Author, Daniel Curiel, in Brazil
By Daniel Curiel, Guest Author
The anniversary of Brazil’s 1964 coup d’etat was on March 31st, this past Saturday. Ironic, because the rough draft of my History capstone paper was due only the day before. I decided to write on the topic since I constantly claim to love everything Brazilian, from bossa nova to bikinis. However, I knew very little about the event that set Brazil up for 21 years of rule under a military dictatorship. Throughout my research, the most salient thing I came across was the heavy involvement of the American government. The 1964 coup was largely influenced by, if not dependent, on support from the United States. Support mainly provided in a clandestine manner.
Regime change is an integral part of covert foreign relations. It reached its pinnacle during the Cold War as the two superpowers utilized the strategy to place favorable governments in power in valuable regions. Our past leaders believed a communist Brazil had the potential to spur a so-called “domino effect” throughout Latin America. The American ambassador to Brazil at the time, Lincoln Gordon, would later regard the “revolution” (the coup), as one of the most important historical happenings of the twentieth century, rating it with the Marshall Plan and the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If this history is so important, then why does it go largely ignored? Perhaps the answer lies in the privy nature of it all. Many government files remain classified to this day. Though, despite this, historians have been somewhat successful in gauging the extent of the United States’ participation.
In the early 1900s Brazil, like the rest of Latin American, had an economy based on the export of a few primary sector goods – mostly coffee, rubber and oil. From this surfaced a landowning elite and a Brazilian economy dependent on the externalities of developed markets. The American Great Depression wreaked havoc on the Brazilian export economy and sparked a nationalist movement as an urban working class called for more autonomous development. Beginning in the 1930s, a wave of nationalist presidents came to power and remained there until the 1964 coup. These leaders placed heavy emphasis on import substitution industrialization and neutrality in the Cold War. They supported labor rights and sought to incorporate descendants of slaves into a market-oriented economy. Thus, unionization became very important to the presidency of João Gouart, making him an instant enemy of the land owning elite, conservative factions of the military and the United States.
João Goulart threatened the status of the traditional elite in Brazil, so they colluded with the United States to depose him. Two main groups led the union movement: the Catholic Church and the Communists. To offset the appeal of the Communist leagues, the US funneled money to church groups. NGOs led by the CIA, ROTTA and Food for Peace, served instrumental in weakening communist driven labor unionization. Ambassador Gordon asked for funds from Washington to support pro-democracy street rallies only days before the coup.
Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s was the largest single recipient of the US Military Assistance in Latin America. Brazil’s high level of dependence on US military aid gave the United States substantial leverage to influence the behavior of the Brazilian military. Although most of the U.S.’s tangible support came in a secret navy tanker filled with motor gasoline, aviation fuel, and arms, the government was as disposable to act in an overt manner if the struggle got out of the control for the anti-Goulart forces. Fortunately for them, Goulart fled for exile only a day later, on April 1, 1964, effectively putting the military in control.
Without the support of the United States, it is dubious whether the Brazilian military would have had the confidence to oust Goulart. I decided to ask one of my more politically minded Brazilian friends if his countrymen still held any rancor towards the United States. He told me, “Not really, most people are apathetic or have simply forgotten.” Not a surprising response since Brazil is going through a period of unprecedented growth and is slowly becoming, if not already is, a world power. When I studied abroad there, I witnessed massive lines outside a local McDonalds where a Brazilian middle class eagerly waited to pay upwards to 16 American dollars for a Big Mac meal (no, it wasn’t super sized). A bright future would have any nation looking forward rather than looking back at a grim past.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.
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