The Brazilian business-military regime (1964-1985)


By Fábio Konder Comparato*

The 1964 coup was based on the alliance between the Armed Forces and landowners and big businessmen, national and foreign. This political consortium engendered state terrorism.

Origins of the coup

In the genesis of the coup d'état of March 31, 1964, we find the profound split between the two groups that always made up the Brazilian oligarchy: political agents and the class of large landowners and businessmen. Until then, conflicts between the two were always resolved through conciliatory arrangements, according to the old Brazilian tradition. In the last years of the 1946 constitutional regime, however, this possibility of conciliation became increasingly reduced. The main reason for this was the worsening of the political confrontation between left and right all over the world, in the context of the Cold War and especially, in Latin America, with the Cuban Revolution.

It should be noted, by the way, that at that time a good part of our middle classes had abandoned their traditional position on the right of the political spectrum, starting to support the so-called “basic reforms” of the João Goulart government: land reform, banking, taxation and the policy of rejecting foreign capital. It was natural, under these circumstances, for large landowners and businessmen, national and foreign, to fear for their future in our country and to turn, now decidedly, to the side of the Armed Forces, so that these could depose the rulers in office, replacing them by others, associated with private potentates, according to the old historical heritage.

Once the coup d'état was carried out, the Catholic Church and several prestigious civil society entities, such as the Brazilian Bar Association, immediately demonstrated in favor of it. What the business community did not take into account, however, was the fact that the military corporation, since the proclamation of the Republic, had been embittered by a series of unsuccessful attempts to free itself from subordination to the civil power. It would not be precisely at that moment, when called upon to save big business from the leftist danger, that the Armed Forces would depose the rulers in office and then return to the barracks.

In preparing for the coup, the US government played a decisive role. Already in 1949, a group of senior officers of the Brazilian Army, including General Cordeiro de Farias, influenced by the United States, created, along the lines of the National War College North American, the Institute of Higher Studies in Politics, Defense and Strategy, hereinafter referred to as the Superior School of War. With the deepening of the so-called Cold War and, above all, shortly after the seizure of power in Cuba by Fidel Castro, this teaching institute began to form the Brazilian officialdom to prevent the assumption of power by the communists; thus understood all political agents who, although not affiliated with the PCB, manifested in some way, opposition to the United States.

It can be said that all military officers who participated in the 1964 coup were students at the Escola Superior de Guerra. The courses administered there, by the way, were not reserved only for the military, but were also open to prominent politicians and businessmen. From 1961 to 1966, he served as US ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon, who already in 1960 had collaborated in the implementation of the Alliance for Progress, an aid program offered by the United States to Latin American countries, in order to prevent them from following Cuba's revolutionary path.

In preparation for the coup, Gordon coordinated the creation of political propaganda entities in Brazil, such as IBAD – Brazilian Institute of Democratic Action and IPES – Institute of Research and Social Studies. It is known, moreover, from a recording later released, that already on July 30, 1962 Lincoln Gordon discussed with President Kennedy, in the White House, the expenditure of US$ 8 million to “expel from power, if necessary”, the president Joao Goulart.

As a decisive weapon, the US government – ​​apparently at the request of the Brazilian military that took part in the coup – launched in March 1964 Operation Brother Sam, consisting of a naval task force composed of an aircraft carrier, four destroyers and tankers for ostensive exercises on the south coast of Brazil, in addition to one hundred and ten tons of ammunition.

The alliance of the Armed Forces with holders of private economic power

Upon assuming command of the State, military leaders did not hesitate, over the years, to mutilate the National Congress and the Judiciary: 281 parliamentarians were impeached and three ministers of the Federal Supreme Court compulsorily retired. The military rulers insisted on submitting to their absolute domination, during the two decades of the regime, all the members of the civil power, as a kind of revenge for the long series of political frustrations suffered by them, men in uniform, since the end of the XIX century. It must be recognized that the vast majority of public agents, spared by the repression instituted after the coup, dishonorably collaborated in its operation.

The new political regime was based on the alliance of the Armed Forces with the landowners and big businessmen, national and foreign. This political consortium engendered two pioneering experiences in Latin America: state terrorism and capitalist neoliberalism. Based on the Brazilian example, several other Latin American countries adopted in the following years, with explicit support from the United States, political regimes similar to ours.

One of the sectors in which the collaboration of the business community with the military corporation stood out the most was mass communications. The Armed Forces and the big business community needed to have an organization capable of developing, throughout the national territory, the ideological propaganda of the authoritarian regime, with the constant denunciation of the communist danger and the systematic, although always hidden, dissemination of the merits of the capitalist system .

The military leaders decided, therefore, to fix their choice on the Globo Communications System. In 1969, this group owned three stations (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte). Four years later, in 1973, he already had no less than eleven. Corporate domination of the mass communications system continued to exist once the authoritarian regime ended, and persists to this day. The Federal Constitution of 1988 provides in its art. 220, § 5 that “the means of social communication cannot, directly or indirectly, be the object of monopoly or oligopoly”. This constitutional provision, like several others in the same chapter, remains ineffective due to the lack of legal regulation.

The marriage between the military corporation and the business community continued unabated, while opposition groups persisted, determined to develop, with or without Cuban support, the armed struggle against the authoritarian regime. In Brazil, big businessmen did not hesitate to finance the installation of state terror devices. In the second half of 1969, for example, the Second Army, based in São Paulo, launched Operation Bandeirante – the embryo of the future DOI-CODI (Detachment of Internal Operations and Center of Internal Defense Operations) – destined to decimate the main opponents to the regime.

Meeting with São Paulo bankers in the second half of that year, the then Minister of Economy Delfim Neto asked for and obtained their financial contribution, claiming that the Armed Forces did not have the equipment or funds to face “subversion”. At the same time, the Federation of Industries of São Paulo – FIESP invited its member companies to collaborate in the project. Thus, while Ford and Volkswagen supplied cars, Ultragás lent trucks and Supergel supplied the military prison with frozen meals.

The breakdown of business confidence in military power

The honeymoon between big business and the Armed Forces did not last long, however. On December 12, 1968, exactly on the eve of the launching of Institutional Act nº 5, which suspended the habeas corpus in cases of political crimes and crimes against national security, the head of the Federal Police prevented publication in the superconservative newspaper The state of Sao Paulo, from the editorial in which director Júlio de Mesquita Filho condemned “institutional artificialism, which the country was forced to accept due to the pressure of arms”.

A few years later, when it was verified that all groups engaged in the armed struggle against the regime had been exterminated, businessmen began to express their irritation with the permanence of the military in command of the Brazilian State. All the more so as the men in uniform allowed themselves to be seduced by the particular economic advantages enjoyed in command of the State, such as holding highly remunerated management positions in state-owned companies, several of which were created after the 1964 coup.

In 1974, one of the great priests of the liberal creed, Eugênio Gudin, publicly declared that “Brazilian capitalism is more controlled by the State than that of any other country, with the exception of the communists”. Then, in February 1975, the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo published a series of no less than eleven reports under the title “The paths of nationalization”, while the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo released a document, entitled “The Process of Nationalization of the Brazilian Economy: The Problem of Access to Resources for Investments”.

The business class therefore understood that the time had come to reinstall the traditional regime of false representative democracy in the country, under whose facade appears the official power attributed to elected political agents, while behind it, economic domination, exercised by private potentates. Business pressure against the Armed Forces at the head of the State coincided with the election to the presidency of the United States of Jimmy Carter, implacable critic of the human rights violations committed by the Brazilian military regime.

In an interview with an American newspaper, he went so far as to state: “When Kissinger [Secretary of State in the Richard Nixon government] says, as he did a moment ago, that Brazil has a type of government compatible with ours, well, there it is. the kind of thing we want to change. Brazil does not have a democratic government. It is a military dictatorship. In many respects it is highly repressive for political prisoners”.

In turn, within the Brazilian episcopate – although linked, as usual, to the holders of supreme power – the exponential figures of D. Helder Câmara and D. Paulo Evaristo Arns stood out, to denounce without euphemisms, both here and abroad, the atrocities committed against political prisoners. The military regime thus entered its phase of ineluctable decline, having lost the support of the groups that traditionally make up the structure of power in Brazil.

The final phase of the regime

Everything seemed to be moving towards a “slow, gradual and safe distension”, as General Golbery do Couto e Silva preached, if not for the fact that the issue of atrocities committed by military and police agents, within the framework of State terrorism, remained unresolved. . According to official data from the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances, created by Law No. 9.140 of 1995, up to February 2014, 362 (three hundred and sixty-two) cases of political opponents were murdered or disappeared during the military regime.

The Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice, in the report entitled Right to Memory and Truth, published in 2007, stated that there were no less than 475 (four hundred and seventy-five) dead and politically missing people during that period. It is also estimated that 50.000 people were arrested for political reasons, most of them being tortured, some to death. The military government even equipped, in Petrópolis, a house where at least 19 people were executed, their bodies incinerated in order to leave no traces.

At no time in our life as an independent country, did the rulers, whether in the Empire or in the Republic, manage to commit such disgusting atrocities. Pressure from the business community for military leaders to leave power was reinforced with the significant reduction in the country's economic growth rate, from the end of the Geisel government. But the uniformed corporation hesitated to leave the state command, looking at all costs for a guarantee that, when that happened, the police and military agents responsible for acts of violent crime against opponents of the regime would not be punished.

This solution had the decisive support of big business, if only because some of its leaders, as noted above, were co-authors of State terrorism crimes, having financed the operation of the repressive system. At the suggestion of political collaborators of the regime, the military leaders finally decided to embark on the amnesty movement already begun for political prisoners and exiles, in order to extend it to perpetrators of State terrorism crimes. In June 1979, General-President Figueiredo presented a project to the National Congress, converted on August 28 into Law No. 6.683. It granted amnesty “to all those who […] committed political crimes or crimes related thereto”; thus considered “crimes of any nature related to political crimes or committed for political reasons”.

Making use of cunning cunning, the law's drafters, instead of precisely designating the other crimes covered by the amnesty, in addition to the political crimes themselves, preferred to use the technical expression “related crimes”. Why, she's totally inept about it; since only crimes with common intentions or objectives are considered as such; and no one in their right mind can claim that opponents of the military regime and the state agents who tortured and killed them acted with common goals.

In 2008, disgusted with this cunning trickery, I suggested to the Federal Council of the Brazilian Bar Association that it file an allegation of non-compliance with a fundamental precept in relation to this law before the Federal Supreme Court. The action was proposed, asking the court to interpret the legal text in accordance with the Constitution that came into force in 1988, in whose art. 5, item LXIII provides that the crime of torture cannot be granted grace or amnesty; it being uncontroversial that every law contrary to the text or spirit of a new Constitution is considered tacitly revoked by it. It was also requested that the amnesty law be interpreted in light of the principles and norms of the international human rights system.

In April 2010, the Federal Supreme Court dismissed, by a majority, the action proposed by the OAB. An appeal for declaratory embargoes was filed against this judgment, as the court failed to consider the fact that several of the so-called related crimes, committed by agents of the military regime – such as, for example, kidnapping or hiding a corpse – are classified as permanent or continued; which means that they have not yet been considered consummated and, therefore, were not covered by the amnesty law, given that this law declared that it did not apply to crimes whose consummation is after August 15, 1979.

Six months after that judgment, more precisely on November 24, 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, unanimously, condemned the Brazilian State, when judging the Case of Gomes Lund and others x. Brazil (“Guerrilha do Araguaia”). In that decision, the Court declared: “The provisions of the Brazilian Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanction of serious violations of human rights are incompatible with the American Convention [on Human Rights], lack legal effects and cannot continue to represent an obstacle for the investigation of the facts of the present case, nor for the identification and punishment of those responsible, nor can they have the same or similar impact on other cases of serious violations of human rights enshrined in the American Convention that occurred in Brazil.”

There were two reasons for this decision. Firstly, the fact that the very serious violations of human rights, committed during the state terrorism of our corporate-military regime, constituted crimes against humanity; that is, crimes in which the condition of being human is denied to the victims.

In two Resolutions formulated in 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations considered that the typological conceptualization of such crimes represents a principle of international law. This same qualification was given by the International Court of Justice to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, whose articles III and V establish that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, and that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Now, the principles, as pointed out by contemporary doctrine, are located at the highest level of the normative system. They may, for this very reason, cease to be expressed in texts of positive law, such as Constitutions, laws or international treaties. The second basis for the condemnatory decision of the Brazilian State in the Gomes Lund et al v Brasil (“Guerrilha do Araguaia”) case was the fact that Law No. of human rights.

As the aforementioned Judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights highlighted, the responsibility for the commission of serious violations of human rights cannot be reduced or suppressed by any State, even less through the procedure of a self-amnesty decreed by the responsible rulers, since it is a question of matter that transcends state sovereignty.

Well, in the trial by the Federal Supreme Court of the claim of non-compliance with fundamental precept nº 153, proposed by the Federal Council of the OAB, the reporting minister and another who accompanied him stated that Law nº 6.683 could not be conceived as self-amnesty, but rather as a bilateral amnesty between rulers and ruled. That is, according to this original interpretation, torturers and tortured, united in a kind of private contract for the exchange of benefits, would have decided to grant each other amnesty...

It should be noted, from the outset, the repulsive immorality of such a pact, if it actually existed: the most elementary respect for human dignity prevents the impunity of perpetrators of heinous crimes or crimes against humanity from being the object of negotiation by the interested parties themselves. . In fact, the so-called “amnesty agreement” for crimes against humanity, committed by agents of repression, was nothing more than a covert oligarchic conciliation, in line with our longest-standing tradition.

The validity of any pact or agreement presupposes the existence of legitimate parties to conclude it. If there were, at the time, military leaders with supreme power on one side, who would be on the other side? Were the still-living victims and relatives of those killed by military repression called upon to negotiate this agreement? Have the Brazilian people, solemnly declared holders of sovereignty, been summoned to endorse it?

The most scandalous part of this political agreement thesis is that, after the enactment of the amnesty law, certain military agents continued to carry out their terrorist activities with impunity. The Military Public Ministry found that, between 1979 and 1981, there were 40 bomb attacks, carried out by a group of military officers gathered in a terrorist organization. However, it was necessary to wait until February 2014, that is, thirty-three years after the last attack, for criminal charges to be filed against the members of this gang for intentional homicide, armed criminal association and transportation of explosives.

It is deplorable to see that our country is the only one in Latin America to continue to support the validity of a self-amnesty decreed by the military that left power. In Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala, the Judiciary decided that this institutional patch was flagrantly unconstitutional.

The case of the Argentine post-military regime is paradigmatic in this regard and fills us with shame. In 2005, the country's Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the amnesty for crimes committed by state agents against political opponents of the military governments was unconstitutional, with consequent criminal proceedings starting since then.

Well, until February 2014, no less than 370 (three hundred and seventy) criminals from the two Argentine military regimes (1966-1973 and 1973-1983) were sentenced to prison terms; including two former presidents of the Republic, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, one of whom died in prison. Criminal prosecution even extended to former magistrates, considered co-authors of such crimes.

In Brazil, quite the contrary, until today not a single perpetrator of a crime committed within the framework of State terrorism of the corporate-military regime has been convicted by the Justice. Years after the passing of the conviction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Brazilian State has still not complied with any of its twelve conclusive points, in flagrant violation of the Federal Constitution and the international system of human rights.

For my part, I have been making efforts for years to ensure that this serious omission by our Public Powers is taken to court in Brazil and denounced before international bodies, so that the responsibility of the Brazilian State is clearly marked.


The voting of the amnesty law in 1979 represented, in fact, the conclusion of a hidden pact between the Armed Forces and both groups that have always jointly exercised sovereignty among us – the political agents and the private economic potentates –, with the objective of return to the last two the supreme command of the State, which the military had snatched in 1964.

In that episode, like so many others in our history, the people were put aside, as if they had nothing to do with it. The Constitution enacted on October 5, 1988, following those that preceded it, solemnly proclaims that “all power emanates from the people” (art. 1, sole paragraph). He even goes so far as to declare that the people exercise their power, not only through elected representatives, but directly; that is, through plebiscites and referendums (art. 14).

Such constitutional statements – it is regrettable to say – are mere figures of speech. Undoubtedly, Brazilian citizens regularly vote in elections. The group of elected representatives, however, was always far from defending the true interests of the majority of the electorate, belonging to the poor strata of the population.

What the ill-named representatives of the people defend, in fact, are the interests of the owner and business minority, which provides, through donations, no less than two thirds of the revenues of the main political parties. To get an idea of ​​the falsity of our representative democracy, it is enough to point out a single fact: while around 40.000 agricultural producers, who exploit 50% of the cultivable areas of the country, elect from 120 to 140 federal deputies, the components of the 4 to 6 21 million families that practice family farming are represented in the National Congress by a maximum of 12 deputies.

As for the institutions of direct democracy – the great novelty of the 1988 constitutional text – they only exist on paper. Article 49, item XV of the Constitution provides that “it is the exclusive competence of the National Congress to authorize a referendum and call a plebiscite”. That is, the sovereign people can only directly make political decisions when authorized by their representatives. It is, without a doubt, an original modality of mandate…

As long as this sad reality persists, the possibility of prolonged political excesses, such as the one caused by the 1964 coup d'état, will not be ruled out.

The road to the creation of an authentic State of Law, Republican and Democratic is long and painful. But what matters is to start taking the first steps right away, towards the intransigent defense of the dignity of the Brazilian people.

“If things are unattainable… why! / That's no reason not to want them... / How sad the paths, if it weren't for / The distant presence of the stars!" (Mario Quintana).

* Fabio Konder Comparato Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo and Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Coimbra.

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