The coup of 1964 in Brazil was sponsored by military authorities, entrepreneurs, politicians of the opposition and by the USA to stop the effervescence of struggles sprouting among workers, peasants and soldiers.
By: Jeferson Choma
There is a total lack of knowledge from the masses of Brazil about the period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). All of the truth about the dictatorial period such as torturing and murdering opponents, or the corruption in big pharaonic works has been “hidden under the carpet”. All of the stories about rebellions of workers, peasants and soldiers which anteceded the coup in 1964 have been completely forgotten. By the way, these were exactly the first groups aimed by the dictatorial repression, as this article is going to show further.
Argentine, Uruguay and Chile went through sanguinary military dictatorships in the 70’s as well, but in this countries generals, dictators and torturers were judged and arrested for their crimes. Over there this period is seen with awfulness for the whole population. In these countries, if any president makes any declaration similar to what Jair Bolsonaro says such as praising torturers or ordering the military forces to celebrate the military coup anniversary, it would be a scandal and could even result in an impeachment process.
But it is a different story in Brazil, sadly. There, the elites have colluded to hide all crimes from that time. The Amnesty Law promulgated in 1979 by João Baptista Figueiredo (last ruling general) has granted amnesty to all citizens that could be considered a criminal at the period of the dictatorship, including officers and torturers.
On top of that, none of the following governments after the redemocratization period, including the Workers Party, has acted to open the archives from the dictatorial period. As a result, many crimes and savageries committed by the dictatorship have not been shown and are not known by most of the population. The military forces and top officers have stayed unpunished after all of their crimes and bloodshed. If the responsibility of generals and presidents many atrocities from that time are known, it is because of the liberalisation of files from the American Government.
One of the most common versions sustained by supporters of the dictatorship is that the coup was necessary to end what they call a “communist menace”, and torture was used in a context of war against guerilla groups trying to “impose a red dictatorship”. This is what Bolsonaro and Mourão (the vice-president) always say. Both of them use the ignorance from the poor people about that period to lie about it.
The coup has happened to defeat struggles at the city and countryside
The coup on the 31st of March, 1964 was sponsored by military authorities, entrepreneurs, the USA and politicians opposed to João Goulart (known as Jango, he was the elected president deposed by the dictatorship). Their goal was to dispel the effervescence of struggles sprouting among workers, peasants and soldiers.
At that time, the working class was not just fighting, but winning most times, achieving wage increases and labour rights. Between 1961 and 1964, the amount of economical strikes at both industry and services quadrupled. The amount of workers on strike has come to 5.6 million, the largest ascent ever in Brazil until then. In October, 1963, an important strike took place, known as the “strike of the 700 thousand”. It happened after many campaigns for wage increase from many categories of workers united.
At the countryside, Peasant Leagues were organizing rural workers in unions, especially at the North East region. They were forcing landlords to respect labour rights and achieving the agrarian reform through their struggle.
The struggle of soldiers and sargents
It is common to hear versions about the coup saying that it was a movement from all military forces against an alleged advance of comunism. Nothing could be more spurious. There were many soldiers and low rank officers inside the military forces supporting the struggles of workers and peasants. They were also starting to participate on the national political, which was (and continues to be) forbidden, except for high rank officers.
In 1962, sargents from Guanabara (currently named Rio de Janeiro) and Sao Paulo State supported their own candidates at the elections for the National Congress and local Assemblies. Some of them were elected, but the Constitution from that time did not allow them to take over their mandates. Outraged, soldiers and sargents occupied many buildings, radio stations and military installations. They even arrested a minister of the STF (Brazilian Supreme Court). This uprising is known as the “Sargents Uprising”, and it was brutally smashed on the next day.
Another military uprising emerged in 1964, some days before the coup. The “Sailors Uprising” started after Navy´s high command dispatched warrants to arrest many sailors who were participating in a meeting of their association. Then, this sailors mobbed inside Metallurgical Workers Union in Rio de Janeiro and demanded the recognition of their association, alimentary improvement and that no physical punishment would be used against those who were there. Ironically, the old sailor Joao Candido, leader of the “Whip Uprising” was giving a lecture for those sailors. Marines were sent to suppress the uprising, but they joined them instead. All of this was tremendously scary for the bourgeoisie and american imperialism. A disruption at the command chain of the armed forces was the last straw for the coup. After that, the high command of the Armed Forces ousted a legally established government, with the support of parties that opposed Jango, starting a deep counter-revolution. After this coup, the military suspend the elections and revoked mandates not just from from dissenting politicians, but also from some politicians that supported their coup, such as the ex-president Juscelino Kubitschek, Carlos Lacerda (ex-governor of Guanabara State) and Adhemar de Barros (ex-governor of Sao Paulo State). The dictatorship would last for 21 years.
First targets of the military repression
The first targets of the coup were the poorest workers who were trying to fight for their rights. The dictatorial regime suspended democratic freedoms, as the right to strike, closed unions, imposed censorship, imprisonment, torture and death to its opposers.
An example was the repression witnessed at “Baixada Santista” (lowlands around Santos harbour, the busiest one in Latin America). After the coup, fighting unions of the harbour workers suffered an intervention and their leaders were imprisoned and tortured in a navy prison-ship. A detail: the union leaders were confined for over a month in the flooding ship’s hold. In a short period of time, the historical achievements of their category were destroyed.
All rights achieved by this category were repealed. Even an agreement about the payment of extra shifts from 1937 was extinct. As a result, the Docks Company, which was the port’s administrator, had an enormous increment in its profits, while harbour workers had to work wearing only underwear, almost naked, with no rights and no voice.
At the countryside, leaders from the Peasant Leagues were hunted and murdered by military and hired gunmen. In the Armed Forces soldiers and sub-officers were arrested. A survey from the Truth Commission shows that over 6,591 officers, sub-officers and soldiers were arrested, tortured or expelled from the Armed Forces. A real purge to eliminate those who had been at the side of the people and their struggles.
Repression and death
Bolsonaro and the Armed Forces high command claim that just a small number of people were killed by the repression during the dictatorship. An important newspaper from Sao Paulo (Folha de Sao Paulo) has called that regime “a soft dictatorship”. But that is a lie, this version in only trying to mitigate and relativise cruelty and criminal aspects about what happened at that period. Their objective is to hide and disguise responsabilities and the logic that steered the coup.
The dead and disappeared during the dictatorship reach much further than the 5 or 6 hundred officially recognised. Just at the countryside, more than 1,196 peasants have been killed by the dictatorship, according to an inventory from the National Human Rights Office in 2012, reaffirmed by the final report from the Truth Commission on the countryside in 2014.
The dictatorship has promoted a genocide against indigenous populations, especially at Amazon. As affirmed by the Truth Commission, at least 8,350 indigenous were killed during the dictatorship: slaughtered, resisting against eviction from their lands, infected by contagious diseases, imprisoned, tortured or by mistreatments. Among the dead, 3,500 are indigenous from Cinta-Larga (Roraima State), 2,650 are from Waimiri-Atroari (Amazon State), 1,180 are indigenous from the Tapayuna ethnicity (Mato Grosso State). This generalised extermination was a result of the capitalist expansion into Amazon promoted by the dictatorship, characterized by the advance of livestock, creation of roads and new mines.
But these numbers could be even higher. After all, the archives from the dictatorship have not been opened yet and many things that occured at that time at remote places in the countryside are still unknown.
Guerilla and dictatorship
As shown above, the dictatorship has not faced small guerrilla groups only, as Bolsonaro’s supporters usually say. Guerrilla movements started just in 1969, after the AI-5 decree (NT: then main authoritarian decree issued by the dictatorship) during General Costa e Silva’s government (1967-69). From then on, the most brutal face of that regime was revealed. The National Congress was shut down, political and civil rights (including habeas corpus) were suspended. Hundreds of social and political leaderships were arrested and tortured by repression squads.
As a response, part of the left-wingers resorted to armed struggle. Even though we do consider such method a mistake, as it led to the extermination of hundreds of valuable fighters, such guerrilla fighters must be treated as heros. They fought to overturn an abhorrent regime of death and repression. They have given their lives for an absolutely asymmetrical struggle, in which state’s repressive apparatus was a thousand times superior compared to the small and weakly armed guerrilla groups.
As history was not clarified, the far-right has risen to defend the military dictatorship. More than ever, it is necessary to open all files from the dictatorship and to withdraw the Amnesty Law, and to demand an exemplary punishment for any state agent that commit any crime such as arbitrary prisons or torturing. It is about ensuring present and future, because investigations would intimidate any state employee about commiting crimes and arbitrariness, and would make the population repudiate any dictatorial regime. Punishing repressors from the past is essential to fight repressors from nowadays and from tomorrow, it is a necessity to defend popular working class organizations.
Translated by: Chico