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BRAZIL

Development for Whom?

With an area of more than 3 million square miles, Brazil occupies nearly
half of South America. Land ranges from the semiarid northeast, plagued
by recurrent droughts, to the rich forests and fertile plateaus of the cen-
ter and the south. The country abounds in natural resources, including
iron and other industrial minerals, and it has long been regarded as a po-
tential world power. Perhaps because of this anticipation, Brazilians tend
to have an optimistic, ebullient outlook on life. One saying sums it up:
“God is a Brazilian.”

Brazil’s relatively nonviolent acquisition of independence from Portugal
in 1822 left the country with an auspicious start. The lack of large-scale
conflict meant that physical and economic destruction was minimal, espe-
cially in comparison to the devastation wrought in the Río de la Plata re-
gion, in Venezuela, and in central Mexico. Nor did Brazil have to cope
with the problems of demobilizing a massive military apparatus in the post-
war period. And most important, the transition of the Portuguese monar-
chy to Brazil provided a coherent political structure endowed with the au-
thority of time-tested tradition. There were struggles, to be sure, but Brazil
did not face the same kind of instability that other Latin Americans faced
at the outset of independence.

The economy was mainly agricultural, and sugar was by far the largest
commercial crop. By 1822 the population included about 4 million in-
habitants, roughly half of whom were slaves of African birth or descent.
The social order consisted principally of two tiers, the landowning aristo-
crats and the labor-producing slaves, a dichotomy that would come to be
aptly and sympathetically described by Gilberto Freyre in his classic book,
The Masters and the Slaves. There were some merchants and lawyers and
other professionals, mainly in the cities and especially in Rio de Janeiro,
but society was dominated by the forces of the countryside.

Dom Pedro I (1822–1831)

In nineteenth-century Brazil, many basic social issues were bound up with
the fate of the crown. Most obvious was the consolidation of Brazil’s in-

139

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dependence. Related issues involved the centralization or decentralization
of authority and executive versus legislative power. These questions had to
be faced immediately after independence because both the elite and the
emperor wanted to write a Brazilian constitution.

Dom Pedro I had become the first emperor of a newly independent
Brazil in 1822, when the Brazilian aristocracy forced a break with Portu-
gal. A year earlier Pedro’s father, Dom João VI, had left Brazil to resume
the throne in Portugal, but only after advising his son to remain in Brazil
(to which the royal family had become very attached), even if it meant cre-
ating a separate monarchy. Dom Pedro I called for a constituent assembly,
and the resulting elections in 1823 revealed several political divisions. Most
basic was the split between the Brazilian Party and the Portuguese Party,
the latter consisting of those who had opposed Brazilian independence
and wanted to resubordinate Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon. Its leaders were pri-
marily Portuguese born, mostly military officers, bureaucrats, and mer-
chants. The Brazilian Party was led by José Bonifácio Andrada e Silva, a
São Paulo landowner who was the leading spokesman for Brazilian liber-
alism and the leading minister of Dom Pedro’s government.

Despite majority support in the assembly, José Bonifácio’s cabinet had
to resign after three months because the emperor continually endorsed
the Portuguese Party’s protest over the government’s anti-Portuguese mea-
sures. Heated polemics continued and street fights broke out, as an
extremist faction of the Brazilian Party called for decentralized rule and
piled abuse on the crown. Amid the furious debate the emperor simply
dissolved the assembly in November 1824. Shortly thereafter he unilater-
ally decreed a constitution for Brazil. It included many features from a
draft prepared by Antonio Carlos Andrada e Silva, José Bonifácio’s brother,
but reserved greater powers for the Poder Moderador (the “Moderating
Power”), which was to be the monarch himself. Most important was the
power to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and to appoint and dismiss
ministers. Citizen voting was tied to a high minimum-property test, thereby
severely limiting public participation in an imperial government that was
to be highly centralized. Ironically, this unilaterally decreed constitution
included passages from France’s 1789 Declaration of Human Rights.

The story of this constitution demonstrated several things about the new
nation of Brazil: (1) the monarch had seemingly preserved his absolutist
initiative by dissolving the elected assembly and imposing his own consti-
tution; but (2) the constitution, while favoring the crown in the division
of powers, was more liberal than absolutist, more akin to the contempo-
rary English parliamentary system than to the French; and (3) the com-
mitment to human rights, however qualified by the real intentions of Dom
Pedro and his loyalist advisers, thenceforth became a lodestar in Brazilian
history, an ideal to which libertarians and reformers would continuously
repair. The struggle over the new country’s political structure had ended
ambiguously: a liberal charter imposed by an emperor who was thereby es-
tablishing limits on all future governments.

Modern Latin America140

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The absolutist aspects of events in Rio stirred concern in the Northeast,
the region that had proved most receptive to the liberal ideas of abolition,
federalism, and republicanism. Back in 1817 republican conspirators in
Pernambuco province had stubbornly resisted the discipline of Rio. Dom
Pedro’s imposition of the constitution in 1824 provoked a new rebellion,
which dramatized the key issues at the heart of Brazilian politics for the
rest of the empire.

The Pernambucans declared their independence anew. After gaining
the support of other northeastern provinces, the rebels called for their own
constituent assembly. The movement split apart on the slavery issue, how-
ever, as one leader shocked his colleagues by calling for an end to the slave
trade. Most of the rebel organizers feared a mobilization of the lower or-
ders, and not without reason. Discontent of marginal free persons, many
of color, was threatening to turn the anti-Portuguese, anticentralist agita-
tion into a social revolution.

The rebels’ internal divisions in Pernambuco came as the military pres-
sure from outside was growing. The emperor had hired English and French
ships and mercenaries, and they taught the insurgents a bloody political
lesson. Most of the rebel leaders were executed. There were limits to the
range of permissible social protest in Brazil.

Rio’s domination came only with British help, and that aid had its
price. Having secured a favored foothold in the Brazilian economy since
1810, Britain now found itself underwriting the transition to Brazilian
independence.

Britain could help consolidate the newly independent Rio government
by facilitating diplomatic recognition from the world’s principal powers.
That goal was achieved by a series of 1825 agreements that Britain nego-
tiated with Portugal and Brazil. They provided that the Portuguese king,
now Dom João VI, was to recognize Brazil as a separate kingdom; that
British exports to Brazil would continue to receive a preferential tariff rate;
and, not least important, that Brazil would pay Portugal an indemnifica-
tion of 2 million pounds sterling for damages suffered in the struggle for
independence. (This was exactly the debt that Portugal owed to Britain;
the negotiators kept this provision secret.)

The following year, 1826, Britain got from Brazil a treaty commitment
to end the slave trade by 1830. The British wanted this commitment be-
cause they feared that slave-produced sugar from Brazil would prove
cheaper in the world market than sugar from the British West Indies,
where slavery had recently been abolished. Another reason was the pres-
sure on the British government from British abolitionists. The new Brazil-
ian government, with little enthusiasm and less genuine commitment,
gave the British the clause they demanded. Further concessions to the
British were made in an 1827 trade treaty which put Brazilian exports
to England at a disadvantage with exports from British colonies. Much
of the Brazilian elite saw the concessions as excessive and only explica-
ble by Dom Pedro’s apparent desire to retain British goodwill toward

Brazil: Development for Whom? 141

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Portugal, which desperately needed continued British economic help.
Criticism would have been even more strident if the 2-million-pound pay-
ment had been made public.

In the end, Dom Pedro’s loyalty to Portugal proved his undoing in Brazil.
His new constitution had not ended the struggle over the division of gov-
ernmental powers. In 1826 the emperor became the target of new attacks,
from the “moderates” wanting more power for the legislature and revisions
in the treaties with Britain, to the “extremists” demanding autonomy for
the provinces. The emperor’s critics dominated the expanding press with
their drumfire of invective.

In this same period Dom Pedro suffered a serious reverse in foreign pol-
icy. What is modern-day Uruguay had been annexed to Portuguese Amer-
ica in 1821 as the “Cisplatine Province.” But in 1825 local guerillas seized
power and proclaimed union with the United Provinces of the Río de la
Plata (present-day Argentina). The resulting war between Brazil and the
United Provinces ended in 1828 with a treaty that created an independent
state, Uruguay. The British, again intermediaries in arranging the treaty,
hoped for a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil. This setback to
Brazilian ambitions in the Río de la Plata soon faded in significance when
compared to the quagmire of the Portuguese royal succession into which
Dom Pedro had been drawn since 1826.

When Dom João VI died, in 1826, Dom Pedro, his legal successor, had
become increasingly absorbed in trying to protect his daughter’s succes-
sion rights in Portugal. That made him less able to deal with the aggres-
sively antiabsolutist political forces in Brazil. He found his position in-
creasingly untenable, as his opponents mobilized street crowds to protest
his preference for an absolutist ministry. On April 7, 1831, Dom Pedro I
abdicated, departing the land whose independence he had helped to se-
cure less than a decade earlier.

Dom Pedro’s abdication was a victory for the Brazilian Party and a de-
feat for the beleaguered absolutists. It also created a power vacuum be-
cause the emperor’s son, later to become Dom Pedro II, was only five
years old. His father had left him behind in order to maintain the Bra-
ganza family’s claim to the Brazilian throne. Who would exercise power
in his name? Would the huge and thinly settled lands of this former
colony hold together? Or would Portuguese America follow the exam-
ple of Spanish America, which immediately fissured into the patchwork
of nations we see today?

For nine years after Dom Pedro I’s abdication, a regency exercised ex-
ecutive power. In 1834 the constitution was amended (by the “Additional
Act”) to give increased powers to the provinces, partly in response to sep-
aratist sentiments. The most violent separatist movement was in the
province of Pará in the Amazon valley; the most dangerous, because of its
location in a province bordering Argentina, was the Guerra dos Farrapos in
Rio Grande do Sul.

Modern Latin America142

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Dom Pedro II (1840–1889)

Dom Pedro II’s accession to the throne in 1840 unified the divided elite.
Brazil had survived the separatist challenges and halted the drift toward
social revolution. The emperor assumed the wide powers (the “Moderat-
ing Power”) in the 1824 constitution. The young emperor and the poli-
ticians now settled into an era of relatively harmonious parliamentary
politics.

The two decades after midcentury were the golden years of the empire.
Executive power was exercised by the emperor and his ministry, the latter
dependent upon retaining the confidence of the lower house. Yet the leg-
islature’s ultimate power was more apparent than real, because the em-
peror could dissolve the Chamber at will, thereby necessitating new elec-
tions. Until the late 1860s, however, Dom Pedro II exercised his power
discreetly, and the system seemed to function well.

By 1850 two distinctive political parties had emerged—both owing their
origin to the Brazilian Party of the 1820s. The parties were Conservative and
Liberal, although historians have long cautioned against taking these labels
too seriously. In 1853 the two parties collaborated to form a “conciliation cab-
inet,” which held power, except for the 1858–62 interval, until 1868.

The empire’s most important test in foreign policy came in the Río de
la Plata basin, the site of a long-time rivalry among Paraguay, Uruguay, Ar-
gentina, and Brazil. The Brazilian government became alarmed over the
strength and intentions of Juan Manuel de Rosas, the autocratic ruler of
Argentina, who was claiming the right to control all traffic on the Río de
la Plata. This was a grave threat to Brazil, since the economics of its south-
ern provinces relied heavily on access to the Plata basin river system.

At the same time Brazil was being drawn into a dangerous political bat-
tle in Uruguay, where Brazilians had gained a financial and commercial
foothold. Brazilian troops were sent into domestic Uruguayan battles on
the side of the “Colorado” faction, which prevailed. The Brazilians then
turned to face Rosas. They were encouraged by the French and British,
who chafed over the tough terms Rosas had imposed for economic access
to Argentina. The anti-Argentine coalition prevailed. Foreign troops, as-
sisted by Argentine rebels (the latter representing the soon-to-be dominant
liberals), defeated the Rosas forces in 1852, sending Rosas to a permanent
exile in England.

But even with Brazilian support the Colorados lost control in Uruguay.
Since the victorious Blancos could no longer look to Rosas for help, they
turned to Francisco Solano López, the dictator of Paraguay. Argentina, now
controlled by the liberals, joined Brazil in support of the Colorados in
Uruguay. Solano López wanted to expand his rule by allying with the
Uruguayan Blancos to conquer the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do
Sul. He invaded both Argentina and Brazil in 1865, pushing them and the
Colorado government of Uruguay into a military alliance.

Brazil: Development for Whom? 143

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The ensuing war lasted five years. The Paraguayan army proved to be
well trained, superbly disciplined, and extraordinarily brave. The Brazil-
ians bore the brunt of the fighting on the other side. At first they suffered
humiliating reverses, but then triumphed after greatly expanding their
army.

The Paraguayan War had important consequences: (1) access to the Río
de la Plata river network was guaranteed; (2) the two major powers, Ar-
gentina and Brazil, cemented close relations; (3) Brazil consolidated its po-
sition in Uruguay; and (4) Paraguay was left with half (it is thought) of its
population dead and the country in ruins.

The war also had a profound effect on politics within Brazil. It forced
Brazil to enlarge its army, whose officers soon became important actors in
Brazilian politics. It had also provoked the emperor into unprecedented
steps in asserting his authority. Pedro II demanded Paraguay’s uncondi-
tional surrender, while the Liberals, who held a majority in Chamber,
wanted by 1868 to negotiate. He dismissed the Liberal cabinet, which had
strong majority support in the chamber, and called for new elections. Some
radical Liberals reacted angrily by forming a splinter group that in 1870
became the Republican Party. And the war threw a new light on slavery.
The slaves recruited for the Brazilian army performed well in battle and
were given their freedom in compensation. Their combat effectiveness
must have given pause to the white officers who were later called on to
hunt down fugitive Brazilian slaves.

The End of the Empire

The final two decades of the empire were dominated by debate over the
legitimacy of two institutions: slavery and the monarchy. Both came under
scrutiny during the Paraguayan War.

Although the slave trade effectively ended in 1850, slavery was by no
means dead twenty years later. The rapidly growing coffee plantations de-
manded labor, and the planters turned to an obvious source: slaves from
the economically decadent Northeast. Even if every slave in the Northeast
had moved south they could not have furnished the labor needed in the
coffee economy of the late 1880s.

The only solution, according to the coffee planters, was increased im-
migration. In 1886 the province of São Paulo launched a major effort to
attract European immigrants to Brazil, but the paulistas found themselves
unable to attract the amount of cheap labor they needed. Why? Partly be-
cause of the persistence of slavery. This led some of the elite to become
abolitionist on the pragmatic grounds that immigrants could never be re-
cruited unless Brazil’s retrograde image in Europe was transformed. Abo-
lition would be the most obvious step.

The manner in which Brazil carried out abolition was unique in the Amer-
icas. Brazilian slavery was a nationwide institution, thus preventing the kind
of sectional conflict that occurred in the United States. Furthermore, Brazil-

Modern Latin America144

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ian slaves had worked in virtually every job category, including many “skilled”
ones. No less important, a large number of free persons of color had already
established themselves economically, providing examples to the newly freed.
Brazil had also escaped the extreme racist view that dismissed all persons of
color as irremediably inferior. The large mixed-blood population, a few of
whose members had reached prominent national positions by 1889 (such
as the novelist Machado de Assis and the engineer-abolitionist André Re-
bouças), showed that some mobility was possible.

Abolition in Brazil was a seventeen-year process marked by three laws.
The first came in 1871, which provided freedom for all children thence-
forth born of slave mothers. But the masters were given the option of re-
taining labor rights over these children until the age of twenty-one.

It was not until the 1880s that the abolitionist movement was again able
to force slavery to the center of the political arena. The abolitionists were
led by urban professionals, especially lawyers. Prominent among them was
Joaquim Nabuco, a Pernambucan deputy of impeccable social origins. Led
by such orators as Nabuco, the abolitionists became the empire’s first na-
tionwide political movement. They raised significant sums to finance their
propaganda and to buy the freedom of local slaves.

This mobilization had its impact on the parliament, which in 1885 passed
the second abolitionist law. This one granted freedom to all slaves sixty or

Brazil: Development for Whom? 145

The Realities of Slavery

Much historical writing on Brazil has emphasized the allegedly benev-
olent nature of its race relations. But it is worth remembering the na-
ture of the institution that brought Africans to Brazil. In the late nine-
teenth century the French wife of a Brazilian described her visit to a
Brazilian plantation:

Here it was that the miseries of slavery appeared to me in all their hor-
ror and hideousness. Negresses covered in rags, others half naked, hav-
ing as covering only a handkerchief fastened behind their back and
over their bosoms, which scarcely veiled their throats, and a calico skirt,
through whose rents could be seen their poor, scraggy bodies; some
negroes, with tawny and besotted looks, came and kneeled down on
the marble slabs of the veranda. The majority carried on their shoul-
ders the marks of scars which the lash had inflicted; several were af-
fected with horrible maladies, such as elephantiasis, or leprosy. All this
was dirty, repulsive, hideous. Fear or hate, that is what could be read
on all these faces, which I never have seen smile.

From Adèle Toussaint-Samson, A Parisian in Brazil (Boston: James H. Earle,
1891), reprinted in Robert Edgar Conrad, Children of God’s Fire (University
Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), p. 83.

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older, without compensation. Cynics pointed out that if any slaves survived
to such an age their masters would be delighted to be freed from caring
for them. The new law did little to defuse the agitation of the abolition-
ists, some of whom began inciting slaves to flee from or rebel against the
masters. By 1887 slavery was visibly disintegrating. The army, charged with
catching and returning fugitive slaves, found their job more and more re-
pugnant. In 1887 army officers formally refused to carry out this mission
any longer.

By 1888 slave owners had had ample time to prepare for the transition
to free labor. The final step was the “golden law,” passed in May of that
year, which freed all remaining slaves without compensation. The law was
approved by an overwhelming vote in both houses. The political elite had
managed to preserve a consensus while dealing with a volatile socioeco-
nomic issue. This success at incremental reform helped to perpetuate the
Brazilian elite’s self-image as conciliatory. Remarkably enough, this image
has come to be shared by many of the nonelites.

The other major drama of the late empire was the rise of republican-
ism. It had erupted earlier in the century, usually linked to regional de-
mands for autonomy. The Republican Party, founded in 1871, also had a
strong regionalist cast, especially in São Paulo. The birth of this party could
be traced to Liberal deputies’ reaction to Dom Pedro II’s imposing, in
1868, a Conservative ministry in the face of a Liberal majority in the Cham-
ber. In 1870 a group of indignant ex-Liberals founded the Republican
Party.

At first the Republicans appeared harmless. Up to 1889 they had a very
uneven following. It was strongest in São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, and
Minas Gerais and weakest in the Northeast. The Republicans wanted a re-
public headed by a directly elected president, governed by a bicameral leg-
islature, and organized on federalist principles. In effect the Republicans
wanted to trade Brazil’s English-style constitutional monarchy for a U.S.-
style federal republic.

During the 1880s republicanism made great inroads among the younger
generation—the university-educated sons of planters, merchants, and pro-
fessional men. Often they combined republicanism with abolitionism. Both
sentiments were reinforced by the teachings of the Brazilian Positivists, a
dedicated group that had penetrated faculties of higher education, espe-
cially in military colleges. Thus the 1880s saw a convergence of movements
that were eroding support for the monarchy and for slavery.

However, it was not high-minded debate that sealed the empire’s fate.
It was the army. In the late 1880s recurring friction mounted between army
officers and civilian politicians—often over the officers’ rights to express
publicly their political views. Because of the Paraguayan War, Brazil had
created a much larger military than was wanted by the politicians, who pro-
vided meager financing for modernization of the army. By the 1880s there
was a disproportionately high ratio of officers to troops. That led to frus-
tration over delayed promotions among junior and middle-level officers,

Modern Latin America146

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

who became especially receptive to the abolitionist and republican senti-
ments that were so influential among their civilian counterparts.

The final agony of the empire came in 1889. The emperor had insisted
on trying to rule with a Conservative ministry, despite its minority position
in the Chamber. In June the emperor invited the Viscount of Ouro Preto
to form a cabinet. He succeeded and formulated an ambitious reformist
program. But it was too late. A military plot developed in November. Led
by Marshall Deodoro da Fonseca, the conspirators demanded that the
monarch abdicate. Dom Pedro II and his family calmly left for exile in Por-
tugal. The republic was proclaimed the next day, November 16, 1889.

The empire had fallen with little upheaval. Although the planters had
long feared that abolition would doom agricultural exports, they soon came
to their senses. They now realized they could preserve their economic (and
therefore political) dominance in a world without monarchs or slaves. Nei-
ther the abolition of slavery nor the overthrow of the empire in themselves
brought structural change in Brazil.

Overview: Economic Growth and Social Change

In the mid-nineteenth century the Brazilian economy began a fundamen-
tal transition, not tied to any legal or constitutional changes, that has con-
tinued well into the twentieth century. It has also had a profound impact
on Brazilian society and on relations between social classes.

Like most of Latin America, Brazil has exported a few primary products to
the North Atlantic economies. But in contrast, Brazil has passed through a
sequence of dependence on the exportation of different products at differ-
ent points in time. The repeated pattern of boom-and-bust has made it dif-
ficult to achieve sustained growth. Since the various products have come from
different regions, these cycles have created pockets of prosperity and decline.

After independence, sugar continued to be the most lucrative export, as
during the eighteenth century. Produced mainly on large plantations in
the Northeast, where labor came from slaves, sugar accounted for 30 per-
cent of Brazilian exports in 1821–30. It then began a long decline, and by
1900 it contributed only 5 percent of the overall export amount.

Rubber production started in the early nineteenth century, principally
in the Amazon, and steadily increased. By 1853 the port of Belém was ex-
porting more than 2500 tons of natural rubber. Demand in the industrial
world grew enormously in the wake of the discovery of the vulcanization
process—which prevented rubber from getting too sticky in hot weather
and brittle in the cold. A spectacular boom arrived in 1900–1913, when
rubber amounted to about one-third of all the country’s exports. Then the
British capitalized on the more efficient rubber plantations in the East In-
dies, and the world price collapsed. The rubber boom came to a sudden
and permanent end.

It was coffee that provided the most durable stimulus to economic
change in the postindependence era. Coffee production began to develop

Brazil: Development for Whom? 147

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in the Caribbean in the early nineteenth century and then took hold in
Brazil, where it enjoyed excellent natural conditions. The volume of Brazil-
ian exports held fairly steady until the 1890s, then entered a period of spec-
tacular growth. In 1901 Brazil exported nearly 15 million sacks of coffee
(at 60 kilograms each) and produced nearly three-quarters of the total
world supply. Early in the century coffee yielded about one-half of the coun-
try’s foreign exchange.

Coffee thus became a central feature of Brazilian life. When coffee prices
were high, the prospects for Brazil were positive; if they were down, so was
the national outlook. And the domestic consumption of coffee has long
been an essential aspect of social life, as Brazilians conduct meetings and
discussions over cup after cup of steaming coffee, usually taken with large
quantities of sugar.

Coffee production flourished in southern-central Brazil, particularly in
the state of São Paulo. It requires good land, a fair investment, and much
labor. Coffee trees yield full production only after six years, and they need
steady care. Berries need to be gathered, washed, and shelled. The beans
inside the berries must be dried, sifted, sorted, sacked, and stored. This re-
quires labor.

Like Argentina, Brazil turned its eyes to Europe. First the state of
São Paulo and then the national government attracted millions of Eu-
ropean immigrants, especially in the last quarter of the nineteenth cen-
tury. The largest portion, perhaps a third, came from Italy. But the rel-
ative size of the immigrant population never reached the level of
Argentina. The peak for Brazil was 6.4 percent in 1900, and it declined
after that.

Modern Latin America148

In the late nineteenth cen-
tury, sacks of coffee left São
Paulo’s plantations on mule
trains and eventually reached
overseas destinations. (Cour-
tesy of the Library of Con-
gress.)

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

Although ample labor was available in the Brazilian center and North-
east, where the number of jobs had fallen disastrously behind the increase
in workers, the prophets of immigration opted for Europeans, who would
presumably be better workers and more reliable future citizens. So the
Brazilian government paid the ocean passage of millions of Europeans,
while millions of Brazilians in Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and the North-
east could not afford to move south. Great contributions were made by the
transplanted Europeans and Japanese, but each of those jobs might have
been held by a Brazilian who would have been rescued from the eco-
nomically moribund regions.

Technology was harder to obtain. The Brazilians, like other populations
outside the dynamic North Atlantic industrial complex, found themselves
having to accept direct investment by foreign firms in order to get tech-
nology. The telegraph system, for example, arrived with British and Amer-
ican firms, which installed and operated their own equipment. The same
held true for railroads, electric utilities, and shipping—most of the infra-
structure needed to sustain the growing agro-export economy. These were
highly visible investments and later became convenient targets for nation-
alist attacks.

Capital was also sought abroad. It came in the form of loans to Brazil on
the state and national levels. In 1907, for example, the states of São Paulo,
Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro signed a coffee marketing agreement to
be financed by foreign creditors. The state governments planned to repay
the loans with the receipts from export taxes on coffee. Such commitments
obligated Brazil not only to repay the loans but also to finance the remis-
sion of profits (and eventually capital) on direct investments by foreigners.
The crucial question was the terms on which all these transactions took place.
Available data suggest that the profit rate on foreign-owned railways, to take
an obvious example, did not exceed rates for comparable investments in
Britain. But this question has yet to be systematically researched.

Throughout the years between 1889 and 1930 the center of the Brazil-
ian economy moved south and southwest. The primary push came from
the “march” of coffee, as planters found it cheaper to break new ground
than to recycle the plantation soils whose yields were dropping. The result
was a path of abandoned plantations, stretching from Rio de Janeiro and
Minas Gerais down into São Paulo and its vast interior.

The reliance on coffee entailed large-scale risks. One was overproduc-
tion. It was difficult to anticipate demand six years in advance, and there-
fore to plan when trees should be planted. In 1906, for example, Brazil
produced 20 million sacks of coffee for a world market that could absorb
only 12 or 13 million. A political question promptly arose: What should be
done with the surplus?

A related uncertainty came from the rise of foreign competition. Brazil’s
share of the world market declined from 75 percent in 1900 to 67 percent
in 1930 to only 32 percent in 1970 and 18 percent in 1978. With time the
country gradually lost its near-monopoly on supply.

Brazil: Development for Whom? 149

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A third source of vulnerability came from wide fluctuations in the world
price. This reflected not only the effects of competition but also changes
in demand. Between 1929 and 1931, after the Great Depression struck, the
price of coffee plummeted from 22.5 cents a pound to merely 8 cents. Fre-
quent oscillations led to wide variation in Brazil’s foreign-exchange earn-
ings—and in government revenues, which came primarily from export
duties.

To illustrate both the growth and the uncertainty of the Brazilian cof-
fee sector, Figure 5-1 displays the volume of the country’s coffee exports
during the period from 1860 to 1985. The rise in output and commerce
is clearly visible. So are the fluctuations, which mainly reflect the instabil-
ity of world demand.

A final hazard derived from the small number of purchasers. In the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Brazil sold between three-fifths
and three-quarters of its exports to only three countries: the United States,
Britain, and Germany. The United States was the largest single buyer. The
reliance on two or three customers created unpredictable ties to outside
economies, as Brazil discovered after the crash of 1929.

Prominent politicians and economists regarded this vulnerability as an
inevitable result of Brazil’s “agrarian vocation.” Brazil, they argued, had no
choice but to buy needed foreign finished goods with the funds earned by
export and augmented by direct foreign investments or loans. Any signif-
icant attempt to industrialize, they reasoned, would produce inferior goods
and jeopardize relations with foreign buyers and creditors. Furthermore,
Brazil could not hope to copy the United States “because we don’t have
the superior aptitudes of their race,” in the words of a Brazilian cabinet
minister of the 1890s. Brazil must live with what God gave it: a compara-
tive advantage in a few agricultural exports.

Modern Latin America150

Figure 5-1 Coffee Exports from Brazil, 1860–1985
Sources: Werner Baer, Industrialization and Economic Development in Brazil (Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Ir-
win, 1965), pp. 266–267; James E. Wilkie, Enrique C. Ochoa, and David E. Lorey, eds., Statistical Abstract
of Latin America, 28 (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1990), Table 2426.

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

Since the late empire, however, a handful of intellectuals and men of
business began disputing this logic. They argued that Brazil should stimu-
late home industry. These critics had little influence on key policy areas,
such as tariffs or exchange rates. Yet they did succeed in creating a “na-
tionalist” critique that was to prove important after 1930.

Official encouragement of industrialization came forth in 1890, when
a tariff revision provided mild protection for local manufacturing from
foreign competition (and also lowered the duties on capital goods re-
quired for production). Engineering schools sprouted in Recife, São
Paulo, Pôrto Alegre, and Bahia. By 1907 the country had about 3000 in-
dustrial establishments, most of them small, textiles and foodstuffs be-
ing the principal products. By 1920 the number of firms had grown to
more than 13,000.

Brazil’s industrial sector underwent large-scale expansion in the 1930s
and 1940s, as the Great Depression and World War II reduced the avail-
able supply of manufactured goods from abroad (as happened elsewhere
in Latin America, too). As with coffee, the center of industrial growth was
in the state of São Paulo—where 15 percent of the nation’s population was
producing about 50 percent of the country’s manufactured goods by 1940.

The upsurge continued thereafter, and Brazil moved into such heavy in-
dustries as steel and automobile production. Between 1947 and 1961 man-
ufacturing output increased at an annual rate of 9.6 percent, compared to
4.6 percent for the agricultural sector. By 1960 industrial production
amounted to more than 25 percent of the gross domestic product, and
by 1975 it was up to nearly 30 percent. This diversification of the econ-
omy helped reduce Brazilian dependence on the outside world and lent
credibility to claims that the country would someday join the ranks of
superpowers.

These economic transformations brought far-reaching changes, such as
urbanization. In 1920 about 25 percent of the population lived in urban
areas, and by 1992 about three-quarters lived in cities. But there are two
unusual features in this trend. First, the tendency toward urbanization in
Brazil has been later and slower than in many other Latin American coun-
tries. Second, Brazil does not have a single predominant city (like Buenos
Aires or Montevideo, for instance). São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have both
become megalopalises, with millions of inhabitants and the amenities and
complications of urban life, but between them they contain only about
10 percent of the national population of 164 million. Urbanization has
taken place in Brazil, but the cities coexist with a large and populous
countryside.

Consequently Brazil has developed an intricate social system. The
upper-class elite includes landowners, frequently divided among them-
selves, as when paulista coffee planters rose up in the nineteenth century
to challenge the sugar barons of the Northeast. In the course of the twen-
tieth century there appeared as well an industrial elite that would struggle
for status and wealth, sometimes using the power of the state.

Brazil: Development for Whom? 151

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The popular masses were varied, too. There has been, and remains, a
large-scale peasantry. There is a rural proletariat, in the coffee fields and
elsewhere, a stratum that performs wage labor in the countryside. And in
the interior there are indigenous and other groups that have little contact
with national society.

An organized working class of substantial size, at least 4 million by 1970
and 6 million by 1980, emerged within Brazilian cities. Its struggles with
employers and its constant manipulation by the state provide one of the
central themes in twentieth-century Brazilian life. There is also a large stra-
tum of chronically unemployed city dwellers.

In between the upper and lower classes, middle sectors gradually ap-
peared. They may now include as much as 30 percent of the people in
some cities, though their share of the national population is less than that
(perhaps 10 to 15 percent). They play important roles in commerce and
the professions, and they have had a particularly intimate relationship with
one major institution: the military.

Social status in Brazil is not just a function of occupation or wealth. It is
also a matter of race. The massive importation of slave labor from Africa
brought an additional ethnic dimension into Brazilian society and this in
turn has affected customs and attitudes.

There tends to be a strong correlation between race and social standing
in Brazil: most on top are white, most blacks are on the bottom, and some
mixed-bloods have won in-between positions. Some institutions, such as
naval officers and the diplomatic corps, long remained white. But in Brazil
race is not defined purely by physical features. It is a social concept, open
to interpretation. To be “black” one has to be totally black (in contrast to
the United States, where partly black in ethnic origin means black), so that
mulattoes in Brazil have some opportunity for upward mobility.

This is not to say that Brazil constitutes a racial paradise. Prejudice and
bias have existed. For the last century the Brazilian elite has placed its faith
in branqueamento (“bleaching”), with the unequivocally racist intention of
purging Brazil of black blood. The overall correlation between status and
race continues to exist, despite the denial of well-to-do Brazilians. Several
recent studies by Brazilian demographers have shown significant differ-
ences in income by race (controlling for all other factors), based on offi-
cial 1976, 1980, and 1990 data. The conclusion is that race is a separate
and significant variable in the Brazilian socioeconomic system. But mobil-
ity exists, marriage across color lines is common, and attitudes are more
open than has been true in North American history. Nonetheless, suffi-
cient racial discrimination exists to have provoked the federal and some
state governments to adopt affirmative-action programs in the early years
of the new century.

Racial differentiation in Brazil has posed one obstacle to the formation
of durable coalitions across social strata. Another obstacle is the size of
Brazil. Distance (and poor communications) made it for a long time im-
plausible to imagine an alliance between urban workers of São Paulo, for

Modern Latin America152

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example, and the landless peasants in the Northeast. Such divisions en-
abled Brazil to attempt political solutions that would have been immedi-
ately impossible in more densely populated and integrated countries such
as Cuba.

The First Republic (1889–1930)

Although the military overthrew the empire, civilian politicians shaped the
new republic (see Figure 5-2). A constituent assembly was elected and pro-
duced a new constitution in 1891. It was a virtual copy of the U.S. consti-
tution. Brazil became a federation of twenty states, and the Brazilian pres-
ident was to be elected directly and empowered to intervene in the states
in case of threatened separation, foreign invasion, or conflict with other
states. Suffrage was restricted to literate adult male citizens. This resulted
in fewer than 3.5 percent of the population voting in any presidential elec-
tion before 1930 and only 5.7 percent in 1930.

After electing Deodoro da Fonseca president and another officer, Flo-
riano Peixoto, vice president, the assembly rapidly collided with Deodoro
over his financial policy and his interventions in the new state governments.
In November 1891, plagued by ill health, Deodoro resigned, passing power
to Floriano Peixoto, the so-called Iron Marshal. Floriano soon encountered
a rash of revolts. In Rio Grande do Sul, the revolt was part of the deadly
conflict between local factions; in Rio de Janeiro, it was a naval revolt led
by monarchist officers. Both rebellions were crushed, as the new republic

Brazil: Development for Whom? 153

Brazilian Women Get the Vote

Brazil, like the rest of Latin America, began the twentieth century
with women denied the vote. The few women who protested such dis-
crimination were contemptuously dismissed by the male politicians
who ran the government. The woman who organized their suffragette
victory was Bertha Lutz, who was born in 1894 in São Paulo. Her fa-
ther was Swiss-Brazilian and her mother was English, but Bertha
proved to be thoroughly Brazilian.

She founded her first women’s rights organization in 1920, which
two years later became the Brazilian Federation of Feminine Progress.
The Revolution of 1930 shook the political establishment, and the
Lutz-led suffragette movement convinced the framers of the new civil
code of 1932 to enfranchise women. Lutz subsequently served in Con-
gress, pushing tirelessly for legislation to protect women’s legal sta-
tus and social rights. In addition to her intense activities in favor of
women’s rights in Brazil and abroad, Lutz was an accomplished
botanist and expert in herpetology. She will be remembered as the
preeminent advocate for women’s rights in twentieth-century Brazil.

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154

Figure 5-2 Café com Leite: Brazilian Presidents by State, 1889–1930

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used censorship, martial law, and executions. When Prudente de Morais
of São Paulo was elected in 1894 as the first civilian president, the new
regime had gained stability. But it meant recognizing the legitimacy of the
entrenched oligarchical regime in each state.

Who were those oligarchs? In every state a tightly organized political ma-
chine emerged. In states such as São Paulo and Minas Gerais, where the
Republican Party had been strong before 1889, the “historic Republicans”
controlled the state governments. In Bahia and the Northeast, which had
few Republicans before 1889, power went to those politicans who most
quickly established credentials as newborn Republicans. The resulting
power structure was a “politics of the governors” at the national level and
the “rule of the colonels” (coronelismo) at the local level. The colonels were
rural bosses who could produce bloc votes in any election. In return, they
obtained control over state and national funds in their area of influence.
At the state level the political leaders used their deals with the colonels to
bargain on the national level.

The chief prize was the presidency. As might be expected, the states en-
joyed very unequal influence in this process. São Paulo and Minas Gerais
were the most important, with Rio Grande do Sul able to tip the balance
when the two larger states were at odds. Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and Per-
nambuco were second-level states, often serving as power bases for dissi-
dent presidential nominees.

The constitutional decentralization allowed several states to gain virtual
autonomy over their own development. Between 1890 and 1920 the state
of São Paulo more than tripled its population. It had contracted a foreign
debt larger than the national government and was accounting for 30 to 40
percent of Brazil’s national output. Able to impose its own taxes on inter-
state commerce, it had achieved a remarkable self-sufficiency. Only a loose
federal structure could have allowed São Paulo’s extraordinary burst of
economic development (“the locomotive pulling the twenty empty box-
cars,” said paulista chauvinists), later to propel Brazil’s rise to world promi-
nence in the mid-twentieth century.

Brazil’s relatively smooth-running political machine ran into trouble
soon after World War I. The political system created by the Republicans
in the 1890s had not survived long in its original form. The first major cri-
sis grew out of preparations for the 1910 elections. The “official” choice
for president was Governor João Pinheiro of Minas Gerais, who died un-
expectedly in 1908. The crisis deepened when the incumbent president,
Afonso Pena, died in 1909, eighteen months before the end of his term.
A bitter struggle ensued, with Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, son of the re-
public’s first chief executive, becoming the “official” candidate. He won,
but for the first time there was a significant opposition movement. It sup-
ported Rui Barbosa, the liberal crusader from Bahia.

During Hermes da Fonseca’s presidency (1910–14) many of the smaller
states experienced bitter battles within the political elite—usually between
the incumbent machine and dissenters. These battles made it impossible

Brazil: Development for Whom? 155

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to return to the smoothly functioning “politics of the governors,” not least
of all because President Hermes usually sent federal troops to the dissi-
dents’ aid. Formally, at least, the system continued functioning until Oc-
tober 1930. The “official” presidential nominees were invariably elected,
and the federal Congress remained under the control of the state
machines.

Yet the political culture of the Old Republic had become a target for
criticism from every quarter. Prominent among the critics was a new gen-
eration of the elite, born with the republic. Most were educated as lawyers.
They denounced as corrupt the way the politicians were running the re-
public. Most traced this to the republic’s founders, whom they accused of
having imposed on Brazil a liberalism for which it was utterly unprepared.
Necessary changes could be found only after a careful analysis of where
Brazil stood—economically, socially, politically, and intellectually. In a
word, Brazilian problems need Brazilian diagnoses and Brazilian solutions.
They described themselves as “Brazilians who think like Brazilians: Amer-
ican, Latin, and tropical.” Leaders of this group included Oliveira Vianna,
sociologist and lawyer; Alceu Amoroso Lima, literary critic and essayist; and
Gilberto Amado, essayist and politician. Their mentor was Alberto Tôrres,
a restless Republican of the older generation.

Criticism from intellectuals was paralleled by a mutinous mood among
younger army officers. There was a series of barracks revolts in 1922 and
1924, led by lieutenants (tenentes). The 1924 revolts, which began in São
Paulo and Pôrto Alegre, were the most serious. But the rebel officers fled
and held out for two and a half years as guerrillas on a 25,000 kilometer
march through the interior of Brazil. It was dubbed the “Prestes Column,”
after Luís Carlos Prestes, a rebel lieutenant who was later to lead Brazil’s
Communist Party for more than thirty years.

The rebels’ formal manifestos were vague, emphasizing the need for fair
elections, along with attention to the nation’s social needs. A more im-
mediate complaint focused on professional concerns—anachronistic train-
ing, obsolete weapons, and poor prospects for promotion. This frustration
was reminiscent of the late empire, when army officers had both profes-
sional and intellectual reasons for supporting a coup against the crown.

Another powerful political current of the 1920s was the Democratic
Party, founded in São Paulo in 1926. Its leaders, typified by coffee baron
Antonio Prado, agreed that the Old Republic was a fraud. Many of the
party’s votes came from the urban professionals, disgusted at seeing their
votes canceled out by rural voters mobilized by the federal government’s
machine. They wanted what the European middle classes had won in the
nineteenth century: political power through an electoral system. It was
no accident that this current of “liberal constitutionalism” made its
strongest showing in São Paulo, the center of the fastest economic growth
and urbanization. It was the voice of “modern” Brazil speaking out
against the disproportionate influence of their country’s “backward”
regions.

Modern Latin America156

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Economic development in the late nineteenth century had created a
working class in three or four major cities. Workers’ first organization came
in “mutual-aid societies.” They were superseded in the early 1900s by an-
archist and anarcho-syndicalist organizers who were far more militant. In
the decade after 1910 the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist unions staged
a variety of strikes, including several attempted general strikes. They met
heavy repression. The Spanish- or Italian-born leaders were deported, while
Brazilian leaders were jailed, beaten, and harassed. By 1921 the organized
urban movement was a shambles.

In subsequent years social welfare laws were passed, as a tardy carrot to
accompany the omnipresent stick. But Brazilian workers had many fewer
organizing rights and welfare provisions than, for example, Chilean work-
ers in the same era. One reason was the continuous labor surplus in Brazil.
In the face of such numbers, Brazilian workers found it hard to organize.

One result was the decline of anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist leader-
ship and their replacement, in many cases, by communists, whose Brazil-
ian party was founded in 1922. The communist presence furnished a new
target for the authoritarians among civilians and military. By 1930 urban
labor, although growing steadily in economic importance, was a political
orphan. Meanwhile, employers saw no reason to change the autocratic
manner in which they had long dealt with their workers.

Getúlio Vargas and the Estado Novo

The world economic crash of 1929 hit Brazil, like the rest of the Ameri-
cas, very hard. The coffee exporters suffered a huge drop in foreign ex-
change earnings. Despite the crisis President Washington Luís clung to a
hard-money policy. In effect that meant guaranteeing convertibility of the
Brazilian currency (mil reis) into gold or British sterling. The gold and ster-
ling reserves were quickly exhausted, forcing the government to suspend
convertibility of the mil reis. The government was left in a deepening
balance-of-payments crisis, and the coffee growers were stuck with an un-
sellable harvest.

Given coffee’s great importance to the Brazilian economy, one might
have expected the government to rush in with help. Instead, it tried to
please foreign creditors by maintaining convertibility. Such were the prin-
ciples preached by the foreign bankers and economists. At a critical mo-
ment, the Brazilian government decided to stick with an economic policy
which had no support from Brazilian society.

Not surprisingly, Washington Luís did not last out his term. As in 1889
it was the military that did the job. An opposition movement had coalesced
around Getúlio Vargas, a Riograndense politician who had run for presi-
dent earlier in 1930 and been defeated by the “official” candidate who had
been endorsed by Washington Luís. In his campaign Vargas had not chal-
lenged the political system. He ran strictly from within the elite. His sup-
porters were dissenting factions in several states, outsiders anxious for their

Brazil: Development for Whom? 157

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chance at power. It was only after the election that a successful conspiracy
arose among the disgruntled politicians and officers.

The coup of October 1930 did not constitute a “revolution.” The top
military commanders deposed Luís and then passed power to Vargas. The
cabinet invoked revolutionary power in order to take the ad hoc steps they
thought necessary. Yet 1930 is a watershed in modern Brazilian history,
even if it was not comparable to the Mexican Revolution of 1910–20.

When Getúlio Vargas moved into the presidential palace in November
1930, few guessed how important a leader he would become. He was there
only because a conflict within the national political elite was turning into
armed warfare. It never reached a climax only because the military inter-
vened. After the senior commanders had deposed Washington Luís, some
officers wanted to retain power themselves, but after only four days in power
the three commanders transferred power to Vargas. Since there was no
legislature, the president governed by decree. Meanwhile, important shifts
were occurring among the nation’s political forces.

First, Vargas moved swiftly to replace the governors in all the states ex-
cept one, Minas Gerais. The replacements, or “interventors,” reported di-
rectly to the president. Such activism from the central government often
threw the state machines off balance and gave benefit to the dissenting fac-
tions, many of which had supported Vargas in the 1930 election. As in the
Hermes da Fonseca presidency, political rivalries within states were being
settled by decisions in Rio.

A second major development was a realignment of political forces in São
Paulo. Vargas’ interventor ( João Alberto) had proved inept and tactless in
handling the touchy paulistas. Their heightened sense of state loyalty and
their fury at João Alberto united São Paulo against Vargas. Its leaders de-
manded that Vargas fulfill his promise to call a constituent assembly that
would write a new constitution. In 1932 the paulista frustration finally
erupted into an armed rebellion. The state militia fought federal forces to
a standstill for four months in the Constitutionalist Revolution. The rebels
had to surrender because they were trapped by the federal forces’ encir-
clement of São Paulo City. The paulistas had further discredited the cause
of decentralized government and strengthened the hand of the centraliz-
ers in Rio de Janeiro.

A third significant political development was the disintegration of the
tenente movement. These young military officers had never achieved a co-
hesive organization. Some accompanied Vargas into power in 1930. Oth-
ers founded the October 3rd Club to focus effort on achieving radical so-
cial changes, but their movement was isolated and vulnerable. Before long
police raided the club premises and the group disintegrated.

Meanwhile, Vargas was strengthening his own network of political allies
and collaborators. His success became obvious during the constituent as-
sembly of 1933–34. In the new constitution state autonomy was reduced: states
could no longer tax goods shipped interstate. Yet it continued the bicameral
legislature, which was to be directly elected, as was to be the president (ex-
cept the first). Some nationalist measures appeared for the first time, plac-

Modern Latin America158

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ing restrictions on foreign ownership of land and on aliens’ participation in
professional occupations. The modest nature of these constitutional changes
simply confirmed that the revolution of 1930 had grown out of elite infight-
ing. The constituent assembly’s most important act was to elect Vargas as the
first president with a four-year term under the new constitution.

In 1934 Brazil entered one of the most agitated periods in its political
history. Attention focused on two nationally based and highly ideological
movements, both committed to mass mobilization. One was Integralism, a
fast-growing rightist movement with affinities to European fascist parties.
Founded in late 1932 and led by Plínio Salgado, the Integralists claimed a
rapidly growing membership by 1935. Their dogma was Christian, nation-
alist, and traditionalist. Their style was paramilitary: uniformed ranks,
highly disciplined street demonstrations, colorful green shirts, and ag-
gressive rhetoric. They were essentially middle class and drew support from
military officers, especially in the navy. Unknown to the public, the Inte-
gralists were financed in part by the Italian embassy.

At the other end of the spectrum was a popular front movement, the
National Liberation Alliance (Aliança Libertadora Nacional, or ALN),
launched in 1935. Ostensibly a coalition of socialists, communists, and mis-
cellaneous radicals, it was in fact run by the Brazilian Communist Party,
which was carrying out a Latin American strategy formulated in Moscow.
The first stage of the strategy in Brazil would be mobilization on conven-
tional lines: rallies, local offices, and fund-raising efforts to forge a broad
coalition on the left in opposition to the new Vargas government, the In-
tegralists, and the Liberal Constitutionalists.

Samba and Carnival

Nothing is more Brazilian than the samba, the infectiously rhythmic
dance and music of Afro-Brazilian origin. Samba has become syn-
onymous with the lavish parades staged in Rio during Carnival week
by the Afro-Brazilian samba “schools.”

Although samba today is truly a national form of popular culture,
it was not always such. In the late nineteenth century police system-
atically repressed such expressions of Afro-Brazilian culture. That
changed in the early twentieth century, however, as the poor black
and mulatto neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro earned popularity with
their samba music. In 1935 the Getúlio Vargas government began
funding samba schools as a uniquely Brazilian tourist attraction.

They succeeded, and now Rio’s Carnival parade explodes each year
in front of ninety thousand spectators in the specially constructed
“Sambadrome.” Each samba school follows an elaborate theme, usu-
ally from Brazilian history. When one designer was criticized for dress-
ing the paraders in lavish costumes, he replied, “The poor like lux-
uriousness. It is the intellectuals who like misery.”

Brazil: Development for Whom? 159

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By mid-1935 Brazilian politics had reached a fevered pitch. The Inte-
gralists and the ALN were feeding off each other, as street brawls and
terrorism increased. Brazil’s major cities began to resemble the Nazi-
Communist battles in Berlin of 1932–33. But the ALN was far more vul-
nerable than the Integralists. In July 1935 the government moved against
the ALN, with troops raiding offices and jailing leaders.

The communists now moved to the second stage of their strategy: a rev-
olutionary uprising. It was to be triggered by a barracks revolt, led by party
members or sympathizers among officers in the army. The insurrection be-
gan in November 1935 in the northeastern state capital of Natal, spread-
ing within days to Recife and Rio. From the rebel standpoint, it was a dis-
aster. Although the Natal rebels controlled the city for several days, their
comrades in Recife and Rio, who lacked the advantage of surprise, were
contained in their garrisons and quickly forced to surrender.

Vargas and the military now had a perfect opportunity to revoke normal
constitutional guarantees. The Congress rapidly voted it. The federal gov-
ernment imposed a crackdown on the entire left—with arrests, torture, and
summary trials. The Integralists were elated. With their chief rival elimi-
nated, they began to smell power. What could be more logical than for
Vargas to turn to the only cohesive nationwide movement on the right?

It took two years for that illusion to be destroyed. Plínio Salgado and his
collaborators were becoming more and more convinced that they would
reach power by the 1938 presidential election, if not by other means. But
Vargas had other ideas. On November 10, 1937, he took to the radio and
read the text of yet another constitution to a nation that had just witnessed
yet another military intervention. That morning the Congress had been
dissolved, its premises occupied by soldiers. Brazil thus entered the Estado
Novo, a legal hybrid combining elements of Salazar’s Portugal and Mus-
solini’s Italy. All the democratic hopes were gone. Brazil had succumbed
to its own brand of authoritarianism.

Brazil’s lurch into dictatorship in 1937 certainly fit the era. But was there
more than a superficial similarity between Brazil’s Estado Novo and Euro-
pean fascism? Where, for example, was the mass mobilization so typical
of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy? Were the Integralists to play
that role? Many—both inside and outside Integralist ranks—certainly
thought so.

The Integralists in 1937 debated not whether they should enter gov-
ernment, but on what terms. Salgado, their leader, rejected Vargas’s tenta-
tive offer of a cabinet post. Salgado thought he could hold out for more.
In fact, Vargas and the military were playing their own game.

By early 1938 the greenshirts had become very frustrated. Soon after the
coup the government had banned all paramilitary organizations. The ob-
vious target was the Integralists, some of whom decided to take matters
into their own hands. In February they organized an armed assault on the
presidential residence. There was a shoot-out and a standoff during the
early morning hours at the palace gates. The battle ended at dawn, when

Modern Latin America160

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army units arrested the remaining Integralist besiegers. The government
cracked down and the Integralist movement in effect disappeared, as Sal-
gado fled into exile.

Vargas could now survey a political scene that no longer offered any or-
ganized opposition. In the coup Vargas had appointed himself to another
presidential term, to last until the elections, scheduled for 1943. Few took
that commitment seriously, given the ease with which Vargas had aborted
the election that was to have been held in 1938. That skepticism was well
founded. When 1943 arrived, Vargas announced that the wartime emer-
gency precluded elections. He remained president until October 1945.

What was the significance of Vargas’s authoritarian rule from 1937 to
1945? First, Vargas and his political and technocratic collaborators got a
free hand in maneuvering to maximize Brazil’s advantage in a capitalist
world-system moving toward war. At stake were two central and related
questions about Brazil’s international role. Who could best help the Brazil-
ians to modernize and equip their armed forces? And who could offer the
most favorable conditions in foreign trade?

Before the coup of 1937 Nazi Germany had offered attractive terms in
both areas. Strategy and ideology were also at stake in these negotiations.
The pro-German faction within Brazil, strongest in the military, was coun-
tered by a pro-U.S. faction. The latter argued that Brazil had opted for the
Allies in World War I and had the most to gain by sticking with the United
States. Many of the Brazilian elite therefore saw the flirtation with Nazi
Germany as dangerous and short-sighted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military and State Department were sparing no ef-
fort to pull Brazil back into the U.S.-dominated hemispheric orbit. They
succeeded, but only after strenuous U.S. effort and German failure to of-
fer the armaments Brazil wanted. From then onward Brazil became a vital
cog in the Allied war machine, furnishing essential raw materials (like
quartz and natural rubber) and air and naval bases that became critical in
the “Battle of the Atlantic.” Brazil even sent a combat division to Italy in
1944, where it fought alongside the U.S. Fifth Army.

Vargas had dealt shrewdly with the United States. In return for its raw
materials and bases, Brazil got the construction of a network of air and
naval installations along the northern and northeastern Atlantic coast. The
United States also promised to help finance construction of Brazil’s first
large-scale steel mill, at Volta Redonda. It was the first time an American
government committed public funds to industrialization in the “develop-
ing world.”

The Estado Novo furnished a centralized apparatus through which Var-
gas and his aides could pursue economic development and organizational
change. The federal government assumed an aggressive role in the econ-
omy, organizing and strengthening marketing cartels (in cocoa, coffee,
sugar, and tea), and creating new state enterprises, such as the National
Motor Factory (to produce trucks and airplane engines). Vargas also over-
hauled the federal bureaucracy, creating a merit-oriented system to replace

Brazil: Development for Whom? 161

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

a patronage-ridden structure. Finally, one of the most important measures
was a new labor code (1943), which spelled out rules of industrial relations
that were to last until the 1990s. Only one union was permitted in each
plant—under the scrutiny of the labor ministry, which controlled union fi-
nances and elections. Unions were in effect tied to the government, but
the union leaders who “cooperated” could profit personally. This semi-
corporatist labor union structure was paralleled by a semicorporatist struc-
ture among the employers. These arrangements gave the federal executive
a mechanism for controlling the economy. But Brazil of the early 1940s
was not a modern, industrialized, urbanized society. Outside of a few key
cities the corporatist structure left untouched most of the country, which
was a vast, disconnected rural expanse.

The Estado Novo also had its darker side. The security forces had a vir-
tual free hand. Torture was routine, against not only suspected “subver-
sives” but also foreign agents (German businessmen were especially vul-
nerable). Censorship covered all the media, with a government news
agency (Departamento de Imprensa e Propaganda, or DIP) furnishing the “of-
ficial” version of the news. There were resemblances to Germany and Italy,
but the Brazilians stopped well short of those extremes.

Brazil’s economic history from 1930 to 1945 is not easy to capsulize. Cof-
fee continued to be the primary foreign exchange earner, although helped
during wartime by the boom in other raw materials shipped to the United
States. Industrial growth continued in São Paulo and, to a lesser extent, in
Rio. The war cut off trade with Europe, with most shifting to the United
States.

Vargas had in 1943 promised elections, for which he would be ineligi-
ble. As the war continued, Vargas knew that a wave of democratic opinion
was building, and he anticipated events by adopting a new, populist stance
after 1943. The urban working class was now the object of government at-
tention through such media as the nightly nationalist radio broadcast (“The
Hour of Brazil”), and moves were made toward creating a Labor Party. Var-
gas was trying to create a new electoral image—something he had been
able to neglect earlier in the Estado Novo.

Events moved rapidly in 1945. Vargas hoped to play down the contrast
between the defeat of fascism in Europe and continued authoritarianism
at home. In May 1945, with victory over the Axis a foregone conclusion,
Vargas’ government issued a tough antimonopoly decree aimed at re-
stricting the role of foreign firms in the Brazilian economy. It was part of
the turn toward populism begun in 1943. The U.S. government put Var-
gas on its list of Latin American presidents who had to go. There were
plenty of Brazilians who shared the U.S. view. The Liberal Constitutional-
ists believed that foreign capital should be welcomed into Brazil. And they
saw this issue as one that might help them gain the power they thought
had been within their grasp in 1937.

There were other signs of Vargas’ shift to the left. In early 1945 he de-
cided to release leftist political prisoners. Most prominent was Luís Carlos

Modern Latin America162

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Prestes, the leader of the Brazilian Communist Party who had been jailed
since 1938. The relaxation of police control greatly helped the Commu-
nist Party, the best organized force on the left.

The polarization accelerated as the year went on. The anti-Vargas forces
included the Liberal Constitutionalists, many military officers, and most
state political bosses. On the other side were assorted populists, some la-
bor union leaders, and the ideological left, which included socialists and
Trotskyites, although the communists were strongest. The confrontation
climaxed in October 1945, when the army gave Vargas an ultimatum: re-
sign or be deposed. He refused, so the military declared him deposed. Var-
gas then acceded and flew off to a self-imposed exile on his ranch in Rio
Grande do Sul.

The Second Republic (1946–1964)

Three principal political parties emerged in 1945: the UDN (União
Democrática Nacional), the PSD (Partido Social Democrático), and the PTB (Par-
tido Trabalhista Brasileiro). The UDN was a coalition of anti-Vargas forces
dominated by the Liberal Constitutionalists. The PSD was more heteroge-
neous; it included many political bosses and bureaucrats and some promi-
nent industrialists. The PTB, smallest of the three, was created by Vargas
in 1945, when he was still trying to shape the upcoming elections. The PTB
was aimed at urban labor with a political approach supposedly modeled
on the British Labor Party. These three remained Brazil’s principal parties
until 1964. They were often described as nonideological, personalistic, and
opportunistic—in short, not to be regarded as modern political parties.

Elections for a constituent assembly had been called before Vargas’ fall,
and, when held in December 1945, they proved to be among the freest in
Brazil’s history. The newly elected president, with 55 percent of the vote,
was General Eurico Dutra, a close Vargas collaborator in the Estado Novo.
The chief opposition candidate was Air Force Brigadier Eduardo Gomes,
a throwback to liberal constitutionalism. He won 35 percent of the vote.
The Communist candidate received 10 percent of the vote, which greatly
encouraged the left. President Dutra and his advisers began watching
closely the growth of the left and its links to urban labor.

In 1946 the constituent assembly produced another constitution, one
that resembled the constitution of 1934. There was decentralization and a
return to the classic guarantees of individual liberty. The elections that pro-
duced the constituent assembly had highlighted some other trends. They
showed that the traditional political machines could still dominate in a na-
tional vote. That was hardly surprising, since Brazil was still a mainly rural
society, and electoral manipulation was easiest in the countryside. Nonethe-
less, the extensive Communist vote showed that new forces were at work
on the urban scene.

Soon after the war Brazil began struggling with the issue of how to fi-
nance its economic development. In wartime the objective was to maxi-

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mize mobilization, but the same approach could be applied to peacetime
economic development. Instead, the Dutra government (1946–51) avoided
planning and returned to a reliance on coffee exports, dropping most of
the measures taken by Vargas to stimulate industrialization. This policy
made Brazil once again highly vulnerable to changes in the world demand
for coffee.

On the political front, the Dutra regime soon decided to repress the left.
The Communist Party, legalized in 1946, had shown surprising strength in
São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Labor unions, despite the corporatist legal
structure, were gaining de facto autonomy, to the worry of employers and
conservative politicians. As would happen one year later in Chile, the Brazil-
ian Congress in early 1947 voted to revoke the Communist Party’s legality.
Police raided its offices and seized its publications. The ministry of labor
intervened in hundreds of labor unions and arrested or dismissed their of-
ficers, appointing government stooges in their place. The years 1945–47
proved to be a rerun of 1930–35: a political opening, then a burst of ac-
tivism on the left, climaxed by government repression. Henceforth the left
was outlawed, and Communist Party candidates had to resort to electoral
guises.

Vargas had not accepted his exit in October 1945 as the end of his ca-
reer. Only two months later he was elected senator from two states and
chose to represent Rio Grande do Sul. During the Dutra presidency, Var-
gas worked steadily to retain national visibility and maintain his political
contacts. Soon his friends and allies were urging him to run for president.
He did not need much convincing.

In the presidential campaign of 1950 Vargas was supported by most of
the PSD and PTB. His principal opponent was former tenente Juarez
Távora, running under the UDN banner. Vargas conducted a shrewd cam-
paign, attacking the Dutra regime for neglecting economic growth and for
favoring the rich. Yet his position was moderate enough to appeal to the
landowners in states such as Minas Gerais. Vargas won by a plurality (48.7
percent) and began his third presidency—the only one he gained by pop-
ular election.

In returning to power by popular vote, Vargas reversed the victory that
his opponents, especially the Liberal Constitutionalists, had won in 1945.
They exploded, some even calling for the army to block the return of the
ex-dictator. But it was to no avail.

Vargas made economic policy his top priority, and he promptly assem-
bled a team of young technocrats—engineers, economists, and planners.
They formulated an eclectic strategy designed to maximize the inflow of
capital and technology from both public and private sources abroad. The
prospects looked favorable. In 1949 the U.S. and Brazilian governments
had launched a joint study of the Brazilian economy. The commission’s
report in 1953 spotlighted inadequate energy and poor transportation as
the prime obstacles to rapid economic development. The U.S. government
indicated interest in channeling public funds for investment in these ar-

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eas, and the Brazilian government created new federal agencies to handle
the investment projects now in prospect.

Vargas’ economic strategy also had its nationalist side. Profit remissions
by foreign-owned firms were a frequent target for nationalist attack. In 1952
Vargas denounced the foreign firms and threatened new controls.

Another target for the nationalists was oil. Since the late 1930s Brazil
had been working on a national oil policy. Argentina and Mexico had al-
ready opted for state monopolies. In both cases, nationalist sentiment was
a strong political force. Throughout Latin America international oil
companies were regarded with strong suspicion. Brazil was no different. In
1951 Vargas proposed a mixed public-private corporation (to be called
PETROBRAS) that would monopolize the exploration and production of
oil.

The proposal touched off the most heated political debate since 1945.
Nationalism proved very strong, especially among army officers. Bitter con-
troversies arose, with state monopoly advocates questioning the patriotism
of free enterprise supporters, and vice versa. In 1953 the Congress created
an even stronger monopoly than proposed by Vargas. The debate had
sharply polarized opinion, reducing the room for political maneuver.

Vargas had been elected in 1950 on a moderate platform, and the party
lineup in Congress required him to maintain that course. But economic
pressures were forcing hard choices on the government. First, Brazil’s rate
of inflation turned up from 11 percent in 1951 to 20 percent in 1952. Sec-
ond, the foreign trade balance went into the red. Third, the U.S. president
elected in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower, threw into doubt the loan commit-
ments the Brazilians thought the United States had made for the infra-
structural investments.

These reverses gave ammunition to Vargas’ enemies on both the left and
the right. The left charged Vargas with selling out to the imperialists. The
right, on the other hand, charged that Vargas was alienating the trading
partners and foreign creditors on whom Brazil had to depend. Most po-
litically conscious Brazilians fell between these extremes. Yet economic and
political pressures were making moderation more difficult, spelling dan-
ger for Vargas and his government.

In 1953 Vargas reorganized his cabinet to face the economic crisis. In-
flation and the balance-of-payments deficit were related problems because
Brazil had clung to an overvalued exchange rate which, combined with
Brazilian inflation, had made imports cheaper and exports more expen-
sive. An economic stabilization program was urgently needed. In the short
run that would mean falling real wages and strict controls on business credit
and government spending. Such a policy was bound to be unpopular.

To lead the effort Vargas recruited Oswaldo de Aranha, his long-time
political lieutenant, as minister of finance. Aranha pursued classic stabi-
lization measures with apparent success in 1953. As 1954 approached, how-
ever, a bitter fight loomed over wage policy. Under the Estado Novo the
ministry of labor fixed the minimum wage, which had not been increased

Brazil: Development for Whom? 165

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for many years. Aranha’s objective was to prevent an increase so large as
to wreck the anti-inflation program. For this Aranha would have to deal
with the minister of labor: João Goulart, a young PTB politician closely
identified with the PTB left and the militant labor leadership.

By 1954 Aranha was pulling toward austerity and Goulart toward a pop-
ulist, redistributionist path. Vargas had to decide the issue. In February,
apparently opting for Aranha’s austerity, he dismissed Goulart. The left,
strengthened by its success in the fight over oil policy, now attacked Var-
gas for pandering to the imperialists with his stabilization program. Vargas
cleared the air on May 1, 1954, when he announced a 100 percent increase
in the minimum wage—higher even than Goulart had recommended.

This battle now merged into a wider political crisis. Vargas’ bitterest ene-
mies had found an issue on which they thought they could beat him: cor-
ruption. The anti-Vargas propagandists closed in on the weary president. Un-
beknownst to him, the palace security chief had arranged an assassination
attempt on Carlos Lacerda, a sensationalizing journalist who was leading the
attack on Vargas. The bullet meant for Lacerda killed an air force officer
who was a volunteer bodyguard for Lacerda. The officer’s death brought the
military into the crisis. When their investigation pointed to the presidential
palace, the senior officers demanded Vargas’ resignation. Realizing he was
trapped and isolated, Vargas put a bullet through his heart on August 24.
He left behind an inflammatory suicide letter, blaming his demise on sinis-
ter forces, domestic and foreign, and proclaiming a highly nationalist posi-
tion. By his sensational exit, Vargas exacted revenge on his tormentors. Lac-
erda had to flee Brazil, and the anti-Vargas factions, especially among the
UDN and the military, found themselves on the defensive.

Caretaker regimes governed Brazil until the 1956 inauguration of
Juscelino Kubitschek, elected to a full presidential term in 1955. He was
an ebullient PSD politician and former governor of Minas Gerais with a
reputation as a skillful campaigner. Although he won the presidency with
only 36 percent of the vote, he quickly moved to gain broader support.

Mindful of how often the military had intervened in politics, Kubitschek
mollified them with large weapons purchases. Kubitschek also had an ef-
fective PSD-PTB coalition in the Congress. Finally, the “Target Program”
of economic development, plus the audacious idea of building a new cap-
ital, Brasília, in the interior, combined to generate enthusiasm which muf-
fled the bitter political conflicts from the mid-1950s.

The futuristic city of Brasília, built from scratch in four years on a com-
pletely undeveloped plateau site 600 miles from the old capital of Rio de
Janeiro, also captured the imagination of the outside world. President
Eisenhower was one of many heads of state to attend its inauguration in
1960. Brazil was now on the global map for the daring, if controversial, ur-
ban planning and architecture developed in Brasília.

No small part of Kubitschek’s political success was due to his own tal-
ents. Kubitschek’s motto had been “fifty years of progress in five,” and the
economic leap forward was impressive.

Modern Latin America166

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167

The glittering capital of Brasília boasts extraordinary modernistic architecture. Top,
headquarters of the governor of the federal district; bottom, the legislative palace,
whose twin towers and buildings contain the separate houses of the national con-
gress. (Courtesy of the Consulate General of Brazil, New York.)

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Yet it would have been too much to expect Kubitschek’s political strategy
to endure forever. The PSD-PTB alliance in Congress was coming apart,
growing discord among military officers precluded any repeat of Gen-
eral Lott’s role, and the economy had once again run into inflation and
balance-of-payments deficits. Kubitschek briefly tried economic stabilization
in 1958–59, but scuttled it when the IMF demanded austerity measures that
would have prevented Brazil from reaching the president’s economic “tar-
gets.” Kubitschek pressed on with his economic program, and that created
mammoth problems for his successor. When he left office in January 1961,
no one doubted that a reckoning with foreign creditors was at hand.

The president who inherited this challenge was Jânio Quadros, one of
Brazil’s most talented and most flawed politicians. A whirlwind success as
governor of São Paulo, Quadros won big in the 1960 presidential election,
running with UDN endorsement. His campaign featured a broom as the
symbol of his fight against corruption. That talk buoyed the liberal con-
stitutionalists, who believed that at last power was near.

Quadros began by embracing a tough stabilization program. After seven
months of idiosyncratic rule, however, Quadros suddenly resigned in Au-
gust 1961. His reasons have never been entirely explained—apparently he
expected the Congress to reject his resignation and offer him increased
powers. He was wrong; the Congress promptly accepted his resignation.
Quadros, the most charismatic populist politician of modern Brazil, faded
into a retirement punctuated by occasional campaigns for local office.

Quadros’ self-engineered demise was demoralizing for the anti-Vargas
factions and other Brazilians who believed that his moralistic promises and
his administrative success in São Paulo boded well for the new federal gov-
ernment. Worst of all from the UDN viewpoint, Quadros’ departure meant
that power would now pass to the elected vice president—Vargas’s former
labor minister, João Goulart, the epitome of populism and anathema to
the conservative military.

The military was in no mood to agree to Goulart’s succession to the pres-
idency. But the “legalists” among the officers argued in favor of observing
the constitution. A compromise was reached. The Congress created a par-
liamentary system in which Goulart was president but with a cabinet ac-
countable to the Congress. It was an unworkable hybrid, designed solely
to reduce Goulart’s power. The new president assumed his diminished pow-
ers in September 1961 and promptly started a campaign to get the par-
liamentary innovation repealed. January 1963 brought success when a
plebiscite restored the full presidential system. By then Goulart had pre-
cious little time left from the 1961–66 presidential term.

Goulart’s presidency proved ill-starred from the beginning, compounded
by his inexperience, weakness, and indecision. By 1963 inflation and
the balance-of-payments deficit had grown even more difficult to deal
with. Goulart chose his own stabilization team, headed by the brilliant
intellectual-politician Santiago Dantas and the noted economist Celso Fur-
tado. Dantas worked out a detailed plan, duly negotiated with the U.S. gov-

Modern Latin America168

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ernment and the International Monetary Fund. It called for the usual: re-
duction of government deficit, tough controls on wages, and painful re-
ductions in credit. It was the same medicine that had been served up in
the stabilization efforts of 1953–54, 1955–56, 1958–59, and 1961.

For Goulart, stabilization presented special problems. A tough wage pol-
icy, which always meant falling real wages, would strike at the social group
to which Goulart was most committed. Furthermore, meeting the harsh
terms of foreign lenders would invite attack from the nationalists, another
area of his prime support. Even if he could bring off stabilization, his term
would probably end before Brazil could resume rapid growth.

Notwithstanding the gloomy prospects, Goulart endorsed the Dantas-
Furtado plan. But he did not stay with it for long. In a few months Dantas
quietly resigned, Furtado had already left Brasília, and any further serious
stabilization effort was thereafter out of the question.

Stabilization was not Goulart’s only worry. Since 1961 the Brazilian po-
litical scene had been heated up on both left and right. The military, as
always, was a key factor. Some of the officers who had fought Goulart’s ac-
cession to power in 1961 were still fighting. They had begun an ongoing
conspiracy to overthrow Goulart. Many of the ideas and personnel of the
conspiracy could be traced to the 1954 military cabal against Vargas. What
steadily increased the strength of the conspirators was the increasingly rad-
ical tone of the political combatants.

The left of the political spectrum had become very crowded. A rising
sense of confidence had gripped the radical nationalists, who included
Catholic literacy teachers, labor union militants, Trotskyist student orga-
nizers, and artistic idealists, all spreading a revolutionary message through
popular culture. By early 1964 the radical left had gained government bless-
ing, sometimes even government financing and logistical support.

Conservatives were incensed over nationalist inroads among two groups.
One was the military. Brazilian enlisted men had traditionally not been al-
lowed to vote. The radicals began to advocate unionization of enlisted men.
This scandalized the officers, who were hardly about to learn collective bar-
gaining. Even politically centrist officers could understand that threat.

The other new area of mobilization was the countryside. In 1963 rural
unionization was legalized, and competing groups, including several on
the left, vied to win sponsorship of local syndicates. Yet the rural sector was
an unpromising arena for the Brazilian left to test its power. There was al-
ways excess labor, and landowners traditionally ruled with an iron hand.
This rural unionization campaign, combined with a few land invasions,
provoked landowners to take decisive action. They pressured the pro-
landowner politicians, who were numerous in a federal Congress which
overrepresented rural districts.

Goulart’s opponents did not have the votes to impeach him. The old
PSD-PTB alliance still operated. It might not back a stabilization program,
but it was also not ready to serve the anti-Goulart conspirators. The plot-
ters saw only one way out: a military coup.

Brazil: Development for Whom? 169

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The president’s military advisers had warned him about the conspiracy.
Now even centrist officers were leaning toward a coup. The principal fac-
tor pushing them was the radical move to the left already under way, ei-
ther by the president or by those who controlled him.

The U.S. government was taking a strong interest in Brazil’s emerging
political confrontation. Both the U.S. ambassador, Lincoln Gordon, and
the U.S. military attaché, General Vernon Walters, were in close touch with
the conspirators, both military and civilian. The United States had a con-
tingency plan to support the anti-Goulart rebels with fuel and weapons, if
needed. As it happened, they were not. On March 31 speculation ended
as a military revolt, surfacing first in Minas Gerais, spread across the coun-
try. Within twenty-four hours João Goulart had fled into exile in Uruguay.

On April 1 the leader of the Congress, in Goulart’s absence, declared
the presidency vacant. Although his action lacked any legal foundation,
the Congress acceded. Into the power vacuum moved the military con-
spirators and their civilian allies. Brazil once again opted for the authori-
tarian path to development.

In retrospect, the breakdown of Brazilian democracy (such as it was)
bore a close connection to the interplay of social-class relations. The pop-
ulist policies of Getúlio Vargas had created institutions for organizing ur-
ban workers. This posed a significant but ultimately acceptable challenge

Modern Latin America170

The Battle for Brazilian Souls

In no Latin American country has the competition between Protes-
tant and Catholic evangelicals been more intense than in Brazil, long
known as the world’s most populous Catholic country. But since 1960,
aggressive Protestant evangelicals have made significant inroads
among Brazilian worshipers. During the 1990s Catholic membership
stagnated at 125 million, while the Protestants (mostly evangelicals)
doubled to 26 million. The Evangelicals, the most dynamic of the
Protestants, built up a media empire of ninety-four television stations.
The pope expressed alarm and appealed to Brazil’s younger genera-
tion of priests to take up the call and regain lost ground. A dramatic
answer has come from Father Marcelo Rossi, a charismatic 36-year-
old priest who has attracted huge crowds with his media-savvy preach-
ing. His CDs are runaway best-sellers. His latest venture is a film,
Maria: the Mother of the Son of God, for Columbia Pictures. Father Rossi
will narrate the film and play the Angel Gabriel. To the faithful he
says, “Many say they are Catholic but aren’t, may this movie save
them.”

Financial Times, October 10, 2002.

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to the upper and middle classes, the latter represented largely by the mil-
itary. But in 1964 Goulart presented, or appeared to present, a much more
fundamental threat. By mobilizing peasants as well as workers, and by us-
ing radical rhetoric, he seemed to be creating the conditions for a class-
wide worker-peasant alliance against the socioeconomic establishment.
Both the suddenness and the simultaneity of these movements startled and
alarmed elites. A classwide coalition was simply not acceptable. The mili-
tary exercised its longstanding veto power and went on to create a bu-
reaucratic-authoritarian regime.

Military Rule

The conspirators of 1964 were surprised at the speed with which the
Goulart government collapsed. Goulart’s zig-zagging and the divisiveness
within the left had undercut any effective mass support. The rebels en-
countered little or no resistance as their troops seized command of the
government.

From 1964 to 1985 Brazil was governed by a succession of authoritarian
regimes, each headed by a four-star general. Despite variations in structure
and personnel, all were coalitions of military officers, technocratic admin-
istrators, and old-line politicians.

The most important group was the military. Army officers have had a
long history of intervention in politics since the empire was brought down.
In 1930 the military ended the Old Republic by delivering power to Var-
gas, whom they kept in power by the coup of 1937, only to depose him in
1945. It was a military manifesto that led to Vargas’ suicide in 1954, and it
was a “preventive” coup in 1955 that ensured Kubitschek’s succession to
the presidency. Finally, the military led the fight against Goulart’s succes-
sion to the presidency in 1961 and then conspired to bring him down in
1964. Army officers were seen by all to be vital actors in Brazilian politics.

In the years after 1945 the army officer corps has been buffeted by con-
flicting political currents. The 1950s brought a polarization between na-
tionalist and anticommunist positions. As their label would indicate, the
anticommunists identified with the United States in the deepening Cold
War and saw the nationalist left as a stalking-horse for pro-Castroites or
communists.

Officer opinion turned decisively against the populists, of whom Goulart
was a principal example. The Goulart government’s inability to get con-
trol of the economy (Brazil was near default to foreign creditors in March
1964); the mobilization of the lower sectors; and the direct threat to mili-
tary hierarchy all pushed centrist military officers toward supporting a coup.
By early 1964 the conspiracy was headed by General Humberto Castello
Branco, the staunchly legalist army chief of staff who had supported
Goulart’s succession to the presidency in 1961.

Once the military had deposed Goulart, a new question faced the con-
spirators: the form and direction of the new government. The hard-liners

Brazil: Development for Whom? 171

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argued that Brazilian democracy had been corrupted by self-seeking and
subversive politicians. The country needed a long recuperation, which
would require such measures as purging legislators, suppressing direct elec-
tions, and firing civil servants. The hard-liners’ economic views were less
easy to discern. They obviously detested the radical nationalists and the
populists.

The moderate military composed another group. They believed a rela-
tively brief interval of administrative and economic reorganization could
return Brazil to the electoral democracy recently endangered by irre-
sponsible politicians.

General Castello Branco was quickly chosen by the (purged) Congress
as the new president and served until 1967. The immediate need was
to bring inflation under control and to improve the balance of pay-
ments. Roberto Campos, a well-known economist-diplomat, was made
planning minister and became the dominant figure in economic policy
making. Inflation was reduced, and a surplus was achieved in the for-
eign accounts. Campos’ team also attempted to reorganize and update
Brazil’s principal economic institutions. The banking system was over-
hauled (a proper central bank was finally created), a stock market and
a government securities market were institutionalized for the first time,
labor regulations were revised to make easier the discharge of employ-
ees, and export regulations were simplified. Campos had long argued
that capitalism had not failed in Brazil because it hadn’t yet been tried.
This was his chance. The short-term results were disappointing, but
Castello Branco and Campos did not despair; they saw their efforts as
unpopular in the short run but indispensable for sound growth in the
future.

The hoped-for economic upturn did not occur in 1965–66, and Castello
Branco was persuaded to extend his presidential term a year in the hope
that the economy would improve. In fact, the country’s economic prob-
lems could not be resolved even in his two and a half years.

The second military government, that of President Artur da Costa e Silva
(1967–69), brought an ugly turn in politics. The president had hoped to
preside over a liberalization, but events proved otherwise. Until 1967 the
authoritarian government had shown considerable tolerance for the op-
position, at least in comparison to Spanish American military governments
of the 1960s and 1970s. But tolerance invited mobilization. In 1967 and
1968 the opposition mounted a series of protests, climaxing in mass demon-
strations in Rio.

The hard-line military, now opposing any compromise between democ-
racy and a “tough” government, argued for a crackdown. In November
1968 a series of industrial strikes spread from Minas Gerais into the in-
dustrial heartland of São Paulo. The Costa e Silva government hesitated,
then reacted by strongly repressing the strikers. A pattern was set: an au-
thoritarian government resorting to dictatorial measures to carry out its
version of rapid economic development. It was a growth strategy based on

Modern Latin America172

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repression of labor unions, avid recruiting of foreign investment, and high
rewards for economic managers.

In 1969 Brazil was hit with new levels of political violence. The militant
opposition had produced a guerrilla network, mainly in the cities. In Sep-
tember 1969 President Costa e Silva suffered a debilitating stroke, and the
guerrillas made it the occasion to kidnap the U.S. ambassador, whom they
subsequently released, in return for the government’s releasing from prison
fifteen political prisoners and the publishing of a revolutionary manifesto
in all the media. For the next four years Brazil experienced guerrilla war-
fare. A small cadre of revolutionary activists kidnapped foreign diplomats,
holding them hostage to ransom other revolutionaries in prison.

By 1973 the guerrilla movements were vanquished. They had exhausted
their human resources to achieve meager results. In fact, they had rein-
forced the repressive apparatus and made credible the hard-liners’ argu-
ment that any political opening meant civil war.

When General Ernesto Geisel assumed the presidency in 1974 he re-
peated the earlier moderates’ hopes of a return to democracy and the rule
of law. A major obstacle was the security apparatus, which had gained great
influence within the government. Their unsavory methods, including tor-
ture, had facilitated the liquidation of the revolutionary opposition, but
had given them a powerful veto over liberalization.

President Geisel’s commitment to redemocratization came from his close
personal link to the legalist tradition of Castello Branco. Geisel saw this
process not as a response to pressure, but as the working out of a demo-
cratic commitment inherent in the military intervention in 1964.

The fundamental problem for Geisel, as for all the preceding military
governments, was the inability to win a free popular election. This would
not have mattered if the military had not taken the democratic rules so se-
riously. But they did, and the result was an endless series of improvisations
to make the voting results fit their preferences. The depth of the problem
was shown in October 1974 when the new government, in contrast to its
predecessor, allowed relatively free congressional elections. The result was
a landslide for the opposition party. The lesson was clear: if given a choice,
the public, especially in the urban industrialized centers, would vote against
the government.

After 1967 the Brazilian economy returned to a growth path, duplicat-
ing the record of the 1950s. From 1968 to 1974 the growth rate averaged
10 percent, and exports more than quadrupled. As though to mark the
end of an era, manufactured goods replaced coffee as the country’s
leading export product. Outside observers soon talked of the “Brazilian
miracle.”

But the “miracle” began to fade by the end of the decade. In 1980 in-
flation was more than 100 percent, the foreign debt mounted, and indus-
trial production sagged. Furthermore, industrial labor had bestirred itself
in São Paulo, staging a series of strikes in 1978, 1979, and 1980. The church,
in the person of Cardinal Arns, supported the strikers and helped drama-

Brazil: Development for Whom? 173

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tize the disproportionate share of the sacrifice they had borne during the
“miracle.” In 1982 Planning Minister Delfim Neto and his fellow policy-
makers hoped to engineer an economic recovery, all the more since it was
to be an election year.

These hopes were soon dashed by the world recession, which depressed
the value of Brazilian exports, while high interest rates kept the cost of ser-
vicing the foreign debt at a crippling level. By the end of 1982 Brazil gained
the dubious honor of having the largest foreign debt in the world ($87 bil-
lion) and, like Argentina and Mexico, had to suspend payments on prin-
cipal. To get the essential “bridging loans” to meet immediate obligations,
Brazil agreed to an IMF-architected economic plan that involved a brutal
reduction of imports in order to earn a trade surplus.

The Quest for Afro-Brazilian Identity

Amid those economic problems Afro-Brazilians were staking out a new cul-
tural identity. Foreign observers have often marveled at the apparent lack
of racial consciousness among Afro-Brazilians, whom they expect to self-
identify as “black.” This perception is certainly accurate: “black” political
movements, from the Brazilian Black Front of the 1930s to the Unified
Black Movement of the 1970s, failed to attract mass followings.

In the cultural realm, however, Afro-Brazilian identities are expressed
through participation in blocos Afros, percussion groups organized to par-
ticipate in Carnival festivities. These blocos arose in poorer Afro-Brazilian
neighborhoods in the 1970s in the northeastern city of Bahia to allow resi-
dents to participate in the festival and to provide an Afro-Brazilian alterna-
tive to the trios electricos, white rock bands that had come to dominate Car-
nival performances.

The most famous of the dozen blocos Afros of Salvador is Olodum, which
began as a small neighborhood group and now has more than three thou-
sand members in Salvador, as well as fans the world over. Olodum was
founded in 1979 in a poor neighborhood called Pelourinho (“whipping
post”), a site where slaves were once whipped for punishment. The group’s
name comes from the Yoroba word Olodumare (“God of Gods”).

Olodum is widely credited with the invention of “samba-reggae,” an in-
novative musical style in which vocal melodies characteristic of Caribbean
reggae are wedded to the aggressively rhythmic drumming of Carnival street
music. The music’s bedrock is the aptly named surdo (“deaf ”), a booming
bass drum used to create powerful rhythmic lines. More recently, the group
has added traditional Western instrumentation to its ensemble, but drums
and voices remain at center stage. Olodum’s musical repertoire has also in-
corporated elements of salsa, West African music, pop, candomblé chants, and
African-American hip hop.

At Carnival the group’s two hundred musicians, recruited from Pelour-
inho, perform in Salvador’s festivities, as thousands of other members

Modern Latin America174

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dance in parade. A core group of as many as three dozen players and vo-
calists have toured nationally and internationally and recorded for their
fans. In live stage performances, the players and singers are accompanied
by dancers, an essential part of the show.

As the genre “samba-reggae” suggests, the Olodum members see them-
selves as part of the African diaspora and as sharing musical styles with
Afro-Caribbean peoples. This connection extends to a celebration of negri-
tude, or “blackness,” and of Africa and the peoples of the diaspora. Olo-
dum’s director of international relations, Billy Arquimimo, explained this
by stating: “Olodum is part of the international black movement, and we
want to promote self-esteem and pride.”

Along with this celebration of African roots, notable in a society in
which Africanness is often denigrated, even by Afro-Brazilians, comes
a commitment to the struggle for racial equality and a celebration of
black leaders the world over. “We fight discrimination with protest
songs,” noted Arquimimo. “Our message is the same as Malcolm X, Mar-
cus Garvey, Bob Marley or Martin Luther King Jr.; we’re fighting for
equality.”

As the Olodum has grown, it has become a center for the Pelourinho
neighborhood. The group employs members, manufacturing surdos in
their own workshop and selling Olodum merchandise to raise money.
At an Olodum-run school, poor children learn art, music, language,
dance, and history through a curriculum emphasizing the contributions
made by Africa and the peoples of the diaspora to world culture. Olo-
dum also sponsors programs to raise community awareness and fight
AIDs and cholera. And, of course, there are the weekly free concerts for
the neighborhood.

Olodum’s success, most visible internationally through the group’s col-
laboration with North American pop stars such as Paul Simon, has spawned
a host of similar neighborhood groups in the Northeast and Rio de Janeiro.
These groups that celebrate Afro-Brazilian culture and “blackness” serve as
community centers, drawing thousands of fans—black and white—across
the country. While the effects of their appeals to black consciousness and
racial equality are nearly impossible to gauge, they serve as powerful ex-
amples of Afro-Brazilian identity.

From Liberalization to Redemocratization

Bleak economic prospects spelled trouble for the “redemocratization”
process begun during the years (1974–79) of President Geisel. After sev-
eral false starts, President João Figueiredo (1979–85) worked hard to de-
liver on the promise of direct elections in 1982. For the first time since
1965, Brazil directly elected all its state governors in November 1982. The
opposition Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) won a
smashing victory in the most developed states, winning the governorships

Brazil: Development for Whom? 175

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of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais. The government party, the
PSD, lost control of the Chamber of Deputies, but retained control of the
electoral college, which would elect the new president in 1985.

That election proceeded in a very Brazilian way. The opposition party
(PMDB) candidate was Tancredo Neves, a skillful, old-style politician from
Minas Gerais. He shrewdly began by reassuring the military of his moder-
ation. Meanwhile, Paulo Maluf, the government party (PSD) candidate,
alienated his party by his heavy-handed campaign. Enough PSD electoral
college delegates defected to elect Tancredo.

Tancredo did not live to fulfill the great hopes the public had in him.
On the eve of his inauguration he underwent emergency intestinal surgery
from which he never recovered. Former Senator José Sarney, the vice pres-
ident elect, became president. Ironically, Brazil’s first civilian president in
twenty-one years was a previous PSD leader and former pillar of the mili-
tary regime.

The best that could be said of the Sarney presidency was that the mili-
tary remained on the sidelines and the president was committed to rede-
mocratization. The new government implemented a stabilization program
(the Cruzado Plan) that imposed a wage-price freeze and drastically re-
duced Brazil’s inflation rate from its 1985 high of 227 percent. The initial
success of the program enabled Sarney to coast to a huge victory in the
November 1986 elections. But stabilization did not hold. Inflation exploded
again in early 1987. Sarney’s popularity sank precipitously, and by the end
of that year his electoral victory had turned to ashes. The scene was now
set for some new leader, capable of bringing new solutions to Brazil’s press-
ing problems.

The new face was Fernando Collor de Mello, a young and previously un-
known former governor of the poor northeastern state of Alagoas. He
mounted a lavishly financed television-based campaign aimed at the more
than three-quarters of Brazilian homes with TVs. His chief opponent in
the 1989 campaign was the former labor union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva (“Lula”). Collor won in a runoff, although Lula’s percentage of the
vote (47 percent) had reached a level unprecedented for the left.

By mid-1991, after fifteen months in office, Collor proved a bitter dis-
appointment. He had begun, à la Jânio Quadros, with a highly autocratic
style and a personal arrogance ill-suited to Brazilian politics.

Collor chose to bet on economic stabilization. Unfortunately, his pro-
gram relied on such short-term gimmicks as the freezing of financial as-
sets and the immediate abolition of indexation. Both proved ineffective af-
ter only a few months. By early 1991 the stabilization plan had come apart.
Inflation hit an annual rate of 1585 percent, fiscal control was lost, and in-
dexation was back. The Brazilian economy returned to its pattern of drift,
discouraging foreign and domestic investors alike.

Collor had also begun an ambitious program of neo-liberal reforms. It
included privatization, deregulation, and opening of the economy through
lower tariffs. Many of these proposals aroused strong opposition from in-

Modern Latin America176

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

dustrialists and from nationalists in the Congress. The government’s sin-
gle victory in this sphere was the sale of a major state-owned steel mill,
which greatly increased its profits and productivity once in private hands.

Collor failed to see any of his programs through. In little more than two
years he lost his mandate. His nemesis proved to be the specter he had
campaigned against in 1989: corruption. Investigative reporters, a dis-
gruntled presidential brother, and a congressional inquiry furnished proof
that Collor was enmeshed in a vast web of bribery. Collor turned to tele-
vision for his defense weapon, but his telegenic skills had worn thin. Pub-
lic indignation led to a civil campaign for the president’s impeachment
and removal. In September 1992 the Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly
voted his impeachment, and Collor resigned only hours before the Senate
approved his conviction on grounds of official malfeasance.

The vice-president who succeeded him was Itamar Franco, a former sen-
ator and political nonentity whose personal honesty was his greatest rec-
ommendation. But his government, which lacked any party base, also
lacked political direction. Inflation soared to an annual rate of 2490 per-
cent in 1993. By hemispheric consensus, Brazil was regarded as the sick
man of South America.

Itamar’s government finally found an anchor when Fernando Henrique
Cardoso became finance minister in late 1993. His talented technocrats
launched yet another anti-inflation program. But this one, far better con-
ceived than its predecessors, brought inflation under control in two years.

Cardoso capitalized on this success and the resulting mood of confidence
to run for president in October 1994. Overcoming his past reputation as
a leftist intellectual, Cardoso, a former senator from the Brazilian Social
Democratic Party (PSDB), won the endorsement of the conservative party.
Without a significant right-wing candidate in the fray, Cardoso won 54 per-
cent of the vote, easily defeating Lula, again the runner-up. Taking office
in 1995, Cardoso took advantage of public confidence, buoyed by his sta-
bilization success and Brazil’s unprecedented fourth world soccer cham-
pionship the previous year. Initially, Cardoso’s luck held: the real remained
stable, and the privatization program, notably stalled under Itamar Franco,
picked up steam. The public-sector deficit remained unsolved, hardly sur-
prising, given the nature of Cardoso’s governing coalition and the built-in
barriers to trimming government employees.

With the specter of hyper-inflation gone, many poorer Brazilians could,
for a year or two, now buy the consumer durables previously available only
to the wealthy and the middle class. For much of the country, however,
the familiar social problems remained: hunger, illiteracy, and ill health. In
the mid-1990s, police massacres of peasant squatters dramatized the prob-
lems of landlessness, but they also helped provoke the government into an
accelerated land-distribution program in Brazil. Unlike the rest of Latin
America, Brazil had reserves of uncultivated state-owned land it could dis-
tribute. The government’s failure to provide accompanying services (credit,
transport, and the like), however, left new landowners unable to become

Brazil: Development for Whom? 177

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

economically viable. Despite his inability to achieve substantial growth, Car-
doso retained public support through his first two years. In mid-1997 he
even managed, at considerable political cost, to push through a constitu-
tional amendment allowing him to run for reelection.

The next year, Cardoso’s luck began to change. The world financial cri-
sis, which began in Asia, hit Russia and then Brazil. Cardoso’s economic
managers responded by raising interest rates and increasing taxes, stub-
bornly battling to save the overvalued real. Capital flight surged as the gov-
ernment lost $1.6 billion in foreign exchange reserves per day during the
first two weeks in September.

Such was the climate when Brazilians went to the polls in October 1998
that Cardoso, whose campaign managers did their best to divert attention
from the worsening financial crisis, was reelected with 53 percent of the
vote, with Lula trailing once again. Unlike 1994, however, Cardoso’s vic-
tory did not reflect voter confidence, but rather a fear that there was no
alternative to Cardoso’s orthodox economic policies.

Following his victory, Cardoso was under heavy pressure from the In-
ternational Monetary Fund to make broad cuts in public spending and new
hikes in taxes and interest rates, which he dutifully did. In November, Brazil
received $41.5 billion in credits from the U.S. government and interna-
tional agencies. Capital flight slowed, but at the cost of economic growth
(less than 1 percent in 1998). Cardoso and his finance minister, Pedro
Malan, gained a reputation for following to the letter the demands of their
foreign creditors, especially the IMF.

Economic crisis continued in the new year. Capital flight in early Janu-
ary accelerated to $6 billion. When a “controlled” devaluation of 8 percent
failed, the Central Bank finally decided to float the real. Brazil’s currency
lost more than 40 percent against the dollar, although it soon stabilized at
25 percent.

The remainder of Cardoso’s second term was spent desperately avoid-
ing a default on the foreign debt. A modest push to strengthen elemen-
tary education, notoriously neglected by previous governments, was oth-
erwise the most notable social gain. The highly fragmented party
system—the result of very permissive electoral laws—made difficult the pas-
sage of controversial laws, such as tax or pension reform. Such fiscal re-
form was needed because Brazil’s tax burden had risen to 40 percent of
the GDP, one of the world’s highest levels, and the public pension system
was running a current annual deficit of over $20 billion.

The Cardoso economic record was mixed. A stubborn adherence to an
overvalued currency had led to a speculative crisis in 1998–99, which cli-
maxed in a 20 percent devaluation. The preceding overvaluation discour-
aged exports and led to the loss of half of Brazil’s foreign exchange re-
serves. The next president would face a huge foreign debt and the threat
of new speculative attacks on Brazil’s currency. However, Cardoso could
be justly proud that democratic procedures were scrupulously observed
throughout his presidency, despite widespread skepticism about the sta-

Modern Latin America178

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bility of civilian government generally, further distancing Brazil from its
still recent authoritarian past.

Brazil’s First Working-Class President

The three principal candidates for president in the 2002 elections were
José Serra, supported by the Cardoso government; Lula, of the Workers’
Party; and Ciro Gomes, a populist candidate from the Northeast. The cam-
paign was marred by near panic in the financial markets. The cause was
speculators’ reaction to Lula’s early lead in the polls. Lula was the ex-
machinist and union leader who had helped found the leftist Workers Party
during the military rule and who had run unsuccessfully for president three
times. As the election approached in late 2002, Lula had striven in this
campaign to appear moderate, gathering the backing of banking and in-
dustry leaders.

Lula won the final vote (there was a runoff against his principal oppo-
nent, Cardoso’s health minister, José Serra) by an impressive margin. The
millions of PT faithful who had fought for the return of democracy could
at last taste victory. Brazil now had its first genuinely working-class presi-
dent. But what would be his policies? His party was a mixture of Trotsky-

Brazil: Development for Whom? 179

Lula exerts a magnetic ef-
fect on crowds. Here he
greets well-wishers during
celebrations for Interna-
tional Women’s Day (March
8, 2004). (Evaristo SA/
AFP/Getty Images.)

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Account: s8862125.main.eds

ists, advocates of liberation theology, government bureaucrats, and
middle-class progressives. Lula knew that Brazil’s financial condition, in-
cluding the largest debt in the developing world, ruled out any radical
moves.

The new president astounded all by choosing orthodox figures for key
economic policy positions, such as the finance minister and the director
of the Central Bank. International financial circles reacted warmly to Lula’s
moderate start. The foreign bankers now upgraded Brazil’s credit. Lula’s
first six months saw a letup in the foreign credit crisis.

Lula faced three fundamental challenges. The first was the need to steer
Brazil through the continuing credit crisis. On that he had made an ex-
cellent start. The second was to get the economy growing again (it had
been stagnant in the previous president’s two terms). The third was the
need to attack the country’s huge deficit in health care, education, and
housing. Judging from his first six months, Lula had met his first goal.
Progress on the second and third would take time. The question for Brazil
in the early twenty-first century is whether this president and his party, hav-
ing promised a political and moral transformation along with rapid social
change, can realize their country’s enormous promise.

Modern Latin America180

An Afro-Brazilian on the Supreme Court

In May 2003 President Lula nominated Joaquim Barbosa Gomes, a
prominent Afro-Brazilian lawyer, to the Supreme Court. He was
quickly confirmed. This was an important precedent both for the Lula
government and for Brazil. The Supreme Court had been a bastion
of white political dominance. As the nominee himself observed about
the society in which he grew up, “racial issues were taboo. Brazilian
society had a false ideology that this was a racial paradise.” The son
of a brick maker, he had financed his attendance at law school by
working in a print shop at night. He also studied at foreign law
schools, where he specialized in comparative constitutional law, mak-
ing him more cosmopolitan than most of his white judicial colleagues.
Barbosa Gomes had already announced his strong support for affir-
mative action and his belief that the Supreme Court has as one of
“its principal roles to defend minorities in the widest sense.” The
white power structure was beginning to lift the racial barriers it had
long claimed were nonexistent.

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