Military dictatorship in Brazil

United States of Brazil
Estados Unidos do Brasil

Federative Republic of Brazil
República Federativa do Brasil

Motto: "Ordem e Progresso"
"Order and Progress"
Anthem: Hino Nacional Brasileiro
(English: "Brazilian National Anthem")
Location of Brazil
StatusMilitary dictatorship
Common languagesPortuguese
GovernmentFederal two-party presidential republic (de jure)
Authoritarian military dictatorship (de facto)
• 1964–1967
Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco
• 1967–1969
Artur da Costa e Silva
• 1969–1974
Emílio Garrastazu Médici
• 1974–1979
Ernesto Geisel
• 1979–1985
João Figueiredo
• 1969
Aurélio de Lyra Tavares
Augusto Hamann Rademaker Grünewald
Márcio Melo
LegislatureNational Congress
Chamber of Deputies
Historical eraCold War
31 March 1964
• Adoption of dictatorship's Constitution
24 January 1967
• Adoption of the AI-5
13 December 1968
• Democracy
15 March 1985
19038,515,767 km2 (3,287,956 sq mi)
• 1970
• 1980
ISO 3166 codeBR
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Second Brazilian Republic
Part of a series on the
Coat of arms of Brazil
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The Brazilian military government was the authoritarian military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from April 1, 1964 to March 15, 1985. It began with the 1964 coup d'état led by the Armed Forces against the administration of President João Goulart—who, having been vice-president, had assumed the office of president upon the resignation of the democratically elected president Jânio Quadros—and ended when José Sarney took office on March 15, 1985 as President. The military revolt was fomented by Magalhães Pinto, Adhemar de Barros, and Carlos Lacerda (who had already participated in the conspiracy to depose Getúlio Vargas in 1945), Governors of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Guanabara. The coup was also supported by the Embassy and State Department of the United States.[1]

The military dictatorship lasted for almost twenty-one years; despite initial pledges to the contrary, military governments in 1967 enacted a new, restrictive Constitution, and stifled freedom of speech and political opposition. The regime adopted nationalism, economic development, and Anti-Communism as its guidelines.

The dictatorship reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s with the so-called "Brazilian Miracle", even as the regime censored all media, and tortured and exiled dissidents. João Figueiredo became President in March 1979; in the same year he passed the Amnesty Law for political crimes committed for and against the regime. While combating the "hardline" members of the regime and supporting a re-democratization policy, he couldn't control the crumbling economy, chronic inflation and concurrent fall of other military dictatorships in South America. Amid massive popular demonstrations in the streets of the main cities of the country, the first free elections in 20 years were held for the national legislature in 1982. In 1985, another election was held, this time to elect (indirectly) a new president, being contested between civilian candidates for the first time since the 1960s, which was won by the opposition. In 1988, a new Constitution was passed and Brazil returned to democracy. Since then, the military has remained under control of civilian politicians, with no official role in domestic politics.

Brazil's military regime provided a model for other military regimes and dictatorships around Latin America, systematizing the “Doctrine of National Security”,[2] which "justified" the military's actions as operating in the interest of national security in a time of crisis, creating an intellectual basis upon which other military regimes relied.[2] In 2014, nearly 30 years after the regime collapsed, the Brazilian military recognized for the first time the excesses committed by its agents during the years of the dictatorship, including the torture and murder of political dissidents.[3] In May 2018, the United States government released a memorandum, written by Henry Kissinger (who was Secretary of State at that time), dating back to April 1974, confirming that the leadership of the Brazilian military regime was fully aware of the killing of dissidents.[4] It is estimated that 434 people were either confirmed killed or went missing (not to be seen again) during the military dictatorship in Brazil. Though some human rights activists and others point out that this number can be much higher, the armed forces have always disputed those figures.[5]


Brazil's political crisis stemmed from the way in which the political tensions had been controlled in the 1930s and 1940s during the Vargas Era. Vargas' dictatorship and the presidencies of his democratic successors marked different stages of Brazilian populism (1930–1964), an era of economic nationalism, state-guided modernization, and import substitution trade policies. Vargas' policies were intended to foster an autonomous capitalist development in Brazil, by linking industrialization to nationalism, a formula based on a strategy of reconciling the conflicting interests of the middle class, foreign capital, the working class, and the landed oligarchy.

Essentially, this was the epic of the rise and fall of Brazilian populism from 1930 to 1964: Brazil witnessed over the course of this time period the change from export-orientation of the First Brazilian Republic (1889–1930) to the import substitution of the populist era (1930–1964) and then to a moderate structuralism of 1964–80. Each of these structural changes forced a realignment in society and caused a period of political crisis. Period of right-wing military dictatorship marked the transition between populist era and the current period of democratization.

The Brazilian Armed Forces acquired great political clout after the Paraguayan War. The politicization of the Armed Forces was evidenced by the Proclamation of the Republic, which overthrew the Empire, or within Tenentismo (Lieutenants' movement) and the Revolution of 1930. Tensions escalated again in the 1950s, as important military circles (the "hard-line militars", old positivists whose origins could be traced back to the AIB and the Estado Novo) joined the elite, medium classes and right-wing activists in attempts to stop Presidents Juscelino Kubitschek and João Goulart from taking office, due to their supposed support for Communist ideology. While Kubitschek proved to be friendly to capitalist institutions, Goulart promised far-reaching reforms, expropriated business interests and promoted economical-political neutrality with the USA.

After Goulart suddenly assumed power in 1961, society became deeply polarized, with the elites fearing that Brazil would become another Cuba and join Communist Bloc, while many thought that the reforms would boost greatly the growth of Brazil and end its economical subservience with the US, or even that Goulart could be used to increase the popularity of the Communist agenda. Influential politicians, such as Carlos Lacerda and even Kubitschek, media moguls (Roberto Marinho, Octávio Frias, Júlio de Mesquita Filho), the Church, landowners, businessmen, and the middle class called for a coup d'état by the Armed Forces to remove the government. The old "hard-line" army officers, seeing a chance to impose their positivist economic program, convinced the loyalists that Goulart was a communist menace.