Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
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.
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 excesses of repression in the northeast (which brought about an investigation headed by General Geisel himself, on orders of then-President Castelo Branco), the "witch hunt" in the universities, the intervention in the state of Goias, and finally the wave of military disorder triggered by the results of the 1965 state elections, which culminated in the dissolution of political parties and the termination of the remaining civilian options the revolution counted on.
The main dynamic behind the events of this first stage (1964-68) was the deep antagonism between the forces forming the foundation of the new regime-primarily military but also civilian-and the top governing group, predominantly "liberal" in the Brazilian (or European) sense of the word; that is, stressing formal political freedoms, not-as in the United States-tending strongly to government economic action. Among the governing group the President, Marshal Castelo Branco, Justice Minister Milton Campos, Chief of the Civil Household Luiz Viana Filho, and Chief of the Military Household Ernesto Geisel, were all men committed to liberal thinking and convictions. The same can be said of the judicial and parliamentary leaders to whom Marshal Castelo went to pay his respects on the second day of his administration.
Moreover, although the revolution had been executed and consummated by the military, it was not carried out by them alone. The political dimensions of the movement, the careful preparation of public opinion, had been undertaken long before by a significant segment of the National Congress assembled around the former liberal-conservative UDN party, by some of the leading newspapers of the country, starting with O Estado de São Paulo, and by the governors of the main states of the Brazilian Federation: Carlos Lacerda from Guanabara, Adhemar de Barros from São Paulo, Magalhães Pinto from Minas Gerais, and Ildo Meneghetti from Rio Grande do Sul. That is why one can say (or recall) that March 31, 1964, was not just a military coup but the result of a broad movement, with the support and leadership of significant sectors of Brazilian society and, at the least, the passive neutrality of the great majority of the people, expressed in the reticent attitudes of the centrist PSD and even segments of the syndicalist-influenced PTB. When they fell, President João Goulart and his supporters were isolated and defeated men, not only in military but above all in political terms.
In the first months and years of the new regime, the military component of the revolutionary government could not ignore the weight of this large civilian political segment, which, although heterogeneous and frequently quarrelsome, shared a common interest in the preservation or reestablishment of the democratic-representative system. When Marshal Castelo was chosen President, not only was he the most respected army chieftain but he was regarded as "the most civilian of the military." The truth is that he, as well as his successor Costa e Silva, a man of the barracks, also did their utmost to preserve or reestablish the rule of law and died embittered and frustrated because of their failure to do so.
The force that brought the regime to the most extreme moment of repression, ushered in by the Fifth Institutional Act of December 13, 1968, was deeply rooted. It had been building up long before the inauguration of Marshal Castelo, and had an irresistible strength that came from what is usually called backlash: the desire for revenge, nourished by a mixture of fear and hatred. In April 1964, very few military and civilian leaders were aware how strong these sentiments were among the rightist radical groups (right-wing Catholics and extremist supporters of Governor Lacerda) and what soon would be known as the "young officer corps" of the armed forces.
During the previous regime, Goulart and his leftist followers had instigated and promoted not only every conceivable kind of strike and protest, which escalated wildly as a result of government support, but also organized insubordination and rebellion among the noncommissioned officers of the three armed forces. These episodes culminated in the "Rebellion of the Sergeants" at the garrisons in Brasília in September 1963, which took 48 hours to bring under control, and in the mutiny of the corporals and sailors in Rio de Janeiro in March 1964. The rebellion of the sergeants drove the majority of the officer corps-especially in the Air Force, previously a stronghold of Goulart supporters-to turn against the President. The mutiny of the sailors, six months later, impelled the military chiefs to act without further delay.
Once the government was overthrown, it soon became apparent that the long months of insubordination, strife and uncertainty within the barracks and military establishments had left hidden, but deep, marks on a sizable number of middle-grade officers, the ones who deal directly with the troops. These officers, concentrated in the large military garrisons, particularly at Vila Militar in Rio de Janeiro and at the bases in Recife, now refused to recognize any limits-political, legal or even moral-in their determination to "clean up" the country and hand out exemplary punishment even to those who had only remotely collaborated with the fallen administration.
In several instances the politicians, and even the military, used the young officers to attain higher positions for themselves or to get rid of their enemies. But the truth is that this state of mind of the officer corps and their relentless pressure upon the government turned out to be the main political factor of the first revolutionary stage; not even the considerable moral and intellectual ascendancy of Marshal Castelo over his fellow officers could contain and discipline it in its entirety.
During this period, a minimum standard of legality and discipline was maintained and, at the end of his administration, the President even succeeded in promulgating a new Constitution approved by Congress-the Charter of 1967; that is, he succeeded in imposing on reluctant civilians and the military a new juridical order that all of them pledged to support (but which in fact did not endure even 20 months). However, the "cassation" or stripping of many legal rights of politicians, such as former President Juscelino Kubitschek, the extent of the purge in the civil service and universities, the relentless repression of the leftists in the northeast, the sickening process of denunciation and accusation which would ultimately result in the federal intervention in Goias, the issuing of the Second Institutional Act which dissolved political parties at the end of 1965-all this resulted directly from the pressure exerted by the "young officers" and the frankly subversive action of extremist lacerdistas and other groups of radical rightist revolutionaries.
In March 1967, the second military President, Marshal Costa e Silva, took office in an atmosphere which could only be defined as a pax casteliana. In other words, the government and the country were to be guided by a constitutional norm, which held no appeal, on the one hand, for the majority of the citizenry who were already back to liberal normalcy, or on the other, to the military, among whom the wave of revolutionary dissatisfaction had receded to the barracks but was far from over. In the months that followed, this breach between the public and the so-called forces of order widened steadily. Former President Kubitschek was still the most popular politician in the country, and Governor Lacerda himself had gone to visit him in his exile as an expression of solidarity. The military were held responsible for the excesses of the repression from the previous period and were openly ridiculed for the exaggerations of the narrow-minded morality characteristic of such a regime.
Yet another cause of friction was economic. When Castelo Branco took over the presidency in 1964, the country was virtually at the brink of financial disaster, with an inflation rate approaching 100 percent a year; thus the government had been forced to adopt at the outset a program of severe austerity. This cleaned up the financial problem and put the economy on a firmer foundation, but also resulted at the end of three years in an appreciable erosion of the real value of wages and, more particularly, in a noticeable squeeze on the earnings of the civil servants-a traditionally large category, well protected by the politics of clientelism of the previous Brazilian regimes. In 1967-68, when the worst of the storm was over, and the threat of disorder that had hung over the nation during the tumultuous Goulart era was removed, these financial sacrifices appeared especially unnecessary and unbearable, particularly since the economy was beginning to resume the upward trend which had characterized it during the Kubitschek years and which would only return fully in 1970.
To a real degree these political, economic, social, and even psychological factors exacerbated the climate of systematic opposition and of natural irreverence in cities such as Rio de Janeiro. Leading newspapers such as the Correio da Manha, theatrical productions, humor magazines and popular songs condemned and satirized the prevailing state of affairs and its military guarantors. In this critical and delicate setting, the violent and recurring student demonstrations which characterized the year 1968 all over the world also took place in Brazil. Starting in May and June, demonstrations by students and civilians, together with police repression, often senseless and ineffectual, resulted in incidents of increasing gravity, spreading the climate of disorder and provoking friction among the Congress, the clergy, and the so-called forces of order.
If Brazil were a mature and stable democracy, its institutions would have weathered the storm, and the wave of unrest would have died down as happened in many other places. Actually, in those same months, the economic situation started to show signs of a recovery that would make possible reconciliation between public opinion and the government. However, in the prevailing climate of 1968, the crisis was solved by a brutal show of force. On December 13, the officers of the famous Vila Militar of Rio de Janeiro, backed by officers of other garrisons in the country, forced the government to issue a new Institutional Act, closing the Congress and suspending civil rights and guarantees. Concurrently, it also imposed severe press censorship and a wave of indiscriminate imprisonments, cassations and political purges. For the first time in Brazilian history, the country underwent a military coup without support or encouragement from any civilian political faction. The violence served to drive a significant number of militant students and militant Catholics into the arms of radical leftist groups of the Maoist or Guevarista style then in vogue.
The months that followed were perhaps the most somber in the political history of the country; a series of kidnappings and terrorists' attacks justified to many the build-up of a police state and the abolition of civil guarantees, at the same time increasing the importance of the organs of repression and security within the dominant military system. Adding it all up, the wave of terrorism actually tended to favor and accelerate the reconciliation between the military establishment and public opinion, inasmuch as, with the first kidnapping of an ambassador (which, by the way, was a Brazilian invention), it became clear that the great majority of the country repudiated the terrorists' acts and was strongly inclined to support the authorities who fought them.
Even the terrible excesses perpetrated within the context of suppressing terrorism had a contradictory political effect. On the one hand, they hindered eventual attempts to return to legality and contributed to the tightening of censorship, but, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the most brutal and shocking cases-although withheld from the majority of the public-elicited strong counterreaction within the military establishment itself. As early as 1970, the top governing group was convinced that it could not allow the indefinite continuation of a state of affairs that abetted the perpetration of such crimes under the umbrella of the power of the armed forces. This conviction resulted before long in the dismissal of the Air Force Minister and his ranking commanders.
Under the government of General Emilio Medici (1970-74) a climate of national reconciliation emerged, which was strengthened and consolidated by an external situation extremely favorable to the economic growth of the country, with a decrease in inflation and a series of sports triumphs which the people associated with the General-President. Although Medici was a strong believer in tight restrictions on public freedoms, and a convinced immobilist in politics, he was to become a respected and even popular President.
Right here one might perhaps point to the crossroad that has led the Brazilian regime to its present course. The very success of the Medici administration sowed among some of his main followers the temptation to institutionalize the regime, that is, to convert the authoritarian situation, so well-defined in the study made by Juan Linz,1 into a permanent authoritarian regime. These civilian and military supporters of the President, under the leadership of Justice Minister Alfredo Buzaid, were men from a right-wing background, deriving from Integralismo, a party in Brazil in the 1930s that mirrored European fascism and Salazarismo and left numerous, albeit isolated, sympathizers in many areas of the national life.
Through speeches and statements delivered in 1971-72, this group tried to impose on the dominant system and on the country as a whole an anti-liberal and anti-democratic doctrine as a foundation for the institutionalization they desired. Reaction from the very few independent voices left in the Brazilian press, as well as the vehement opposition of the Bar Association and prominent judges, was not long in coming. The collapse of the rightist conspiracy after a few months was brought about, however, primarily by an evolution within the military establishment itself.
The determination of the political line to be taken by the regime was, in fact, unavoidably tied to the question of presidential succession, that is, to the future of the dominant military system in power. The first option of the rightists was continuismo; its main asset was the success and popularity of the President. Very early on, however, it became quite clear that the head of the government himself would not accept this alternative. The attitude of General Medici and the sound understanding he always shared with his War Minister, Orlando Geisel, an old comrade and an outstanding military leader, were the decisive factors in the course events ultimately took. In appointing his successor, President Medici was not just choosing the general commonly held to be the most qualified and most capable among the military. He was, in the name of the Army and the dominant system, actually exercising a momentous political option and setting the direction that would prevail in the months to follow.
By the selection of General Ernesto Geisel, former head of the Military Household under President Castelo Branco, and by his eventual inauguration in March 1974, the military movement of March 31, 1964-ten years after it was unleashed-effected a maneuver that could well be defined as a return to its origins; that is to castelismo, to the mentality, the methods and the principles which characterized Marshal Castelo and are today best represented by President Geisel himself and by General Reynaldo Melo de Almeida, present commander of the First Army, based in Rio de Janeiro. Thus, the process by which Geisel emerged as the official nominee in 1972-73 could not have been more significant. The Army and the dominant system were turning to a leader capable of moving the regime from the deadlock it found itself in, and of opening the way toward democratic normalcy at the very moment when the opposite way, that is, the choice of a person who would only preserve and consolidate the status quo, might have appeared considerably easier and far less risky.
In effect, between December 1968 and the middle of 1972, the state of mind of the officer corps had undergone considerable change. Gone were the frustration, insecurity and feeling of rejection vis-à-vis an openly hostile and rebellious citizenry that had led to the coup of December 13, 1968 and the ensuing repression. The restoration of order, the quick crushing of terrorism (frequently by unspeakable means) and the economic boom brought about a reconciliation of the authorities and the people, reversing, so to speak, the previous picture. What seemed to be lacking, in spite of the popularity enjoyed by Medici and the acceptance of his administration by sizable segments of the population, was the reestablishment of civil liberties and the rule of law, characteristic of what are generally thought of as civilized societies.
In spite of tight press censorship, there is no doubt that the pressure, both at home and abroad, by the more enlightened sectors of public opinion played a very important role in the process. But the truth is that it cannot be said that the balance of political forces imposed this new opening up of the political process, or abertura, on the regime or that the chorus of voices clamoring for freedom could not have been ignored. (Parliamentary elections from which the official opposition party, MDB, would emerge with a very strong showing against the government party, Arena, would only take place in November 1974; this was eight months after President Geisel initiated the abertura.) In 1971-72, with the exception of O Estado and a few isolated voices, the vast majority of the Brazilian press viewed quite favorably the rightist thesis espoused by those who intended to institutionalize the authoritarian regime.
In fact, as we have noted, the change of course took place within the military establishment, and came about through factors inherent to it. Among them, one could single out the authority of Minister Orlando Geisel; disgust caused by the excesses characteristic of a police state, which was being supported by the Army's prestige and power; and finally, the receptiveness of influential sectors of the Brazilian armed forces to more democratic arguments and ideas.
At this stage, many American readers must be thinking what an unfortunate country it is, in which the state of mind prevailing in the barracks determines the political course and the very fate of its institutions. Perhaps so. The fact is, however, that we count in our defence some significant extenuating circumstances. The first is that we live in exceptional times, marked by the profound social and political instability characteristic of initial (or perhaps intermediate) phases of the process of economic development. In France, for instance, a stage similar to ours could be found in the period of Napoleon III and Thiers, not to mention what took place in England and Germany at the start of their respective industrial revolutions. The second extenuating circumstance is even more to the point. The role of the military establishment throughout the history of Brazil cannot be compared to its role in Anglo-Saxon countries. The military institution in Brazil has always been a full-fledged branch of the national political elite and has participated, together with the civilians and the clergy, in the political decision-making process.
During the Empire, in the nineteenth century, it was the Army that pacified and unified the country, which was just emerging from the clashes and strife which marked the birth of the independent nation. The inauguration of the Republic, at the end of the century, was also marked by the decisive participation of the military. Later on, the Revolution of 1930, which paved the way for the development of modern Brazil, became known as the "Revolution of the Lieutenants." By the end of World War II, after they overthrew the dictator Vargas whom they had supported for eight years, the military had evolved into a "moderating" power serving the civilian governments but at the same time remaining above them, often taking a tutelary position that occasionally even included overthrowing them.
In his excellent book on the Brazilian military, Alfred Stepan points out how this tutelage of the civilian government by the armed forces establishment until 1964 not only was implicitly accepted but even at times expressly requested by the civilian political currents of the country, including the most liberal.2 The first dogma of this "moderating power"-a term which derives from the power of the former Emperor over the Parliament and political parties-is that the military establishment cannot be divided; it acts only when a sufficiently strong consensus has been reached within its ranks. Indeed, if the military are divided, they lose their position as political arbiter and become participants in an armed revolution, as in 1930; in a civil war, which we have never had; or in an abortive coup, as in August 1961.3
Obviously, the Brazilians have few reasons to be proud of this kind of unwritten juridical norm, but nonetheless it remains one of the pillars of the great contract of the body politic. Indeed, if the military are the holders of the moderating power, it is not because they are wiser or more patriotic citizens than the others (as some of them, at times, seem to believe) but simply because they are the armed force. Faced with a united military, it is wiser and more prudent for the unarmed civilians to abide by their decisions than to challenge them.
Here again, two other considerations are important. The first is that the moderating power was not imposed on the country by the military but was accepted and requested by certain currents within important groups in the civilian society. In other words, if we have an arbiter it is because we could not do without one; Brazilian society does not find itself mature enough to compose, as civilians, its most serious differences. We ousted the Emperor in 1889, but we did not free ourselves of the need for a father figure, an indigenous Jupiter hovering over the factions and capable of settling our worst quarrels. On the other hand, the military, like any other citizens, are susceptible to the same winds that sweep public opinion in general and thus are hardly likely to arrive at a strong consensus which has not previously been arrived at by the key sectors of civilian society. This explains, at least partially, the relative ease with which their decisions are accepted and assimilated. Ambassador Carlos Alfredo Bernardes used to say that the only Latin American contribution to the international political lexicon is the word junta. However, the fact is that one cannot confuse Brazilian military interventions with the armed coups common to most of the continent that, as a rule, express the thirst for power of a military caudillo or some other strong man. In the 152 years that Brazil has been independent it has never experienced a single coup of this kind.
This history perhaps illuminates the cause of the most serious of our present difficulties. In 1964, when the military overthrew João Goulart, they did it not only for political reasons but also, indeed especially, for specifically military reasons. The government had instigated and sponsored insubordination and rebellion in the barracks-that is, they had attempted to destroy the very fabric of the military institution. Once the government had fallen, and contrary to what had been done on previous occasions, the military were moved to take the reins of power, especially the repressive mechanism, into their own hands, even if they shared the formal government with the liberal currents which had participated in the revolution, particularly the National Democratic Union, the second largest party in the country.
Marshal Castelo and his colleagues never admitted this state of affairs as anything but exceptional, destined to last only as long as strictly necessary and to be followed by the withdrawal of the military to their traditional role of a "moderating" power, leaving the government in the hands of their civilian allies. Nevertheless, as I have already mentioned, the desire of the young officer corps to go "to the very end"-although none of the officers could precisely say what that "end" would be-prevailed.
Between 1964 and 1968, pressure from the military base, often manipulated by interest groups, led to the successive political purges of, or at the very least the neutralization of, all civilian forces, allied or not. After the coup of December 13, 1968, the only ones to remain in the government, besides the military, were the technocrats. For months, real political power was directly in the hands of the military leaders, not only military ministers but also the Army commanders and the heads of the different security departments, all of whom had almost complete autonomy within their respective jurisdictions.
In October of the following year, in a meeting of the High Command of the Army specifically called for the purpose, General Emilio Medici, then commander of the Third Army, was chosen President of the Republic. Although, at the insistence of the General, the National Congress was reopened especially to ratify his appointment, all political power remained concentrated in his hands; he governed in strict accordance with the military and security departments and with no participation of civilian sectors or groups. It can be said that in administrative matters Medici gave free rein to his technocrats, but even they had to periodically account for their plans and activities to the War College-a sort of Central Committee for the regime-frequently in secret session.
On coming, therefore, "to the very end," to the complete military dictatorship, the military were left with two choices: either to stay put or to find a way to pull back. The third possible situation-wherein the military would be forced to take an active role in defending the status quo against an indignant and unreconciled civilian society-never materialized. Once the already weakened terrorist groups were destroyed, to widespread relief, and all possible leftist opposition was confined to the students and the intellectual sector, the country generally seemed to accept the state of affairs with passivity and even, starting in the middle of 1970, with a growing sense of enthusiasm. The only groups outside the far Left refusing to join in were the oldest and most respected bastions of liberalism (once again, in the European, not the American, sense of the word). However, the decision of the military to pull back, which crystallized at the time they decided upon the presidential candidacy of Ernesto Geisel in 1973, was not easy, nor clear, nor even unanimous. Even now, it encounters doubts and resistance that are far from negligible and that may, at any time, be unexpectedly aggravated.
As we have indicated, there is no doubt that the influence of democratic opinion, at home and abroad, carried weight, especially since a number of men who believe in civil rights are always to be found among the military leaders and ranking members of the regime. But the decision of the military was not forced or imposed upon them by Brazilian civilian society. On the contrary, what actually happened was an evolution of tendencies within the military establishment itself that took place for predominantly military reasons.
In the first place, what led the more lucid and enlightened leaders of the Army to take a firm stand in favor of the abertura was the question of presidential succession. In a military regime the succession struggle is by necessity a military matter which tends to lead to unrest in the barracks and may end up by dividing the Army; yet the unity of the military establishment is the basis of its power and authority and, moreover, a requisite for the order and tranquillity of the country itself.
In 1965-66, only the selflessness and persistence of Marshal Castelo prevented the matter of choosing his successor from turning into a serious military crisis. In 1969, before the High Command could meet to make their decision, the question of who should succeed Marshal Costa e Silva had already unleashed many factions among the officer corps in the garrisons throughout the country. Again, in 1972-73, were it not for the well-known good sense of General Medici and the exceptional authority of Minister Orlando Geisel, the decision arrived at might not have been made without strife. As it was, the generals deemed it necessary to reestablish previous censorship of O Estado and forbid any public mention of the presidential succession until they had decided among themselves who the next President would be. Even the most liberal of the military leaders stated that free debate over the succession was impossible because it would inflame the barracks and end up by strongly dividing the armed forces.
The second reason for the military leaders to opt for the democratic abertura is akin to the first. A military regime, no matter how good its intentions, is always, or always tends to be, a closed regime. And in closed regimes it is impossible to avoid the dependence of the government on the so-called intelligence department as well as the practice of serious abuses which, if exposed to public scrutiny, might result in the collapse of the entire structure of the regime. The Brazilian experiment comes to prove, once again, an old truth. Without complete freedom of investigation and criticism of official acts, no regime-no matter how well-intentioned-can escape the vices of corruption and abuse of power. High credit must be given to many of our military for having themselves found intolerable the excesses of repression perpetrated under their own umbrella, even though the worst of those excesses, protected by the censorship, were never widely known and thus the reputation of the armed forces as well as of the government was never seriously compromised.
The groping and fragile political abertura we witness in Brazil is primarily a military initiative, backed by the remaining liberal currents. However, the conservative entrepreneurial class (quite pleased with the absence of strikes, the institution of wage controls and the exemplary social discipline of recent years) views it with some reservations as do the leftist intellectual and student sectors. Although the latter would indeed welcome a respite in the repressive pressures, they are more enthusiastic about Peruvian-style nationalism, albeit dictatorial and militarist, or the radicalism of the Portuguese armed forces movement (MFA), than about an abertura which will simply allow the interplay of liberal political and economic forces.
Thus the civilian political support that President Geisel can depend on is, to say the least, quite precarious. The representative political picture-composed of the two existing parties, the government-sponsored Arena and the official opposition MDB-is still without doubt poorer and weaker than what we had in April 1964 or even November 1968, in spite of the shot in the arm that the parliamentary elections of last November represented. We will have to wait for the emergence of new talents and leadership; the existing ones do not measure up to those who have left the scene because of age or cassation.
Within the military establishment there are also difficulties. The support for authoritarian tendencies-chiefly by simple souls for whom discipline and hierarchy, the bases of military organization, should also constitute the foundations of civilian society-will continue to be sizable. In addition, the security organs, so important during the fight against the terrorists, are reluctant to relinquish the power and prerogatives they have achieved. For them, the abertura and normalization represent loss of privileges and the risk of irritating investigations. For these reasons, this might well be the area where President Geisel will find the most delicate obstacles to overcome.
Still to be examined are the probable political consequences of the socioeconomic picture. Brazil is a developing country. Its development is characterized by a rapid process of urbanization and industrialization with massive dislocation of whole segments of the population from rural areas to the large metropolises, still unprepared to receive them. During phases of rapid economic growth, the general availability of jobs and the intense horizontal and vertical mobility of workers minimize social trauma. That is what took place in the second half of the 1950s, under Kubitschek, and again in 1970, under Medici. It is not surprising that these two governments have become symbols of popularity, success and largesse for Brazilians.
Wisely, the population esteems Medici and Kubitschek not so much for their administrative capacity, which is difficult enough for most people to evaluate, but for their "lucky star," a kind of gift for attracting wealth and happiness to the country. However, the two phases were actually determined less by internal policies than by highly favorable external circumstances. Kubitschek and Medici (along with his Finance Minister Delfim) took advantage of them but did not prepare the country for what lay ahead.
When the rate of economic expansion drops, the social trauma inherent in development becomes especially sensitive and acute. This is particularly so when the general expectations and the influx of workers to the large cities, stimulated by the preceding expansion, go on even after the job market begins to slow down. This might well be the phase we are undergoing now.
The Brazilian historical experience, however, shows that socioeconomic problems become politically volatile only when they affect key sectors of the middle class. Between 1961 and 1964, the decreasing rate of expansion (which even resulted in an absolute decline in per capita income in 1963), the bad harvests, the disordered strikes, and galloping inflation affected society from top to bottom. In 1966-67, likewise, in its phase of incipient economic revival, the austerity policy of the government had for a time severely affected such categories as urban labor, and such middle-sector groups as civil servants, teachers, bank employees and journalists, the declining purchasing power of the middle groups even causing the beginning of a recession in the auto industry and other industrial sectors. These difficulties were-for the middle-sector groups-corrected or absorbed in the following years; but the fact is that in political terms Costa e Silva's government paid dearly for them.
Since his ascent to power in March of last year, President Ernesto Geisel and his Finance Minister, Mario Simonsen, have tried to replace the statistical juggling of the last months of the previous administration with a more accurate picture of the economic reality, i.e., that the inflation rate was significantly higher than reported. Even though this has resulted in more generous wage readjustments, it has not contributed to improving the popular image of the government. People dislike bitter truth.
In any event, it seems clear that the President is determined to stimulate the domestic market and improve the workers' share of the national income. In turn, the discovery of new and possibly rich offshore oil deposits has contributed to restoring a mood of relative optimism. Actually, the Brazilian state is today in command of considerable resources, allowing the government to face austerity phases, such as the one immediately ahead of us, without alienating the support or at least the goodwill of the decisive political sectors of the middle class. It is to be hoped that President Geisel and Finance Minister Simonsen-a brilliant technician still lacking the needed political stature for his post-find the right answers, especially now that they have a freer press which can mirror more accurately the wishes of the people. Thus Brazil is now taking its first steps in what appears to be a delicate and long convalescence period that, at best, will return it to a civilian regime under the protection and tutelage-the moderating power-of the military.
In the decisive military area, all that can be said is that there are still recalcitrant and delicate obstacles to be overcome and that these obstacles may very well become insurmountable if the general picture is altered.
As to politics, the convalescence is probably going to progress, if it does at all, in spite of very few favorable conditions. Sizable opposition forces are not the important factor here, but rather, that after 11 years of a military regime, the political field is leveled ground. We have no parties worthy of that name and even less party leadership. We have no autonomous labor unions or trade associations. The state governors, appointed by the President, do not represent their states, nor do they speak for themselves. And the less said about most of the senators and representatives the better.
We will have to start again, if we are effectively to start at all, from scratch. And our new politicians, good or bad, will only gain substance, will only understand their tasks, if we allow them to take full command of that share of power that is their due as the people's choice. We will have to see. In these circumstances, who would bet on the success of the present political abertura? No one. Only, perhaps, those incorrigible optimists, the Brazilians.
2 Alfred Stepan, The Military and Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.
3 On the basis and operating mechanism of this "moderating power" of the military, see also Fernando Pedreira, Marco 31, Civis e Militares no Processo da Revolucao Brasieira, Rio de Janeiro: José Alvaro, 1964.