In 1863 and 1864, historical and political contradictions in the River Plate region led to civil war in Uruguay, creating tensions with neighboring nations in the region. The Brazilian government intervened both politically and militarily in Uruguay to address the interests of ranchers in its province of Rio Grande do Sul, to distract the attention of the Brazilian citizens from domestic problems, and to preserve the political influence of the Empire of Brazil on Uruguay. This action by the Empire clashed with the new Paraguayan policy of political interference in the River Plate region and resulted in the declaration of war against Brazil by Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López. This conflict broadened into the Paraguayan War.
Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.
The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state.
Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
João Roberto Martins Filho
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The coup that took place in Brazil on March 31, 1964, can be understood as a typical cold war event. Supported by civilian forces, the action was carried out by the armed forces. Its origins hark back to the failed military revolt, headed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), in November of 1935, stirring up strong anti-communist sentiments. The Estado Novo coup, which occurred two years later, was supported by the Army (War) and Navy ministers. It marked the beginnings of the dictatorial phase of Vargas, who had been in power since 1930.
At the end of the Second World War, officials who had taken part in the struggle against Nazism in Italy returned to Brazil and overthrew the dictatorial Vargas, who nonetheless returned to power through the 1950 presidential elections. In 1954, under pressure from right-wing military forces, he committed suicide, thereby frustrating existing plans for another coup d'état. The Higher War School (ESG), created in 1949, had become both the birthplace of the ideology of National Security and stage where the French doctrine of guerre révolutionnaire was welcomed. During the 1950s, the military field came to be divided into pro-American and nationalist factions.
The alliance between the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD), which had elected Vargas earlier, now allowed for Juscelino Kubitschek's victory in the 1955 elections, disappointing the conservatives of the National Democratic Union (UDN) and its military allies. The latter encountered brief encouragement when the 1960 presidential election put Jânio Quadros at the head of the executive. In August of 1961, when Quadros resigned, his military ministers tried to use force to keep vice president Goulart from taking office. The coup was frustrated by the resistance of the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Yet the Goulart administration was marked by instability, in the midst of intense social struggles and by sharp economic crisis. The outcome of this drama began to take shape as of March 1963, when the government took a leftwards turn. The March 13 popular demonstration served as an alert and the March 25 sailors’ revolt, as the match in the powder barrel. On March 31, military forces carried out the infamous coup. The Goulart administration collapsed. Social movements were left waiting for orders to resist, which never came.
Wilma Peres Costa
The effort of searching the effects of the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay on the building up of Brazilian national identity challenges the historian with a paradox: why the military victory promotes the fall of the political regime instead of strengthening it. The article tries to deal with some dimensions of this paradox underlining the distinctive characteristics of this war in the ongoing warmongering in the Platine region—the huge numbers of conscripted soldiers (“the Total War”), the hybrid political character of the alliance (Brazilian monarchy and Argentinian Republic), the opposition of most of the conservative classes, and the unveiling of slavery as a strategic weakness for the country—are some of the themes treated in order to explain how the empire lost both the battle of worldwide moral support and the battle of legitimacy inside the country. The massive recruitment coming from all parts of the country could bring the empowerment of ordinary people in the postwar decades, but the monarchical elites took careful steps to ensure that these sectors were quickly demobilized and also not to receive medals and other military honors. The postwar era was one of unfolding of an endemic crisis leading to contest of monarchical institutions. They came from military sectors, but also from regional elites, besides bitter criticism from middle-class intellectuals. Racial arguments filled an outstanding part in this period, leading to the giving prestige of “scientific” racism and the negative diagnosis for the future of a modern nation founded in a racially mixed society.