MONDAY, October 3, was a national holiday in Brazil, because the country’s twenty-second President was to be elected that day. But Brazilians had nothing to say about his election. He was chosen by a Congress composed of men whose votes were quite predictable. This indirect election of an army ex-marshal, Artur da Costa e Silva, to lead the nation until 1971 was in accord with the system of succession decreed in October of last year by another marshal, Humberto Castelo Branco, who has been acting President of Brazil for two and a half years since the military overthrew the regime of President João Goulart.
And a new Congress itself was to be chosen on November 15 in no less “arranged” a manner, even if it is, on the surface, more “popular.” According to the scheme created by the Castelo Branco government, the entire Chamber of Deputies and one third of the Senate were chosen by direct election — but the choice of the candidates was monitored by the regime, which has the self-granted revolutionary power to say what men may run for what office.
The revolution or coup (to supporters it is the revolution, to opponents the coup) of April, 1964, was triggered by the colossal ineptitude of President Goulart. He had brought the nation to a state of such total chaos that the Brazilians, who have an amazingly high threshold for crises, could tolerate no more. The revolution was broadly supported, and in one week it was all over. In Brazilian tradition, not a battle was fought, no one was killed or even wounded.
The military leaders who took control of the nation in 1964, acted, they said, to save the country from Communism, corruption, and itself. Their expressed intention from the first days of their regime was to return the country to the people themselves once they felt the place was clean and livable again. To assure itself of time, and to move cautiously in the direction of the proclaimed goal, the generals devised the compromise of the indirect election of the President, a man who is one of their own, and who, they feel, will “continue the revolution.”
Quite understandably, then, public excitement over the elections was limited. There was a certain amount of banter and speculation about a Frenta Ampla (“Broad Front”) opposition, but the rumored coalition was so bizarre that even Brazilians, who bring a profound quality of humor and the unusual to their politics, could not take the Frenta Ampla very seriously. The supposed composition of this alliance would have brought together three former presidents, and a would-be president who has in the past publicly denounced the others. The comparable image might be an election coalition of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Thomas, and George Wallace.
However complete voter alienation has been in recent months, it is not because the revolutionary government is static: it is fraught with tensions. General Castelo Branco was a seemingly good choice for the near-impossible job of temporary President. He was a regular with a difference: he knew the meaning of armed power, had served bravely as leader of Brazilian troops in Italy during the Second World War, had traveled, and claimed to love the theater. Yet he was drab, selfless, unpretentious, moral, and honest, all of which lined him up with the revolution’s righteousness. He was also intelligent, and a not unskillful politician, always seeking a moderate path — though he was not able to keep to it; for though the revolution had broad popular support, it was staged against a government of the left, and so it endowed the political right with a fierce momentum.
That momentum gained extra force from Washington’s enthusiastic endorsement of the coup. The Johnson Administration’s recognition of the new military government came so fast that it was in the press almost before the coup was accomplished. Beyond its fear of subversion, Washington was fed up with Goulart, his broken promises and shabby politics. Nonetheless, its unhesitating support of a military coalition which overthrew a legally, democratically elected government was distressing to many who are unsure about the real intent of U.S. policy in Latin America.
Tug of war
Castelo Branco’s mission has been to restrain the powerful forces pulling from the right, which were quickly displeased by his gestures toward democracy. His entire rule has been a continual tug of war, especially with the hard-line elements of bis own army. And while the President has been able to calm some sectors through personal suasion, he has had to bow to the demands of others. For example, the intellectuals and artists of Brazil, as elsewhere, are symbols of left opposition, and so they were among the first to be sacrificed.
But they were not the only ones. Thousands of Brazilians were arrested, overflowing jails and makeshift camps; some were even ferried out to a warship anchored in Rio’s harbor. Anonymous sources turned in their neighbors for suspicious activities, and the military rounded up citizens arbitrarily. No one was charged with a crime. There were no writs of habeas corpus. Everyone who was arrested was simply assumed to be a Communist or some other enemy of the revolution until proved innocent.
It was a hysterical orgy, and it was un-Brazilian. No one thought it would last, and no one lost his sense of humor: it was considered a good time to turn in your mistress’ husband for seditious thoughts and have her to yourself. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the hysteria passed. Every day one read the reports of another 400, 700, 950 prisoners being released from jail, still not having been told why they had been locked up or why they were being released.
Eliminating the opposition
Lists were published of those who, by decree of the revolutionary government, were disenfranchised with the loss of all their political rights, including the right to vote or run for office for ten years. They include the deposed President Goulart, his extremely eccentric predecessor, Janio Quadros, and his predecessor, Juscelino Kubitschek. With these and other leaders disenfranchised, the new government deflated all serious political opposition.
The administration subsequently went further. In October, 1965, the same act which created the new presidential-election arrangement also abolished all political parties and most popular elections. While it was generally agreed that politics in Brazil before the revolution had become a corrupt and appalling mess, it is difficult to find many defenders in Brazil today for such sweeping actions. Two new parties have been established: the official government party, the National Renovating Alliance (ARENA), and the official government opposition, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), known popularly as the “Yes Party” and the “Yes, Sir, Party” respectively.
And, in a somewhat gratuitous gesture (since no substantive opposition existed anyway at that time), the new law declared that anyone who had lost his political rights could not make any public statements against the government, whether oral or written, or assist anyone else in any way to make such statements.
This latter restriction, a high Brazilian official said privately, was meant “only as a warning.” In fact, no one has been prosecuted under the no-criticism act, but the effect has been one of darkening the cloud already hanging over Brazil’s intelligentsia. Emigration of this group from Brazil has been high. It is estimated that some twenty social scientists have gone to Chile, which offers the attractions of a new and vital Christian Democrat government, two first-rate universities, and the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), a United Nations economic study group. Others have left for Europe and some for the United States.
One of the primary techniques of harassment employed by the military has been the Inquesito Polizia Militar (Inquest by the Military Police). The IPM’s are tribunals, in which a man is arbitrarily called to answer any questions the crossexaminers — sometimes a single officer, sometimes a panel—choose to ask. The questions may be based on claims, rumors, charges, and the military’s own investigations.
A special desk has been set aside in one publishing house for the exclusive use of the IPM man, expected to come around every week or so to check once again through the company’s records. The publisher, an outspoken figure of the left, has appeared before twelve different IPM’s, each time answering more or less the same questions. His shortest session consisted of one exchange. He was accused of having taken money from Moscow and Peking.
“What proof do you have of that?” he asked. “No proof,” the lieutenant answered. “Simply state whether you affirm or deny the charge.” “I deny it.” “Thank you very much. You may go.”
These panels have no civil power. They are a method of bullying all sectors of the population, and when the Army releases its findings, innuendos, and judgments, the repercussions shake businessmen, politicians, and, at least once, the entire government. Behind the reports, of course, is the tacit threat of military action if the findings are not implemented by civil authorities.
Censorship has been part of the fabric of the revolution from the beginning, though less now than during the first hysterical days, when the works of the disenfranchised were swept up along with those by Karl Marx, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Pasternak, and anything, including The Red and the Black, that sounded suspicious to the ears of illiterate antiCommunists. In the early days, the revolution’s representatives purged the nation’s universities of “leftists” involved in “subversive activities” and “Communist plotting,” not to mention those “demonstrating incompatibility with the objectives of the Revoluçao,” certified grounds for dismissal from a teaching post. Students expelled during that period may not return to any university in Brazil unless they are pardoned.
In the theater, plays are submitted to the censor for approval, and usually one preview is visited before final approval is granted. Gorky was temporarily banned, and, of course, most of Brecht, and once when a provincial company went to São Paulo with The Taming of the Shrew, parts of it were cut for “moral” reasons, a sign of the other side of the revolutionist’s mentality.
The newspapers on the whole have remained independent. While their sympathies at first were understandably on the side of the revolution and the hope it promised, they have maintained their right to report and criticize. They paid little heed to the government’s warning that they had better censor themselves or they would have the government doing it for them, but they did seem to hold an attitude of forbearance. They wanted the revolution to work, they wanted something to work.
But the honeymoon is long over. The editorial pages of Rio’s major papers, especially Journal do Brasil and Correio da Manhã, are regularly covered with solid, detailed attacks on different government programs. They all seem to be saying, we gave you a chance and we paid whatever price you asked, and now, after two and a half years, you haven’t kept your promises.
The charge is unfair because the government never promised utopia, at least not right away, and indeed, in certain areas—economic reform and planning, checking inflation, increasing foreign investment and trade, cutting corruption — its record has been admirable.
Campos and austerity
In the key area of economic reform and development, Castelo Branco has had the services of a brilliant Minister of Planning and Coordination, economist Roberto Campos. Campos is a career foreign service officer, who as ambassador to Washington represented Goulart, a mission that brought a certain amount of inner conflict to Campos. In fact, it was the personal respect and popularity of Campos in the Washington of the New Frontier days that helped counterbalance distress there about the increasingly critical conditions in Brazil. This respect and popularity was negotiable in the form of aid and loans, which went far beyond Washington’s confidence in Goulart.
Campos has had a clear vision of the austerity measures required for the economic development of the country, and with the solid backing of Castelo, he has attacked core problems, and attacked them without concern for political consequences. No one within Brazilian memory has done this. But ironically, his efforts have made him probably the most unpopular civilian in the entire administration, and have solidified opposition against, him and Castelo Branco.
Everybody against the regime
Business is against the regime because of new taxes, which put rates 25 percent above 1965’s and established very tight credit restrictions. Labor has never been happy with it because the deposed Goulart was their man and annually allowed them across-the-board wage increases of 50 to 100 percent.
The urban poor are against the government because their lot has not yet improved much. Though the overall increase in the cost of living has been cut from an incredible rate of 150 percent a year under Goulart to around 35 percent, the prices of essential rice, beans, and bread have continued to rise at rates higher than 35 percent. The lowcost-housing programs announced more than twenty-two months ago are only now becoming real. And tight credit has brought vast employment layoffs. The rural poor are against the government because they arc, if it is possible, even worse off than before. Their Peasant Leagues, which were by no means all Communist-led, are disbanded, as are many of the Church’s literacy efforts. Minimum-wage laws are still ignored by large landowners; twelve cents a day is still the going wage.
And, as noted, the military have edged increasingly against their own revolutionary government because they have felt it has been too liberal. Only Castelo Branco’s personal skill and the support of his key generals, including Costa e Silva, have prevented another coup.
Costa e Silva, who served in Castelo’s cabinet as Minister of War, indicated as he went through the motions of his campaign that he would follow the policies established by the revolutionary government, especially Campos’ economic policies.
Unlike his predecessors since Kubitschek’s time, Costa e Silva has the advantage of inheriting more than just the problems themselves. He is bequeathed some attempts at solutions, as well as an important psychological intangible: a recognition that Brazilians can do something about their problems. Perhaps that will turn out to be the most important contribution of Castelo’s regime: it has stuck to its avowed intention of housecleaning, which so far at least makes it a revolution with a difference — it has not been betrayed by personal avarice.
How the fabric of life in Brazil will be qualitatively affected by Costa e Silva’s accession is a matter of great speculation. He will have to be a more popular politician than his predecessor because he won’t have Castelo’s absolute power. A revised constitution is being readied for Brazil, and by the time Costa e Silva assumes office on March 15, it will be the law of the land and the limit of his powers. The sweeping revolutionary acts and their machinery, like the IPM’s, will disappear, though their judgments will remain, and it will take new acts to grant amnesties to those who have been disenfranchised.
While he is considered a more flexible, gregarious, and warmer personality than Castelo Branco, Costa e Silva has also been a soldier for forty-five years, and is said by some to be even more distant and noncomprehending of the left, especially the intellectual left, than Castelo. A return to academic and intellectual freedom appears still a speck on a very distant horizon, though hope is present, if somewhat related to the Brazilian character and sense of humor.
“Remember this,” an economist said one day on the beach, with a wistful look out at the sea, “Brazil is a very surrealistic country. You can’t really tell what is going to happen. I think all this will” change, very nicely . . . Perhaps.”