João Roberto Martins Filho
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The coup that took place in Brazil on March 31, 1964, can be understood as a typical cold war event. Supported by civilian forces, the action was carried out by the armed forces. Its origins hark back to the failed military revolt, headed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), in November of 1935, stirring up strong anti-communist sentiments. The Estado Novo coup, which occurred two years later, was supported by the Army (War) and Navy ministers. It marked the beginnings of the dictatorial phase of Vargas, who had been in power since 1930.
At the end of the Second World War, officials who had taken part in the struggle against Nazism in Italy returned to Brazil and overthrew the dictatorial Vargas, who nonetheless returned to power through the 1950 presidential elections. In 1954, under pressure from right-wing military forces, he committed suicide, thereby frustrating existing plans for another coup d'état. The Higher War School (ESG), created in 1949, had become both the birthplace of the ideology of National Security and stage where the French doctrine of guerre révolutionnaire was welcomed. During the 1950s, the military field came to be divided into pro-American and nationalist factions.
The alliance between the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD), which had elected Vargas earlier, now allowed for Juscelino Kubitschek's victory in the 1955 elections, disappointing the conservatives of the National Democratic Union (UDN) and its military allies. The latter encountered brief encouragement when the 1960 presidential election put Jânio Quadros at the head of the executive. In August of 1961, when Quadros resigned, his military ministers tried to use force to keep vice president Goulart from taking office. The coup was frustrated by the resistance of the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Yet the Goulart administration was marked by instability, in the midst of intense social struggles and by sharp economic crisis. The outcome of this drama began to take shape as of March 1963, when the government took a leftwards turn. The March 13 popular demonstration served as an alert and the March 25 sailors’ revolt, as the match in the powder barrel. On March 31, military forces carried out the infamous coup. The Goulart administration collapsed. Social movements were left waiting for orders to resist, which never came.
In the late 1960s, several leftist political movements in Latin America began to claim the use of political violence as a means of social transformation. This second wave of leftist political violence was distinct from an earlier wave—composed of rural guerillas inspired by the Cuban Revolution, roughly a decade and a half earlier—in several ways. The later proponents of armed struggle emphasized the importance of cities in armed actions, not just rural settings. They also advocated interaction between armed organizations and other actors in social movements, including far-left nationalist and populist factions within traditional political parties and the Catholic Church. Armed action was seen by such groups as a valid response to increasingly repressive governments, and to limitations on political action that made social change through peaceful means impossible. The use of violence provided a way to develop collective action in the hostile environment of the Latin American Cold War, which was marked by extreme political and ideological polarization.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican populace demonstrated a fascination with the nation’s railroads. Newspapers, literature, poetry, music, and art focused their attention on the symbolic power of the locomotive, revealing its capacity to reshape people’s social and cultural worlds. As the most potent symbol of progress and civilization, the arrival of the iron horse offered both powerholders and ordinary individuals the opportunity to imagine new possibilities for their nation and themselves, musings that could be highly optimistic or dreadfully distrustful. The locomotive emerged as a ubiquitous symbol throughout the restored republic (1867–1876), the Porfiriato (1876–1911), and the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) that inspired individuals to reflect on the meaning of an array of issues: modernization, cosmopolitanism, citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity. During the restored republic and Porfiriato, government officials and the press celebrated the railway as the dawning of new age of peace and prosperity, discourses that often sought to legitimize and justify sitting presidents and their policymaking. At the same time, popular and opposition groups used the symbolic power of the railway to question the decision-making of the elite that had resulted in extreme social inequality and foreign economic domination. These divisions were a portent of the conflicts that would spark the 1910 Revolution, a popular struggle where railroads and railway workers played principal protagonists. As such, the railroad emerged in a new context as a symbol to represent the heroism, violence, and disorder of those years.