On August 29, 1916, the USS Memphis wrecked on the coast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A series of enormous waves drove the heavy armored cruiser ashore, killing forty-five sailors. The fact that the death toll was not much higher is owed to the heroic efforts of Dominicans to rescue the survivors of the shipwreck. This was despite the fact that the US Marine Corps had invaded their country three months before, initiating an occupation with unwonted violence. The US Marine occupation of the Dominican Republic would last for eight years, compiling a record of brutality inflicted on the civilian population that Senate hearings documented in excruciating detail. In the aftermath of the traumatic occupation, the shipwreck of the USS Memphis itself, rusting away in plain sight along the seaside boulevard in the Dominican capital city, became symbolic of US imperialism. The dictator Rafael Trujillo, a Marine protégé who seized power in 1930, pointed to the wreck as a relic of the days before US domination, contrasting it with the happy days after national sovereignty had been attained under his own strong rule. In order to implement the Good Neighbor Policy, an effort to expunge the negative legacy of the era of intervention and occupation known as “Gunboat Diplomacy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the removal of the wreck of the Memphis after taking office in 1933. The wreck’s removal finally took place in 1937.
Eric Paul Roorda
João Fábio Bertonha
Far-right movements, groups, and parties are a constant in Brazilian history. Following the first moment in which we can identify the presence of the radical right in Brazil (1889), its history had several phases and moments: ultraconservative movements and monarchists in the early years of the Old Republic (1889–1930), reactionary leagues fighting socialism and the labor movement during and after World War I (1917–1922) and the first groups and fascist movements (1922–1932). In the 1930s, in turn, the formation of the largest fascist movement outside Europe, Integralism (1932–1938), and Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo (1937–1945) represented the peak of the far right in the country, when it almost became a valid alternative to power. Between 1945 and 1964, the far right rebuilt itself in reactionary Catholic and anti-communist groups, close or not to neofascism. Under the military dictatorship of 1964–1985, it was in the fringes of power, remaining in the shadows after the redemocratization in 1985. In the 21st century, in turn, it acquired power and visibility, equaling or perhaps even surpassing that of the 1930s. Recent Brazilian historiography, after attempts to reconstruct the history of the national right wing, has been moving toward a comparative approach in order to understand the dialogue between the national and the international within the specific field of the radical right. Dialogue is a fitting term, since the far right in Brazil was never completely original, but nor was it simply a copy of a foreign model. It is the role of the historian to understand this dialogue through the investigation of the links and mechanisms of transmission of ideas, concepts, and perspectives, the symbolic and material exchanges, between the world and Brazil.
The struggle for transitional justice in Brazil has faced various roadblocks since the country’s return to democracy in the mid-1980s. The military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985 employed brutal political repression against civilians deemed “subversives.” For years, however, the state had persistently disregarded claims to hold perpetrators accountable. This was mostly the result of an extremely negotiated and military-controlled transition to democracy, marked by political continuities and legal impunity to human rights violators. Effective campaigns by civil society organizations and families of the dictatorship’s victims finally led the Brazilian state to implement constrained policies of transitional justice. Between 1995 and 2010, the state officially recognized the dictatorship’s practices of torture and forced disappearance, as well as offered reparations to the victims. A national truth commission was ultimately established in 2012, culminating in an extensive final report that illuminated the dictatorship’s systemic repression and recommended holding its key perpetrators accountable. Yet the Brazilian armed forces strongly repudiated the commission’s work and actively curbed attempts to prosecute human rights violators. Frustrated by the state’s protracted implementation of transitional justice, human rights advocates sought alternative routes to accountability and truth-seeking. Some pressured professional organizations to discipline members complicit in the dictatorship’s repression. Others formed local truth commissions in municipalities, universities, unions, and corporations across the country to broaden and enhance the work of the national commission. Brazil thus experienced a particularly gradual and decentralized trajectory of transitional justice.
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.
Olival Freire Junior
Twentieth-century science and technology in Brazil were marked by the building of new institutions of higher education, research, and research funding as well as by the professionalization of scientific practice in the country. Most of these changes were state driven and state funded, while some support came from foreign philanthropic foundations and states and, on a smaller scale, from the private sector. The mid-20th-century was when most activity took place, for instance the founding of the University of São Paulo, as a reaction of the state of São Paulo to national political changes in 1930, and the establishment of funding agencies such as Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), as initiatives of the federal government. Throughout the century the institutionalization of science moved from a strictly pragmatic model toward the acknowledgement of science as the professional activity required for the production of new knowledge. In Brazil the development of science has been marked by a succession of ups and downs closely following economic cycles and political times, albeit not perfectly synchronously. Therefore, a major brain drain began in 1960 during a democratic regime, and the 1964 military dictatorship restrained civil rights while supporting science from 1970 on. Chronological limits in this history are not turning points. On the one hand, as the 21st century began Brazilian academia suffered further ups and downs closely related to political and funding crises, which have worsened since President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office in 2019. On the other hand, the huge impact of the 20th-century changes in Brazilian academia should not detract from the production of science and technology in previous centuries.
Thiago Lima Nicodemo, Mateus Henrique de Faria Pereira, and Pedro Afonso Cristovão dos Santos
The founding of the first universities in the first decades of the 20th century in Brazil emerged from a context of public education reforms and expansion that modified the relationship between intellectuals and the public sphere in Brazil. The representation of national pasts was the object of prolific public debate in the social sciences and literature and fine arts through social and historical essays, pushed mostly from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, such as Gilberto Freyre’s, The Master and the Slaves (Casa Grande e Senzala, 1936) and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s Roots of Brazil (Raízes do Brasil, 1936). Just after the 1950s, universities expanded nationally, and new resources were available for academic and scientific production, such as libraries, archives, scientific journals, and funding agencies (namely CNPQ, CAPES and FAPESP). In the field of history, these effects would have a greater impact in the 1960s and 1970s with the consolidation of a National Association of History, the debate over curricula and required content, and the systematization of graduate programs (thanks to the University Reform of 1968, during the military dictatorship). Theses, dissertations, and monographs gradually gained ground as long social essays lost their prestige, seen as not befitting the standards of disciplinary historiography as defined in the graduate programs such as a wider empirical ground and more accurate time frames and scopes. Through their writing in more specialized formats, which moved away from essays and looked into the great Brazilian historical problems, historians played an important role in the resistance against the authoritarian regime (1964–1985) and, above all, contributed to a debate on the role of silenced minorities regarding redemocratization.
James N. Green
The Opening the Archives Digital Collection on the history of US–Brazilian relations contains 50,000 documents about the two countries during the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985) at the height of the Cold War. Student researchers, under the leadership of James N. Green, Professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University, have scanned and indexed thousands of records from the presidential libraries of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, as well as from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Department, among other institutions and organizations. This digital archive affords researchers access to U.S. sources that register the decisions of Washington policymakers as they responded to the rise of radicalism in the early 1960s and the establishment of an authoritarian regime in 1964, which lasted twenty-one years. Materials include documentation on U.S. economic and military aid programs, analyses of the political situation in Brazil, and evaluations of the opposition to the generals in power. Other archives record U.S. labor organizations’ programs directed toward Brazilian trade unions. A collection of dossiers registering information on high-ranking Brazilian military officers, which was compiled by the U.S. Defense Department, provides insights into the relations between the Pentagon and the Brazilian Armed Forces. With the ultimate goal of publishing 100,000 records, the project reflects Brown University’s deep commitment to fostering collaborative relationships in international research projects while strengthening the university’s goal of becoming a leading center for the study of Brazil in the United States. Designed to give universal open access to these archives for researchers, the project is sponsored by Brown University Libraries in partnership with the State University of Maringá, Paraná, and Bem-te-vi Diversidade in São Paulo.