When Public Anger & Political Frustration Ignore History

As readers of this blog know, I’ve written extensively about the Brazilian military dictatorship from a variety of angles, including how the military came to power amidst civilian calls for the military to remove constitutional president João Goulart. The idea of military intervention was not new, as the military had previously interjected itself into presidential politics with various levels of success or failure in 1889, 1930, 1937, 1945, 1954, 1955, and 1961. However, the military intervention of 1964 led to a dictatorship that employed torture, killed “subversives,” and repressed those who questioned it. In short, the last time Brazil turned to the military to “solve” its problems, the military ended up ruling through dictatorship, relying on the institutional use of repression to murder hundreds, torture thousands, and exile tens of thousands more, even while implementing economic policies that caused very real long-term harm to much of Brazilian society.

Which is why it is still baffling to see something like this in 2013. Yes, they claim that “We do not support dictatorship. We do not support any type of violence. We don’t defend torturers.” So presumably, they think a military intervention in 2014 would be different than the one fifty years earlier (and even if it’s coincidental, the symbolism of calling for a military coup fifty years after the last one is not exactly encouraging). Yet this is either naive, willfully ignorant, or trolling, plain and simple. Once military officials take office, there’s little ability to force them to leave, as Brazilians learned in the 1960s; the middle classes and conservative elites who’d called for military intervention expected the military to leave power quickly, once things had “stabilized.” When it became clear that military leaders like Artur Costa e Silva had no intention of doing so, the public had little to force the military out.

And if one is tired of the violence in the streets, turning to a military institution of any color is not exactly the means to peace. Indeed, though a small number of vandals have marred the demonstrations, an overwhelming majority of the demonstrators have been peaceful, while it has been the military police [a militarized police force] that have been behind an overwhelming and disproportionate use of violence against civilians in the streets. It is hard to see why further relying on militarization will suddenly bring an end to that violence.

And perhaps somewhat ironically, the facebook page itself says that comments from people who don’t like the page will be deleted. You know…censorship. Like the kinds that military governments have used not just during Brazil’s military dictatorship, but in military interventions like the creation of the Estado Novo in 1937, or in military interventions regimes throughout the region throughout the 20th century.

The hypocrisy, ignorance, and disregard for Brazilian history makes me think this page really is just trolling. But even if it is, the worst part is that it is still contributing a dangerous discourse that views the military as salvationary, and some people will take that idea seriously, even if the page’s creators don’t (and there’s nothing to indicate they don’t). Either way, as Brazil in particular and Latin America more generally in the 20th century repeatedly demonstrated, turning to the military for political intervention was repeatedly damaging to political stability, democracy (in various forms), and human rights. That such ideas are still floating around in the 21st century is just shameful.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Brazil's Military Dictatorship, Coups in Latin America, Democracy in the Americas, Governance in Latin America, Human Rights Issues, Latin American Militaries, Police Violence, Protests in Latin America, Social Movements, Torture. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When Public Anger & Political Frustration Ignore History

  1. One of the commentators from Dailykos thinks that the part of the populace that’s anti Worker’s Party is doing a cacerolazo in the midst of all this. He thinks that given that conservative parties can not win, anti-WP partisans are hiding behind a nonpartisan sentiment.

    I think that if anything like that is true, they will be sorry. Not so much about the crazy golpist sentiment, but that they have to protest basically on social democratic premises in order to get rid of a social democrat. Whatever their ulterior purposes are, they can only win if they get their states purposes accomplished. All else are nightmares.

  2. It may be, but they’d have to be very quiet about it – the protesters have been excluding/expelling anybody who has carried political party flags/banners from any part of the spectrum, and many signs say this is about non-partisan issues. Indeed, Congress is split between a variety of parties and dependent on coalition-forming, and it’s also a major target of public anger, without any particular party or politician being the subject of targeting (especially given how easily politicians can and do jump parties). Though it could change, it really does seem thus far that this isn’t so much about anti-PT/Dilma sentiment in and of itself, and about broader social issues that have not changed much in spite of ten years of PT governments in the executive. So to put it another way, I think PT, as the “face” of government in many ways, is indeed subject to its fair share of criticisms, but it’s not necessarily a move to get rid of the PT (especially since that could be accomplished in elections next year), but instead to make clear to ALL parties that the people are tired of the traditional politics and what they perceive to be the corruption that mars politics at the national level at the expense of the citizenry.

    • And to follow up that last comment, I just saw that in Sao Paulo, protesters are chanting against Renan Calheiros, president of the Senate (in spite of no fewer than four investigations into ethics violations during his time in Congress) and from the very large, centrist PMDB party. So this isn’t just about the PT or Dilma, but about the broader long-term political culture at the highest levels of government.

  3. Great stuff! that’s exactly what’s all about.

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