Brazil's economic miracle, social exclusion and state violence

The period became known as “years of lead” as dissidents suffered

Published in 01/04/2014 - 16:31 By Bruno Bocchini, Iolando Lourenço and Paulo Virgilio report from Agência Brasil - São Paulo



Referred to as “economic miracle”, Brazil's significant growth in economy in the late 1960's and early 1070's was conspicuous. However, the country did not manage to distribute evenly the wealth it had created. For those living on the minimum wage, the period was no more than a step backwards.















Director of the Inter-union Department for Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (“Dieese”) Clemente Ganz explains that “public investments in infrastructure were resumed, industrialization was fostered, often alongside restricted increases in salaries, especially in the minimum wage.”

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (“IBGE”) show that, in 1960, 20% of Brazil's poorer sections of the population had 3.9% of the country's total income. Twenty years later, in 1980, this rate dropped to 2.8%. Ganz notes that “the period of economic miracle is one of intense wealth concentration,” and he adds, “we were only able to abate it after the mid-2000's.”

Retirantes partem para o a região sul em busca da sobrevivencia

Drought in the NortheastArquivo Nacional

The economic reforms carried out from 1964 to 1968, the first years of the military dictatorship, were the main reason why the economic miracle of 1968-1973 was possible, President of the Brazilian Association of Economists Manuel Enriquez Garcia believes.

“It was the only occasion on which major reforms took place, from an economic point of view. These were very important reforms. The Central Bank was created, as well as the law that governs it, and the National Financial System. The whole capital market, the entire tax system,” Garcia explains.

The country was becoming richer, but this growth was not reflected in most sections of the population. In 1974, the minimum wage had half the purchasing power it had in 1960 and only 69% of the 1940 average. “There was actually an increase in the government's revenue, an increase in the capital revenue and a fall in work revenue,” Clemente Ganz points out.

According to economist Enriquez Garcia, salary policies in the military period were not aimed at granting salary rises beyond production earnings. Rather, they would only adjust salaries according to previous inflation rates. “Since qualified workforce was small, only a small number of sectors would pay salaries considerably above inflation. But that was due to an overwhelming need in  industrial sectors to demand more skilled workforce,” he says.

Milagre econômico favoreceu mão de obra especializada

Economic miracleArquivo Nacional

In 1973, however, the country starts to face the dire consequences of the oil crisis as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) caused prices to skyrocket. It was an act of retaliation from the Arabic members of OPEC against the support Israel was receiving from the West in the Yom Kippur War. Oil spending increased the external debt and as a result made the Brazilian economy weaker. Clemente Ganz mentions that “public accounts suffered the effects of the deficit we had in our checking account, of the size of our foreign debt.”


Playing with Marked Cards

It is evident that the end of the economic miracle undermined the military regime, in spite of all the attempts to protect the political apparatus at all costs.

The dictatorship in Brazil lasted a little longer than 21 years. In this period, the government tried to take on an appearance of democracy in an effort to legitimize itself by allowing the existence of two parties. The opposition party, however was never able to win parliamentary elections, the only kind permitted – rules were changed whenever there was a risk of electoral defeat.

The enactment of Institutional Acts (Atos Institucionais in the original Portuguese, also called simply “the AI's”) would make room for political actions previously forbidden by the 1946 Constitution, which was continuously amended by the military until they finally replaced it with their own constitution, in January, 1967.

João Vicente Goulart, filho do ex-presidente João Goulart

João Vicente Goulart, son of former president João GoulartMarcello Casal Jr; /Agência Brasil

In the view of João Vicente Goulart, son of the president deposed in 1964, apart from violating the Constitution then in effect, which had been written by an assembly specially elected in 1945, the dictatorship transformed the very concept of democracy. “The dictatorship raised a generation showing them that that was democracy, resorting to a number of stratagems to make it look legitimate. The great tragedy was the creation of this concept of 'democracy' favorable to the coup.”

Indeed, in the opening text, the military claimed the Constituent Power for themselves, as there had taken place what they called a revolution: the First Institutional Act of April 9, 1964, which took the power from civilians and handed it to the military and suspended for ten years the political rights of hundreds of Brazilians, among whom former presidents Jânio Quadros and João Goulart, governors, congressmen, unionists, students, intellectuals and civil servants. Parties were abolished and electoral rules altered through the institution of indirect elections for president, governor and mayor in the main cities of the country.

Thus, the fist military president, Marshal Castelo Branco, was “elected” in indirect fashion by Congress on April 11, 1964. And, availing himself of institutional acts and constitutional amendments, he dissolved civil associations, made strikes illegal and revoked the licenses of a number of political leaders, like former president Juscelino Kubitschek.

Exerting constant pressure on Congress, which was already hemmed in by the fear of exceptional measures, the government managed to launch repressive measures, like the law that prohibited candidates who for some reason were not approved of by the military from participating in the elections.

On November, 1965, through a complimentary act, the government established a bipartisan system, with the National Renewal Alliance Party (“ARENA”) was created on the government's side, and the permitted opposition party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (“MDB”), on the other.

















Years of Lead

After the death of Marshal Castelo Branco in an plane accident in 1967, a military council seizes power and installs Marshal Costa e Silva in office. In 1968, as an echo of the popular demonstrations in several countries, the number of street protests against the regime rises in the main Brazilian cities. The military ruled the prosecution of deputy Márcio Moreira Alves, who asked people not to attend the Independence Day celebrations on September 7. In retaliation, the government shuts down Congress and enacts a new Institutional Act, the AI 5. Considerably more comprehensive and much more authoritarian than its predecessors, the AI 5 strengthened the discretionary powers of the regime and gave the Executive the right to shut down Congress, revoked the license of a number of congressmen, suspended political rights and denied individual rights. The regime had the power to arrest any citizen with no proven guilt, keep him stranded and even deny his arrest to avoid possible rulings by the Justice.

Rubens Paiva e a esposa, Eunice, na cidade de Brasília em 1960 (Acervo Família Rubens Paiva/Divulgação)

Rubens Paiva and his wife Eunice in the city of Brasília, 1960Acervo Família Rubens Paiva/Divulgação

When the third general took office, Emilio Garranstazu Medici, the military regime reached its most violent phase. He would leave in Brazilian history a bloody trace of brutal persecutions, arbitrary arrests, torture and murder, along with the disappearance of the dead bodies of hundreds of people considered enemies of the regime. The most notorious case is that of deputy Rubens Paiva, whose disappearance was never acknowledged by the military leaders – only recently has it been proved that he was kidnapped, and died in 1971. His body was never found.

In 1974, Ernesto Geisel was the forth general to seize power. Pressed by the economic crisis caused by the oil crisis, he regarded the end of the military rule as imminent, and strategically proposed what he called “slow, gradual and safe” transition. The parliamentary elections made it clear, however, that the country was eager to get rid of its military rulers and willing to expressing active support for the opposition.

Nonetheless, in spite of what seemed a real effort to bring an end to the military regime, the violent repression machine kept making more victims. The death of journalist Vladimir Herzog, in 1975, is viewed as a watershed in this relaxation process. An editor for a news program at the São Paulo Public TV, Herzog was summoned for a testimony at the headquarters of the  DOI-CODI, Department of Information Operations – Center for Internal Defense Operations, one of the State's most feared torture centers. There, Herzog was killed by the military, who forged his death certificate, reporting that he had committed suicide. A picture of his body hanging by a belt was released by DOI-CODI and caused a great commotion all throughout the country.  It was also reproduced by newspapers and magazines all over the world. Later on, an ecumenical ceremony was held and gathered thousands of people both inside and outside the São Paulo See Metropolitan Cathedral, with international press coverage. All this repercussion triggered a government crisis that led to the removal of the army minister. The arbitrary essence of the regime, however, remained unchanged.

In April, 1977, Geisel shut down Congress and changed electoral rules through a presidential decree in an effort to avoid one more victory on the opposition's side – to no avail. MDB won the legislative elections the following year and reinforced the process of political opening that would result in the restoration of Brazil's democracy.

Translated by Fabrício Ferreira

Fonte: The Brazilian Economic Miracle, Social Exclusion and State Violence

Edition: Davi Oliveira / Olga Bardawil

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