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From Moderator to Director, 1930-85

There is a debate over whether the military appropriated the moderating power during the Old Republic (1889-1930). Many historians emphasize the moderating role as early as 1889, with the argument that the army claimed the emperor's moderating power, which had allowed him to intervene in and resolve political conflicts. Some argue that the military did not assume a moderating role until after 1930, primarily during the 1937-45 period of the quasi-fascist New State (Estado Novo) of Getúlio Vargas (president, 1930-45, 1951-54). According to the revisionist view, the army in 1889 did not intend to play a moderating role. However, after the collapse of the army in 1930 and its subsequent rebuilding, the military accepted the ideology of the poder moderador . The debate is important because the revisionist view suggests a more grudging acceptance by the military of the moderating role.

According to political scientist Alfred C. Stepan, the military played a moderating role in civil-military relations during the coups of 1930, 1945, 1954, and 1964; during the abortive intervention of 1961; and in 1953, when the minister of war, General Henrique Teixeira Lott, guaranteed President Juscelino Kubitschek's inauguration as the democratically elected president (1956-61) on January 31, 1956. The pro-Kubitschek faction within the military was actually the largest and most influential. The military viewed itself as "the people in uniform" (o povo fardado ), inextricably a part of the political system. Civilians, in turn, generally accepted the military's moderating function as legitimate.

In the 1930 coup, military officers of a reformist bent supported Vargas after he declared the previous elections fraudulent and assumed the presidency. As the army reorganized itself, discipline was shaky. During the decade, there were sixteen barracks revolts and seventy-two other instances of agitation, conspiracy, and protest. Between 1931 and 1938, at least 624 officers and 1,875 soldiers were expelled from the army. Thus, one of the principal reasons for General Góes Monteiro and General Eurico Gaspar Dutra's support of the dictatorial Estado Novo in November 1937 was to reestablish control and discipline in the army. Whereas the turmoil of the 1890s had ended in the "politics of the governors," that of the 1930s ended in the imposition of Brazil's first long-lived authoritarian regime (1937-45).

Ironically, the second coup in 1945 was against Vargas. The military moved to intervene a third time in 1954, again to remove Vargas from office, an action that led to his suicide. In its fourth intervention, in 1955, an anti-Kubitschek faction of the military, defeated by the larger pro-Kubitschek military faction led by General Lott, failed to stop Kubitschek from assuming the presidency. In the fifth intervention, in 1961, three military ministers were unable to block João Goulart (president, 1961-64) from succeeding Jânio Quadros (president, January-August 1961). The sixth intervention came on March 31, 1964, when the military overthrew left-of-center Goulart. By that action, the military shifted from the moderator model of civil-military relations to direct military government.

The 1964 military coup was clearly different from that of the previous five military interventions. For the first time in the twentieth century, the Brazilian military assumed political power. As Stepan has noted, the military became the director and not the moderator of politics. Instead of maintaining the status quo, the military sought to transform the system. That transformation required a new professionalism (profissionalismo novo ) for the military, which had no experience in long-term governing. The major vehicle for that new role was the War College (Escola Superior de Guerra--ESG). Emphasizing internal security and national development, the ESG is an advanced training program for senior officers and civilians.

Political scientist David V. Fleischer, referring to the security and development ideology of the military regime from 1964 to 1985, points out the continuity in the evolution of civil-military relations that can be traced to the nineteenth-century positivism of the military activists who founded the republic under the slogan of "Order and Progress." This continuity extends, Fleischer notes, through the growing economic nationalism in the 1930s and the Estado Novo to the Kubitschek era. In the latter era, autonomous development became a priority to ensure national security.

From 1964 to 1985, the military dominated the presidency. The army imposed its candidates for president and governor, and a docile Congress or an electoral college approved them. These candidates included Humberto Castelo Branco (president, 1964-67), Artur da Costa e Silva (president, 1967-69), Emílio Garrastazú Médici (president, 1969-74), Ernesto Geisel (president, 1974-79), and João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (president, 1979-85). Both Médici and Figueiredo were former intelligence chiefs.

The military based its original plan of government on a moderate degree of civilian support and complete military unity. With time, military government exacerbated factionalism within the military. That division centered on adherents to and dissenters from the ESG ideology. The pro-ESG members of the military, the so-called Sorbonnists, were politically moderate and wanted to maintain democratic forms and institutions. They aided in returning the presidency to civilian government. Presidents Castelo Branco and Geisel best represented this faction. In contrast, the hard-liners within the military favored suspension of democratic processes and were more nationalistic. They argued against a high degree of foreign political and economic dependence in attaining the goals of security and development. The hard-liners were hesitant to return political power to civilians. Presidents Costa e Silva and Médici best represented this faction within the military.

The Internal Security Mission, 1964-85

A central feature of military government during the 1964-85 period was tension between external and internal defense roles. After World War II, an internal orientation became respectable as a result of the bipolar division of the world into Soviet and Western camps, the peacekeeping procedures of the Organization of American States (OAS; see Glossary), and the study programs of the ESG and the Army General Staff School (Escola de Comando de Estado-Maior do Exército--ECEME). In the 1950s, the ESG expanded on the doctrines of the French Military Mission (1919-39) and the Joint Brazil-United States Defense Commission (1942-77), which emphasized the need for officers to study elements of the society and economy that contributed to socioeconomic and political stability. The ESG's military-civilian student body studied inflation, banking reform, agrarian reform, voting systems, transportation, and education, as well as counterinsurgency. Because of the interlocking of the ESG and ECEME, by the mid-1960s the ESG's doctrines were mirrored in the ECEME's and thus had been extended to the officer corps as a whole.

As Brazil's crisis deepened in the early 1960s, the military perceived the country as entering an era of subversive warfare. Military officers had studied this type of unconventional warfare in ECEME courses on internal security and irregular warfare. The ECEME played a key role in convincing officers to support the movement of 1964. In the months prior to March 1964, the staff and student officers distributed newsletters throughout the army, arguing the necessity of intervention. They had come to believe that internal security and rational economic development would occur only if various aspects of the economic and political structure were altered. They also believed that the civilian leaders were unwilling or unable to make the required changes.

For a military organization, mission and identity are tightly intertwined. It can therefore be argued that in seeking to clarify its mission, the Brazilian military was attempting to resolve its identity. Military analyst Edmundo Campos Coelho saw the military in the post-World War II era as suffering from a severe identity crisis. In his view, this crisis had its origin in the identity crisis of the Brazilian state, which lacked a focal institution that everyone could accept as the "incorporation of national authority."

In 1963 and early 1964, there was widespread acceptance in the officer corps of the need to act against the Goulart government. However, there was less of a consensus for maintaining military control once a stable government was established. Even though the hard-liners were able to impose authoritarian rule, an underlying sense of malaise followed. The military's organizational structure, field training, and weapon systems were geared for use against conventional forces or, to a lesser extent, guerrilla forces. Although the military was not structured to govern the country, military institutions adapted themselves to their assignments after 1964 (and especially after 1968). Nevertheless, many officers were ill at ease in their police-like internal security roles, and officers reacted angrily when names such as milicia (militia) were applied to them.

A power struggle in late 1965 and early 1966 led to the defeat of the Castelo Branco faction at the hands of the hard-line officers clustered around Minister of Army Arthur da Costa e Silva. It represented a victory for those who favored defining the military's mission as primarily one of internal security. In effect, this struggle may have produced two competing ideas of military professionalism: Stepan's "new professionalism" of internal security versus the other that sees the essence of the military profession as one in which troops are trained and equipped to fight foreign conventional forces as the essence of their profession. Some officers questioned the legitimacy of the internal security activities of their colleagues, even though they may have acknowledged the need for such activities. These officers regarded troop commands and normal staff assignments as being more "military" than internal security assignments.

The officer corps has split in a variety of ways over the years. After the rise of Geisel, if not before, some officers worried that a high level of political involvement was bad and distracted the corps from its main responsibility of protecting the country against foreign enemies. They argued in favor of a narrow definition of the military's mission, limiting it to external defense. They argued further that to mount a secure external defense, internal support and cohesion were necessary. Officers could not be seen imposing an unpopular government one day and appealing to the population's patriotism the next. Those who had long argued this way were nearly jubilant in pointing to the disastrous results of the failed Argentine invasion of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands in 1982.

Officers whose hands were tainted during the Military Republic (1964-85) were fearful of reprisals once civilian government returned. In August 1979, Congress approved Figueiredo's proposal for amnesty, for both the agents of repression and those who took up arms against the regime. The amnesty facilitated the military's return to the barracks but did not resolve the moral or legal issues involved. With the return of full democracy in 1985, the victims began seeking redress in the courts, while some officers with tarnished reputations were coming up for promotion to general. Many active and retired officers who were not involved directly in repression or torture tended to defend colleagues who were. The cleavages that the repression caused within the military and between the military and society have posed major problems for the army.

The hard-liners usually are very nationalistic and argue for stronger stances in foreign policy, for stronger controls over multinationals, and especially for stronger positions against the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF--see Glossary). On October 7, 1987, a group of retired hard-line generals and their civilian allies formed the Brazilian Association for the Defense of Democracy (Associação Brasileira de Defesa da Democracia--ABDD). The ABDD argued for a new military intervention "if the politicians did not turn back the chaos." The ABDD and similar groups, although populated by disgruntled retirees, have virtually no political influence.

The military has an elaborate ideology of nationalism and development, much of which has been incorporated into the thinking of civilian opinion makers and politicians. Essentially, this ideology holds that Brazil can be, and should be, a great power. The military sees its primary function as contributing to that objective.

Data as of April 1997

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