Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War. The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state. Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
The Farrapos War was the longest provincial revolt faced by the Brazilian Empire. It originated with a dispute between two factions of regional elites vying for sources of power and wealth in a context marked by economic stagnation, institutional changes wrought by the Regency governments, and the geopolitical reconfiguration of the Rio de la Plata region. The rebels, known as farroupilhas or farrapos, overthrew the government of Rio Grande do Sul and established an independent republic. The main farrapo leaders were military officers and estancieiros, the owners of large estates, enslaved people, and cattle in the region that bordered Uruguay and Argentina. Their goal was to achieve autonomy in order to distribute political offices, control the borders, and change the fiscal and commercial policy of the empire. Their opponents, known as legalists, were drawn mostly from sectors related to maritime trade, the production of charque (dried and salted beef), and the urban military and administrative bureaucracy. The soldiers of both sides were recruited among the lower classes. They were cowboys and peasants. The farrapos also organized a sizable army of enslaved people who had been confiscated from their opponents and who performed military service in exchange for their freedom. The Republic of Rio Grande do Sul experienced a sharp decline beginning in 1842. The Battle of Porongos in November 1844 was the last major engagement of the war and resulted in the massacre of Black soldiers from the farroupilha forces. The campaign to bring the province back under government control, led by the Baron of Caxias, was carried out through the granting of amnesties, the payment of debts, and the incorporation of farroupilha officers into the Imperial Army. With the end of the Farrapos War, the Brazilian Empire ensured its internal consolidation and returned to an assertive foreign policy in the Río de la Plata region.
João Roberto Martins Filho
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.
In 1863 and 1864, historical and political contradictions in the River Plate region led to civil war in Uruguay, creating tensions with neighboring nations in the region. The Brazilian government intervened both politically and militarily in Uruguay to address the interests of ranchers in its province of Rio Grande do Sul, to distract the attention of the Brazilian citizens from domestic problems, and to preserve the political influence of the Empire of Brazil on Uruguay. This action by the Empire clashed with the new Paraguayan policy of political interference in the River Plate region and resulted in the declaration of war against Brazil by Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López. This conflict broadened into the Paraguayan War.
Wilma Peres Costa
The effort of searching the effects of the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay on the building up of Brazilian national identity challenges the historian with a paradox: why the military victory promotes the fall of the political regime instead of strengthening it. The article tries to deal with some dimensions of this paradox underlining the distinctive characteristics of this war in the ongoing warmongering in the Platine region—the huge numbers of conscripted soldiers (“the Total War”), the hybrid political character of the alliance (Brazilian monarchy and Argentinian Republic), the opposition of most of the conservative classes, and the unveiling of slavery as a strategic weakness for the country—are some of the themes treated in order to explain how the empire lost both the battle of worldwide moral support and the battle of legitimacy inside the country. The massive recruitment coming from all parts of the country could bring the empowerment of ordinary people in the postwar decades, but the monarchical elites took careful steps to ensure that these sectors were quickly demobilized and also not to receive medals and other military honors. The postwar era was one of unfolding of an endemic crisis leading to contest of monarchical institutions. They came from military sectors, but also from regional elites, besides bitter criticism from middle-class intellectuals. Racial arguments filled an outstanding part in this period, leading to the giving prestige of “scientific” racism and the negative diagnosis for the future of a modern nation founded in a racially mixed society.
Zachary R. Morgan
On November 22, 1910, Rio de Janeiro was convulsed by the four-day Revolta da Chibata (Revolt of the Lash). Approximately half of the predominantly Afro-Brazilian sailors stationed in the nation’s capital—likely fifteen hundred to two thousand men—seized four modern battleships, removed their officers, and besieged the city. They complained of mistreatment, forced recruitment, low pay, and meager food, but their only demand in their first communication to the president was the cessation of corporal punishment in the Brazilian navy. Three of the four ships seized had been recently obtained by the Brazilian government from British shipyards; two were the first all-big-gun dreadnought-class battleships ever sold by the British to any foreign navy. Their 12-inch guns could near-simultaneously launch twelve 850-pound explosive shells at targets miles away, meaning that should they fire almost every part of the Brazilian capital city was under threat. Their second communique to the president demanded an end to the “slavery as practiced in the Brazilian navy.” The institution’s nearly century-long traditions of forced conscription, systematic and ritualized lashing, long-term forced labor, and the conspicuous malnourishment of Afro-Brazilian men tempts comparison to the exploitation of the enslaved in preabolition Brazil, but other than a brief policy of purchase and subsequent freeing of enslaved men to serve in the armed forces during the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), naval service did not draw on the exploitation of the enslaved. Instead, it conscripted Brazil’s free Afro-descendant population; citizens who represented a 47 percent plurality of Brazil’s population, larger than either the free white or enslaved Black populations at the time of Brazil’s first national census in 1872. The Brazilian navy was just one part in a series of institutions and legislative controls created and used to control Brazil’s free Afro-Brazilian population both before and after abolition in 1888. The freedom and citizenship of free Black men, women, and children was often ephemeral and regulated. Although Brazil lacked institutionalized racial segregation such as apartheid or Jim Crow, controls such as restriction on land ownership, police policies, military conscription, the manipulation of orphans, forced apprenticeship, and incarceration were implemented in such racialized ways that the overall outcome for Afro-Brazilians was similar. The navy’s acquisition of cutting-edge weapons of war created an opportunity for powerless Afro-descendant men to challenge the generally unacknowledged state systems of racial oppression and hierarchy.
The monarchies of the Iberian Peninsula—Spain and Portugal—formed large multicontinental empires in the 16th century, which lasted until the beginning of the 19th, when independence movements divided them into various nations in the Americas. The functioning of these political constructs depended to a great extent on the capacity to create channels of communication that allowed information to be frequently and reliably transmitted and received. In turn, the progressive development of information policies was linked to the strengthening of the powers of monarchs and those close to them, which implies that one of the elements affirming the state during the modern era was its capacity to administer communication among its various agents. This was made concrete through the development of diplomacy and intelligence systems, including espionage. More than marginal and isolated actions, the use of spies and infiltrated informers in rival states was a recurrent instrument throughout the period and counted on the knowledge and agreement of the Iberian kings and their ministers. Although it is a research field that is still little visited, there has been a growth in research on the modern period, showing that societies were thirsty for information and looked for it to calculate ways of defending and strengthening the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms.
Hugo André Flores Fernandes Araújo
The Dutch West Indies Company (WIC) occupied the heart of Brazil’s sugar economy between 1630 and 1654, benefiting from the lucrative Atlantic trade based on African slave labor. The changes that occurred with the end of the Iberian Union, with D. João IV acclaimed king of Portugal in 1640 and the signing of a truce with the United Provinces in 1641, created a favorable scenario for the organization of a plan to retake the Portuguese territories. The Luso-Brazilians of the northern captaincies were in debt, and, discontented with the WIC’s administration, they took advantage of the changes to articulate a revolt to expel the Dutch from Brazil. This movement was designed to be a definitive strike against the WIC, seeking to retake the occupied territories in a few months. However, adverse factors turned the revolt into a war that lasted almost nine years. The Luso-Brazilian forces that began the revolt were not made up of professional soldiers, and the men were often poorly equipped and suffered from a lack of supplies. The revolt had the veiled support of the general government of Brazil and the Portuguese king, who provided troops, ammunition, and money that were used to maintain the army and bribe Dutch officers. The wars that took place on both shores of the Atlantic during this period directly influenced the course of the revolt. The Portuguese reconquest of Angola in 1648 was a heavy blow to the main source of slaves that the WIC used in Brazil, while the defeats suffered during the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654) weakened the ability of the Dutch to maintain maritime control in northeast Brazil. The deterioration caused by the prolonged war, the successive defeats, and the weak support of the WIC and the United Provinces to their forces in Brazil led the Dutch to capitulate in 1654, in the face of a naval blockade carried out by the fleet of the General Brazil Company.
Miguel Dantas da Cruz
War played a crucial role in the political and administrative development of colonial Brazil. The adoption of different government solutions, from the initial naval expeditions and proprietary captaincies to the establishment of a general government, were, in part, a response to the military challenges the Portuguese faced in the New World. In the 17th century, the leading municipalities in Brazil expanded their political prominence and reinforced their autonomy precisely when they assumed the commitment to feed the troops and pay for the army’s wages. War and military conflicts also played an important role in the formation of the colonial society in Brazil. There was a natural overlay between the hierarchical structure of the military institutions created in, or transplanted to, the colony and the hierarchical society the Portuguese established in America. The armed forces consolidated the social status of local elites; while they provided opportunities for the more marginalized groups of blacks, mixed-race, and Indians—active participants in the defense of Brazil from the outset—they also helped colonial administrators organize society along racial lines. Regulars, militias, ordenanças, and other military units filled different functions in the territory. They often took part in different military operations in a territory that was hardly suitable for large-scale operations, prolonged siege warfare, or coordinated deployment of mass infantry formations. In Brazil, similarly to other colonies in America, a distinct kind of warfare emerged, marked by a synthesis of European, Indian, and African military knowledges. It was called Guerra Brasílica, and it was both admired for its effectiveness and disparaged for not fitting nicely in traditional European military orthodoxies and for being undisciplined and supposedly “uncivilized.” The negative imageries attached to military campaigns in Brazil persisted in the minds of colonial administrators for a long time, underpinning the territory’s undeserving military status (when compared with India and North Africa)—a status that the colony seldom escaped.