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Military Rule, Hardliners Take Control

Itaipu, southeastern Brazil, hardliners, guerrillas, Latin American countries

The growing opposition provoked a sharp response from the hardliners, who launched a coup within the regime and took the upper hand in the military high command. The coup was triggered when General Artur Costa e Silva, who had been voted president by the legislature in 1967, suffered a series of incapacitating strokes in 1968. The three military cabinet ministers (army, navy, and air force) then took charge.

The generals saw chaos and Communists all around them, and they cracked down, initiating intense repression to crush the opposition. In December 1968 they shut down Congress. The military leaders issued a new constitution that concentrated power in the executive and they named a new president, General Emilio Medici. Between 1968 and 1974, Medici and the hardliners unleashed the systematic and widespread use of torture and repression to silence their opponents. Thousands suffered at the hands of the torturers, and hundreds died.

The regime took control of labor unions and silenced anyone who criticized the regime. Within a few years the guerrillas had been entirely wiped out. The government eventually shut down the national student union, and universities purged their faculties of those suspected of supporting leftist ideas. Large numbers of prominent Brazilian academics and artists went into exile in other Latin American countries, the United States, and Europe.

The years of repression coincided with the years of the so-called Brazilian miracle when the economy grew faster than any other economy in the world. During this period manufactured goods replaced coffee as Brazilís leading export. The staunchly nationalistic military wanted to make Brazil a world power and understood that a strong industrial economy held the key to their goal. They welcomed foreign investment, attracting billions of dollars. The regime channeled that investment into sectors of the economy considered critical for development. Among other things, these included the Trans-Amazon Highway, a large hydroelectric dam at Itaipu in southeastern Brazil, and a nuclear power program.

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