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date: 06 December 2019

Summary and Keywords

The coup that took place in Brazil on March 31, 1964 can be understood as a typical Cold War event. Supported by civilians, 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 anticommunist 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 Getúlio Vargas, who had been in power since 1930.

At the end of the Second World War, officers who had taken part in the struggle against Nazism in Italy returned to Brazil and overthrew the dictatorial Vargas regime, 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 Superior 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 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 enabled Juscelino Kubitschek’s victory in the 1955 elections, disappointing the conservatives of the National Democratic Union (UDN) and its military allies. The latter were briefly encouraged when the 1960 presidential election put Jânio Quadros at the head of the executive. In August 1961, when Quadros resigned, his military ministers tried to use force to keep Vice-President João Goulart, Vargas’s political heir at the head of the PTB, 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 a sharp economic crisis. The outcome of this drama began to take shape in March 1963, when the government took a leftwards turn. A massive demonstration in downtown Rio de Janeiro on March 13 served as an alert, and the March 25 sailors’ revolt as the match in the powder keg. On March 31, military forces carried out the infamous coup. The Goulart administration collapsed. Social movements were left waiting for orders to resist that never came.

Keywords: Cold War, Brazilian military, Brazilian armed forces, 1964 coup in Brazil, Brazil: 1945–1964, revolutionary war, National Security Doctrine, ESG, U.S.–Brazil relations

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