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Opinion, by Leonardo Wetzel

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Demonstrations and memorial events took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and all around Brazil on March 31st and April 1st. Gatherings were intended to both praise and condemn the 51st anniversary of the 1964 military coup d’etat in Brazil.

Act for the memory and Justice for the victims of the Military Dictatorship, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Act for the memory and Justice for the victims of the Military Dictatorship, photo by Casa do Eixo/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The anniversary brings back mixed memories to Brazil. Most of its supporters also took to the streets on the last pro-impeachment demonstrations against Dilma on March 15th, a date which also coincided with the date military presidents used to start their terms during the military rule.

In Maranhão, to coincide with the anniversary, governor Flávio Dino from the Communist Party of Brazil changed the names of schools named after military dictators to educators’ names. In other streets around Brazil, movements such as Levante Popular da Juventude (Youth’s Popular Uprise) made celebratory unofficial name changes on venues named after military presidents, changing them into names of tortured and disappeared activists of those days.

In 1961, some military movements had already attempted to prevent João Goulart’s presidential oath after President Quadros renounced. Conservatives feared a populist regime by Brazil’s Worker’s Party, political inheritor of former nationalist President Getúlio Vargas. In 1964, U.S. supported military movements finally managed to oust the democratically elected popular (and some say populist) president Goulart. He had then recently promised to reform land ownership and regulate taxation over corporate and real estate profit rates.

That all took place amidst the Cold War red scare, a mere two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, where, it was recently discovered, Goulart played a mediation role putting Brazil in between U.S. and the Communist Block, but his lack of support for U.S. sanctions against Castros’ Cuba got him out of favor with the U.S. administrations.

National Security Archives declassified documents show that Lincoln Gordon, then U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Vernon Walters (military attaché) and the CIA played key roles organizing and mobilizing local efforts among businessmen, congressmen, armed forces generals, bishops and middle class sentiment for the coup.

In Washington both Kennedies and later Lyndon Johnson would also assess Goulart as a risk to business and U.S. interests in Brazil. Goulart, a businessman himself, was no Castro, but his allegiance with his brother-in-law Leonel Brizola who happened to have nationalized Corp’s property as governor of Rio Grande do Sul state didn’t help Goulart’s case in face of the U.S. And, locally, neither did his commercial relations trip to, the then West isolated, communist China.

During the coup itself, the U.S. put in motion ‘Operation Brother Sam’. It included dispatching a Navy fleet led by the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier to the waters of southeast Brazil under the premises of military exercises, that was actually promised would support the coupist troops. That ended up deterring legalists’ will to resist and get Brazil at a civil war with one party backed by American forces.

The ensuing military dictatorship lasted 21 years and left its scars. Militarized police, and intelligence services, torture practices and authoritarian stance on these sectors. Unlike its neighbours, Brazil’s torturers and coupists have not yet been punished in the country.

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