On coups and countercoups in the Brazilian tradition – IV

Image: Lucas Vinícius Pontes
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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

Failed coup attempts in Brazil from 1954 to 1964

The ten years between 1954 and 1964 were marked by a series of frustrated attempts at coups of various kinds, most of them of the “military” type, but with at least one of them, of civil origin: (1) Café Filho/Carlos Luz; (2) Jacareacanga (Aeronautics); (3) Aragarças (Air Force and some support from Army personnel); (4) 1961 (the three military ministers). Among the reasons for the failure of these coups was the division of military commanders, despite the progressive predominance of “Americanophile” and anti-communist officers in the three weapons. The Brazilian right wing was also very divided, despite the coup leadership of Carlos Lacerda, nicknamed “the Crow”, and the National Democratic Union (UDN).

He and she felt threatened when, in the parliamentary election held in November 1954, the UDN lost ten seats in Parliament, in a clear repudiation of its coup performance. From then on, the udenistas began a closed campaign calling into question the fairness of the electoral system (a song that was played again in the current mismanagement). The military commanders were divided, between those who supported the udenist preaching, those who supported the fairness of the electoral system, and those who stayed on top of the wall, observing the events.

The Minister of War, General Lott, was among the observers, but he ended up leaning towards the supporters of the system, neutralizing a confused and somewhat desperate coup attempt by Café Filho, the vice-president who had taken over after the suicide of Vargas, and Carlos Luz, who was president of the Chamber of Deputies and succeeded Café Filho, when he left for health treatment.

The details of this attempt can be read in the CPDOC archives, in the entry dedicated to General Lott. In short, the coup supporters, with the support of Lacerda and the UDN, wanted to prevent the inauguration of Juscelino Kubitschek, elected in 1955 with 36% of the votes, beating three other candidates: Juarez Távora, for the UDN, Adhemar de Barros, for the Social Progressive Party, and Integralist Plínio Salgado, for the Popular Representation Party. Lacerda and the UDN openly preached against the election, calling for military intervention to put an end to “civil anarchy”. Failing to obtain significant new adhesions, they ended up giving in, unsuccessfully launching the candidacy of Juarez Távora.

Juscelino, elected, was seen by them as dangerously linked to Vargas' heir, João Goulart, elected vice president (the elections were separate, not by ticket), had the support of the PTB and a front of parties linked to unionism, and also , under the table, of the communists, although the PCB (at the time, PC do B) was illegal. It was a mild illegality: in Porto Alegre, the Party had a bookstore and even a bar, where my father's cousin worked as a waiter: more proletarian than that, impossible.

Through a series of parliamentary maneuvers, Café Filho and Carlos Luz tried to annul the election and provoke new elections. The military domes split, horizontally and vertically. Most generals leaned towards legality, supporting the outcome of the constitutional election; others supported the coup plotters. At the same time, support for the coup movement grew among the colonels. Willing to take the coup further, Luz dismissed Lott from the ministry. After some hesitation, General Lott acted swiftly. He did not accept the resignation, he mobilized his subordinates defending the military hierarchy and the unit defined by the majority of the superior officers. He deposed Carlos Luz and detained Café Filho under house arrest. He was willing to neutralize or frame the military command of São Paulo, which could support Luz, with the help of Governor Jânio Quadros. Carlos Luz and his companions ended up in an anodyne, even comical situation.

Seeing that Lott had mastered the situation in Rio de Janeiro, Luz embarked with other coup leaders, including Lacerda, on the ship Almirante Tamandaré, heading for Santos, in search of the expected support in São Paulo. However, Lott continued to act swiftly, and completely controlled the military situation in São Paulo. When Admiral Tamandaré arrived in Santos, he no longer had anyone to support his passengers, not even Governor Jânio Quadros; the ship then returned to Rio de Janeiro, remaining anchored in Guanabara Bay until the end of the crisis. Leaving the ship, Lacerda even asked the Cuban embassy for asylum, then under the dictatorship of Fulgêncio Batista, which ended up not materializing. By force, Lott swore in as president the Santa Catarina politician Nereu Ramos, who at the time presided over the Federal Senate.

The crisis ended with the inauguration, on January 31, of Juscelino and Jango. With his unbeatable smile and pats on the back, Juscelino ended up forgiving everyone, through an amnesty law passed in Congress. But Lott, who continued to command the Ministry of War, also continued to act with speed: he removed all coup officers from direct command of the troops, sending them to different parts of the country in charge of recruitment. This movement of his contributed fundamentally to the failure of the next major coup attempt, that of 1961, when, after the surprising resignation of Jânio Quadros, the three military ministers tried to prevent the inauguration of the deputy, again the specialist in this position, João Goulart.

Detail: in the midst of the crisis, a group of young professors from the University of São Paulo, militants of the Brazilian Socialist Party, wrote a manifesto in support of Luz, against Lott. The group went to the home of their master, Professor Fernando de Azevedo, to collect his signature. The latter received the entourage, but told them to shelve the manifesto: for him, Lott was right, not Luz, who was a coup leader and wanted to prevent the inauguration of the constitutionally elected president. The group was discouraged and obeyed. Who told me the episode was one of the then young teachers: Antonio Candido.

Along the way, there were two other clumsy coup attempts, both led by Air Force officers, who felt discredited (this litany is also back) and threatened by rising communism, for them under the leadership of the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola. In the first, in 1956, the coup plotters concentrated planes in Jacareacanga, in the state of Pará. In the second, they concentrated in Aragarças, in 1959, in the interior of Goiás, after hijacking some planes, including a commercial flight, with civilian passengers. They wanted, once again, to depose Juscelino and Jango. In the first case, attention was drawn to the reluctance of senior Air Force officers to repress the movement.

In the second, the coup leaders got some Army officers to join. But in both cases the support was insufficient, for example, not even getting Carlos Lacerda to join. The duration of the Jacareacanga revolt was longer: 19 days; that of Aragarças was smaller: in 36 hours it was dominated. In the case of Jacareacanga, there were many acts of insubordination, with military personnel from different parts of the country refusing to repress the movement. There were many arrests in various cities. In the case of Aragarças, the government's action was quicker and stronger. In both cases, the rebels gave up, some surrendered and were arrested, others went into exile in neighboring countries. Juscelino pardoned the Jacareacanga rebels, through the same law passed in Congress that granted amnesty to the 1955 coup plotters. Those from Aragarças who had fled abroad only returned to the country after the inauguration of Jânio, whom they supported. Detained on arrival, they were later released, claiming that their movement was “anti-communist” in nature.

Despite their failure, the two revolts spurred new conspiracies. In the case of Aragarças, the rebels even claimed victory, because one of the triggers for their revolt was the announcement, by Jânio, that he would not run in the 1960 elections, since he had fought with the UDN or vice versa. Jânio turned back, ran and won, defeating Lott, whom the rebel officers hated for his legalistic behavior in 1955. Lott had run for the PTB. As the presidential and vice presidential elections were separate, Jango ran and won. There were even those who suggested that behind the scenes there had been a campaign for the duo Jan-Jan, since Lott, as a candidate, was a failure on the platform, as much as Jânio was a success, with his campaign of the “broom” against corruption. My father, for example, voted for both: for Jânio, for fighting corruption, for Jango, “for loyalty to the PTB”. Later he would regret the first vow.

Jânio's victory and inauguration provoked a split in the UDN. On one side was the so-called “Banda de Música”, always a coup leader, led by Lacerda. On the other, the “Ala Bossa Nova”, preaching a more legalistic stance, led, among other voices, by a certain José Sarney. That wing even accused the latter of being “communist”, especially after “Bossa Nova” sought a rapprochement with João Goulart, who succeeded Jânio when he resigned.

Much has already been written about the attempted coup in 1961, including on my part. Here I will highlight just a few of the reasons that, in my opinion, led the movement to fail. The first reason for its failure lay in the immediate reason that triggered the coup attempt: the resignation of Jânio Quadros. It took everyone by surprise, scammers and non-scammers alike. At first, Governor Leonel Brizola even suggested that Jânio go to Rio Grande do Sul, as he believed that the president was being the victim of a coup.

There are two versions of the reasons for the resignation. The first, more current, is that it would be an attempt at self-coup. Jânio would resign to be restored to power in the arms of the people and the military around him, with discretionary powers and free to do whatever he wanted. Strategically, he would have sent Jango, the deputy, to China, in order to make him even more incompatible with the right-wing military. If in fact that was the reason, it was necessary to combine the maneuver with the people and with those soldiers. The latter really wanted to prevent Jango from taking office, but it did not occur to them to bring Jânio back to the Planalto Palace. After all, in the recent past, with his erratic politics, he decorated Ernesto Che Guevara and recognized revolutionary Cuba.

The other version, which does not contradict the first, was given later, in an interview, by the arch-coup leader Golbery do Couto e Silva. At the time, he was Chief of Staff of the National Security Council, a direct advisory body to the President of the Republic. Asked why Jânio had resigned, Golbery replied: “because there was no one to lock him in the bathroom”.

The fact, which could corroborate both versions, is that Jânio suffered from moments of deep depression and emotional imbalance during the lonely weekends in Brasília, when almost all the other politicians abandoned the newly inaugurated and still inhospitable Novacap, towards their electoral strongholds. There were comments at the time that on Fridays and Saturdays Jânio would go to the movie theater at the Palácio do Planalto, taking a bottle of whiskey, to watch westerns, and he would stay there until the films and the bottle ended, especially her.

He had broken with Carlos Lacerda, who had supported him during the election. Lacerda condemned Jânio's foreign policy, because it included the recognition of Fidel Castro's Cuba. At the same time, he wanted favors from the federal government to bail out his newspaper, Tribuna da Imprensa, in financial difficulties. He tried to obtain them with an audience in Brasilia, according to a comment by journalist Paulo Markun. The attempt increased the disagreement, because after some conversations interspersed with comedy films and westerns, Jânio gave him a long chair tea, without receiving it. The reason, still according to Markun, would be Jânio's preference, at that moment, for the company of some mysterious female beauty he was courting. In spite, Lacerda left both the Planalto Palace and the president. On the night of the already fateful August 24, Lacerda went on television and made an impassioned speech against Jânio, accusing him of wanting to carry out a “cabinet coup”. The following morning, Jânio resigned, after reading the news of Lacerda's pronouncement in the newspapers. At that time there were no national TV broadcasts.

Another factor that hindered the coup was the popular mobilization triggered by the Legality Movement, which Brizola had launched from the Piratiní Palace, in Porto Alegre. The three military ministers, apparently, did not count on those reactions and their scope. They didn't count so much that one of the coup generals even called the governor ordering him to stop that “subversion”. “No one will scam over the phone”, was the answer. Then Brizola slammed the phone in the general's face, that is, in his ear: testimony from Paulo Schilling, who was press officer for the state government, to this interviewer.

As there had been no previous conspiracy, the business community, even the anti-janguista, was also taken by surprise. The same goes for the Church: the conservative archbishop of Porto Alegre, D. Vicente Scherer, ended up supporting Brizola to avoid “bloodshed in the capital of the Gauchos”. Brizola had commandeered Radio Guaíba and sent a detachment from the Military Brigade to protect its transmission towers on one of the islands in the Guaíba River. It was the beginning of the Legality Network, which spread its pronouncements throughout the country, in chain with other radio stations or on shortwave. There was even a “Legality Hymn”, composed by Paulo Pereio and Lara de Lemos: “Forward, Brazilians, stand up / United for freedom / Let us all march together with the flag / Who preaches loyalty / / Protests against the tyrant / Who preaches treason/That a people will only be great/If its nation is free!/ According to Pereio, who composed the song, he was inspired by “Marselhesa”. Anyway, it was vibrant.

Lastly, Last but not least, the military commands split. Among the high officers with troop command, particularly in the Army, the number of loyalist soldiers was high, and this was decisive in inclining the commander of the III* Army, based in Porto Alegre, General José Machado Lopes, towards joining Brizola's movement. and the rupture with the coup ministers. For that, the actions of generals Pery Constant Bevilacqua and Oromar Osório, both commanders of infantry divisions in Rio Grande do Sul, and also of Colonel Joaquim Ignacio Baptista Cardoso, in command of the 1st Infantry Division, were fundamental. Mechanized Cavalry Brigade, based in the municipality of Santiago, in the center-west of the state. Colonel Cardoso and General Oromar Osório organized a column that advanced rapidly to the border between the states of Paraná and São Paulo. An important factor in the mobilization of loyalist officers was a pronouncement by General Lott in favor of Jango's inauguration, "for the defense of the Constitution".

Another decisive performance on the military front was that of the sergeants of the 5tha. Zona Aérea, headquartered in Canoas, in Greater Porto Alegre. On August 28 and 29, the military ministers gave two successive orders to Brigadier Aureliano Passos, commander of the base, to bomb the Piratiní Palace, silencing Governor Brizola and the Legality Network. According to statements from the time (including that of the writer Oswaldo França Júnior, then a FAB pilot, whom I interviewed; he was suspended in 64), the flight officers were willing to carry out the attack. Those who prevented them from doing so were the sergeants, sabotaging the planes and blocking the runway. Afterwards, a detachment of the Third Army occupied the air base. Brigadier Aureliano Passos and a few other officers fled to São Paulo. The aviator lieutenant colonel Alfeu de Alcântara Monteiro, a loyalist, who would be assassinated on the base itself on April 4, 1964, shortly after the 1st coup, took command. Of april.

Through the same radio device on which I had heard the Testament Letter, I heard Brizola's emotional farewell when he received the order to bomb the Piratini Palace. He said he stayed at the Palace until the end. The password for the command of the air base, intercepted by an amateur radio, was “Tudo azul em Cumbica”. The Gloster-Meteor fighters were supposed to bomb the seat of the state government, in the center of the city, and proceed to the air base in Guarulhos. My mother asked me to close the front windows of the house where we lived, about XNUMX meters from the Palace. At that moment, I watched scenes that looked like they were from a World War II movie: families from the neighborhood fled, taking suitcases and even carts with their belongings. That night we went to sleep at a family friend's house, far from the center. She was a Udenista, but she had revolted with the bombing order. Brigadier Aureliano was a political relative of hers, on her ex-husband's side. She called his residence, wanting to congratulate him for not complying with the order. At that moment she found out – and so did we – that he had fled to São Paulo.

Another order issued by the coup command was for Navy ships, parked on the docks in the port of the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, to bomb the Piratini Palace. By order of General Machado Lopes, a column of tanks left the Barracks in the Serraria neighborhood towards the city center. The news even caused great commotion among the people who gathered, by the thousands, in Praça da Matriz, in front of the Palace. The armored column, however, headed for the harbor pier, placing itself in front of the ships, preventing them from complying with the order. Meanwhile, Machado Lopes was driving to Praça da Matriz. Upon arriving, the compact crowd stopped the car past. The general descended. The crowd began to sing the national anthem. The general sang along and announced aloud that he had come to show solidarity with Brizola. The crowd opened to truck him. From my house, I heard the Hymn. A little later, through the window, I saw a black official car driving down the street at high speed towards Rua Bento Martins, which led to the Third Army HQ. In the backseat, squeezed between two olive-green uniforms, I recognized Governor Brizola. I thought he was going to prison. In fact, the deal would be closed, by legality.

If the military coup failed, the crisis resulted in a parliamentary maneuver, with Congress hastily voting on a constitutional amendment that provisionally instituted the parliamentary regime, limiting Jango's powers. Even so, when the vice president was willing to fly from Porto Alegre (where he had returned from China, via Paris, New York and Montevideo) to Brasilia, a contingent of FAB officers was willing to shoot down the plane, in the so-called Operation Mosquito. The attempt also failed, because other officers refused to comply with the orders and because the loyalist military, from Porto Alegre, organized the so-called Tactical Operation, with maneuvers to mislead the coordinates of the flight that went to the capital. They even spread false weather reports, saying that supposedly bad weather had closed airports in southern Brazil. Also in other parts of the country there were acts of insubordination on the part of sergeants and non-commissioned officers, including in the Navy, opposing the coup officers. To complete the picture, an Army detachment, with loyalist command, occupied the military airport in Brasilia, ensuring the landing of the aircraft.

In January 1963, a plebiscite overturned the parliamentary amendment, by 9,5 million votes against 2 million, reestablishing the presidential regime and returning João Goulart's powers, previously usurped.

The key word in this series of events was “legality”. It jointly mobilized civilians and soldiers against the coup d'état. At the same time, it defined the strength, contours and also the limits of democratic resistance because, when Congress voted on the parliamentary amendment and João Goulart accepted it, it prevented the more radicals from transforming the popular movement into an insurrection against the amendment that limited powers of the new president.

João Goulart announced his acceptance of the parliamentary amendment when he was at the Piratiní Palace, the epicenter of the Legality Network. Upon hearing the news, the crowd that was concentrated in Praça da Matriz, in front of the Palace, was seized with fury, and began to shout profanities against the vice president. Fearing for his safety, Brizola made him leave through the back, towards the place where he was staying. It rained, melancholy.

This disappointing end to one of the greatest popular resistance movements in our history did not dampen spirits. During the month of September, several celebrations were held in Porto Alegre, including military parades through the streets, celebrating the movement. The loyalist soldiers of the Third Army, those of the state Military Brigade, the sergeants of the Canoas Air Base and the aviator lieutenant colonel Alfeu de Alcântara Monteiro were acclaimed as heroes. This was named pilot of the presidential plane.

In Brasilia, Colonel Golbery do Couto e Silva resigned from his position and went into the reserve with the rank of general of the army (at the time, the retirement of a military officer guaranteed his promotion to two posts above the one he occupied on active duty). Some time later, he founded the Institute of Research and Social Studies – IPÊS – soon transformed into the main laboratory of the new coup that was being plotted.

* 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/

 

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