

Enough is enough – we need to take immediate action and bite the bullet and start implementing the hard choices that will be made by the new military government. The military government will have their hands full regarding their efforts to clean up the widespread crime wave, government corruption at all levels, and lawlessness in Brazil.

The military government after fixing these problems would place the Brazilian economy on a new path to future growth and prosperity to everyone, and also social peace and harmony inside Brazil.

It is time for a new General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco to rise to power in Brazil to put our house in order including the clean up of the massive crime wave in most cities, the criminal gangs and drug dealers who are completely out of control, and also fix the problem regarding the sem-terra, and sem-teto and stop the land invasion by these people against private property, and do something about the widespread corruption at all levels of government.

We need a general with high character, ethics, morality, an honest man with the highest level of integrity, but at the same time a very special leader who can get this job done – with a mandate to reinstate social order, and clean up the corruption in Brazil.

Today I don’t know the name of the potential military candidates in Brazil that could play the role of a new Castelo Branco, but based on recent Brazilian history there’s only one name that comes to mind: General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira.

I wonder if the Brazilian military forces would unite behind General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira in case of a new Brazilian military coup d’état, or if a new surprising military leader in Brazil would rise to the occasion.

Anyway, we have reached a point in Brazil that it is time for action to get the clean up job done, before Brazil can move forward into the next level, and become recognized as one of the elite countries of this new century.


You can read other articles by Ricardo C. Amaral at:
Brazzil magazine – Columnist: Ricardo C. Amaral

Ricardo C. Amaral is a writer and economist. He can be reached at


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