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.
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.
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.