The coup that lasts 60 years



Reflecting on simplifying narratives about the 1964 coup and the dictatorship and going beyond superficialities helps to understand the four years of an authoritarian government

It has been 60 years since the country plunged into a deep dive into the political and social abyss of authoritarianism. This is the corporate-racist-torturer-religious-patriarchal-imperialist-military coup[I] orchestrated by the Armed Forces, with broad support in sectors of the economic and power elite in the country's history. For decades, and especially in the process of transition from Dictatorship to democracy, a certain narrative was disseminated that contained three blunders about recent history.

The first historical error was that the coup and the subsequent regime had been produced and directed solely by the military when, in fact, it resulted from the context of the Cold War (USA x USSR) and regional democratic and popular struggles. It was the result of the articulation of the old political and economic oligarchies with large industrial and financial corporations, articulated around the North American imperialist project.

The second error was to present the dictatorship as a regime of systematic and violent attack only against the left and, more directly, against the armed struggle of resistance. However, the attack by the dictatorial State affected all those who opposed the regime, as well as all subjectivities and all bodies that clashed with the pre-existing authoritarian, archaic, racist and patriarchal norms, which were elevated to maximum standardization. The country suffered widespread violence against indigenous peoples, the black and peripheral population, peasants, democrats in general, among others.

As a fundamental part of creating a biased narrative about the dictatorship, a certain supposed common sense was established that the return to democracy represented a break with the old regime. Under this fiction, complaints against state violence, complaints about the so-called “authoritarian rubble” and the militarization of politics and everyday life were placed, little by little, in obscure corners of our formulations about the past.

Of course there were ruptures, because if they hadn't occurred we wouldn't be debating our possibilities for defending democracy today. But, if we could measure a dictatorship by what remained of it in society (and in the State) perhaps we should say that the Brazilian dictatorship was the one that had the most continuity, in South America, in its new democracy.

There was not just a rupture between one regime and another and the dictatorship was not a violent attack just against the left. In this way, I would like to highlight the wide range of adjectives that we direct at the (not only) military coup of 1964 as a way of overcoming some historical errors that are sometimes adopted when referring to the dictatorship.

First of all, and Brazilian historiography has been pointing out this reading (first, with the inclusion of the term “civil” alongside the military and, more recently, with the use of the term “business”), we had the presence of capital in the business coup- racist-torturer-religious-patriarchal-imperialist-military.

It was a coup financed by businessmen who aligned themselves with the interests of large corporations and the North American empire to receive economic benefits in the emerging regime. He was a financialist, as the dictatorship's developmentalism was an ally and operator in favor of the market, using grain production and the new industrialization that was growing to boost financial transactions via banks in a shady way (20 years of disproportionate growth of a few two or three banks and international financial sectors about which few know).

The economic miracle was a fiction brought about by certain economic growth, but mainly by the injection of a large amount of financialized money, which left just as it came after the oil crisis. This injection of money was important to invest in the militarization of the country, in the formation of a conservative intelligentsia and in the ideology that Brazilians were heading towards a future of middle class life. Individuals in poverty would be those incapable of this development and would be left out of the “good citizen” class in redemocratization.

The 1964 Coup was substantially racist. The dictatorship nationalized the “myth of racial democracy” and made it the national ideology of an imaginary racially mixed, cordial, miscegenated society. Having adopted the “myth” was fundamental for the regime to maintain the strategy of the seigneurial relationship in social practices and, through the logic of white supremacy, it was possible to deepen the construction of the subalternity of black bodies. It was necessary to ensure that the subjects destined to revolt due to their living conditions and their history, as Clóvis Moura said, remained trapped in a perverse logic of whitening and attacking alternative modes of culture and sociability that existed since the African diaspora. .

It should be remembered that shortly after Institutional Act number 05 (AI-5), of December 1968, the dictatorship intensified the institutionalization of violence. Soon afterwards, on March 20, 1969, general-president Costa e Silva signed Decree-Law nº 510, which in its article 33 declared that it was a crime of racism to “incite (…) hatred or racial discrimination”, using the repressive artifact against activists of black collectives and movements who denounced the racist nature of the regime.

The coup was torturous and this characterized the dictatorship in its comparison with other dictatorships in the Southern Cone. Not that all of them did not make systematic use of torture. They did, and sometimes even with the teachings of the Brazilian dictatorship, one of the oldest and most stable in the region. However, the Brazilian dictatorship created a network of police and military institutions, legal or clandestine, prepared to arrest tens of thousands of people to be systematically tortured. Argentine sociologist Pilar Calveira called her country's dictatorship a “disappearing power”, due to the number of political disappearances. Certainly, we could call the Brazilian dictatorship a “torturing power”.[ii]

Soon after AI-5, aware of its racist nature, the military regime created “Operação Bandeirante” (OBAN), the largest center for torture (as well as murders and disappearances). The name already spoke about the continuity of the dictatorial project in relation to the colonial model adopted in the fictional homeland based on the idea of ​​miscegenation. OBAN was the prototype for the official body of the Brazilian Army called “Information Operations Department – ​​Internal Defense Operations Center”, the DOI-CODIs.

They were torture centers commanded by Army majors (in São Paulo, it was for many years commanded by the then Major Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, indicated by the National Truth Commission Report as responsible for dozens of murders and at least 42 disappearances) and They had officers from the three armed forces in their ranks, as well as military and civil police officers. Sometimes, they joined the activities of militiamen. Ten DOI-CODIs were created, spreading state terror to all regions of the country and radiating the “torturing power” to other institutions.

The 1964 coup used conservative moral values, around what we call today the agenda of customs, and which would defend models of family, sexuality, heteronormativity and against the advances inherent to the time (1960s, with sexual revolution, creation of the pill contraception, abortion rights, etc.) and the explosion of feminist and anti-patriarchal movements. It must be remembered that the country has always been organized around patriarchal power, but during the dictatorship this was made a value to be defended and maintained by the State as the fundamental basis of the militarist order.

On the eve of the coup, there was the “March of the Family with God for Freedom”, called by reactionary leaders and financed by the Institute of Economic and Social Research (IPES), an institution of Brazilian businessmen who supported the coup and the dictatorship.[iii]. Such “Marchs” aimed to build a popular image of the coup and also enter the dispute on the streets, with the first “March” called for six days after the rally for basic reforms, in Central do Brasil, which was attended by President João Goulart.

The main objectives of the corporate-racist-torturer-religious-patriarchal-imperialist-military coup were: (i) to impose a financial-economic project of capital, through the empowerment of the military and a colonelist-lordly aristocracy; and, (ii) contain, annul, demobilize or destroy the organization of workers, movements and social struggles, democratic and left-wing forces.

The coup was not the act of an extreme right embedded within the Armed Forces, just as state violence and terror were not the work of the “basements of the dictatorship”. It was a fundamental stage for capital and reactionary, fascist and conservative forces.

Reflecting today on simplifying narratives of what was the 1964 coup and the dictatorship and going beyond the superficialities can contribute to the understanding of the four years of an authoritarian government in the midst of a rule of law and with the understanding of the coup movement that culminated in on January 08, 2023.

Today, the version is widely disseminated that January last year was the act of out-of-control innocents, the “madmen”, who had not understood the moment of the electoral defeat. It has even become widespread, more than a year after the events, that the commanders of the Army and Air Force, when the curtains were closing on Jair Bolsonaro's government, were the ones who saved democracy and prevented the defeated party from continuing to attempt a coup. A version that contradicts the facts we witnessed, whether through notes, reports and statements from institutions, or with the transfer of barracks space to camps of obscure movements, and which made it clear that the command of the Armed Forces somehow fueled the hypothesis of a new coup d'état.

A coup did not happen in 2022/2023 due to a series of circumstances and momentary contexts and due to the relations between the clashing forces. There must be several factors behind the coup's failure. However, it seems symptomatic that the version of the action of radicalized sectors is being sold and bought (previously some generals and the “basements”; today, other generals, the ineligible and some of their “scumbags”). Ignorance of the past opens up gaps for the fictional to gain an air of believability.

* Edson Teles is professor of political philosophy at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP). Author, among other books, of The abyss in history: essays on Brazil in times of truth commission (Mall). []


[I] My inspiration for the adjectives of the coup are based on Umeno Morita's doctoral research that analyzes the condition of the indigenous Ainu people in the face of the Japanese colonial project born in the Meiji Era, whose rise of the new emperor would have occurred through the “military-financialist coup -religious-fundamentalist”.

[ii] The person who created the term “torturing power” to describe the Dictatorship was Janaína Teles, when writing the “Presentation” of the Brazilian edition of Pilar Calveiro’s book. TELES, Janaína. Dictatorship and repression in Brazil and Argentina: parallels and distinctions. In: CALVEIRO, Pilar. Power and disappearance: concentration camps in Argentina. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2013.

[iii] See the “Public Report” of the research “The responsibility of companies for rights violations during the Dictatorship”, conducted by the Center for Anthropology and Forensic Archeology at the Federal University of São Paulo (CAAF/Unifesp), 2023. Available at:

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