Of coups and countercoups in the Brazilian tradition

Image: Fidan Nazim qizi


The Brazilian coup tradition, its many successes and few failures, helps us to define lines of behavior in the face of the current threat

Much is written and said in Brazil today about the prospect of the usurper of the Planalto Palace rehearsing a coup d'état before, during or after the October elections, given the prospect of defeat against Lula. Speculation ranges from those who see this as nothing more than a boast, to those who see the attempt as successful in advance, to those who are sure that the usurper will attempt the coup but do not take his success for granted.

Variants for the evaluations include the position of military commanders, the behavior of the lower clergy of the Armed Forces, the military in pajamas, the state military police, the shooting clubs, the para-police militias and banditry, especially in Rio de Janeiro , and the fanatical followers of the eventual coup leader.

As counter-coup factors, the arguments point to the popularity of the government in free fall, the lack of support from sectors of the business community, the uncertainty regarding the general behavior of the Armed Forces, the total lack of international support, and a possible apathy on the part of vast segments of the population it counts as a double-edged sword, being able to be a favorable or contrary element to the coup. The evident anti-Lulism of the media mainstream counts as an element in favor of the success of the coup, although this same media demonstrates skepticism and fear in the face of the monstrous coup leader that it helped to create.

I think that a glance at our coup tradition, its many successes and few failures, can help us to define lines of behavior in the face of the threat, even if these lines are different, according to the multiple possible preferences. I do not promise a complete survey, as I am not a historian. I intend to review what I learned studying coups d'état or experiencing them in person and in color, or on my own skin.

As soon as Brazil found itself independent on the controversial September 7, 1822, there were three major coup movements in the seat of the Court, Rio de Janeiro. I also remember that it is possible to discuss whether the “bid” by D. Pedro I was a coup or not. It was certainly a “sleight of hand” that maintained the Empire that was being created there as a kind of condominium for the Braganças. In a letter addressed to his father, dated September 22, 1822, D. Pedro declares to his father that he will no longer implement the decrees of – and I quote – “factious, horrific, Machiavellian, disorganizing, hideous and pestilential Cortes” of Portugal . The Independence coup was consummated.

Then, in the midst of the enormous political confusion established in the country, there was that major succession of three coups d'état. The first, in 1823, was classic: Pedro I ordered his military apparatus to surround, seize and close the building of the Constituent Assembly, and lowered the Constitution by decree the following year. The Assembly, completely fractured, if not fragmented, was unable to resist, and Pedro I was able, with a consultation with the Council of State and then a stroke of the pen, to grant the country's first Constitution.

After 1831, when the Emperor resigned, the troubled Regency period followed, with regional revolts from north to south, interrupted by the so-called “Coup of Majority”. In this, in June/July 1840, Parliament circumvented one of the requirements of the Constitution of 1824 and proclaimed the age of majority of D. Pedro II, at 13 years old. As far as we know, this was a coup plotted by members of the Liberal Party to remove the Conservative Regent, Araújo Lima, from power. This coup enjoyed some popularity, as can be seen from the line sung at the time in the streets and squares of the capital: “We want D. Pedro II/Although he has no age/The nation dispenses with the law/And long live the Majority”… All right, but that one “dispensing with the law” would go deep into Brazilian tradition.

A Liberal ministry was formed, which was eventually deposed by the young Emperor in 1842, amid accusations of electoral fraud, but basically under pressure from the Conservatives, who thus returned to power, imposing a centralizing agenda on the Court. This led the Liberals to armed revolt in São Paulo and Minas Gerais. These, after some initial successes, were defeated by the Imperial Army commanded by a figure who would become key in Conservative politics during the Second Reign: the already Baron, future Count, Marquis and Duque of Caxias. The rebels in São Paulo tried to build a bridge with those in Rio Grande do Sul, but Farroupilha was already in decline, the Imperial Army and Navy dominated respectively the intermediate plateau and the entire coast up to the Lagoa dos Patos bar, and the connection has not been established.

Caxias was a key element in another episode of Second Reign politics that had hints of a coup d'état, although it followed the rules of the laws of the time. In 1866, when the Paraguayan War was already underway, the cabinet, which was Liberal, appointed Caxias commander general of the Brazilian forces. In 1868 Caxias would be named general commander of the “allied forces”, which also included Argentines and Uruguayans. Doing research on the biography of José de Alencar, as Caxias was also linked to the Conservative Party, I found signs in the press of the time that at this moment Caxias had put pressure on the Emperor, demanding, in order to remain in the position of general commander of the war, the dismissal of the liberal cabinet, with which he had fallen out, and his replacement by a conservative cabinet, headed by the Viscount of Itaboraí, of which Alencar was Minister of Justice, with a very controversial performance. The episode signals the military influence on the Court’s policy, which would grow until the next coup, that of the Proclamation of the Republic, in November 1889.

This was one of the most curious, controversial and controversial coups in our history. Apparently, whoever commanded him, Marshal Deodoro, knew he was giving a blow, but he didn't know exactly what blow he was giving. Feverish, he was bedridden, and left his bed at the request of subordinate officers, among them Major Frederico Sólon de Sampaio Ribeiro, who would later become Euclides da Cunha's father-in-law, to command the troop that agitated the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Several discontents converged in that circumstance. The Emperor and Princess Isabel had lost their last significant bastion, the support of the landlord oligarchs of Rio, São Paulo, Minas and elsewhere, thanks to the Lei Áurea, which abolished the slave regime without the claimed financial compensation to slave owners. The Princess, a staunch Catholic, considered this indemnity to be indecent. The military was unhappy and did not feel prestigious, the public debt was rising, and there were serious clashes in Parliament. The prime minister, the liberal Visconde de Ouro Preto, had presented political reform projects that decentralized power and established that senators would no longer be for life, among others that also deeply displeased conservatives.

Urged by junior republican officers, Deodoro agreed to assume command of the troops mobilized and gathered in Campo de Santana, the future Praça da República. Deodoro thought that agitation was destined to depose the liberal cabinet of Ouro Preto; but events rushed and republican pressure mounted. The current version says that Deodoro agreed to sign the decree that deposed his friend, the Emperor, when he learned that he would appoint, to replace Ouro Preto, his disaffected, political enemy and it is said that even a love rival, the gaucho politician liberal Gaspar da Silveira Martins, known as “The Tribune”.

According to a tradition now in decline, the Proclamation of the Republic was nothing more than a peaceful and bloodless barracks, which did not change anything in the structure of political power at the time. The phrase by journalist Aristides Lobo, published in an article on November 18, became famous: “the people watched that bestialized, astonished, surprised, without knowing what it meant; many seriously believed they were seeing a stop”. Another image of fame is that of romance Esau and Jacob, by Machado de Assis: in those troubled days, the character Custódio hesitates between calling his Confectionery “from the Empire” or “from the Republic”; finally, he decided on the less compromising name of “Government Confectionery”…

They are striking images; but be careful. Taken out of the context of those days in November 1889, when the Emperor decided not to resist, as well as the commander of the Palace guard, Floriano Peixoto, did not obey the resistance orders given him by Ouro Preto himself, they can lead to the mistaken understanding that everything was flowers in the Proclamation. With this, if power has not changed class, it has changed hands, and horse legs.

It has in its accounting some of the bloodiest civil wars in Brazilian history: the Federalist, in Rio Grande do Sul, between 1893 and 1895, the two Revolts of the Navy, in Rio de Janeiros, the first in 1891 - when in a new coup d'état Estado Deodoro had Congress closed – and in 1893/1894, with some of the rebels heading to the south of the country; in Nossa Senhora do Desterro, today Florianópolis, the union of Federalists from Rio Grande do Sul and rebels from the Armada provoked one of the bloodiest repressions in our history, commanded by Colonel Moreira César; Finally, the terrible episode of the Guerra de Canudos, in 1897, in which Moreira César would reappear again, this time tragically, can also be linked to the neo-republican effervescence.

Even earlier, Floriano Peixoto extended his own mandate in the presidency assumed after Deodoro's resignation in 1891, due to the first Revolt of the Navy, when the Constitution ordered that there be new elections, and governed with the help of the state of siege. It should also be noted that the Revoltas da Armada, in what is now the Federal Capital, marked the first direct, albeit discreet, intervention by the United States in Brazilian politics, in support of Floriano Peixoto.

And so, still having in our ears the trot of horses, the whistling of bullets, the roar of cannons, in our nostrils that mixture of the acrid smell of gunpowder with the odor of blood, we entered the promising XNUMXth Century, wanting to build the image that the Brazil was a peaceful and orderly paradise![1]

* 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).



[1] This is the first article in a series of six. As I have said many times before, I am neither a historian nor a social scientist. I am a writer and I taught Literature for 38 years. Do not expect hypotheses, theses and objective or definitive conclusions, much less statistics and theoretical frameworks. This series is made up of the result of sparse readings, although not scattered or at random, often motivated by my literary studies; of family histories and personal reminiscences, in addition to observations and opinions of my own responsibility.

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