On strikes and counterattacks in the Brazilian tradition – V

Leon Ferrari (1920–2013)


The 1964 coup until the deflation of the dictatorial regime

It was closed night. I opened the street door – the same one through which ten years before the neighbor, Dona Wanda, had entered in tears, announcing that “Doctor Getúlio” had killed himself. This time, no one entered. The street was dark, the streetlamps all out. My father came up to me, from behind, and told me: “let's go in, my son, it got dark earlier today”. It was the night of one of the first days of April 1964. In addition to the stupor caused by the successful coup d'état by that time, there was a mixture of astonishment and fear in the house, caused by the news that the now colonel aviator Alfeu de Alcântara Monteiro, who had helped to prevent the bombing of the city, ordered by the coup leaders of 1961, was shot dead inside the Canoas Air Base by the aide-de-camp in the new commander appointed by the victorious coup, on the night of the 04th.[1]

That sentence of my father's about nightfall never left my ears, just as the pitch of that night never left my retinas at this point, already so tired, as the poet used to say about a stone on the road. The stone I am referring to here held back our lives for 21 years, and now it threatens to return.

Through the brother of another neighbor, a communist militant and director of the Petroleum Workers' Union, we learned of the dramatic meeting at Porto Alegre City Hall, in which Jango refused to fight. Brizola, Mayor Sereno Chaise, General Ladário Pereira Teles, hastily appointed commander of the Third Army, oil trade unionists, very influential at Petrobras, insisted that Jango resist. He was adamant and announced that he would leave the country. Later I learned that there were loyalist soldiers who advised against resistance with the argument that the disparity in forces would be too great. Even so, General Ladário insisted: he even requested fuel.

Then came the downfall. Ladário organized Goulart's escape. Then it went to Rio de Janeiro, where it was reformed based on Institutional Act n.o. 1. Sereno Chaise was impeached a month later. Brizola also went abroad, after spending a month in hiding, still in Rio Grande do Sul. His escape should be the subject of a movie. He agreed with an aviator sympathetic to the cause that he would be at a point on that immense stretch of sand that is “the largest beach in the world”: the coast of Rio Grande do Sul from Torres to the border with Uruguay, when the coast begins to curve the Rio da Prata and small scattered rocks appear. He was disguised as a brigadian, with a few faithful soldiers and officers. The password would be to place four Military Brigade trucks in a cross on the beach. The pilot arrived at the agreed time. When it was time to put the trucks in position, one of them got stuck in the sand and wouldn't move. The pilot would give up to three low passes to confirm that everything was in order. Without the trucks password, he should leave without landing. He gave two. When he was going to give the third, in a desperate gesture, Brizola took off his helmet and made himself known, even from above. The pilot landed, Brizola got on board and left for Uruguay, flying low to avoid radar.

The neighbor's communist brother disappeared in time and space.

In this foreshortening of the Brazilian coups that I have been sketching, I intend to evoke the 1964 one to underline some elements that, in my view, helped it to succeed and also, with others, guided its developments until the regime it instituted emptied. He walked away. It was withdrawn, due to default, due to lack of grounds – including economic ones – to support it. But he didn't die. He lost support abroad and within his own country and tried to create a new multi-party landscape, which would facilitate negotiations to remain in power. But its leaders, after managing to prevent Leonel Brizola from inheriting the legendary initials of the PTB, did not reckon with some rather surprising factors: the “Tancredo Neves-José Sarney phenomenon”, the subsequent bankruptcy of the Collor government, the shift to the right transforming the former -Professor Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the neoliberal FHC and the growth of the Workers' Party to the point of reaching the presidency.

At first, the conspiracy that led to the coup was more civil than military. Despite the conspiracies going on inside the barracks, the armed corporations stayed on top of the wall for a long time, while civil politicians and the marked barons of the reactionary media articulated and openly conspired, with religious help and also North American contacts, to overthrow the government of Goulart. Who does not remember the “Family Rosary Crusade” – “The family that prays together stays together” – by Father Patrick Peyton, an Irishman, based in the United States, who toured some Latin American countries, including Brazil, in the early 1960's.

Father Peyton was encouraged by an American businessman, Joseph Peter Grace Jr., famous for walking around with two watches, one showing local time and the other showing New York time, in addition to a revolver in his belt. Grace brokered between Peyton's crusade, the CIA, and the Nixon and Kennedy administrations, who authorized and funded the crusade as part of the anti-communist effort on the continent. Grace was an ardent Catholic and a member of the Order of the Knights of Malta. He had several economic interests in Latin America. The crusade was also supported by David Rockefeller and Juan Trippe, from PAN AM.

The military only took action – in a hasty way, by the way, by the impulsive gesture of General Olímpio Mourão Filho, the same one from the Cohen plan, putting the troops under his command in Juiz de Fora to march towards Rio de Janeiro at dawn on the 1st. . April – when their bosses were sure that the vast majority of officers felt in danger in the face of the threat of a breakdown in the hierarchy of the Armed Forces.

Of course: this was not the only decisive factor. A large part of the Brazilian military was seduced by Washington's signs for them to “save the country from the communist danger”, brought very close by the bearded Cubans and by the search for a commercial rapprochement with China. But it was the fear of indiscipline that pushed a good part of the military loyalists of 1961 to the coup bench, such as generals Machado Lopes and Pery Bevilacqua.

Fears about this threat began to grow in 61 – remember? The sergeants and non-commissioned officers at Canoas Air Base... the non-commissioned officers who rose up and prevented the coup-acting Navy officers from supporting the coup...

In September 1963 there was the “Revolta dos Sargentos” in Brasilia. They belonged to the Navy and Air Force. They protested against the inability to run for political office. They occupied part of the capital and arrested authorities. There were shootings, with dead and wounded. They were unable to get the support of their fellow Army sub-commissioned officers. They gave up and surrendered, after some skirmishes.

In 1961, following the failed military coup, the arch-conspirator Golbery do Couto e Silva retired, achieving the rank of major general and founded the Institute of Research and Social Studies – IPÊS – with financial and logistical support from the business community from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in addition to the participation of several colleagues in uniform or pajamas. After the Revolt of the Sergeants, Golbery intensified a practice that he had already adopted: the systematic sending of letters to the barracks, aimed mainly at loyalist officers, with warnings about the danger of breaking down the hierarchy.

The last straw was the Sailors' Revolt, in March 1964, led by the treacherous Corporal Anselmo. The revolt, on the eve of the start of the coup, is continually cited as one of its triggers. I think the problem came from before, remembering the 1910s, when the Revolta da Chibata. The Navy was one of the most “aristocratic” officers in the Brazilian Armed Forces. The living and working conditions of the sailors were very harsh. This was the breeding ground of the revolt. But it is undeniable that it served as an argument for the coup leaders to demonstrate that discipline in the Armed Forces was in jeopardy. It remains to be seen whether Corporal Anselmo – who in fact was not a corporal – was already an infiltrator working for the CIA.

He always denied. But his “escape”, after being arrested due to the 1964 revolt, and his adherence to the repressive movement after being arrested by Chief Fleury, in the 1970s, have something of improbability. It is possible that he “presented his credentials” and the rest is history. A sinister story, played by a scoundrel.

There is a lot of good literature on the relentless persecution of the left, whether they were supporters of the armed struggle or not, and also on the liberal opposition to the 1964 dictatorial regime. own hosts, which the success of the coup triggered.

Unlike Cronos, who devoured his children, the coup and the installed dictatorial regime devoured some of his own parents and supporters, starting with civilians. Mauro Borges had to leave the government of Goiás. His defense of Goulart's inauguration in 1961 was fatal for him, despite having supported the coup in 1964. Some of the leaders of the "Bossa Nova" wing of the UDN also lost their mandates. Carlos Lacerda ended up impeached and exiled for some time. The same happened with Ademar de Barros, Juscelino Kubitschek and Jânio Quadros. Juscelino died in a controversial car accident on suspicion of murder, which was never confirmed, although his secretary and the Municipal Truth Commission Vladimir Herzog maintained it.

Pedro Aleixo, who was Costa e Silva's deputy, was prevented from assuming the presidency when the president suffered a stroke from which he did not recover. He was the only one present at the December 13, 1968 meeting to vote against the proclamation of Institutional Act No.o. 5. His pathetic statement that he trusted that collegiate but "distrusted the corner guard" didn't help. After all, the signers of the Act were worse than that corner guard.

Other civil leaders were sidelined and ended up in the opposition, such as Paulo Brossard, who supported the coup, Severo Gomes, who was minister in the Castelo Branco and Ernesto Geisel governments, and Teotônio Vilela, who in 1965 joined ARENA, a party supporting the regime, but later became the “Menestrel das Alagoas”, herald of redemocratization. The National Congress was closed on different occasions, a measure that affected both opponents and government supporters.

In the military environment, the most repercussion case was the “neutralization” of General Albuquerque Lima, who had presidential aspirations, but was passed over for opposing economists, such as Helio Beltrão and Delfim Netto, who guaranteed the support of the business community in São Paulo and other states. . Albuquerque Lima had the support of the “hard line” of junior and younger officers, and even attempted a military resistance, without success. He was not impeached, but he was lost in the labyrinth of appointments to posts of lesser power and importance. He was forcibly retired in 1971.

After the coup General Pery Bevilacqua, who was Chief of Staff and was kept in this position by Castelo Branco, was appointed to the Supreme Military Court. In it, he became incompatible with his colleagues in uniform due to his position against the political persecution practiced by the dictatorial regime. He was eventually impeached in 1969 and only started to receive a pension as a retired judge in 1980.

The most spectacular cases of internal “devouring” were the responsibility of the Geisel government: those of generals Ednardo d'Ávila Melo and Sylvio Frota. Today it is known that, upon assuming the presidency, Ernesto Geisel gave explicit orders that leaders of leftist organizations should only be killed with authorization from the central government. In August 1975, José Ferreira de Almeida, MP lieutenant José Ferreira de Almeida, was found dead at the São Paulo DOI-CODI, where he was being held, accused of belonging to the PCB. The official version was suicide. Colleagues of his, who survived the arrest, raised the suspicion of murder.

The murder of the journalist Vladimir Herzog, in October of the same year, and of the worker Manoel Fiel Filho in January 1976, in the premises of the II Army's DOI-CODI headed by General Ednardo, who were also "suicide", confirmed the impression that under his At the command, a policy of disobedience and insubordination proliferated on the part of a commander who was a supporter of the “hard line” and opposed to the policy of distension that the government was beginning to rehearse. Ednardo was ousted from command quickly and decisively, and general Dilermando Gomes Monteiro took his place.

It is said in the gossip that General Ednardo was upset when he received by surprise, in his own office, the news of his resignation, given by an emissary of the president, who immediately “made available” a car for him to follow from there. to the airport, where he would board for Brasilia. Dilermando was completely in tune with Geisel's policy. Just like that, or because of that, it was under his command that the so-called “Massacre da Lapa” took place in December 1976, when PC do B leaders Ângelo Arroyo and Pedro Pomar were murdered by repression agents and five others. militants were arrested.

The case of General Sylvio Frota was also fulminating and forceful. Frota became leader of the “hard line” military, against Geisel's policy, and had presidential ambitions. Upon learning that Geisel intended to nominate General João Batista Figueiredo, then head of the SNI, to succeed him, in September/October 1977, Frota rehearsed a campaign on the military and civil fronts promoting his candidacy. He even articulated a parliamentary base in his favor, through General Jaime Portela. At this point, Geisel made it known to his staff closer that “he had taken the decision to deal with the issue of succession only in the following year”, when, in fact, his option for Figueiredo had already taken place.

On the 10th of October, Geisel communicated to the heads of the Civil and Military Household, respectively the reserve general Golbery do Couto e Silva and the active one, Hugo Abreu, of his decision to dismiss Frota on the 12th of October, a national holiday, when Congress would be closed. At the same time, he ordered that some military units in Brasília and its surroundings remain on standby, as well as another in Rio de Janeiro, where the Vila Militar is located, an eternal focus of uniformed conspiracies, a nest of “hard-line” officers. He summoned the staff of Official Gazette for work on the holiday, October 12, so that the decrees dismissing Frota and appointing his substitute in the ministry would be published in the afternoon of that day. He called Frota to a meeting at the Planalto Palace on the morning of the 12th.

Between the 10th and the 12th, Ernesto Geisel kept in touch with all the commanders of the four Brazilian armies and the Military Command of the Amazon, covering the entire national territory, asking – ordering – that on the morning of the 12th they announce to their commanders the dismissal of the Fleet. He did the same with regard to the ministers of the Navy and Air Force, from whom he had immediate support. In a bold move, he communicated his decision to the licensed commander of the Third Army, General Fernando Belfort Bethlem, belonging to the Frota support scheme, and that he would be the new minister to be appointed.

On the morning of the 12th, the armed time bombs began their ticking. Frota attended the Planalto Palace at nine o'clock, when he was informed of his resignation. Dissatisfied, he went to his own office and got in touch with the military commanders, calling that same day a meeting of the High Command in the Ministry of the Army building, whose objective could only be to overthrow not only Geisel's order, but the president himself.

Somehow Geisel and his command found out about Frota's plan, and set up a counter-coup. As the military commanders arrived at Brasília airport, they found two reception committees: one, sent by Frota, the other, by the Planalto Palace, in an operation headed by General Hugo Abreu. What Frota didn't count on is that his resignation had already been announced, and Geisel had alerted the regional commanders the day before. These ended up accepting the presidential “invitation” and headed to the Palace, instead of going to the ministry. Frota had lost the battle to count the generals, and had to accept it.

As a result, General Figueiredo was “elected”, as Elio Gaspari says in one of his books about the dictatorship, with a unique vote in Brazilian history: he won by 1 x 0, 100% of the votes. As usual, his subsequent indirect election by Congress was the necessary frill to keep up appearances. However, there was a sign of the times: the indirect vote was 355 for Figueiredo against 226 given to another general, Euler Bentes Monteiro, who had run for the opposition, with Paulo Brossard as deputy, in a movement articulated by Severo Gomes. It should be noted that Geisel's appointment of Figueiredo led to the resignation of General Hugo Abreu, who began to oppose the government and was even arrested for indiscipline.

Figueiredo's government was marked by attempts to interrupt the “slow, safe and gradual opening”. Among many, the biggest one was the attack on Riocentro, on April 30, 1981. Sergeant Guilherme Pereira do Rosário died in it, who was carrying the bomb on his lap, when it accidentally exploded, and Captain Wilson Dias Machado was seriously injured. , driver of the car they were both in.

The idea was to throw the bomb at the amphitheater where a crowd was watching a concert and attribute the attack to “leftist terrorist organizations”. This was followed by a farcical investigation by the military authorities, who actually tried to attribute the attack to the so-called “leftist organizations”, something that nobody believed. In subsequent investigations and speculations, which did not lead to any judicial conviction, the organization of the attack was attributed to a conspiracy of Army soldiers, including at least four generals and two colonels, and also to elements of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro.

The regime and government of João Figueiredo were already suffering from the loss of support from a large part of the middle class, for whom the successive economic and inflationary crises transformed the dream of owning a home into the nightmare of mortgage payments, and even of the business community, attracted by the winds neoliberals that were already flying the banner of anti-statism and massive privatizations. The Diretas-Já campaign was launched, which, even without being successful, further undermined Figueiredo's and the regime's authority; At the same time, the Latin American military was losing support in the United States, whose establishment had already been frightened by the nuclear agreement between Brazil and Germany at the time of Geisel, and which had lost confidence in uniformed regimes with the Falklands War, in 1982.

Political rebellion intensified and division within the regime's ranks grew. By surprise, Paulo Maluf defeated Mário Andreazza, who was Figueiredo's favorite, in the dispute for the candidacy of the PDS, the party that had succeeded ARENA, to succeed the president. In the sequence, he was defeated by the alliance of the MBD with “rebels” of that party, who formed the “Liberal Front”, future PFL, DEM and today União Brasil, supporting the ticket Tancredo Neves-José Sarney. Figueiredo refused to hand over the position to the “traitor” Sarney – who assumed the presidency due to Tancredo's illness, which would prove fatal. The last dictator left the Planalto Palace in melancholy isolation.

In the turmoil that followed the Riocentro attack, there was the last important defenestration within the regime's hosts. The attack externally shook Figueiredo's authority. Internally, the disputes inside the barracks, between those who supported the attack and those who condemned it, undermined the authority of the gray eminence of the government and the regime: General Golbery do Couto e Silva, who came to be nicknamed “the Witch”. .

He ended up resigning as head of the government's Civil House in August 1981. Interestingly, his resignation was attributed to a disagreement with Delfim Netto, who was Minister of Agriculture and Secretary of Planning, over an increase in tax collection. Thus Golbery, who had helped to neutralize General Albuquerque Lima's attacks against Delfim, found himself, at least on the face of it, defenestrated by a similar confrontation. The dragon of which he had been one of the main creators also ended up spitting him out of the palaces of power, behind the scenes of which he had reigned, handling their strings.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

To access the first article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contragolpes-na-tradicao-brasileira/

To access the second article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contragolpes-na-tradicao-brasileira-ii/

To access the third article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contra-golpes-na-tradicao-brasileira-iii/

To access the fourth article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contragolpes-na-tradicao-brasileira-iv/



[1] There are different versions of what happened at the Canoas Air Force Base, on the night of April 04, 1964, around 21 pm. The official one was that Colonel aviator Alfeu de Alcântara Monteiro resisted the arrest order given to him by the newly appointed commander, Brigadier Nelson Freire Lavanère-Wanderley. Alfeu would have drawn his gun and shot the brigadier, grazing him in the face. He was then killed by Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Hipólito da Costa, who was accompanying the brigadier, with a single shot. There was a trial of the case in a military court, in Rio de Janeiro, in which the lieutenant colonel was acquitted, claiming that he had acted in “legitimate defense of third parties”. Another version spread by the coup supporters said that Colonel Alfeu was killed by “officers and sergeants” who, hearing the shots fired by him, rushed to the defense of Lavanère-Wanderley. These versions do not hold. First, because they contradict each other. Secondly, because it was established, at the time, that Colonel Alfeu was hit by eight shots, four in the back and four in the front, all fired by Lieutenant Colonel Hipólito. At the time of the crime, only the colonel, the lieutenant colonel and the brigadier were in the same room. Eyewitnesses said, some time later, that they heard voices raised in an argument, followed by a burst of several shots coming from a large-caliber weapon. Only then did they hear two shots from a small-caliber weapon, which one of the eyewitnesses claimed was from a “32 revolver”. Colonel Alfeu was taken while still alive to the Hospital do Pronto Socorro in Porto Alegre, where he died. It was even said that Colonel Alfeu had been hit by sixteen shots from a machine gun. From this patchwork quilt, the following hypothesis can be inferred: hit four times from behind by an automatic pistol fired by Colonel Hipólito, Colonel Alfeu turned around and was then hit four times from the front. As he turned and fell, he drew his gun and fired the two “small caliber” shots that were heard after the “heavy caliber” burst, according to these testimonies. The “sixteen shots” hypothesis may be due to the fact that at this small distance, a large-caliber shot is capable of passing through the victim's body. However, I point out that there is a record stating that "sixteen projectiles were found in the colonel's body".

Colonel Alfeu's wife began to receive threats, which made him leave the country, going to live in England. Her daughter became an advisor to Deputy José Genoíno in Brasília, where I interviewed her in the early 1980s.

In December 2017, a sentence by the Second Federal Court of the municipality of Canoas rectified the previous one, excluding the hypothesis of “legitimate defense” and characterizing the colonel’s death as caused by “political-ideological motivations arising from the established military regime”. There was no appeal by the Union and the sentence became final in March 2018. Currently, Colonel-aviator Alfeu de Alcântara Monteiro names a square in the municipality of Canoas and a street in the city of São Paulo, in the Tremembé neighborhood . He should have some honor in Porto Alegre, the city he helped save from a criminal bombing in 1961.

See this link for all articles