Courtesy Reuters

Decompression in Brazil?

In recent weeks, a growing number of Brazilians are leaning toward the belief that the political regime of the country has finally made it round its Cape of Good Hope. Actually, since the middle of 1974, Brasília has appeared to be sailing on relatively smooth waters toward the reestablishment of the rule of law. Virtually no one questions the sincerity of purpose of President Ernesto Geisel-the fourth General-President since 1964, now completing his first year in office-and many are beginning to believe he will be successful in a task in which his predecessors met with painful failure.

What is happening? What kind of political miracle is this, which causes a bureaucratic-military state, consolidated and strong, successful in economic and administrative terms, to deliberately relinquish its hegemonic position and spur passive and resigned civilian elites to resume at least part of the role they should be entitled to in an open and free society?

At first glance, no significant change is detectable either in the balance of forces within the country or in the state of mind of the population in general, as it existed before and after the inauguration of General Geisel in March of last year. The tendencies at work on the Brazilian political scene-and which may be on the verge of producing startling results-apparently stem from farther back and run deep.

II

The Brazilian military regime is now in its eleventh year. This "brief period" is already longer than the Vargas dictatorship (1937-1945) or the military interregnum which took place after the fall of the Empire at the end of the nineteenth century. It should be pointed out, however, that these 11 years of military rule have not been entirely homogeneous. It might even be possible to divide the most significant aspects of the regime into two distinct stages: one from April 1964 to December 1968; and the other from December 1968 to-one would hope-the Geisel administration.

The first stage was tumultuous and contradictory, dazzling even, although marked by somber episodes such as the

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