The objectives of the Republic

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By MARIA VICTORIA DE MESQUITA BENEVIDES*

Considerations on the 1964 coup and democracy in Brazil today

1.

On April 25th, most Portuguese people celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Carnation Revolution. We Brazilians celebrate the 60th anniversary of our dark first April 1964. A painful contrast. In Brazil, tanks took to the streets to overthrow the democratic government of João Goulart and the struggles for Basic Reforms and the successful coup and installed the military dictatorship for 21 years, in the fascist style of State terrorism – with all that that means of persecution and arrests, torture, murders, censorship, abolition of constitutional rights and free elections. And this Brazilian horror would still influence the dictatorships that devastated the Southern Cone, of our brotherChileans, Argentines and Uruguayans.

In Portugal, in April 1974, carnations adorned the rifles of young captains and the 48-year dictatorship of fascist president Antonio Salazar was overthrown. The party was beautiful, man: the dawn of freedom, with the call of the song Grândola Morena and, around here, the smell of rosemary requested and sung by our Chico Buarque. The democracy that is being established creates new rights for workers and peasants, the numerous political prisoners are freed and justice, education and culture enter the rhythm of contemporary civility. And it must be stated – following several historians – that the Carnation Revolution began in Africa, with the anti-colonial wars and the independence of the Portuguese colonies.

What is common between both sides of the sea that separates us is one crucial point: the North American government supported both the Salazar dictatorship and the Brazilian military dictatorship.

In Brazil, we still live today in the search for the full right to memory and the truth about the dictatorship, the dead and disappeared – including indigenous people and quilombolas – about the clandestine remains, about the amnesty that benefited the torturers... Among the brave resisters, only at USP, the dictatorship killed 47 people and persecuted more than seven hundred. Distinguished teachers, like our Master Florestan Fernandes, were fired. Extreme violence affected students and teachers, as narrated in USP White Paper and also in the Brazil Never Again. Here I pay a simple tribute to the memory of two young women from USP, Heleny Guariba and Ana Rosa Kucinski, murdered by military repression.

And a year before the Carnation Revolution, to cite a single example in the terrible year of 1973, the fourth year Geology student at USP, Alexandre Vannucchi Leme, 22 years old, was murdered under torture at DOI-CODI in São Paulo.

He only said his name.

2.

The bibliography on the military dictatorship in Brazil is vast. And today, 60 years after the coup, its specter is remembered with everything that happened after the new coup that overthrew the worthy president Dilma Rousseff and installed her vice president, Michel Temer, the president of the worst neoliberal reforms. In 2018, with the absurd and illegal denial of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva's candidacy, the way was opened for the electoral victory of the former soldier who had voted for impeachment in honor of the torturer Brilhante Ustra, whom he considered a hero of the country.

I do not intend to dwell on Jair Bolsonaro's government, but I believe it is possible to affirm his sinister affiliation with the dictatorship line that began in 1964, despite having been elected. I intend to highlight an aspect, common to both periods, and which I consider especially important for us in Education: the power of campaigns with messages that manipulate fear, prejudice, resentment, religious sensitivity and traditional family values.

The speeches of hate and lies, in the press, on radio and on TV, in the early 1960s and during the military dictatorship, were blatantly copied in Jair Bolsonaro's campaign and government, with the use of multiplied disinformation - such as fake news, fake news even in name – and with the newness of the internet and so-called social networks. In both cases, the presence of extreme right-wing ideologues, typical of the so-called “authoritarian populism” and the denial of the Rule of Law, always in the name of God, family and love for the country. The affinity with the integralism of the 1930s is not a mere coincidence.

We return, then, to the eve of the 1964 coup, when the fierce campaign of the parliamentary right, along the well-known fascist lines, used lies as a true rhetorical weapon of fear and hatred. Since the resignation of Jânio Quadros, this right wing has denounced the continuity of what an important part of the wealthy elite abhorred in Brazilian politics: revivified Getulism. The “popular ghost”, so feared in the 1950s with Getúlio Vargas, seemed to resurface in the flesh in vice-president João Goulart, who came from Gaucho labor.

Let's look at the relationship between this campaign that led to the coup of 64 and the campaign and government of Jair Bolsonaro.

By reading the parliamentary speeches and editorials of the so-called “big press”, in addition to the pulpits of the more conservative and reactionary Catholicism, in the pre-coup 64 period one can see the radical language with a direct impact on both the fragility of the middle classes and the fear of the elites. The discursive terms had affective and moral contents – such as the “disruption of customs”, the “dissolution of the family” – or economically threatening ones, such as “proletarianization of society”, “confiscation of private property”, etc. Above all, the alleged association between two “calamities” was explored: in addition to Getulism, supposed communism, which was at the origin of struggles for social reforms (especially Agrarian Reform) and the invention of a “syndicalist republic”.

Opposition campaigns mixed denunciations of inflation and corruption with projections of the horrors of the country's “communization”. The “marching” ladies came, with rosaries in their hands, and the mantra “the family that prays together, stays together” in the “Family Marches with God for Freedom”. It is clear that this rhetoric was not responsible for the success of the 64 coup. But it is undeniable that it contributed as a mobilizing element and ideological support for the victorious action of the military and businesspeople. It is important to highlight, therefore, that the virulence of anti-communist propaganda and the defamatory campaign against João Goulart was decisive in convincing the middle classes to take to the streets and demand the overthrow of the government.

It is also clear that the middle classes would not have the strength and autonomy for the coup movement. Behind the moralistic and terrifying campaigns were, in addition to the military, the true “ruling classes” (big capital, the large estates, the big press, the bureaucracy) who, with rare efficiency, cultivated the fear and resentment of the common man. And their parliamentarians in Congress represented – that's right, they “represented”, in the theatrical sense too – the whole farce. The defense of the most solid and exclusive interests was “represented” as the defense of the country, the family, and religion. From Western and Christian civilization, from the “free world”. This is where the then unbeatable strength of imperialism, led by North American power, looms large.

(I make a quick cut to remember, in Jair Bolsonaro's government, the mantra “Brazil above all, God above all”).

Against Jango and labor, the parliamentary right transformed Congress into a stage for conflicts that, disguising huge economic interests, were presented as ideological battles under the blessings of the Church and the doctrine of National Security. Of the Catholic Church, then the most widespread. Right demonstrably financed by national and foreign institutions.

Theses were disseminated about a necessary “revolutionary war”, the ideological framework of what to this day is, for the current extreme right, the “1964 Revolution”. Júlio de Mesquita Filho, director of the newspaper The State of S. Paul he even wrote asking for North American intervention to prevent Brazil from becoming “another communist bastion, like Cuba”.

It is understandable, therefore, that this scenario would have a devastating effect. He managed to transform traditional fear into hatred of the enemy – always “atheist and free” – the one who would communize the country, end the family, prohibit religion and plunder individual property, “destroying freedoms”.

(Another cut to the far-right campaigns today which, since the 2018 campaign, have condemned human rights, gender issues and feminism, campaigns anchored in neo-Pentecostal religious fundamentalism and the defense of radical neoliberalism of the Donald Trump model, in the United States and Javier Milei in Argentina).

The tragic consequences of that rhetoric of fear and hatred were reflected in the passive and even complicit acceptance, by the majority of society, of the brutal repression, physical and political, that befell the opponents of the 1964 coup. Which turns 60 years old, with the weight of responsibility for so many human rights violations as well as for the success of the right wing revived under Jair Bolsonaro's government, in the civil and military circles, which remains strong in society, both among the ruling elite and among popular sectors. And this extreme right tried to carry out a coup similar to that of 1964 when it found itself electorally defeated.

3.

And what can we say about politics and democracy today, after the devastation of the previous government, fortunately followed by the difficult victory of the current president?

Today, the Rule of Law is in force, so demanded by the democratic resistance during the military dictatorship and in the last government; but, despite the progress, we still have a long way to go before we can talk about an effectively democratic rule of law. Its construction arises from historical dynamics and the correlation of forces, that is, it is a constant, legal, political and social process of struggles, defeats and conquests.

It must be stated that contemporary democracy in this 21st century is defined in relation to two essential points: popular sovereignty and the guarantee of human rights, rightly said to be fundamental, starting with the right to life. This brief definition has the advantage of combining political democracy and social democracy. Political democracy establishes civil and individual freedoms – with emphasis on freedom of opinion, association and religion, sexual orientation, equality in the right to security and information and access to justice – as well as separation, balance and control between the powers. It is the regime of alternation and transparency in free and periodic elections, with pluralism of opinions and parties. It is the regime of legitimacy of dissent and competition, as long as it is in accordance with the rules and with respect for the majority and the rights of minorities.

Social democracy, equally important, enshrines equality in the pursuit and guarantee of socioeconomic rights, the minimum essential for life with dignity, in accordance with the current Constitution and the Treaties and Conventions adopted by the country. It is the concrete realization of the principle of equality and solidarity. Health, Education and access to culture, housing, food security, social security and security, leisure; the list always remains open for new achievements.

In this sense, the Brazilian Constitution, promulgated in 1988, establishes the objectives of the Republic: “to build a free, fair and supportive society; ensure national development; eradicate poverty and marginalization and reduce social and regional inequalities; promote the good of all, without prejudice based on origin, race, sex, color, age and any other forms of discrimination” (art.3).

Democracy is not just a political regime: it is a way of life. We live together and democracy – with the requirement of cooperation and respect between the parties – is the best way to face conflicts and disagreements inherent in all societies in a civilized way, with tolerance and openness to dialogue.

4.

That said, we salute the third Lula government and what it means of democratic commitment and permanent energy devoted to overcoming the abysmal inequalities in our country which, despite everything, continues to be sung as “blessed by God and beautiful by nature”. The serenity and courage of this government were crucial in confronting and holding due accountability for the January 2022th coup in Brasília. But we know that the electoral victory in October XNUMX was by a minimal margin; the former president was defeated, but Bolsonarism remains strong in all sectors and groups of society. And democratic and republican transition efforts remain urgent and necessary.

I believe we can highlight the following positive points in the current democratic context:

– the gradual recreation of public bodies deactivated or excluded by the previous government, mainly in the social area, such as, for example, the Ministries of Education and Health, human rights, women, indigenous people, agrarian reform, the environment;

– Brazil has regained a worthy place in international politics;

– Brazil left the infamous Hunger Map;

– employment growth and falling inflation;

– the government faces the indigenous issue, with a veto on the time frame thesis, and initiatives against land grabbing and illegal mining; support for Marina Silva’s work;

– the forwarding, so often postponed, of a tax reform proposal;

– the successful policy of “damage reduction” – caused by predatory capitalism – with improved and expanded social projects, such as Bolsa Família and Minha Casa, Minha Vida; and new projects such as Pense, Pé de Meia, Desenrola, Terra da Gente.

Among the most serious problems that contaminate the democratic government today, the persistent deterioration of Public Security stands out, with the violent methods of the Military Police – especially against the most vulnerable, such as black people, women, LGBTI+ people. Recent examples are provided by the PM's operations in Baixada Santista, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and in Bahia, including against indigenous peoples and quilombolas. The democratic transition has proven incapable of imposing due civilian control over security policies.

The immense difficulties in moving forward on the path to democracy are evident if we are unable to change this security policy, which is yet another policy of violence and death. There is much to be done, at the legal and political institutional level, but also in the field of education. There are already good proposals for reformulating military schools, as well as police training.

We are also far from complying with what the Constitution itself stated in 1988: the principle of popular sovereignty, to be exercised through its representatives, or, the great novelty, directly, in the form of the law. This means the urgency to create and multiply possibilities for popular participation – which was so important during the two governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff.

The president recognizes that in four years it will be impossible to rebuild everything that was destroyed during the previous government and still fulfill everything necessary for economic, social and sustainable development. But he is firmly committed to achieving three demands: the steady and safe growth of the economy; the democratic stability of institutions and social policies to combat poverty. And your main political task today is to act and gather support to prevent the return of the extreme right, which has many resources and is organizing itself for the elections this year and the presidential elections in 2026. We must have hope and courage!

5.

USP is a public university, considered the best in the country, among the 100 best in the world. I defend the requirement for the University's social responsibility, a crucial responsibility in our country, whose history, filled with the blood of enslaved people, is still marked by profound inequalities of all kinds, starting with racism, a legacy of almost 400 years of legal slavery.

In other words, and following Paulo Freire, I believe that an important motivation for teachers and students should be the collective and constant construction of an emancipatory University. And I defend that USP contributes effectively to the debate on projects, in their various areas, for the country's development.

Once again, I value the recognition of the inseparable relationship between democracy, education and human rights, a burning topic in this first quarter of the 21st century, with new information and communication technologies, the radical transformation of the world of work, the emergence of climate change, structural racism, new gender issues, religious fanaticism and scientific denialism, pandemics, absurd wars, hunger, homeless people... the list is long.

I often say: “I’m a teacher, so… I’m optimistic”.

Antonio Gramsci already said that we should be skeptical in diagnosis, but optimistic in action, in will. The pessimistic educator is, in my opinion, a contradiction in terms, as he denies the possibility of transformation – of the transformation of beings, of the transformation of the world. The optimist has faith and hope in free, creative and emancipating action.

In Brazil, especially, teaching is a constant act of faith and hope, in our childhood, in our youth, in the future. Georges Bernanos stated that the fever of youth – the fever of health that I always saw in my students – is what guarantees humanity's minimally healthy temperature. Without it the world would be irremediably sick.

In his famous speech on Politics as a Vocation Max Weber emphasized: “politics consists of a tenacious and energetic effort to pierce hard wooden boards. It requires passion and precision. One could not hope for the possible if there was no confidence in the impossible. If there wasn’t the strength of the soul to overcome the shipwreck of hopes.” We could say the same about education.

Therefore, for the educational task that involves us, it is necessary to overcome what may persist in terms of frustration, disenchantment, the temptation of inertia in the face of so many obstacles and challenges. It is hope, nurtured every day, that allows us to believe and participate in the struggle of those who make education an ideal. From those who still believe that we will know how to build a nation based on those greatest ideals, respect for everyone's human rights, freedom, equality in dignity, solidarity, truth and science.

We must love our land, believe and fight for Brazil to finally be a fair and inclusive nation, worthy of the millions of men and women who build its wealth – and continue to be excluded from it.

Alexandre Vannucchi Leme, since 1976, has been the name of the Central Student Directory of our USP. In 2014, the Brazilian State rectified his death certificate, clarifying that he died from “injuries caused by torture”. This past December, the Institute of Geology awarded him a symbolic diploma.

He only said his name. And we will always repeat ourselves: Alexandre Vannucchi Leme, present!

*Maria Victoria de Mesquita Benevides is Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Education at USP. She is the author, among other books, of The Kubitschek government: economic development and political stability (Peace and Earth).

Text of the inaugural class of the postgraduate academic period at the Faculty of Education at USP.


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