Brazil 200 years – democracy is an exception

Image: Jonny Lew


Our history is marked by long authoritarian periods with democratic gaps.

This Wednesday (7/9), Brazil celebrated two hundred years of political independence from Portugal. A phrase by historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda defines our country well in these two centuries: “democracy in Brazil has always been a regrettable misunderstanding”. This means that, around here, democracy was more the “exception” than the “rule”. Our history is marked by long authoritarian periods with democratic gaps.

As everyone knows, after its independence, Brazil became the only monarchy in South America (its subcontinental neighbors adopted the republican system). Nevertheless, the Brazilian empire had characteristics typical of European absolutist regimes, as the adoption of the Moderating Power placed the emperor above other powers.

This reality would not change until 1889, when a military coup brought down the Empire, inaugurating the republican system. The first two presidents of Brazil – Deodoro da Fonseca and Floriano Peixoto – were not chosen by the population.

Only in 1894 did Brazil have its first president by direct election: Prudente de Morais. However, the election in which Morais won (and all others held during the Old Republic, which lasted until 1930), was marked by the so-called “halter vote”, when voters were obliged to vote for the candidate nominated by the large landowners. of land. This definitely cannot be classified as “democracy”.

Between 1930 and 1945 Brazil had a single president, Getúlio Vargas, who, like Deodoro and Floriano, was also not chosen by the population.

In 1945, one hundred and twenty-three years after independence, the first minimally democratic presidential election in the history of Brazil took place. As “the happiness of the poor lasts a short time”, the first Brazilian democratic hiatus did not last more than two decades; was interrupted by a military coup in March 1964.

From then on, we had what Chico Buarque (son of the historian quoted at the beginning of the text) called “an unhappy page of our history”: a dark dictatorial period, from 1964 to 1985.

With the fall of the military, the “New Republic” emerged, which also had a short life. When everyone thought that democratic rupture was a thing of the past, in 2016 a parliamentary coup overthrew President Dilma Rousseff. The reasons for the removal of the first woman to hold the presidency of the Republic were basically the same as for the coup against João Goulart, five decades earlier. As sociologist Jessé Souza rightly points out, in Brazil, a government can even be elected by the people, but if it puts into practice some kind of policy that minimally benefits the poor, it will be deposed.

In this context, in 2018, for the first time in the history of Brazil, an extreme right-wing president was elected: Jair Bolsonaro. We cannot say that it was a democratic election, given that one of the candidates (Lula) was arrested precisely for not participating in the presidential race. Therefore, we live another authoritarian period.

In short, mathematics does not fail: in two centuries of history, we have had only fifty years that can be considered minimally democratic.

This is the (sad) picture presented to us in this bicentennial of independence.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (CRV).


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