Courtesy Reuters

Misconceptions of Brazil

When some foreign observers of Latin American affairs see the recent Brazilian crisis as a conflict between "feudals" and "reactionaries" on one side and "liberals" and "far-seeing leaders" on the other, a Brazilian may be inclined to think that they fail to understand that Brazil is a nation somewhat apart from neighboring Spanish American Republics. They insist on thinking of the Brazilian armed forces as if they were of the conventional Spanish American type and of Brazilian military leaders as if they were potential military dictators, eager for the first opportunity to enjoy the delights of absolute power. They write of a country which is going through a rapid-indeed, too rapid-process of industrialization and urbanization as if it were still dominated by feudal agrarian barons. Hence their use and abuse of expressions like "feudal," "reactionary," "caudillismo" in regard to modern Brazil.

It would be idiotic to deny that there are "feudal" survivals In Brazil or that there are "reactionaries" among Brazilians, just as there are some who are prominent in the United States, in France and even in Britain. Or, indeed, in Soviet Russia. But in present-day Brazil, as elsewhere, certain realities are so dynamic as to be far above conventional divisions between left and right, liberals and reactionaries. The conflict is too complicated to be described by such cliches. And it would entirely misinterpret the role of the armed forces in this as in previous conflicts in Brazilian life to call it "militaristic" or "rightist." For the political history of Brazil is almost as free of militarism, as well as of clericalism, as the history of the United States. There have been three or four Presidents of the Republic who were military leaders; but with only one exception they were not militaristic caudillos of the well-known Central American type, and one was so dominantly civilian in his behavior as to be a model in this regard. More than once the Brazilian Army has played-and may play again-the role of a

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