The Brazilian Military Regime - or, as it's known in Portuguese, Regime Militar Brasileiro or Ditadura MilitarTranslation was the period of time which Brazil was governed by an authoritarian military dictatorship from April 1, 1964 to March 15, 1985. It was one of many others that took place all over in Latin America during the Cold War, as part of the US-backed Operation Condor, a campaign of political repression to hunt down Marxists, Communists, leftists or any enemies of the right-wing rulers of these countries and of the United States by toppling democratically-elected leaders to replace them with US-loyal puppet dictatorships. Brazil's dictatorship served as a role model to others in the continent that followed during The '70s, such as the National Reorganization Process in Argentina. Much like its neighbor, this regime is often regarded as one of the darkest periods in Brazilian history, if not the darkest, characterized by stifling freedom of speech and press, political persecution, banishing of countless individuals, and numerous human rights violations, such as torture, arbitrary trials, and disappearances.
It wasn't the first time that the military had taken control of the government: the Brazilian Empire became a Republic in the first place after the Armed Forces gained enough prestige and power following the War of the Triple Alliance. The first President of Brazil being Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca ousted Pedro II in a practically bloodless coup in 1889, since the Emperor gave up the crown without a fight as he was too tired to rule, had no male heirs and regarded this as his opportunity to retire. Even though he had no will to resist, Pedro II was still a beloved figure in his country and many didn't want to see him go, but the newly-established Republic would make sure to repress any rebellious monarchist movements, and was basically a military dictatorship for its first decade.
PreludeBack in the 1960s, Jânio Quadros had been officially elected the 22nd President of Brazil in a landslide victory in the elections of 1960 - in no small part because Quadros' opponent, Henrique Lott, was a public relations disaster who greatly alienated his supporters with blunt and offensive comments. However, back then, instead of a presidential candidate choosing their vice-president running mate during their campaign, the population voted in the vice-president seperately from the president, which easily created the scenario of a President and a Vice-President being of opposite or even inimical parties. This is what happened in '61, as although Quadros was elected president, the elected vice-president was João Goulart, who was Lott's running mate, and therefore a rival of Quadros, as Goulart was a firm left-wing politician while Quadros was a right-winger.
However, that problem was nowhere near as bad as Quadros' actual policies - the man was known for being a complete loon, intentionally avoiding fulfilling his duties, scapegoating his problems on the previous president Juscelino Kubitschek, but perhaps most relevantly for the time period, mistakenly believing he could play both giants for his own benefit. He actively pandered to both the United States and the Eastern Bloc, but drew a lot of ire from the capitalist conservative groups in Brazil for the latter, as it often involved directly dealing with Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union itself, and going as far as to granting Brazil's highest medal for foreigners to Che Guevara. Accusations of communism sympathy were rampant, and Quadros' approval rapidly declined.
However, on August 25, 1961, after having sent Goulart overseas for an impromptu diplomatic meeting with China, Quadros surprised many by unexpectedly resigning from his presidency, blaming "terrible occult forces". Many agree that Quadros had done so in an attempt to pull a self-coup much like Getúlio Vargas had done decades ago, expecting the population and the military to overwhelmingly beg him to reassume presidency over their fears of Goulart's left-wing policies.note Needless to say, that didn't happen. Instead, the government accepted his resignation, which created a serious political crisis as the military and Brazilian elites were convinced that Goulart's proposals to reduce adult illiteracy and implant basic land reforms that had long been done in the United States were communism incarnate, and that he was single-handedly planning to turn Brazil into Cuba 2: Electric Boogaloo. As fearful of communism in the Americas as ever, the US government agreed with them.
The CoupOn April 1st, 1964, after nearly three years of intense political tension, and subtle under-the-hood political manipulation of the situation from the United States, the Brazilian military led by Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco threw a coup that ousted Goulart from presidency. As Goulart fled to exile in neighbouring Uruguay (and died ten years later in Argentina), at first the idea was to have Castello Branco in charge for a while and then new elections would be called soon trivia and Castello Branco himself was chosen to lead the coup because of his great track record which made he seems as the one least likely to result in a totally destroyed democracy among the putschists. However, as you can imagine, it was not everyone who was worried about clinging onto even a little piece of democratic beliefs, enter the hardliners, a faction of the Brazilian military who can have its origins traced back to certain positivist officers all the way back from late Imperial times who like their cold war counterparts, believed that civilian rule was stupid and the army was the only institution who could properly run the country and since now they were confronted with a chance of finally achieving this plan, they rallied under the leadership of General Costa e Silvanote and realized a soft coup. Now with Castello Branco out of the scene and Costa e Silva in charge, a military junta was officially established, adopting a hardline anticommunist, ultranationalistic stance that sought to reform the political-economic system that saw a new Constitution being made, all political parties being abolished, civilians and citizens being prevented from being elected and all elections being indirect. There were only two parties after the coup: the National Renewal Alliance, known as ARENA (the Regime's party); and the Brazilian Democratic Movement, known as the MDB (the controlled opposition party) trivia . This was done to avoid being seen as an autocratic dictatorship like the one implemented by Getúlio Vargas in the '30s and give the illusion Brazil was still a working democracy by allowing more than one party (even if the alternative held no power). However this did not change what it was: a totalitarian Banana Republic established to the loud cheers of rich corporate owners and the middle class - and the panic of students, Marxists, poor workers, and left-leaning Brazilians.
For much of the '60s, protests from urban areas took place all over the country, primarily among college students, Catholic clergynote , Marxists, workers, and anyone else who opposed the dictatorship. However, the military was ruthless in repressing all resistance without mercy. People were taken from their homes, never to be seen again, or were found dead under "accidental" circumstances or claimed they committed suicide in unlikely manners (like suicide by gunshot... using a machine gun, or by hanging... even if their knees touched the ground). Those who were not killed were made to suffer through intense torture, usually by hanging for hours in the painful Pau de Arara (macaw's perch) position, in agonizing muscle pain. The junta also quickly took control of the media to censor anything they deemed objectionable. One example of this would be the movie From Russia with Love whose title was changed in Brazil to Moscow vs. 007 because the original title sounded too sympathetic to communism and it was changed to something more antagonistic.
Due to its fervently nationalistic nature, they used the media to force the people to love their country at any costs; the most well-known slogan used by the government was Brasil: Ame-o ou deixe-o (Brazil: Love it or leave it). It was very common for any artists, intellectuals and celebrities that were not in line with the Regime to be banished from Brazil in order to avoid being tortured, killed or disappeared. By the 70s, several other Latin American countries had also joined Brazil in becoming dictatorships, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Chile thanks to the aforementioned Operation Condor, resulting in a death toll of 60,000 across the continent.
DownfallWhile Brazil prospered economically in the beginning of the '70s (at the expense of the workers), the so-called "Economic Miracle" wouldn't last as the oil crisis would interrupt their growth, and social pressure started rising. Demands from the middle class for greater freedoms, the end of censorship, and the inflation control would destabilize the country for much of the decade. It was in 1976 under Ernesto Geisel that the process to reorganize the country and return it under control of the people would begin, albeit very slowly. It wasn't until his successor João Figueireido that these changes started to pick up steam, as political opponents were now granted amnesty, and the ARENA was dissolved in order to allow the creation of other political parties.note The political movement Diretas Já - Direct (Elections) Now - showed that the army could no longer ignore that the people were sick and tired of having them in power.
With the Soviet Union now severely weakened by the '80s and with no enemy left to fight, the Regime had no other purpose left and it finally came to an end in 1985, when Tancredo Neves was indirectly elected the first President of post-dictatorship Brazil via a pre-selected electoral collegenote , but he died before he could take office due to health complications. As such, his Vice-President José Sarney took up his position. It wouldn't be until 1990 when a democratically-elected President would run the country, with Fernando Collor de Mello... who quickly turned out to be a destructive character in his own way. And as for the military men responsible for the atrocities of the regime? All of them were immediately granted amnesty and complete immunity from prosecution for their crimes.
Legacy and the Present DayThe Regime was, for a large part of post-1985 Brazil, considered a very touchy subject for Brazilians. Many famous people today lived in fear or suffered under its heel, such as former president Dilma Rousseff, who herself was brutally tortured for opposing it. Many are also angry at how none of the people who commanded the dictatorship and committed acts of torture were tried for their crimes. However, throughout the 2010s, increasing cases of corruption and the civic government being more interested in lining up their pockets with money have given birth to a very prevalent resentment toward the new democracy, as many Brazilians found themselves losing faith in democratic values. Nostalgia for the Military Regime has always existed even as far back as in the late '80s, especially in fringe far-right groups who saw it as a Necessary Evil or an outright good thing, but when combined with the recent distaste for the democracy, nostalgia for the military dictatorship has become commonplace in 2017 and 2018. On the flip-side, many younger Brazilians hold favorable views of the dictatorship as they didn't witness and experience the hardships of older generations under the regime.
What is often overlooked is how the Brazilian regime had key differences from other Latin American regimes that allowed it to save face. Whereas other regimes dissolved democratic institutions and consolidated power among a single dictator, Brazil's regime maintained the political bodies while also regularly changing its presidential leadership, thereby creating the illusion of a democratic society. Likewise, the reported death count under the Brazil's regime was lower than that of others, meaning that the average Brazilian is less likely to witness or experience the regime's brutality. Furthermore, while other juntas collapsed because of economic depressions and military defeats, Brazil's didn't experience such a calamity and was able to peaceful transition to democracy. Subsequently, while most Latin American dictatorships were discredited and disavowed, Brazil's didn't experience the same fate.
A politician who capitalized on this sentiment is retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro, who ran for president during the 2018 Brazilian elections. Bolsonaro has held extreme pro-dictatorship views since the 1990s, often calling for the mass murder of politicians and advocating for torture during interviews with him (to put things into perspective, these are some of the least outrageous things he has said). But whereas he was always viewed as an extremist loon through the 1990s, 2000s and the early 2010s, his ideas were widely embraced near the end of the decade, with him achieving 46% of the valid votes in the first round alone.note Bolsonaro, alongside his running mate Hamilton Mourão (a retired general who also is a major supporter of the military dictatorship and torture advocate), was elected as the president of Brazil, to the shock and worry of not just the Brazilian left, but also causing concerns among human rights activists, environmentalists and LGBTQ communities worldwide, as Bolsonaro has largely been appointing other military men for positions of high power and prestige, most of whom are vocal opponents of human rights and regularly challenge climate change as "a communist plot to destroy world borders".
Though Bolsonaro has relatively diminished his rhetoric's aggressiveness since his election and has promised to govern following the democratic constitution committed to make a "government for everyone" and "upholding free speech", his promises are still met with skepticism from many on the left, who noted how the then-president made a habit of appointing military officers with extreme far-right views to positions of political power. While fears of a possible return to military dictatorship were completely understandable and even justified, those fears lessened after Bolsonaro's defeat in the 2022 presidential election, with a coup attempt instead coming from a group of fanatical Bolsonaro supporters who stormed the National Congress and vandalized it thoroughly while calling for a military intervention, only to be swiftly shut down by federal security forces, including some participation of the armynote , who then went about the business of mass arrests of those known or suspected of involvement.
While the fears of a military takeover were more or less allayed following the 2022 election, they also prove that nostalgia for the military dictatorship years is still an active political force that can be exploited, even some 40 years after the return of civilian government.
List of Presidents during the Regime
- Humberto Castello Branco (1964-1967)
- Artur da Costa e Silva (1967-1969)note
- Aurélio de Lira Tavares, Augusto Rademakar, Márcio de Souza Melo (1969)note
- Emilio Médici (1969-1974)
- Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979)
- João Figueiredo (1979-1985)
See Brazilians with Bazookas for the Brazilian Armed Forces.
Works featuring the Regime include:
- Batismo de Sangue: An adaptation from an biographical novel of the same name about a group of Dominican priests that team up to resist the regime.
- O Homem da Capa Preta: A movie inspired by real-life politician Tenório Cavalcantti who lived during the Regime and initially backed it, until he decided to turn against it.
- Jorel's Brother: The regime is occasionally parodied in the cartoon, with the analogous to the Military in the show being literal clowns who installed a dictatorship and made the world be in black and white during the same period in History. Jorel's broter's father even was a revolutionary (only as an actor) against the clowns in his youth.