Understand the tensions that led to the 1964 coup – 03/28/2024 – Power

Understand the tensions that led to the 1964 coup – 03/28/2024 – Power


The 1964 coup and the turn towards a military dictatorship occurred as a result of a series of conflicts, crises and political decisions involving the main members of power in Brazil.

There were determinants, internal and external, that intensified the polarization of Brazilian politics and the conspiracy to depose João Goulart (PTB) from the Presidency of the Republic and the military’s permanence in command of the country for 21 years.

Among the internal elements were the growing tension between the military and civilian governments, a historically problematic relationship in the country; the individual decisions of the Armed Forces leadership and also of Jango; and economic and labor aspects, such as inflation and the succession of strikes.

As external factors, there was the polarization brought about by the Cold War and the way the United States viewed the Brazilian situation — the country was closely watched by the Americans because it was considered a regional power, capable of changing the balance of power in South America.

Understand some of the elements that caused tension and culminated in the 1964 coup:

Political and economic crisis

At the center of all the tension were the political and economic crises. Political instability, with antecedents dating back to Getúlio Vargas, intensified after the resignation of Jânio Quadros (PTN) from the Presidency, in a frustrated attempt to expand his forces, in 1961.

João Goulart had difficulties in taking power. He was traveling when Jânio resigned and was almost prevented by the military from returning to Brazilian territory. In any case, his power was curtailed after a change in the government system to parliamentarism, which would be extinguished in 1963.

Furthermore, Jango had a modest parliamentary base, which made it difficult to create an agenda with measures that could alleviate tensions. He was distrusted by the business community and other more conservative sectors, who saw him as too close to trade unionism.

Economic instability accelerated the process of government erosion. According to Caroline Silveira Bauer, professor at the Department of History at UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul), amidst a demand for immediate solutions to contain the inflationary process, the then president proposed longer-term responses, which irritated the business.

Furthermore, strikes were accumulating, especially in Rio de Janeiro.

Cold War, Brazil and the United States

The Cold War also drove institutional disruption. According to Manoel Galdino, professor at the Department of Political Science at USP (University of São Paulo), at that time there was a lot of pressure for countries to choose a side, capitalism represented by the USA and socialism that had the Soviet Union at the forefront.

“At that time, a government like Jango’s, which talked about making public policies for the working class, indicated a nod to socialism”, says the professor.

According to Galdino, even if the basic reforms, the government’s main banner, were not intended to radically change the system, there is a difference between what a public policy can objectively promote and the perception of this policy in Brazil and abroad. .

These signs worried Americans, who, according to Caroline Bauer, saw Brazil as an extremely important country geopolitically. “Losing Brazil would mean a lot for the US in terms of influence in the region,” she says.

In addition to all the work to provide logistical help for the coup plotters, encouraged by the American ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, the White House also financed conservative groups and politicians, which was illegal, and collaborated with the conspiracies to overthrow Jango.

Military in power

Another important relationship to be analyzed to understand the tensions of the time is that between the civil government and the Armed Forces. Both Galdino and Bauer say they see a history of uniformed interference in civil matters.

Both highlight the normalization of military intervention in civilian governments, citing not only the proactivity of the barracks, with authoritarian impulses, but also the frequency with which civilians turned to the military to resolve political impasses. For Bauer, this naturalization is not beneficial for the country.

“The unprecedented nature of this military action lies in the fact that the military remains in power despite the lack of unity within the Forces”, says the professor.

For her, military training also outlined the role of the Forces in the government, focusing on geopolitics.

Jango Factor

In addition to all questions of context, there were decisions by Jango that contributed to the scenario of growing tension, such as the presentation of the state of siege decree to the National Congress in October 1963 — after which he retreated.

Other critical moments were the president’s visits to the Central do Brasil rally and the meeting with military personnel at the Auto Show, both in Rio de Janeiro and in March 1964, when the country was in turmoil.

The president’s moves signaled a move away from the policy of conciliation, with a more aggressive turn in favor of basic reforms, seen as a nod to socialism.

According to Galdino, Jango did not correctly measure the conspiracies against his government, coming both from those in uniform and from politicians and economic groups, and underestimated the barracks, which opened space for a possible coup d’état.

“Jango needed to be more effective in neutralizing them, since they had access to important resources, and dialogue with the states. This strategic error allows the military to carry out the coup”, says the professor.

Configuration of Brazilian institutions

Another factor remembered by the researchers interviewed in the report is the construction of Brazilian institutions at that time. The 1946 Constitution created a relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches different from the one that exists today, in the 1988 text, and the president had fewer powers.

Galdino cites the lack of provisional measures — the decree-law, predecessor of the MPs, was included in the 1967 Constitution — and urgent requests for projects in Congress originating from the Presidency of the Republic.

For him, the lack of instruments that would balance the relationship between the Powers increased the chance of crises arising. “If the president didn’t have as much power and it was more difficult to coordinate a stable base in Congress, the feeling was of a permanent crisis.”

The professor adds: “When there is a crisis in the government, you discourage people from both the situation and the opposition from trying to take over the country’s main leadership space, it is difficult to have stability.”


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