The Ongoing Struggle Against Inequalities & Prejudices in Brazil

One of the major issues facing Brazil by now is a major short-term economic decline.Currently, the Real at an unheralded R$4.10 to the dollar. To put that in perspective, when I was living in Brazil in 2006-2008, the Real at its strongest point was R$1.57 to the dollar, in 2007, and even at the beginning of 2015, it was roughly R$2.65/dollar. This has a dramatic impact on commodities markets, threatening the Brazilian economy with contraction. Meanwhile, Dilma Rousseff has opted for an austerity program that all but ensures much of the social spending that helps Brazil’s population (helping Brazilians move upward) will be cut, a remarkable shift for a party that was founded in 1980 as a democratic socialist party and even in the 2000s created spending programs that helped many poor and working-class Brazilians improve their lives.

A new report by the UN argues that the effects of these cumulative events – depressed growth, inflation, rising unemployment, austerity measures – will affect the country’s Afro-Brazilian population particularly disproportionately. The report acknowledges that Brazil has made strides in protecting the rights of minority groups through laws. However, the racial and socioeconomic divisions between the rural and urban poor, who tend to be Afro-descendants, and the wealthy, who tend to be white, continue, and as Brazil’s economy goes through instability, uncertainty, and recession, those at the bottom of that socioeconomic scale are most threatened. The result is that socioeconomic inequalities continue even as laws attempt to juridically address inequality in Brazil, and thus, while there are legal protections for Afro-descendants, the reality remains that “poverty is colored in Brazil,” as the report says.

Of course, progress does not prevent efforts to re-establish structural inequalities for the marginalized, and that is exactly what Brazil’s Congress is trying to do, with the congressional Special Commission of the Family Statute approving the legal definition of a family solely as the union between a man and a woman. In a country with marriage equality but vocal, if growing-but-still-minority, evangelical voices, the effect of the law would be to deny gay and lesbian couples who have children the right to be considered a family for legal purposes. The vote was not even close, passing the Commission 17-5.  The law attempts to legislate against the Federal Supreme Court’s recent ruling that gay and lesbian couples have equal marriage rights and protections that heterosexual couples have. The project heads now to a full Chamber of Deputies vote, where it very well could pass, before heading to the Senate. While its future there is less certain, the fact remains that, even in the slow steady push toward progress and with substantial economic and political issues (such as corruption) to contend with, there are members of Congress that are devoting some of their time to rewind and undo the rights gained by people historically marginalized based on their sexuality in an attempt to re-establish that marginalization of rights institutionally and juridically.

Posted in Brazil, Economics in the Americas, Gender and Sexuality, Inequalities in the Americas, LGBT Rights & Issues, Poverty, Race in the Americas

Links Around Latin America

Several stories of note from around the region lately:

Posted in Argentina, Argentina's Military Dictatorship (1976-1983), Around Latin America, Brazil, Brazil's Military Dictatorship, Civil Conflict in the Americas, Colombia, Corruption, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionárias de Colombia (FARC), Guatemala, Human Rights Issues, Human Rights Violations, Latin America, Latin American Art, The Malvinas War, Torture

Get to Know a Brazilian – Luís Carlos Prestes

The political path of Luís Carlos Prestes shows just how varying the ideologies and trajectories of members of the tenente movement of the 1920s could be.

Prestes was born in Porto Alegre in the southern-most state of Rio Grande do Sul in January, 1898. His father had been an officer in the army. With his family enduring financial difficulties after his father left them, Prestes enrolled in the Military School of Realengo in Rio de Janeiro (where future fellow-tenentes Antônio de Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes also attended) at the age of 11, completing his military training in 1919. Specializing in Military Engineering, he finished first in his class. Although he played a key part in the planning of the revolt of 1922, Prestes actually missed out on the fateful “March of the 18,” as he was in bed with typhoid fever when the revolt broke out.

A young Prestes in his military uniform.

A young Prestes in his military uniform.

Since Prestes was not directly involved in the revolt, he escaped the prison sentences of some of his colleagues, but he was transferred to Rio Grande do Sul. When the 1924 revolt broke out in an attempt to once again bring an end to the First Republic, Prestes rose to a key position in the Tenentes movement, named for the role the lower-ranking officers had played in the revolts of both 1922 and 1924. While not involved in the temporary takeover of São Paulo in July 1924,  Prestes rose to fame when, after a failed attempt to take over a garrison, he met the rebels from São Paulo and led the combined group of tenentes and rebels on what came to be known as the “Prestes Column.” Given his future political trajectory, it is more than a little ironic that Prestes rejected Siqueira Campos’s recommendation the tenentes affiliate with the communists in the international political arena. Across nearly 3 years, the column marched 25,000 kilometers (16,000 miles) across thirteen Brazilian states. The column, organized in protest of the politics and policies of the oligarchical First Republic (1889-1930), lacked the power to threaten the First Republic directly, but was likewise strong enough to resist the government’s efforts to apprehend and terminate the Prestes Column, which ultimately went into exile in Bolivia in 1927. His ability to avoid defeat at the hands of government forces made Prestes somewhat of a folk hero both in Brazil and internationally.

Luis Carlos Prestes in Bolivia in 1928, shortly after concluding the Prestes Column's 3-year march throughout Brazil's interior.

Luis Carlos Prestes in Bolivia in 1928, shortly after concluding the Prestes Column’s 3-year march throughout Brazil’s interior.

While in Bolivia, Prestes worked on road-building, sanitation, and other infrastructure projects in for the British enterprise Bolivian Company Limited. In late 1927, the secretary-general of the Partido Comunista Brasileira (Brazilian Communist Party; PCB), Astrojildo Pereira, went to Bolivia to meet Prestes. During the visit, he left some Marxist works with Prestes and recommended an alliance with the PCB. Ironically (given Prestes’ future political path), the tenente turned down Pereira’s recommendation, remaining in Bolivia until late 1928, when he went to Argentina and found work as an engineer. It was in this time that Prestes finally read Marxist works and began to identify with socialism, a process further facilitated by his conversations with the Rodolfo Ghioldi, a key figure in Argentine communist politics, and Abraham Guralski, who was the then-director of the Communist International (Comintern).

Yet Prestes’s ties to Brazilian communism remained nascent and sometimes ambiguous; when the PCB offered to nominate Prestes for a presidential candidate in the 1930 election, he declined, finding the PCB’s platform to be too radical. At the same time, he refused to join his former colleagues in supporting the Liberal Alliance, a conglomerate of opposition to the First Republic that threw its support behind Getúlio Vargas in the 1930 elections. When Vargas lost the election in March 1930, the Liberal Alliance again approached Prestes, this time to explore the possibility of Prestes helping lead a military revolt against the government of Washington Luís in order to prevent the inauguration of Júlio Prestes [of no relation to Luís Carlos Prestes]. Believing that the Liberal Alliance was merely going to replace one oligarchical system with another, Prestes fatefully declined. He attempted to create the League of Revolutionary Action, a “third path” that differed from the Liberal Alliance and the First Republic, but the movement failed to gain enough adherents to be sustainable. Continuing to deploy Marxist analysis in his consideration of Brazilian politics and society, he nonetheless was divided with the PCB, which had begun replacing intellectuals with workers in the party structure. Ultimately, Prestes once again went into a self-imposed exile, this time in Uruguay.

In November 1931, the Soviet Union invited Prestes to move to the communist country, and Prestes accepted, using the opportunity to dedicate himself more fully to the study of Marxism-Leninism, both in theory and in practice. While his relationship with the PCB had been fraught, in 1934, the Brazilian party accepted Prestes as a member after the Soviet Union pressured the PCB. Meeting with Brazilian representatives in Moscow, Prestes decided to promote an armed revolution to overthrow the Vargas government in Brazil, and at the end of 1934, he left the Soviet Union to return to Brazil, accompanied by his soon-to-be wife, Olga Benário, a member of the Comintern.

Even while former tenentes and colleagues like Eduardo Gomes, Juracy Magalhães, and Juarez Távora were increasingly moving rightward, Prestes, operating clandestinely, became affiliated with the Aliança Nacional Libertadora (National Liberating Alliance; ANL), which brought together socialists, communists, and tenentes who had soured on the Vargas government after supporting his rise in 1930. Brazilian politics in the 1930s mirrored the broader political transformations taking place globally in the 1930s, albeit with its own Brazilian flavor. Even as some former tenentes and others were forming the Brazilian Integralista movement, a fascistic movement, so the ANL advocated for an anti-fascist and anti-imperialist program. The fact that former tenentes were involved in both movements, as well as in more traditional conservative politics, revealed just how enigmatic and open-ended the movement of the 1920s had been; lacking a strong ideology beyond ending the First Republic and transforming Brazil, former tenentes ultimately occupied a variety of positions in the ideological spectrum.

With Prestes’ honorary involvement in the ANL, its membership grew in the course of 1935, and, in a moment of overconfidence, the ANL issued a manifesto that forecast the overthrow of the Vargas government. Vargas used the opportunity to declare the ANL an illegal organization; when Prestes and other members of the ANL launched an insurrection in November of 1935 in Rio Grande do Norte, Vargas’s government quickly cracked down and ended the resurrection. Miscalculating Vargas, the ANL ultimately created the conditions and the pretext that allowed Vargas to further solidify control, going after a broader range of critics and opponents to his government. Prestes avoided the initial wave of crackdowns, but by March 1936, both he and Olga had been imprisoned. Given her status as a foreigner (she’d been born in Munich), Vargas sent a pregnant Olga back to Nazi Germany; a Jew, she ultimately died in the gas chambers of Bernburg in 1942. [Their daughter, Anita Leocádia Prestes, was born in a concentration camp but survived after being released to her paternal grandmother.]

The arrest of Olga Benário Prestes in 1936. Olga would die in a death camp in Nazi Germany in 1942 after Getúlio Vargas deported her to Germany.

The arrest of Olga Benário Prestes in 1936. Olga would die in a death camp in Nazi Germany in 1942 after Getúlio Vargas deported her to Germany.

As for Prestes, as a Brazilian citizen, he was subjected to Vargas’s repression, and in 1937, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Despite remaining imprisoned, in 1943 the PCB elected him its secretary-general. As the Vargas regime moved toward democratization in 1945, Prestes was released, even while the PCB was temporarily granted legality as a political party.

Prestes on his way to his prison sentencing in 1937. He would spend 8 years in prison before the democratic opening of 1945.

Prestes on his way to his prison sentencing in 1937. He would spend 8 years in prison before the democratic opening of 1945.

Despite his own fate, and particularly the fate of his wife, Prestes threw his support behind Vargas in the name of national unity. With the overthrow of the Vargas regime in October 1945, new elections took place in December, and PRestes was elected to the Senate, representing the Federal District (the city of Rio de Janeiro). As a senator, Prestes played a part in the writing of a new constitution in 1946.

Prestes (bottom right) speaking on the floor of Congress as Senator in 1946.

Prestes (bottom right) speaking on the floor of Congress as Senator in 1946.

However, Prestes’ role in institutional politics would be short-lived. As the Cold War began, the new government of Eurico Gaspar Dutra (Vargas’s choice in the 1945 elections) once again outlawed the PCB in 1947, and in 1948, PCB politicians, including Prestes, were stripped of their political rights and offices. Having already lived the repression of anti-communism under Vargas’s Estado Novo, Prestes went into a preemptive clandestinity, though he continued to speak out in Brazilian politics. He refused to support any of the candidates in the 1950 election, and remained an open critic of Vargas’s presidency up through the latter’s suicide in 1954. Prestes did support the candidacy of Juscelino Kubitschek in 1955, and began to play a more public role even while the PCB remained illegal. With the ascendance of João Goulart to the presidency in the wake of Jânio Quadros’s abrupt resignation in August of 1961, Prestes, like others on the left (and not just in the PCB) saw a chance for real reform for Brazil’s workers and peasants, and he continually publicly pressured Goulart to accelerate reforms in Brazil. Of course, amidst the polarization of the Cold War, the middle classes, conservatives, and military saw the spectre of communism in Goulart’s eventual leftward shift; determined to prevent a communist “dictatorship,” the military overthrew Goulart and instead ushered in a conservative dictatorship.

Once again living under a right-wing regime, Prestes once again went into clandestinity as the military targeted other veteran PCB members like Gregório Bezerra. Even while former tentente Eduardo Gomes served as the Minister of the Air Force during the military regime, former tenente Luís Carlos Prestes was constantly attempting to avoid military repression. Yet that was not the least of Prestes’ problems. Long acknowledged as a leader in Brazilian Communism, the heterogeneity of Marxism both globally and in Brazil transformed his role in the 1960s. Ever since the failed revolt of 1935, Prestes and the PCB had opted for a nonviolent path to revolution in Brazil. With the rise of the dictatorship, a younger generation of leftists, and the examples of Cuba, Ché Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Mao, the PCB began to face internal dissension. Ultimately, former PCB members like Carlos Marighella and others abandoned the PCB, opting for Maoist, Guevarist, or other paths to armed revolution to resist the military regime. Thus, even as Prestes attempted to avoid repression and persecution under military rule, he watched as the PCB splintered.

This splintering perhaps paradoxically allowed Prestes to be spared the worst of the repression. After a tumultuous 1968 in Brazil (part of a broader history of social unrest throughout the world that year), the regime first targeted those armed movements, such as the Maoist Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB, distinct from the PCB), the Movimento Revolucionário-8 de Outubro (October 8 Revolutionary Movement – MR-8), and others, rather than immediately going after the PCB. This allowed Prestes the time to go into exile yet again; in 1971, he returned to the Soviet Union. By the mid-1970s, the dictatorship, having effectively eliminated the other armed leftist movements, turned its sights on the PCB, targeting and killing some of its top leaders, but by that point, Prestes had been in exile for a couple of years.

Prestes in exile in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s.

Prestes in exile in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s.

Ultimately, Prestes returned to Brazil with the military’s general amnesty of 1979 that pardoned political prisoners and exiles (while also pardoning any and all military members and officials tied to torture or the execution of the regime’s opponents). Despite the return of the man many saw as the figurehead and leader of the PCB, the remnants of the party remained divided over what paths to pursue as Brazil returned to democratization, riven by questions over whether to support the institutional transition or to demand a more radical revolution.  While many could and did acknowledge Prestes’s historical importance to the left in Brazil, they felt that, at over 80 years old, he was no longer the appropriate leader, and he was removed from his position as secretary-general of the PCB; shortly thereafter, he left the party that he had led for more than 3o years.

Prestes returning to Brazil in 1979, shortly after the military dictatorship declared a general amnesty for political prisoners and exiles (as well as torturers and assassins in the military).

Prestes returning to Brazil in 1979, shortly after the military dictatorship declared a general amnesty for political prisoners and exiles (as well as torturers and assassins in the military).

As Brazil transitioned from military to civilian rule in 1985, wrote a new constitution in 1988, and held its first democratic elections in nearly 30 years in 1989, Prestes continued to speak out about politics. No longer tied to the PCB, he ultimately recommended his followers join the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Democratic Labor Party, PDT), led by Leonel Brizola, another veteran politician and key figure in the fight for reforms in the early 1960s. Prestes lived long enough to see the return to democratic rule and witness what was only the fifth direct presidential election in his lifetime (in addition to the election of 1989, the elections of 1945, 1950, 1955, and 1960 had been direct elections).

Prestes with Leonel Brizola, whom Prestes supported in the 1980s after leaving the PCB.

Prestes (left) with Leonel Brizola (center), whom Prestes supported in the 1980s after leaving the PCB.

Prestes died on March 7, 1990, at the age of 92. He had lived through no fewer than two dictatorships and spent much of his life in clandestinity, exile, or prison. At the same time, he managed to outlive many who opted for more radical paths than he, particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s, as the military regime targeted leftist leaders who had split off from the PCB. His long-term affiliation with communism revealed just how diverse the members of the tenente movement of the 1920s were in their political trajectories. While Prestes only briefly served in any official political office, his role as the “father” and flag-bearer of Brazilian Communism for decades made him one of the more important political figures in Brazil’s 20th century.

Luis Carlos Prestes, 1898-1990.

Luis Carlos Prestes, 1898-1990.

Posted in Brazil, Get to Know a Brazilian, The "Left" in Latin America

A Brief History of Brazilian Independence

Today is the 193rd anniversary of Brazilian Independence. For those unfamiliar with the general story of independence in Brazil (and its unusual path), I wrote a brief primer back in 2011.

Posted in Brazil, Latin American History

Get to Know a Brazilian – Eduardo Gomes

This is part of an ongoing series. Previous entries can be found here.

Eduardo Gomes was born in 1896 in Petrópolis, the Imperial summer base of Brazil’s monarchy, in the mountains just north of Rio de Janeiro. His father had been a naval officer in Brazil before working as a businessman and journalist after leaving the military, while his mother was known for her artistic skills and knowledge of several languages. As a result, Gomes upbringing was reflective of the upper levels of what were at the time the nascent middle classes of Brazil in the first decades of the twentieth century and who would increasingly feel excluded from politics by the 1920s.

After attending private schools, at the age of 20, Gomes enrolled in the Military School of Realengo, with a focus on artillery, where he came into contact with Antônio de Siqueira Campos. Graduating in 1918, Gomes was stationed in the southern state of Paraná until 1921, when he enlisted in Brazil’s new School of Military Aviation, inaugurated in 1919 in Rio de Janeiro. Thus it was that he returned to Rio de Janeiro and adhered to the Revolt of 1922 that saw lower-ranking officer rise up against the First Republic over a number of causes. While most of the rebels decided to abandon the movement when the high-ranking officers suppressed the movement, Gomes was one of roughly eighteen men who marched down the Avenida Atlântica of Copacabana to face the loyalist army forces. Along with Siqueira Campos, Gomes was the only other survivor, though he, too, was badly wounded.

The iconic photo of survivors of the initial assault on the Copacabana Fort as they marched along Copacabana to confront the armed forces awaiting them. Eduardo Gomes is on the far left, next to the only other survivor - Antonio de Siqueira Campos.

The iconic photo of survivors of the initial assault on the Copacabana Fort as they marched along Copacabana to confront the armed forces awaiting them. Eduardo Gomes is on the far left, next to the only other survivor – Antonio de Siqueira Campos.

Although sent to prison, Gomes was released in 1923 to await his judgement. Before his sentence could be issued, he went into hiding before taking part in the 1924 Paulista Revolt, the second revolt of the tenentes (the first being the 1922 revolt). His skill with aerial training made him a key figure in the movement, though an attempt to fly to Rio de Janeiro led to him having to abandon his plane amidst technical problems, and he again went into hiding in Rio de Janeiro while the tenentes in São Paulo, facing bombardment and a siege, went into the interior. Gomes ultimately was arrested trying to join up with the Prestes Column that continued to march throughout Brazil in protest against, and defiance of, the First Republic.

In the aftermath of the failed 1922 revolt and the 1924 revolt and Prestes Column, Gomes’ life  took a very different trajectory than Siqueira Campos. While the latter went into exile, Gomes remained in prison until 1926, when he was released. However, shortly thereafter, authorities decided to re-arrest him, and he again went into hiding, where he remained until finally turning himself in in 1929. Set free in May 1930, Gomes immediately began working with the Liberal Alliance that sought to bring an end to the oligarchical rule of the First Republic, and he played a small role in the armed uprising of October that ushered Getúlio Vargas into office.

With the First Republic oligarchy finally gone and his military office restored, Gomes sought to expand the presence of aerial power in Brazil. He served as the commander of the first air combat unit created after the 1930 revolution (with future junta member Márcio Souza Mello serving under his command). He helped create and direct the Military Air Mail in Brazil, which ended up being an important piece in the eventual foundation of the Brazilian Air Force and which launched its first flight from Rio to São Paulo in 1931. In 1935, communists, socialists, and tenentes (some who were Gomes’ former comrades in the 1920s, highlighting how the tenente movement was far more concrete in what it opposed than in what it proposed) rose up against the Vargas government; Gomes, as commander of an aerial regiment, was involved in the movement’s suppression. However, as Vargas consolidated power and in 1937 launched a “self-coup” that ushered in the Estado Novo, Gomes stepped down from his post as commander in protest of Vargas’s new government, though that did not prevent him from receiving a promotion to colonel the following year. Gomes continued to play a key role in the development of Brazil’s air force power, becoming a brigadier in 1941, when the Brazilian military created an independent Ministry of Air Force. Assigned to Brazil’s northeast coast, he worked with the US military who, concerned about the possibility of Nazi naval warfare off Brazil’s coast (the most eastern coastal area in all of the Americas), helped Brazil to construct new naval and air force bases in the country’s Northeast. As brigadier of this region, Gomes ultimately played an important part in US-Brazilian relations in the course of World War II.

Eduardo Gomes (right) meeting with Getulio Vargas (second from left) during the Vargas years.

Eduardo Gomes (right) meeting with Getulio Vargas (second from left) during the Vargas years.

With the overthrow of Vargas’s Estado Novo in 1945, Brazil held its first elections since 1930 in order to find a candidate to replace Vargas. The conservative (and anti-Vargas) União Democrático Nacional selected Gomes as their candidate to run against General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, whom pro-Vargas forces backed. The two candidates led to the curious reality that Brazil was exiting a dictatorship by selecting between two military officials (two other candidates ran for the Brazilian Communist Party and the National Agrarian Party, but both parties were small and/or divisive enough to effectively be ruled out from the start). According to at least some legends, during the campaign in São Paulo, Gomes’s supporters made and handed out small balls of condensed milk, butter, and powdered chocolate at rallies. Though apocryphal, some suggest that the sweets’ presence at his campaign rallies, and Gomes’ position as a brigadier general, led to the naming of the Brazilian dessert “brigadeiros”.

Brazilian brigadeiros, which may or may not have gotten their name during Gomes' 1945 presidential run.

Brazilian brigadeiros, which may or may not have gotten their name during Gomes’ 1945 presidential run.

Despite the popularity (and, now, inescapability) of these Brazilian sweets, they were not enough for political transformation; Gomes ultimately lost to  Dutra, 55% to 35% (3.25 million votes for Dutra to 2 million votes for Gomes, with the remainder going to other candidates). Nonetheless, when the UDN sought a candidate to run when Vargas announced he would seek election in 1950, they again selected Gomes, who lost to Vargas 49%-30% (3.85 million votes to 2.3 million).

A poster from one of Gomes' campaigns - "For President, vote for the Brigadier."

A poster from Gomes’ 1950 presidential campaign – “For President, vote for the Brigadier.”

Gomes continued to be a staunch anti-Varguista, however. When the scandal erupted around the failed assassination of Carlos Lacerda (which resulted in the death of an air force officer working as a bodyguard for Lacerda) and was ultimately tied back to Vargas’s secret service, Gomes was one of the lead voices calling for Vargas’s ouster. When Vargas committed suicide, a new interim government was formed, and Gomes was appointed the Minister of the Air Force from 1954 to 1955.

While the right-wing UDN opted to run Juarez Távora for its third campaign in 1955, the outcome was the same, as the UDN lost to Juscelino Kubitschek. A staunch conservative and UDN supporter by this time, Gomes spoke out against Kubitschek’s government regularly, saying that because Kubitschek had not won an absolute majority (he garnered 36% to Távora’s 30% and São Paulo Governor Adhemar de Barros’s 26%), he was not a legitimate president.

By the early 1960s, as Brazil’s political landscape became more polarized and contentious, Gomes remained politically vociferous even while going into the reserves. He played a small supportive role in the military coup of  1964. In 1965, Gomes became for the second time Minister of the Air Force, when Humberto Castelo Branco, the first of five presidents during Brazil’s military dictatorship, appointed Gomes to the position, and he served in that office until the end of Castelo Branco’s term in 1967. As Thomas Skidmore has argued, the role provided Gomes and other military leaders sympathetic to the UDN “a chance at federal power that they had seldom been able to win against the populist politicians.” [1] With the end of his term, and with declining health, Gomes retired, ultimately dying on June 13, 1981 – exactly one day after the fiftieth anniversary of the first flight of the Military Air Mail that he’d established and that helped lead to the creation of an independent Air Force.

Eduardo Gomes late in his military career.

Eduardo Gomes late in his military career.

Beloved by many conservatives, reviled by many progressives, and celebrated by some tenentes and condemned as a traitor by others, Gomes’s path was a distinct one in which he never hesitated to mobilize or speak out against governments he thought were undemocratic, even while he paradoxically supported and served in what was arguably the most undemocratic regime of Brazil in the 20th century. Gomes’s life is also an interesting example of how the actors of the 1922 revolt and the Tenentismo of the 1920s often took very different political trajectories – with some, like Siqueira Campos, advocating for aligning with the Communist Party in the 1920s, while others, like Gomes, ultimately embraced conservatism and authoritarian regimes. For better or for worse, Gomes’ legacies as one of the founding figures of Brazil’s Air Force persist – perhaps most visibly in the Manaus airport named after him – and his contributions to Brazilian history are undeniable, regardless of whether one view them positively or negatively.

[1] Thomas E. Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964-1985, p. 158.

Posted in Brazil, Brazil's Military Dictatorship, Get to Know a Brazilian, Latin American History, Latin American Militaries

Get to Know a Brazilian – Antônio de Siqueira Campos

This is part of an ongoing series. Previous entries can be found here.

Building off of last week’s focus on João Cândido Felisberto, this week we look at another key figure in the history of military figures and rebellion in Brazil: Antônio de Siqueira Campos.

Siqueira Campos was born in 1898 in Rio Claro, a small town in the interior of the state of São Paulo. At the age of 17, he entered the Escola Prática do Exército (Practical School of the Army) before moving to Rio de Janeiro, where he completed his military training at the Military School of Realengo in 1918. He opted for artillery, and was promoted 2nd Lieutenant upon graduating before achieving the rank of 1st Lieutenant in 1921.

Siqueira Campos entered into Brazilian history on July 5, 1922, in what came to be known as “The Revolt of the 18 from Copacabana Fort.” Only inaugurated in 1914, the Forte de Copacabana was another effort for Brazil to showcase its modernity through military installations (after previous efforts to demonstrate modernity through the acquisition of battleships). The fort counted cannon of 75mm, 190mm, and 305mm, all from the German Krupp weapons manufacturer. The reliance on German weaponry was part of a broader effort to modernize and professionalize Latin American militaries that took place throughout much of Latin America. Replicating the military competitions within Europe, some Latin American countries opted to receive training from the French, while others opted to receive training from Germany, and other countries, like Brazil, playing the two off of each other and incorporating both German and French instructors, techniques, and materiel. In the early 1900s, Brazilian officers were even sent to the German army for instruction, even while French instructors offered guidance in military curricula in Brazil. The presence of high-power Krupp weapons at Fort Copacabana simultaneously tapped into the quest for Brazilian modernity through military means, even while revealing the ongoing gaze toward Europe as models to emulate, in the militarily and culturally.

Fort Copacabana from the air. The fort juts out on rocky terrain that separates Copacabana beach from Ipanema.

Fort Copacabana from the air. The fort juts out on rocky terrain that separates Copacabana beach from Ipanema.

Given the Fort’s status as a symbol of Brazilian modernity, as well as its importance as a military bastion in the nation’s capital, it served as the perfect site for the Revolt of 1922. At issue was the participants’ frustration with the oligarchical nature of the First Republic. The highly decentralized system of government allowed the wealthy coffee-growing areas, most notably São Paulo, to become enormously wealthy even while other parts of the country, especially in the Northeast, languished. Additionally, the landed elites shared power and were unwilling to see their grip on politics erode. This ultimately led to what came to be known as the politics of café-com-leite – literally “coffee with milk” – with the powerful states of São Paulo (producer of coffee) and Minas Gerais (an agricultural state that produced, among other things, dairy products) agreeing to alternate in the presidency. While this was not an iron-clad system – Rio Grande do Sul played an increasing role in these negotiations, as did Rio de Janeiro – it still revealed the limited representation of the political elite. Political patronage and a network of political machines run by “bosses” – usually landed elite – further reinforced the power of the oligarchy.

However, in a process that was simultaneously occurring throughout much of Latin America in the first decades of the 20th century, a nascent middle class began to challenge traditional elite politics. By the 1910s, the growing number of urban white-collar professionals began to bristle at an oligarchical system that they felt excluded them. These middle classes generally felt their position as white-collar workers and consumers entitled them to a greater say in politics and government, yet they remained shut out of the rural networking among elites (and elites alone) and denied their rightful voice in the administration and governance of Brazil. Lower-ranking officers of the military often hailed from these middle class backgrounds. Compounding matters further, the military had historically opposed the landed elite’s interests back to the latter decades of the Empire (1822-1889).

In this context, the “Revolt of the 18” sought nothing less than an end to the First Republic (1889-1930). The military was already dissatisfied with president Epitácio Pessoa (1919-1922), who had rejected a proposed pay increase for the military and who appointed civilians to the Ministry of War and Ministry of Navy, positions that had traditionally been the purview of officers. After a failed attempt in 1922 to elect Nilo Peçanha (from Rio de Janeiro) over the governmental candidate Artur Bernardes (from Minas Gerais – the “leite” part of of the café-com-leite agreement), and after the Bernardes government closed the Military Club and arrested its leader, former president Hermes da Fonseca (who himself had been president during the 1910 Revolt of the Whip), the tenentes of Copacabana Fort opted to act. Though lacking broader support, the rebels hoped that the military and the urban professional class would come to their cause.

While junior officers at both the Fort and the Military School rose up against the government, the military brass declined to support the cause. The government sent aircraft to bomb the Fort throughout the day on July 5th in what some scholars suggest was the first instance of the use of aerial bombardment in Latin America. In the wee hours of the morning on July 6th, Siqueira Campos and Captain Euclides Hermes told the roughly 300 military and civilian revolutionaries holed up in the bombarded fort that those who wanted to abandon the cause were free to do so; only 29 nine remained after the decisions were made (and Euclides Hermes – was promptly arrested).

Ultimately, only seventeen remaining rebels (joined by the civilian Otávio Correia, for a total of 18) ended up marching down the Avenida Atlântica in an act that became as iconic as the beach upon which they marched. At the end of the beach, in the neighborhood of Leme, troops who had not joined the revolt awaited the rebels. Although a few of the civilians who joined the rebels as they marched to what appeared to be certain death survived, all of the tenentes died, save two: Eduardo Gomes, and Siqueira Campos.

The iconic photo of survivors of the initial assault on the Copacabana Fort as they marched along Copacabana to confront the armed forces awaiting them. Only two of these men survived: Siqueira Campos (second from left), and Eduardo Gomes (far left), who would go on to play an important role in politics, participating in the right-wing coup of 1964 and serving as Air Force Minister in the military regime from 1965-1967.

The iconic photo of survivors of the 18 remaining rebels of Copacabana Fort as they marched along Copacabana to confront the armed forces awaiting them. Only two of these men survived: Siqueira Campos (second from left), and Eduardo Gomes (far left), who would go on to play an important role in politics, participating in the right-wing coup of 1964 and serving as the first commander of Brazil’s first Air Force (established in 1942) and ultimately serving as Minister of the Air Force from 1954-55 and again from 1965-1967 (during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985).

In its immediate impact, the Revolt was a failure, as the First Republic and the government of Bernardes remained in place. Yet ultimately, the “Revolt of the 18”  ended up having a profound impact on the trajectory of Brazilian history. Throughout the 1920s, Tenetismo, a politico-military movement, sought to bring an end to the elitism of Brazilian politics through political reforms, including  the secret ballot (which would undermine the machine politics of the rural boss system in Brazil), and educational reform. While Tenetismo would come to mean different things to different people (and even different members within Tenetismo itself) by the 1930s, the fact remained that the 1922 revolt marked the beginning of a movement that ultimately played a key role in undermining the First Republic, perhaps hastening its fall.

As for Siqueira Campos himself, he was gravely wounded in the revolt. Upon recovering, he was imprisoned, but released in 1923 and sent into exile in Montevideo, Uruguay. He returned clandestinely to Brazil in 1924, raiding a garrison in an effort to continue working toward the end of the First Republic.

On July 5, 1924, exactly two years after the Copacabana Revolt, rebels led by retired general Isidoro Dias Lopes launched another revolt, inspired by the 1922 revolt, and again with the goal of bringing down the First Republic. Although this revolt managed to temporarily take São Paulo, by the end of July, they were facing the very real prospect of the government completely exterminating them after a siege. As a result, under the cover of dark, 3,000 rebels escaped the city on July 27-28, escaping even the sieging government forces. With their route blocked, the rebels, led now by Luís Carlos Prestes, effectively formed a guerrilla force in the interior of the country. The group, known as the Prestes Column, remained constantly on the move, suffering losses but avoiding total extermination at the hands of the government, even while entering into folklore for their symbolic armed protest. By the time they escaped into Bolivia in 1927, they had traveled over 25,000 kilometers by foot (roughly 15,500 miles) in the interior of Brazil.

Siqueira Campos joined the Column, eventually becoming the leader of one of four detachments as it attempted to evade capture and marched throughout Brazil’s interior. While the Prestes Column made its way to Bolivia, Siqueira Campos ultimately ended up first in Buenos Aires, where he continued efforts to organize Brazilians who opposed the First Republic and were in exile in Uruguay and Argentina. In order to gain support, he proposed the group turn to the Communist International, but the other leaders – including future Marxist-Leninist Prestes himself – uniformly rejected the proposal.

In 1929, as discontent with the First Republic grew and military rebels and political dissidents formed the Liberal Alliance, Siqueira Campos was selected to lead an uprising in São Paulo. However, before the revolt could take place, the plot became known, and Siqueira Campos once again fled into exile. However the days of the First Republic were limited. By the end of the year, it fell, replaced by the revolutionary movement that brought Getúlio Vargas to power in October 1930.

Despite all of his efforts to bring an end to the First Republic, Siqueira Campos would not actually see the fruits of his efforts. Between the elections of 1930 and October, as the country increasingly mobilized,  Siqueira Campos died when the plane he was traveling from Uruguay to Brazil on crashed in the Rio de la Plata on May 10.  After several days of searching, his body was found. While he did not live to see an end to the First Republic, his military revolt and his subsequent actions played an important role in further undermining the regime’s legitimacy, earning him a number of posthumous honors (including having a subway station in Copacabana named after him) and earning him a place in Brazilian history.

A statue on Copacabana's Avenida Atlântica commemorating the

A statue on Copacabana’s Avenida Atlântica commemorating the “Revolt of the 18.”

Posted in Brazil, Get to Know a Brazilian, Latin American History, Latin American Militaries

Get to Know a Brazilian – Archive

“Get to Know a Brazilian” is part of an ongoing series. For those interested, below is an archive of past posts about significant, if not always well-known, figures in Brazilian history, society, culture, and politics.

Posted in Get to Know a Brazilian