Brazil is so democratic 50 years after coup that mainstream politicians were all against the dictators
For about two decades, Brazil has become, by far, the most democratic country in Latin America. We have elected mayors since the eighties, presidents since the early nineties, set up a functioning Judiciary and promoted an active press, which is free to publish whatever it likes. Different parties have held the Presidency and the institutional order, despite a few hiccups, has been reinforced. The military now is back in their headquarters and have no influence on politics.
On March 31st 1964, a movement started by conservatives and a few liberals overthrew the popular administration of center-left president João Goulart. He fled to Uruguay allegedly to avoid bloodshed. That situation is so unlikely now in this country of 200,000,000 people that only 1,000 nutcases cared enough to go to the streets to demand the military came back to power. Condoning with the dictatorship, which lasted till 1985, is seen by the vast majority as approval to torture, unlawful arrests and killings.
(Not that Brazilians are so progressive. Most of them are basically social-conservatives. But they just prefer to carry on instead of going back. That is part of our spirit as a modern nation — sometimes that is for the better, sometimes for the worse.)
Unlike other countries of the region, Brazil hasn’t revoked its amnesty laws for crimes committed during the dictatorship years (1964-1985). The Commission of Truth, installed in 2011, doesn’t have any powers to prosecute any crimes committed by military in those years — it exists basically for Brazilians to know what happened and who did what. The main reason for it to be so fickle is military personnel rejected the premise only they killed and tortured.
It is a sure thing only they did it on behalf of the State, though.
Instead, little by little, Brazilians have given the treatment fans of the dictatorship deserved: they have close to nothing when it comes to elected officials. A few senators, some congressmen, a chunk of City Hall councilors. That is it. No presidents, no governors, no mayor of important cities can get away with “I supported them in those days because it was for the best.” When people like that become candidates for executive mandates, they get less than 5% of the vote every time.
(This Human Development Index below shows why the dictatorship was also bad for the economy. Read more here.)
Brazil could have done more against those who kidnapped the country for 21 years. Some of those committed crimes against humanity. Others have stolen money freely, since press couldn’t go after them. Brazilians just let it slide, which shows a bit of our lack of character to deal with violence — we recognize it exists, but we can’t stand having a proper debate on it.
Instead of a big national debate, we decided to elect three presidents who were in the front lines of that combat. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a scholar who presided from 1995 to 2002, had to be exiled in Chile and then in Europe. His writings and eloquent speeches pissed the regime off — especially because they were in French, English and Spanish.
As an union leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva started a strike that shook the final years of the dictatorship, in the late seventies. He was arrested, followed and harassed constantly because of his role as a working class leader. Lula was then a man that was close to the average Brazilian. By demanding higher pay, he challenged the notion Brazil was in an “economic miracle.”
A former guerrilla, President Dilma Rousseff wasn’t a well-known leader then, but she got the worse treatment. Unlawfully arrested, tortured and imprisoned for three years, she had not only to endure, but also to see fellow inmates be killed or sexually abused. She, Lula and Cardoso might have their disagreements now, but they were mostly on the same side.
In the presidential elections of next October, Rousseff is going to face off with two grandchildren of important allies of those days. Opposition’s Aecio Neves was a secretary when his grandfather Tancredo was about to take the Presidency, in 1985. That man was one of the key politicians to end the dictatorship, since he was seen as moderate by the military.
In mysterious circumstances, Tancredo died before setting foot in the office as the first civilian to do so in 21 years. José Sarney, a key ally of the dictatorship, was put there instead. Although Sarney is still a key senator, his stake in power is much smaller now.
Former minister and opposition wannabe Eduardo Campos is the grandson of Miguel Arraes, a leftist leader that was exiled by the dictatorship due to his charge for land reform. The other candidates in the presidential election are likely to matter very little or nothing at all. Since democracy came back to Brazil, only Fernando Collor (1990-1992) was allies with the dictators.
He is also the only one to be impeached…
Fifty years after the coup, Brazil might not address old grievances and sorrows. But it is definitely moving forward without the terrible legacy of those days.