Exactly fifty years ago last month then-President Jânio Quadros resigned, throwing Brazil into one of the most profound institutional crises in our history. Vice-President João Goulart was in China on an official visit in the epoch when international travel was difficult and slow.
At that time the President of the Republic was elected separately from the Vice-President, and João Goulart belonged to another political party with proposals completely different from those of Jânio’s party and program.
The instability caused the military leaders to break with the constitution. Refusing to accept the ultimatum to go into exile, João Goulart decided to return and confront all the risks.
It was then that one of the loveliest pages in the history of Brazilian civic mobilization occurred: the Campanha da Legalidade, the legality campaign led by Leonel Brizola. This was undertaken through a precarious radio network, called the Rede da Legalidade, to mobilize the country.
The Grito da Legalidade, the shout for legality, won. João Goulart assumed the presidency, although he submitted to the adoption of Parliamentarianism, which substantially reduced his presidential powers.
But the Campanha da Legalidade was interrupted. It not only aimed to seat the constitutionally elected politician, but also to carry out, under the constitution, the reforms for which the country had yearned for centuries.
The ethical and technical reform of the governmental machine to eliminate the corruption and make the state efficient. The agrarian reform that was necessary: economically, to permit the use of land productively; and socially, to overcome the misery in which the majority of the rural population lived.
The banking reform, seeking to place the financial system in the service of the productive economy and of the population, removing it from the speculation to which it was dedicated.
The reform that would lead to the eradication of illiteracy. The reform of elementary/secondary education permitting the placement of all Brazilian children into quality schools. And the reform of higher education, which was imprisoned by bachelor degree holders isolated from the productive sector and with no innovative capacity.
A reform that would instigate the creation of an efficient public healthcare system and the elimination of the waiting lines, bringing the same quality treatment to all.
The reform that would bring about Brazil’s transformation into an industrialized country.
Since then, some of these issues have lost their timeliness from the political point of view. But the Legalidade was not completed. It neither abolished the corruption nor created the political reform that we need. The number of illiterate Brazilians is greater today than it was fifty years ago.
Worse than the illegality is the immorality: A person lives or dies depending upon his or her access to healthcare services; a Brazilian develops his or her intellectual potential in accord with that individual’s access to the educational services.
Agriculture replaced the unproductive plantations through the efficiency of agribusiness, but the economy is still based upon commodity exports.
Our quality healthcare and education continue today, fifty years later, with access limited to the few able to pay. Education is restricted to the mere 40% who complete their secondary education and, of these, fewer than half receive an education that satisfies the demands of today’s world. University education, although substantially increasing the number of students enrolled, has been incapable of meeting the demands of the present world.
Partly as a consequence of this educational backwardness, our industry, despite its very positive advance in these fifty years, has neither achieved the leap forward demanded by the 21st century, nor left behind traditional products in favor of the goods and services of advanced scientific and technological innovation.
The Legalidade struggle must continue so we can construct the Brazil that we desire. A country without corruption or misery, one with an efficient state and decent politics; with the same education assured to any Brazilian child, independently of his or her family income; with the guarantee that all Brazilians will have the same quality healthcare services; with an economy capable of innovation and adaption to these new times in which knowledge is the capital.
Today the Campanha da Legalidade is conducted through the social networks, with demonstrations against the politicians’ corrupt behavior and the corruption in the priorities of the policies that divert resources from projects meant for the people and for the country to projects that instead benefit the already-privileged minority.
The Legalidade remained incomplete and is, therefore, still necessary. This is the reason motivating young people to take to the streets in protest fifty years after it was initiated in Rio Grande do Sul by Leonel Brizola.
Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM in Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New translations of his works of fiction The Subterranean Gods and Astricia are now available on Amazon.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).