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date: 22 April 2018

The Brazilian Military Regime, 1964–1985

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.

Since the implementation of the Brazilian Republic in 1889, its history has been shaped by the political role of the armed forces, particularly the army. From 1964 to 1985, the Brazilian military was in direct command of the state, appointing generals as presidents through indirect elections. After overthrowing the center-left reformist government of João Goulart, on March 31, 1964, the military imposed an authoritarian regime of tutelage of the political party system and of civil society, which served as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.

The military imposed arbitrary laws and cracked down on leftist political groups and social movements. They sought to boost capitalist development and “national integration” within the vast area of Brazilian territory, modernizing industry and updating the nation’s infrastructure. However, the military encountered strong opposition from civil society, which was led by political groups and the press, as well as intellectuals and artists from different ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided over whether to refuse to negotiate with the military or to take a critical stance in relation to the policies of the military governments, resulting in complex social relationships.

Social actors and contemporary politicians continue to vie for ownership of society’s memories of the period, making it necessary to combine historical research with historiographical criticism for understanding the role of the military regime in the nation’s history.