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     Old Republic and New State
     In and out of military rule
     End-of-century blues

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Old Republic and New State: 1889-1945

The first five years of the republic are a military dictatorship, but in 1894 Brazil's first civilian president is elected. For the next four decades the presidency changes hands peacefully after regular elections (albeit based on a small electorate, making the regime more of an oligarchy than a democracy).

Progress is made in areas such as the control of tropical diseases, and a major building programme in Rio de Janeiro during the early years of the 20th century transforms the capital into one of the world's most beautiful cities. The population increases dramatically in the coastal regions because of large-scale immigration - in particular from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany.


Many come to work in the production and marketing of coffee, which replaces sugar as the nation's main crop - accounting for more than 50% of Brazil's exports by 1908, and completing the transfer of economic power from the northern semi-tropical parts of the country to the southern regions inland from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

At the same period a world-wide demand for rubber, still a very scarce product, brings extraordinary prosperity to a small river port far up the Amazon. Manaus develops into a lavish European city, miles from anywhere, boasting even a baroque opera house (in which Caruso sings on the opening night).


This comfortable rule by a succession of oligarchs (often referred to as the 'coffee presidents' because they favour land-owning interests) is brought to an abrupt end in 1930. The loser in this year's presidential race is Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, governor of the southern province of Rio Grande do Sul.

Robbed of the presidency in the election, Vargas seizes power later in the year at the head of a military coup. His arrival on the scene transforms Brazil. The previous era becomes known as the 'old republic'. What Vargas now introduces is Estado Novo, the 'new state'. It is characteristized by an increase in central power, at the expense of the provinces, with the reins increasingly held in Vargas' own hands.


The regime is totalitarian but Vargas' programme of industrialization and state welfare is designed to appeal to the urban working class, causing him to be known as the 'father of the poor'. In this he prefigures Perón in Argentina.

Like Perón, Vargas is eventually removed from office by the army. The first occasion is in 1945, when a bloodless coup brings the Estado Novo to an abrupt end. But, again like Perón, Vargas retains the affection of the masses. He is voted back into the presidency in 1950. But he achieves little, acting now within constitutional restraints. Senior officers again demand his resignation, in 1954. He complies, and later in the same day commits suicide.


Brasilia: 1956

Brazil, during the ten years after the death of Vargas, returns to a chaotic and fragile democracy. But the period is outstanding for one major achievement - the creation of Brasilia.

From as early as the 18th century it has been argued that a capital far inland is required if the nation's vast interior is to be developed. Andrada makes the same point in 1822, the year of independence. The siting of a capital somewhere on the central plateau is written into the constitution of 1889 (at the start of the republic). But it is not until 1956, after an extensive analysis of the various options, that a site is finally chosen.


The president at the time, Juscelino Kubitschek, takes the bold decision that the seat of government will move as early as 1960. A competition for the overall design of the city is won by Lúcio Costa and the state buildings are entrusted to Oscar Niemeyer. Both architects are deeply influenced by Le Corbusier, who visited Brazil in 1929 and again in 1936. The resulting city is an outstanding example of modernist architecture.

The federal district of Brasilia also establishes itself very rapidly as a thriving national centre. A place with no inhabitants in 1956 has 120,000 in 1960, 210,000 in 1965, 1.5 million in 1985 and 2.5 million in 1995.


In and out of military rule: 1964-1985

In recent decades Brazil follows the pattern of so many other Latin American republics in the late 20th century - with a period of military rule (in Brazil's case by no means so oppressive as elsewhere) followed by a return to democracy.

After three particularly unsettled years, amid a worsening economic crisis, the military intervene in 1964. In March of this year the president, João Goulart, tries to bolster his popular support by taking radical policies directly to the people. At a mass rally in Rio de Janeiro he announces new decrees of agrarian reform and oil nationalization.


Senior officers, convincing themselves that a Communist dictatorship is in the offing, stage a successful coup. Goulart flees into exile. The junta rapidly issues a decree suspending the political rights of suspected subversives.

Thousands are arrested for no reason other than political dissent. But there are not the death squads which characterize several other Latin American republics under military rule. And the Brazilian generals maintain a reasonable show of intending to return to democracy when the time is right.


A somewhat arid pretence at democracy is made in 1966 when two official parties are created to fight elections - the ARENA (Aliança Renovadora Nacional, National Renewal Alliance) representing the government, and the MDB (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, Brazilian Democratic Movement) supposedly speaking for an opposition.

The military regime has considerable success in improving the economy. Eventually, in 1978-9, the emergency measures underpinning military rule are repealed and an amnesty restores political rights. The MDB becomes a real opposition. In the election of 1985 its candidates defeat their ARENA rivals for the posts of president and vice-president. Civilian rule is restored.


End-of-century blues: from1985

The first five years of restored civilian rule bring a certain utopian excitement, with the writing of a new constitution (based on the US model) and ambitious plans for major land reform by the year 2000. But the Brazilian economy once again gives cause for concern, and from 1992 the political process is itself in deep trouble.

In the summer of this year it is alleged that large sums of money have flowed into secret bank accounts held by President Collor de Mello, elected in 1989. In September 1992 the house of representatives votes to impeach him. In December, a few minutes after the senate opens the impeachment trial, Collor resigns. (Two years later he is acquitted of the charges of bribery).


In 1994 the democratic process is safely back on track, with the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy) as president.

During the mid-1990s the economy improves, with privatization measures under way (and the launch of Mercosur in 1995). But 1998 brings a major crisis with the sudden collapse of the Brazilian stock market, in a knock-on effect of the earlier slump in the Asian markets.


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