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The Collor Presidency from the Electoral Campaign to the Impeachment

Summary and Keywords

In December 1989, Fernando Collor was elected President of Brazil, in the first election after the 1988 democratic Constitution. The election occurred under the threat of hyperinflation. The winner did not have strong parliamentary support, but the urgency for fighting high inflation gave to the President some time to govern without Judiciary and Legislative resistance. Soon after his inauguration, on March 15, the President launched heterodox stabilization measures—the Collor Plan—to “liquidate inflation.” This plan froze prices, changed the currency, and retained part of checking and saving accounts and other financial assets in Central Bank accounts, to be returned to the owners from September 1991 on. The government also started liberal reforms, privatizing state-owned enterprises and reducing barriers to international trade. The Collor Plan reduced the high inflation, but prices soon increased. On March 31, 1991, the government launched the Collor Plan II, once more against inflation. Having had bad results with the original plan, the government adopted economic orthodoxy, but high inflation remained. The center and left-wing party opposition grew, claiming legal protection for lower salaries and other demands for a substantive democracy. The conservatives pressed for more participation in the Executive in exchange of parliamentary support. President Collor resisted these pressures but finally made a ministerial reform in April 1992, to please the conservative parties and to strengthen his power. However, in May, a magazine published two interviews where the President’s younger brother accused him of corruption. In reaction, the center and left opposition parties made a coalition, and the Congress decided to organize a Mixed Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPMI) to investigate the accusation. After three months of inquiry, the CPMI approved, on August 26, a report saying that the President had committed crimes that allowed Congress to impeach him. Since August 16, the CPMI had been supported by a huge mass mobilization for impeachment. The mobilization continued until the Chamber of Representatives decided, on September 27, to allow the judgment of the President by Senate. This decision was achieved because conservative parties were included in the alliance around Vice President Itamar Franco. In December 1992, the Senate voted for Collor’s impeachment.

Keywords: impeachment, Fernando Collor, democratization, economic liberalization, inflation, Collor Plan, Brazil

The 1989 Presidential Election

In October 1988, the Brazilian Congress promulgated a new Constitution, maintaining the presidential system, establishing a democratic regime, and marking the first presidential election for November 15 of the following year. This would be the first direct election for Presidency since 1961.

The electoral dispute occurred amid the political instability of the last year of the Sarney government (1985–1990). During 1989, President Sarney lost much of his popular and party support and, despite his government’s efforts, inflation accelerated—it was 35.1 percent per month in January and, after a brief decline, reached 48.5 percent in November and 51.3 percent in December. This negatively affected the presidential candidates and the parties that had ties with the government. Because of this proximity, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) suffered great electoral losses, despite having the largest number of state governors and the largest parliamentary representation, and therefore, most of the radio and television time authorized for the election campaign. The other reason why the biggest parties had little influence in the elections was that the presidential election was “single”; that is, it was unaccompanied by other popular choices—for state or municipal governments, for federal, state, or municipal legislatures. This demobilized the parties’ electoral machines.

More than twenty candidates disputed the election, but none of them obtained the necessary votes to win (more than 50 percent). Fernando Collor de Mello of the National Reconstruction Party (PRN) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) received the most votes. Since 1986, Collor had been governor of Alagoas, a small Northeastern state, and Lula had been a trade union leader, then president of the leftist Worker’s Party. They left behind important national leaders such as Leonel Brizola, of PDT (Democratic Labor Party), Mario Covas, of PSDB (Brazilian Social-Democratic Party), and even Ulysses Guimarães, of PMDB, the main leadership in the country’s democratization movement until then.

On December 17, the second round of the election was held. The PT’s candidate was supported by political forces that had led the process of democratization—and now were at the center-left band of the party spectrum—and by most of the trade union movement. Political parties located to the right of that spectrum, a minority fraction of the trade union movement, the vast majority of the business community, and the main media enterprises supported the Collor candidacy.

In the 1989 presidential election, there was no significant controversy over democracy, which seemed already guaranteed by the Constitution and by the very electoral contest. The debate focused more on the economic alternatives to be chosen. Lula adopted the economic rhetoric of the movement for democratization, that of distributive-developmentalism, which demanded a state-led development, aimed at economic growth but without neglecting equality and income distribution. Collor attacked the gigantism of the state and the Maharajas who, he said, used public money without working enough and without merit; he defended liberal reformism, which would break up with the closed character of the Brazilian economy and integrate Brazil with the First World. This liberal reformism, diffused from the United Kingdom and the United States of America, had gained importance in Brazil since the 1987 foreign debt moratorium and the failure of the heterodox plans to combat inflation. It was assimilated by segments of the business community and by the central and right-wing parties. Thus, Lula ’s electoral support of the center parties—PMDB, and specially the PSDB—was due more to sharing with the PT the tradition of fighting for democracy than with any affinity for the economic ideas that Lula defended.

The campaign was strongly disputed and ended, despite the great growth of the Lula candidacy, with the victory of Fernando Collor, who got 53 percent of the valid votes against 47 percent given to the PT candidate.

After the election, the sense of crisis increased, as Brazil was clearly on the way to hyperinflation: The National Consumer Price Index (INPC) rose from 51.3 percent a month in December 1989, to 68.2 percent in January 1990, 74 percent in February, and reaching 82.2 percent in March 1990. At the same time, however, the hope of the population in the future government grew until the inauguration of the president-elect on March 15, when more than 71 percent of Brazilians had the expectation that the Collor government would be good or very good, which contrasted with the opinion of 56 percent of the interviewees, who considered the Sarney government bad or very bad.1

Contributing to this optimism was the intense political marketing developed by the campaign team of the future head of state. Collor presented himself as young, vigorous, and careful concerning the public money. His international travels and meetings with world leaders allowed him to accentuate an image of success. The meetings with politicians emphasized his autonomy in relation to political parties and pressure groups, consulting them before deciding on his governing staff but not negotiating positions.

Actually, the president-elect interpreted the Presidency as giving him great political autonomy, more than the other powers of state, the Legislative and the Judiciary, which he considered as second-order. Such a conception gave way to a willful exercise of power by the president-elect and would mark his actions throughout his term of office. This form of the president-elect as leader produced ministerial choices with no political relevance or political-partisan articulation in Congress. The crucial choice for the Ministry of Economy fell to Zelia Cardoso de Melo, a young economist of 36 years of age. Since the election, she had headed the “transition” economic team and had been chosen as a minister, instead of other well-qualified and experienced candidates presented to the president by businessmen from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. This choice wasn’t surprising because the president-elect had reiterated several times that he would be responsible for economic policy, and he anticipated something of the content of this policy, saying that it would eliminate inflation by Ippon (a decisive blow, in the practice of judo).

In any case, popular hope would not be easy to maintain, as the country was experiencing great economic difficulties. In addition to extremely high inflation, voluntary capital flows to Brazil had been interrupted by the 1982 external debt crisis, and the country had not made payments owed to external creditors since a 1987 moratorium to avoid the depletion of foreign exchange reserves. In addition, the Brazilian economy had a strong state presence (more than 500 state enterprises) and was very closed in relation to other economies, due to tariff and non-tariff barriers that were imposed on imports to protect the national industry. Moreover, there were disputes with the US government on the grounds that Brazil did not protect industrial patents, that there was a market reserve for informatics, and because of Brazilian non-adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Collor Plan: Monetary Stabilization and Liberal Reformism

On the day of his inauguration, March 15, Fernando Collor reiterated in a speech before the Congress the liberal economic orientation he would adopt and emphasized that the central objective of the beginning of his government “is not to contain inflation: it is to liquidate it.”

The next morning, in front of his the ministerial team, the president presented and signed the seventeen Provisional Measures, which constituted the “Brazil Novo” Plan—dubbed the Collor Plan; in a breach of protocol, he carried the documents on a walk, in the company of his auxiliaries, to the Congress, handing them over to the President of the Legislature.2

The Plan had an extraordinary impact on national economic life.3 Monetary reform was the central element. It was a monetary shock that sought to drastically reduce the volume of money in circulation, which the government considered to be excessive, constantly pushing prices up. It reduced liquidity, that is, the volume of money that existed as currency, as deposits in current and time-based accounts and in the form of public and private bonds, which could easily be turned into currency.

How did the government do this? Monetary reform replaced the “cruzado novo” currency with a new one, the “cruzeiro.” This substitution took place in two main ways: it allowed money in the hands of the public, and in the checking and savings accounts, up to 50,000 cruzados novos, to be used as cruzeiros; and it allowed the conversion into cruzeiros of 20 percent of the other financial assets, on the maturity date of the securities. The limit of 50,000 cruzados novos amounted at the time to $625 on the official exchange rate, and to $1250 in parallel (unofficial) exchange rate.4 All remaining cruzados novos held in bank deposits and financial investments would be retained at the Central Bank, to be returned—with monetary correction and interest of 6 percent—in twelve monthly installments, from September 1991 on. It was estimated that these conversion rules left as cruzeiros, applied or not, only about 20 percent of the cruzados novos existing in the most varied forms. The remaining 80 percent would only become cruzeiros from September 1991 on.5

There was also a price freeze until May and afterwards a gradual liberalization. As for salaries, the salary adjustment for March was set according to the INPC in February (72.9 percent). From April 15 on, the government would announce monthly the salary correction rate, although these could be surpassed by free negotiation as long as the additional allowances were not passed on to the prices.

The Plan also included fiscal adjustment initiatives: these aimed not only to close the 8 percent of GDP deficit forecast for 1990, but also to produce a surplus of 2 percent GDP in the public accounts. For this the government instituted measures of two types: (a) those with a transitory effect, such as the Tax on Financial Operations (IOF) on financial assets existing on March 16, the sale of Privatization Certificates to be used to purchase the companies to be privatized, the suspension of fiscal incentives granted to regional investment funds and others; and (b) measures of permanent effect, such as the institution of taxation of capital gains on stock exchanges, increased income tax on exports, the extinction of public agencies, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the public administration reform, with the dismissal of thousands of employees and the elimination of indirect wages for civil servants (the so-called stewardships as functional residences, and representation automobiles).

Finally, the Collor Plan established the exchange rate fluctuation and a new foreign trade policy, with the purpose of liberalizing it and increasing the competitiveness of domestic production. This new policy began by eliminating non-tariff barriers to imports, over-tariffs on freight, and taxes on imports of industrial equipment. The idea was to maintain tariff barriers only on imports and, in the future, to reorganize and reduce them.

Obviously, this reform reached and burdened the business and proprietary classes, the professional middle class, and even the upper echelons of urban wage earners. Although unions cried out against the losses caused by the Collor Plan, the large mass of salaried workers was not harmed because, on the one hand, they had real salary adjustments and, on the other hand, their savings were generally preserved, because about 90 percent of savings accounts were not affected by the blockade.6

Initially, the stabilization plan was successful. On the day after its launch, a poll conducted in ten state capitals revealed that 58 percent of the respondents evaluated the measures as good, and 60 percent believed that inflation would fall. In addition, the Judiciary attested to its legality, and Congress approved it with minor changes.

Actually, inflation gave way, at first: the INPC, which had been 82.2 percent a month in March, fell to 14.7 percent in April and 7.3 percent in May. But prices soon rose again—the INPC reached 11.6 percent in June, 12.6 percent in July, 12.2 percent in August, 19.1 percent in December, and 20.9 percent in January 1991. Thus, the Collor Plan failed in its central political objective to liquidate inflation, but it was successful in driving the country from the hyperinflationary abyss.

However, there was much more consistency in the implementation of the privatization of state enterprises and of the reinsertion of Brazil as an international competitor.7 The Congress approved the National Privatization Program (PND) in April 1990, and the privatization process began in October 1991, when USIMINAS was privatized. Until the end of the government, September 1992, fourteen companies were privatized.

With respect to international reinsertion, in addition to eliminating non-tariff barriers to foreign trade, the government launched, in June 1990, the Industrial and Foreign Trade Policy (PICE), aiming for renewal of Brazilian industrial strength, making it globally competitive, since industry had grown only 0.2 percent a year in the 1980s and was far out of line in international terms. The program involved increasing the competition capacity of industry, cautiously reducing import tariffs over four years, starting in 1991.

This liberal reformism was in tune with an important reorientation of Brazil’s foreign policy. This had been marked during the Cold War period by a link to the West, but maintaining “autonomy by distance,” which meant preserving a certain autonomy from the leading country, the United States, and not accepting any international rules that would freeze the existing world power hierarchy and/or restrict the national state’s freedom of intervention over economic and social life.

The great transformations that took place in international politics—with the breakdown of the Soviet Union—in the organization of the world economy, and in the economic orientation of the states of the developed countries, made the strategy of Brazilian foreign policy anachronistic. The diplomatic elite of the country understood that, instead of shrinking within its borders, Brazil would gain more if it participated actively in the construction of the new international order that would emerge from the end of the Cold War. This reorientation of foreign policy materialized in three initiatives: (a) reduction of conflicts with the central powers—those of external debt and of non-protection of pharmaceutical patents and nuclear energy; (b) expansion of Brazilian diplomatic action to include new international themes, such as the environment and human rights; and (c) reinforcement of the Brazilian international position with the construction of a regional economic bloc, MERCOSUR, with its southern neighbors in South America, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

However, the set of government stimuli to renewal and industrial competitiveness and of the economy as a whole did not have the expected effect, due to uncertainty arising from the resumption of inflation and to the deep recession that the Collor Plan produced.

Democratization against Presidential Voluntarism

Although stabilization policies and liberal reforms were partially unsuccessful, it was the willful way in which the Collor government attempted to implement them that produced political reactions that eventually shortened the presidential mandate.

Unlike his predecessors, Tancredo Neves and Jose Sarney, Fernando Collor set up his government without negotiating positions and resources of the Executive with the parties that would allow him to obtain safe parliamentary support for his projects. Instead, President Collor chose to maintain the resources under his direct control, or his auxiliaries, reinforcing his political position through a continuous political marketing campaign that confronted opponents and emphasized his personality, his virility, and his messianic qualities. In the legislature, he and his parliamentary leaders only tried to obtain ad hoc majorities, project-by-project, vote-by-vote. He did not constitute, therefore, an organized majority in the Congress.

This way of ruling was successful while the president had popular approval for fighting an internal enemy, hyperinflation, which threatened the material survival of the vast majority of Brazilians. Thus, the Collor Plan found little opposition from the other state powers, from the center and left parties, and from the class organizations: the Federal Supreme Court (STF) legalized the provisional confiscation that the government promoted in bank accounts, savings accounts, and debt securities. Moreover the Congress approved, with few modifications, the Provisional Measures that made up the Collor Plan.

However, to the extent that the danger of hyperinflation was removed, political adherence to the president declined. From the end of May 1990, the direct or collateral burdens of the extraordinary intervention of the State in the economic order became the emphatic demands of the opposition political forces and stimulated the reaction of the other state powers against the excesses of the Executive. In spite of these reactions, few were the limitations imposed to its powers and rare the defeats suffered by the policy of Fernando Collor in 1990.

The reaction wasn’t strong for two reasons. The first one is that the government had the ability to legislate by means of “provisional measures” (MPs). This legal institute gave great power to the chief executive. Since the Constitution was very recent, until June 1990 there was no clarity about whether the president could reissue provisional measures rejected by Congress or not. That month, the STF decided that, once Congress had rejected a measure, the Executive could not re-issue it. There was, however, the possibility of the government issuing new provisional measures with minor changes of content to replace those that were in danger of being denied by the Legislature. That’s why, in 1990, Collor made extensive use of provisional measures: 143 Provisional Measures.

Another reason for the limited reaction of the opposition in the legislature, especially in the second half of 1990, was the parliamentarians in the last year of their mandates, needing to contest elections in October to renew them.

Even so, party opposition had put up significant resistance to wage legislation, forcing the government to change its initial intentions—associated with the goal of stabilizing the currency—to protect the lower wage brackets from residual and upward inflation. For this resistance, it counted on the support of a strong syndical movement. Although the dynamics of electoral interests tended to produce this kind of parliamentary conduct, it also expressed the association that the democratization movement had made since the 1970s, between the struggles for political democracy and the reduction of social inequalities. In a less visible way, in the first year of Collor government, the parliamentary opposition presented and advanced in Congress a supplementary bill that restricted the powers of the Executive to legislate through provisional measures.

Although President Collor faced a mild opposition in his first year in office, the economic order offered increasing resistance to the government’s economic policy—inflation, as it turned out, gained momentum amid the brutal economic recession. At the end of 1990, inflation was close to 20 percent per month, the Brazilian GDP fell about 4.3 percent, and the manufacturing industry, in particular, reduced its output by about 9.5 percent.

To face this, the government decided to unleash once again a heterodox monetary shock, the Collor Plan II, published on January 31, 1991. There was a price freeze, a new wage bill, and the de-indexation of government bonds.

The negative reaction of unions and business organizations to the new measures and the entrance of a renewed National Congress, with parliamentarians newly elected to four years in office, led the government to adopt a new stance before Congress. The government began to negotiate more effectively the Plan Collor II in the Congress; in addition, it undertook to declare provisional measures only in cases of real “relevance and urgency.” In this way, the President was able to approve the Collor Plan II and prevent the opposition movement from approving a restriction on its power to issue provisional measures.

However, the Collor Plan II proved to be ineffective against inflation: price indexes declined, as expected, to a minimum of 5 percent in April, but soon thereafter reached 6.7 percent, in May 1991. In the same month, the government abandoned the project of eliminating inflation in a heterodox way (“with one shot only”), replacing Zelia Cardoso de Melo in the Ministry of Economy with the ambassador and former banker Marcilio Marques Moreira, who would adopt a frankly orthodox economic policy. Price indexes showed that the policy change had not been able to prevent inflation growth: in June the INPC was already 10.1 percent, and then the numbers followed an upward trend.

By reducing the number of MPs edited, the government eliminated the most visible face of the Executive dominance over the Legislative but continued to govern on the basis of ad hoc parliamentary majorities. It was possible because of the extensive legislative powers granted to the Executive by the 1988 Constitution and the occasional attendance of the demands of the parliamentarians. These majorities were obtained, with more and more difficulty, from parliamentarians of conservative parties such as the PRN, PDS (Social and Democratic Party), PFL (Party of Liberal Front), PTB (Brazilian Labor Party), PDC (Christian Democratic Party), PL (Liberal Party), and others, which demanded to share the resources of the Executive, first veiled and then openly.

In this way, the divergences around democracy included three dimensions: the dimension of political management, which concerned the resources that the Executive could share with the parties and parliamentarians as compensation for the support received in Congress; the institutional dimension, related to the distribution of legislative powers between Congress and Executive; and last, the substantive dimension of democracy, concerning the social inequality and the social rights of citizenship. In the first dimension, the institutional power of the Executive was not questioned, but the participation of the legislators in the distribution of its resources was desired. In the second dimension, institutional change was demanded to strengthen the Congress before the Executive. The third required the government to make policies to protect wage earners in general, especially those at the base of the social pyramid. Regarding questions concerning the social dimension of democracy, left-wing parties had much support in the center parties (PMDB and PSDB). In institutional matters, on the contrary, the parliamentary center had the leadership, with the support of the left parties (PT, PDT, etc.).

In these three dimensions, emphasized by different segments of Parliament with varying degrees of intensity, the Executive was asked to adopt a more balanced, less arrogant attitude toward Congress and parliamentary demands. As such demands were not satisfactorily fulfilled, parliamentary reactions partially reversed that imbalance, gradually draining the President’s pretensions of power.

Thus, after some parliamentary defeats, the government had to refrain from exercising control over salary policy, and was obliged, in the second half of 1991, to accept a bill proposed by parliamentary opposition that protected the lower strata workers. In a similar way, the Congress blocked the President’s projects oriented to deep economic liberalization, given the political costs of those projects and the government’s lack of commitment to the center parties and even to right-wing parties. Besides, at the end of 1991, Congress approved a proposal for the renegotiation of state debts that was contrary to the federal government’s “adjustment policy” and heavily restricted the mass of material resources requested by the government for 1992. Finally, in December 1991, a decision of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), ordering the government to pay a 147 percent raise to all retirees and pensioners, equivalent to that of the minimum wage, dramatized to the maximum the difficulties of the government to maintain, in the following year, its economic policy in an orthodox way, with strict control of expenses.

In addition, Collor’s economic policy continued to produce mediocre results: GDP grew modestly—1 percent over the previous year—and inflation in November and December respectively reached 26.5 percent and 24.1 percent, much higher than the same months of the previous year. Political forces seemed to move to an impasse without the President’s apparent awareness.

Changing to Keep Governing

In January 1992, Collor’s voluntarism came to a dead end. In an extraordinary move, the President convened Congress in January 1992 and asked the parliamentarians to collaborate with the Executive by approving an increase in the social security contribution of the workers, so that the government could readjust pensions as determined by the STJ.

Congress, however, said no. The leadership of the center and left parties refused, as they always did, to burden the workers. This time, party leaders to the right of the party spectrum also refused to accept the Executive’s proposal. The government tried to escape the parliamentary tourniquet, decreeing a one-year postponement of payments due to retirees. The parties of the democratizing front then attempted to face the issue by a legislative decree that contradicted that of the Executive but failed to approve it immediately. The dispute continued without resolution in the Legislature, and the opposition parties also judicially questioned the postponement of payments to retirees.

At the end of March, the President finally gave way, amid a downright negative mood in which new allegations of corruption were emerging against very close helpers. He tried to regain control of the political process by promoting a major ministerial reform. His new governing team included ministers known for their technical competence, connections with conservative parties, and former collaboration with the military-authoritarian regime. In addition, Collor tried unsuccessfully to bring to the ministry a center party—the PSDB—both for the prestige of its cadres and to ensure thereby at least a simple majority in Congress.

In any case, the January crisis was overcome in early April 1992 with the formation of something close to a coalition government, albeit a minority in Congress. The President gained political momentum, but at the price of sharing power and government resources with those who supported him in the Legislature.

Despite having achieved limited political power vis-a-vis the legislature, the government continued to be viewed in a downright negative way by public opinion. Besides, a still small group of collective actors (unions and associations) with an eventual presence in the public sphere, started to articulate themselves in favor of the center-left parliamentary opposition.

It was in this insecure political position that the President was hit by accusations from his younger brother Pedro Collor, in two interviews published on May 10 and 24 by Veja weekly magazine. He accused his brother, the president, of being responsible for, and biggest beneficiary of, the suspicious activities of the treasurer of his electoral campaign, Paulo Cesar (PC) Farias. Now, the suspicion of corruption was not only on auxiliaries that the president could dismiss. The accusation reached him personally. It was very serious, because the president did not have a solid parliamentary base and was now threatened with losing his symbolic foundation as an intransigent enemy of corruption, a hunter of the Maharajas. His moral authority was at stake. As a result, it became more difficult to ensure the loyalty of the ruling base, since the political costs of membership tended to rise.

In addition, the accusation shifted political disputes from issues of government performance to corruption, simplifying political combat and increasing opportunities for it to go outside the political-institutional arena, involving collective actors without regular participation in the political sphere and even a larger circle of citizens. It became almost inevitable for the parliamentary opposition to investigate the denunciations on pain of political loss. But it did more than that.

PT, PSDB, and PMDB formed a center-left partisan coalition to unify their actions against the government. They then succeeded in approving a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPMI) to investigate the activities of PC Farias, which gave them an institutional trench with visibility and authority for the attacks they had against the government on a moral level.

In short, the accusations against the President weakened the governing articulation, tarnished Collor’s image and allowed the unification of the parliamentary opposition. For its part, the government was able to maneuver to limit the CPMI objectives: it was set up not to investigate President Collor, but only PC Farias. In addition, the government was able to partially shape the composition of the Commission in its favor.

These changes in the relations of power in the political-institutional field stimulated changes in the societal level, which in turn reinforced the political position of the center and left coalition vis-a-vis the government. First, there was a shift in the political positions of the mass media, which are usual participants in the political sphere. Competition among media companies was heightened by an audience eager for information on corruption, CPMI, etc. However, the government retained the support of almost all television networks, reducing the impact of the scandal on the mass of the population.

In addition, the mobilization of various civil society organizations intensified—groups critical of the Collor government, such as voluntary associations oriented toward democratizing objectives, religious entities, professional middle-class organizations, unions, and even organizations of small businessmen. They strengthened their articulations, forming the Movement for Ethics in Politics (MEP) and developed actions in support of the CPMI and the political-partisan opposition.

The actions of the opposition parties in the CPMI and those of the media and civil society organizations failed to produce irrecoverable losses to the government’s position. They kept the President under attack but did not threaten the continuation of his mandate. Those summoned by the CPMI did not add information that could demonstrate the opposition’s suspicions. The media accompanied the testimonies with a more or less critical bias, and the entities of civil society made some demonstrations in closed places, but with limited political impact. The President, however, continued with the support of the parliamentary right in the media and most of the country’s leading business organizations. The latter gave special support to its policy of economic liberalization, understood as a barrier against attacks on private property and the state interventionism claims of the left.

All in all, the effective chances of legally discontinuing President Collor’s term did not seem large, either because there was insufficient evidence to support that there had been a crime of responsibility, or because the opposition was far from having the necessary two-thirds of votes to approve an impeachment.

Political Crisis and Impeachment

In late June, the weekly magazine Isto E published an interview of the driver of the President’s personal secretary that produced a decisive change in the conjuncture. The driver claimed to have loaded checks from PC Farias enterprise to pay Fernando Collor’s expenses. This was the first time that indications appeared of documentary evidence of the suspicious relations between Fernando Collor and his former campaign treasurer. The interview was a transformative event that broke the usual patterns of routine political relations.8 It started a conjuncture of political crisis in which the hierarchy of power was questioned, uncertainty dominated the moves of the actors, and the political space was expanded, incorporating new actors.9

The center-left party coalition, which had the political leadership of the movement against Collor, glimpsed the actual possibility of impeachment, accentuated its adherence to the rules of the democratic game, and sought neutrality from the military in the ongoing political dispute. The CPMI gained new impetus, determining the bank secrecy breach of several suspects in order to gather evidence of their ill-done acts; the media emphasized their critical coverage of events, some of them calling for the resignation of the president. In addition to these changes in the political-institutional field, the Movement for Ethics in Politics (MEP) expanded by incorporating more than a hundred entities and structured its headquarters in Brasilia. This articulation of societal forces, although it did not immediately produce public manifestations of great visibility, fulfilled a key function in the process, constructing the interpretative framework—the set of ideas with which the situation was interpreted—that oriented and legitimized opposition actions against the government. This framework gave political breadth to the fight against corruption, associating it with the struggle “for ethics in politics” and the realization of democracy in Brazil by means of a regime of non-authoritarian government, with a greater balance between the powers of the State, and a promotion of full expansion of citizenship. This association between ethics and democracy was not trivial, because it broke the usual popular link between politics and corruption. So, the MEP gave cultural direction to the movement for the impeachment, whose political direction was assumed from the outset by the party coalition of center and left.

At the end of July, the CPMI received the requested documentation from Central Bank and consolidated the change that occurred in the relations of political force. The opposition cornered the President. The center-left party coalition announced impeachment as a target, expanded contacts with conservative politicians, and deepened its articulation with Vice President Itamar Franco to form an alternative coalition of government. Collor and the Executive—marked by corruption, authoritarianism, and disregard for the majority of citizens—were definitively placed at the negative pole of the interpretive framework of the pro-impeachment movement, with the CPMI and the Congress, on the contrary, as agents that would guarantee the overcoming of iniquities of the present. This interpretation overcame the way the government reported the situation—that of a struggle of partisans of modernizing reforms against those of state interventionism and backwardness. Defeated symbolically, the President tried to avoid parliamentary a beating by distributing material resources—public jobs and budget allocations of electoral relevance—to keep the allies he needed to preserve his office and by trying to postpone any decision of Congress until after the October 1992 elections, which would reduce the political cost of supporting the President.

In the first half of August, despite the advance of the opposition, the President’s impeachment could not confidently be anticipated. It seemed possible that Collor, although in parliamentary minority, had retained the adhesion of at least one-third of the Chamber of Deputies to avoid authorization for impeachment. Although tactfully promoting popular mobilization to legitimize impeachment, the center-left party coalition avoided engaging in it before the CPMI presented its final outcome so as not to be accused of disturbing the institutions. This care made sense, as military intervention against popular participation in the process was still feared.

Nevertheless, in mid-August, the President himself, in a speech before a crowd of taxi drivers in the Planalto Palace, called for street demonstrations in his favor on Sunday, 16. Thus, he ended up by authorizing the mass mobilization that, until then, the opposition had encouraged with great caution. Challenged by the President, the center-left party coalition and the MEP unleashed, as of August 16, mass mobilizations in many big cities, with mass student participation, in favor of impeachment. That date was called Domingo Negro (Black Sunday), as demonstrators carried signs of mourning for democracy. This was a transformative event, as it gave impetus to the deepening of the ongoing political crisis.

These demonstrations and those that followed exacerbated the conflict, deepening the political crisis. The mobilization was strong enough to widen the field of political disputes, changing the usual references of the political-institutional sphere, but not to the point of threatening democratic institutions. The mass mobilization took place in two cycles. The first had 112 mass demonstrations, mobilizing almost 1.2 million people. It started on August 16 and culminated on the 26th, when the CPMI approved its final report by 11 votes to 5, saying there were strong indications that the president had committed a crime of responsibility. The second one had 104 demonstrations mobilizing 1.5 million people. This cycle began in early September and ended on the 29th, when the Chamber of Deputies authorized the judgment by the Senate of Fernando Collor.10

The intense mass demonstrations became an inescapable reference for the actors of the political field, producing changes in their usual moves and in the calculations that supported them, favoring the opposition in general. In fact, mass mobilization legitimized the actions of the center-left coalition and underlined the political damage that those who remained with the President would have. Thus, it helped the opposition to conquer the conservative parliamentarians and hurried the impeachment as a crisis solution. Moreover, mass mobilization produced at the top of society the perception (no matter if over-estimated) that political instability would increase if the will expressed on the streets would be frustrated. This stimulated the establishment—ministry, Supreme Court (STF), and business elites—to act in favor of a quick and institutional solution to the political crisis.

If mass mobilization legitimized the pro-impeachment action and accentuated the perception of the negative consequences of Collor’s preservation of power, the negotiated construction of the future government of Vice President Itamar Franco underlined, for most professional politicians, the advantages they would have with the impeachment approval.

The Itamar Franco government was, from the outset, a congressional coalition, negotiated with the political parties. He would value the National Congress, placed on the sidelines by Fernando Collor. The government coalition would not only include the parties that unleashed the impeachment process; it would also incorporate those conservatives who joined the movement throughout the process. Thus, the demands on the political-administrative dimension of democracy were met, including in the coalition of almost all parties. Second, in spite of PT’s refusal to participate in the management of Itamar Franco, the government in formation was guided by a center-left position, compromising to prioritize the social, as stated by the 1988 Constitution. Third, pledging to maintain economic liberalization in progress, albeit moderately, Itamar Franco avoided confronting the right and center parties, the business elites, and the fraction of the middle classes that leaned in that direction.

This convergence of political and societal forces in favor of the impeachment of Fernando Collor resulted in the authorization, on September 29, 1992, by the Chamber of Deputies—by 441 favorable votes, 38 contrary votes, 1 abstention, and 23 absentees—for its judgment by the Senate and provisional withdrawal of Fernando Collor from the Presidency. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the ballot—scattered across dozens of public squares in the country—and applauded with enthusiasm the decision of the Chamber of Deputies. After a few days, Vice President Itamar Franco took provisional possession as President.

About three months later, on December 29 and 30, 1992, the Senate held the trial of Collor and took him down, even though he had first resigned. By 76 to 3 votes, Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached and declared disabled for eight years to exercise any public function, as determined by the Constitution of 1988.

Discussion of the Literature

The social sciences literature about Collor’s government and impeachment is not extensive. Collor’s plans against high inflation were analyzed by dozens of economists in two books edited by Clovis Faro, Plano Collor—Avaliacoes e Perspectivas and A Economia Pos-Plano Collor II.11 A synthetic view of Collor’s economic liberalization and foreign policies can be found in the article “Governo Collor: O Reformismo Liberal e a Nova Orientacao da Politica Externa Brasileira,” by Brasilio Sallum Jr.12 An extensive exam of Brazilan economic liberalization, including the Collor period, can be found in the book Crafting Coalitions for Reform by Peter R. Kingstone.

About the other dimensions of political process, it is possible to distinguish studies on the personality and symbolic image of the former president, analysis about institutional conflicts between the presidency and other state powers and political actors, and the literature that tried to articulate both dimensions with societal actors such as trade unions, entrepreneur associations, middle class organizations, and mass mobilizations. In the first level, two books showed up, one, Fernando Collor: O Discurso Messianico e o Clamor ao Sagrado, by Olga Tavares underlines the religious references of Collor’s electoral messages, and the other, Collor: O Ator e sua Circunstancias, written by Carlos Melo, analyzes the style and content of his political leadership.13

Analysis about political institutions and how they worked in that historical period can be found in the book by Bolivar Lamounier, Depois da Transicao: Democracia e Eleicoes no Governo Collor and his article “Antecedentes, Riscos e Possibilidades do Governo Collor.” Amaury de Souza analyzes the same subject in an article “Collor’s Impeachment and the Institucional Reform in Brazil.”14

The reader will find a wider view on the political process that ended in impeachment in an article by Kurt Weyland, “The Rise and Fall of President Collor and its Impact in Brazilian Democracy.”15 A book by Alberto T. Rodrigues, Brasil, de Fernando a Fernando: Neoliberalismo, Corrupcao e Protesto na Politica Brasileira de 1989 a 1994, is a good reconstruction of Collor’s electoral campaign and government. Finally, Brasilio Sallum Jr. presented a sociological analysis of the complex political process that led to the President’s dismissal in O Impeachment de Fernando Collor: Sociologia de uma Crise.16

The period was reported extensively by the main Brazilian newspapers, which have digital collections available to the general public. Researchers can read: O Estado de S. Paulo, Folha de S. Paulo, and O Globo.

The political events reported by four newspapers—O Estado de São Paulo, Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil, and Jornal do Brasil—were selected, synthesized, and made researchable by keywords in the database POLI (Eventos de Política Nacional, 1987–1995), organized by Brasilio Sallum Jr. and Eduardo Graeff. This database is available for online research through the Consórcio de Informações Sociais. Researchers can also find there databases of public opinion polls about different political issues connected to the Collor government.

In addition, the weekly magazines VEJA and IstoÉ can be consulted in Rio de Janeiro at the CPDOC of Getúlio Vargas Foundation and in São Paulo at the Biblioteca Florestan Fernandes of the University of São Paulo.

The report and all documentation collected by the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPMI) can be found in the Congress Library in Brasilia-DF.

Statistical data about economic growth and prices can be found at IPEAData.

Further Reading

Carvalho, Rodrigo de. A Era Collor: Da Eleicao ao Impeachment. São Paulo, Brazil: Fundacao M. Grabois/Anita Garibaldi, 2012.Find this resource:

    Conti, Mario Sergio. Noticias do Planalto: A Imprensa e Fernando Collor. São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 1999.Find this resource:

      Erber, Fabio. “A Politica Industrial e de Comercio Exterior: Uma Avaliacao.” In Perspectivas da Economia Brasileira, ed. IPEA. Brasília: IPEA, 1992.Find this resource:

        Faro, Clovis (ed.). Plano Collor: Avaliacoes e Perspectivas. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: LTC, 1990.Find this resource:

          Faro, Clóvis (ed.). A Economia pós-Plano Collor II. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: LTC, 1991.Find this resource:

            Fonseca, Gelson, Jr. A Legitimidade e Outras Questões Internacionais. São Paulo, Brazil: Paz e Terra, 1990.Find this resource:

              Kingstone, Peter R. Crafting coalitions for reform: Business preferences, political institutions and neoliberal reform in Brazil. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                Lamounier, Bolívar. De Geisel a Collor: O Balanço da Transição. São Paulo, Brazil: IDESP/Editora Sumaré, 1990.Find this resource:

                  Lamounier, Bolívar. Depois da Transição: Democracia e Eleições no Governo Collor. São Paulo, Brazil: Loyola, 1991.Find this resource:

                    Limongi, Fernando. “O Poder Executivo na Constituição de 1988.” In A Constituição de 1988 na Vida Brasileira, ed. Ruben Oliver, Marcelo Ridenti, and Gildo Marçal Brandão. São Paulo, Brazil: Alderaldo & Rothschild Editores/ANPOCS, 2008.Find this resource:

                      Melo, Carlos. Collor: O Ator e suas Circunstâncias. São Paulo, Brazil: Novo Contexto, 2007.Find this resource:

                        Mische, Ann. Partisan Publics: Communication and Contention across Brazilian Youth Activist Networks. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                          Nêumanne, José. A República na Lama: Uma Tragédia Brasileira. São Paulo, Brazil: Geração Editorial, 1992.Find this resource:

                            Oliveira, Francisco de. 1992. Collor: A Falsificação da Ira. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Imago, 1992.Find this resource:

                              Rodrigues, Alberto Tosi. 2000. Brasil de Fernando a Fernando: Neoliberalismo, Corrupção e Protesto na Política Brasileira de 1980 a 1994. Ijuí, Brazil: Editora Ijuí.Find this resource:

                                Rosenn, Keith S., and Richard Downes (eds.). 1999. Corruption and Political Reform in Brazil: The Impact of Collor’s Impeachment. Miami, FL: North-South Center Press. This work was translated to Portuguese and published as Corrupção e Reforma Política no Brasil: O Impacto do Impeachment de Collor. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: FGV, 2000.Find this resource:

                                  Sallum, Brasilio, Jr. “Governo Collor: O Reformismo Liberal e a Nova Orientação Política Externa Brasileira.” Dados-Revista de Ciências Sociais 54, no. 2 (2011).Find this resource:

                                    Sallum, Brasilio, Jr. O Impeachment de Fernando Collor: Sociologia de Crise. São Paulo, Brazil: Editora 34, 2015.Find this resource:

                                      Sallum, Brasilio, Jr., and Guilherme Casarões. “O Impeachment de Fernando Collor: A Literatura e o Processo.” Lua Nova: Revista de Cultura e Política 82 (2011), 163–200.Find this resource:

                                        Villa, Marco Antonio. 2016. Collor Presidente: Trinta Meses de Turbulências, Reformas, Intrigas, e Corrupção. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editora Record.Find this resource:

                                          Weyland, Kurt. “The Rise and Fall of President Collor and its Impact in Brazilian Democracy.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 35, no. 1 (1993), 1–37.Find this resource:


                                            (1.) See “Collor assume com apoio de 71%,” in Folha de S Paulo (15/03/1990), p. 1. Other results of the Datafolha public opinion research are presented in p. 13 of an special section of this newspaper edition titled Era Collor.

                                            (2.) A Provisional Measure (MP) is a legal initiative of the Executive, created by the 1988 Constitution (article 62), that is temporarily valid as law, until the Legislature, within 45 days, confirms or not its legal value. Provisional Measures could be issued in cases of relevance and urgency. See John Carey and Matthew Shugart (eds.), Executive Decree Authority (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 309.

                                            (4.) See IPEAData.

                                            (8.) About transformative events, consult William Sewell Jr., The Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), Chapter 3.

                                            (9.) About political crises and their analyses, see Michel Dobry, Sociologie des Crises Politiques (Paris: SciencesPo./Les Presses, 2009).

                                            (12.) Sallum Jr., “Governo Collor: O Reformismo Liberal,” 259–288.

                                            (13.) Olga Tavares, Fernando Collor: O discurso messiânico e o clamor ao sagrado (São Paulo, Brazil: Annablume, 1998); and Carlos Melo, Collor: O Ator e sua Circunstâncias (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Novo Conceito, 2007).