Brazil: A President's Story

The Brazilian presidential inauguration falls on March 15. In 1985, our country awaited that date with unusual anticipation, for it represented the end of 20 long years of authoritarianism. The original justification for military rule had been to correct the imperfect realization of democratic values, not to displace them. As it turned out, a vast difference separated the reality expressed in words and the raw experience of history.

Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco, the first of the five generals to govern Brazil during those decades, warned his hard-line critics, "It is easy to start a revolution; the hard part is leaving it behind."

The Brazilian people have always tended toward patriotic complacency. For decades, Brazil believed that the country’s destiny was to be crisis-free. "The future belongs to Brazil" was the motto that inspired our confidence. "God is Brazilian" and "Nobody can hold Brazil back" were common sayings that fueled the hopes for a great future.

Suddenly, caught up in the worldwide oil crisis of the mid-1970s, Brazil came to understand that it was no different from any other nation. The Brazilian miracle was floundering; the future we had hoped for never arrived. If God were indeed a Brazilian, we suspected that He must have been vacationing on the day of the 1982 World Cup finals. We lost to Italy.

From tremendous self-confidence we plummeted to something close to despair. A political crisis, a social crisis, an economic crisis, a moral crisis. Unemployment, urban violence, a colossal foreign debt, an extremely serious social situation with alarming indices of absolute poverty. We entered the worst recession in our history. Our financial reserves dwindled to nothing; in New York and London our checks were not accepted. Our production decreased, and a policy of salary cuts convulsed the country. We witnessed the beginnings of gang warfare in the cities and guerrilla activity in the countryside. No one could see the way out.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis