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The Age of Mass Politics, Descent into Chaos

Janio Quadros, Joao Goulart, Communist sympathizer, foreign bankers, vice presidential candidates

By the 1960 presidential election, a new figure had emerged on the national political scene. Janio Quadros, the governor of Sao Paulo, was the National Democratic Union candidate for the presidency. Quadros vowed to sweep government clean of corruption and even brandished a broom as his symbol while campaigning. He won the presidential election. However, because the presidential and vice presidential candidates were elected separately in Brazil, the Brazilian Workers Party candidate, Joao Goulart, was elected vice president.

Just seven months after his inauguration in January 1961, Janio Quadros suddenly and unexpectedly resigned the presidency. No one, including Quadros, has ever offered a satisfactory explanation for the resignation. Whatever the reasons behind Quadrosís resignation, it provoked a crisis. The constitution called for Vice President Joao Goulart to succeed Quadros, but powerful figures in the military high command quickly declared him unacceptable. Many Brazilians saw Goulart as a Communist or Communist sympathizer, whose political ideas were too far to the left of center. The Congress, and many political leaders, rejected the militaryís position and called for respect for the constitutional process.

For nearly two weeks, the military and Congress negotiated a solution to the impasse. Goulart was sworn in, but his presidential powers were curtailed. New legislation created a prime minister, who would be responsible to the legislature and who would share many of the political powers held by the president. This legislation was reversed in 1962, when Goulart held a national referendum in which voters restored the presidential system of government.

The militaryís hatred of Goulart must be seen in the context of the Cold War, an intense economic and diplomatic struggle between the United States and its allies and the group of nations led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). By the 1960s many Brazilian military officers had come to see Brazil as a frontline nation in the Cold War struggle between Communism and capitalism. This vision was fostered by Brazilís alliance with the United States and by ideas circulated in courses and specialized schools for the officer corps. Many officers feared a revolution in Brazil, and they viewed Goulart, with his support for leftist causes, as the leader of Communist forces in Brazil.

Goulart was also confronted with problems that sprang from the gradual disintegration of the economy. Inflation continued to increase, and the government faced large debt payments on foreign loans taken out to finance economic development during the Kubitschek administration. Goulartís economic advisers devised a plan to stabilize the economy by controlling wages and reducing government spending. Goulart followed this policy for several months, but then abandoned it. He feared that the imposition of wage controls would cost him the support of workers, who were his strongest political supporters, and that concessions to foreign bankers would alienate Brazilian nationalists. By early 1964 inflation approached 100 percent a year, foreign loans came to a halt, and the economy neared collapse.

Following the advice of his most radical advisers, Goulart attempted to strengthen his support among the masses. In the first months of 1964 he staged huge rallies in several of Brazilís major cities. He also signed decrees setting low-rent controls, nationalizing petroleum refineries, seizing unused lands, and limiting profits that could be taken out of Brazil by foreign investors. In a final, desperate move to check the power of his enemies in the military high command, Goulart made a televised speech to a group of sergeants. He told them to disobey their superiors if they believed their orders were not in the best interest of the nation. Conspirators in the military had been contemplating the overthrow of Goulart for months; on March 31, after Goulartís speech to the sergeants, the army took control of the government. Goulart fled the country, never to return.

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