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Image of the Day – Brazil’s Military Junta of 1969

September 28, 2011

When a stroke crippled military president Artur Costa e Silva, the Brazilian military leadership was uncertain of how to proceed. Constitutionally, the civilian vice president Pedro Aleixo was supposed to assume power in the event the president had to vacate his position. However, as Costa e Silva prepared to issue Institutional Act Number 5 in December 1968, Pedro Aleixo was the one cabinet member to speak out against the decree, refusing to vote in favor of it. The military chiefs thus suspected that Aleixo would reverse many of the repressive measures the military had instituted throughout 1969. Consequently, the chiefs of the three armed forces (Army, Navy, and Air Force) determined to rule the country together in what would be the only military junta of Brazil’s military dictatorship. Even while the government kept Costa e Silva’s condition under wraps, General Aurélio de Lira Tavares (Army), Admiral Augusto Rademaker (Navy), and Brigadier Márcio de Sousa Melo (Air Force) assumed power. Each man had been the minister of his respective military branch under Costa e Silva, and collectively they took over the day-to-day governance of Brazil on August 31. The junta’s authority was quickly tested, as student leaders kidnapped American ambassador Charles Elbrick on September 4, demanding the release of 15 political prisoners in return for Elbrick’s safe return. Having just assumed power, the junta was uncertain of how to act. Some military voices suggested the government refuse the students’ demands and let them kill Elbrick; however, ultimately the fifteen were released, and the students released Elbrick.

In October, the junta issued Institutional Act No. 16, which officially removed the ailing Costa e Silva from the presidency, as well as removing the still-healthy Pedro Aleixo from the vice-presidency. As acting “president,” the junta also added amendments to the 1967 constitution that increased the authoritarian nature of government under military rule. Although the junta acted together and signed all degrees and laws together, most accounts suggest that Lira Tavares, the head of the Army (Brazil’s most powerful military branch) was responsible for many of the decisions. As the junta ruled, military brass tried to decide upon a suitable long-term replacement for opposition e Silva, ultimately picking Emílio Garrastazu Médici as the next president. The junta called Congress to return to session to elect the next president, marking the first time Congress had met since its dissolution in December 1968. However, Congress was still a mere figurehead; the military had already removed all of the politicians who provided any opposition to the regime, and Congress gathered only to give the rubber stamp to the military’s selection of Médici. The approval happened on October 25, and on October 30, the junta stepped aside as Médici assumed the presidency, bringing to an end the only time a junta governed during Brazil’s twenty-one year dictatorship.

The heads of the Brazilian armed forces who formed military junta that ruled Brazil from August 31-October 30 of 1969. From left to right: Augusto Rademaker (Navy), Márcio de Sousa Melo (Air Force), and Aurélio de Lira Tavares (Army).

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