On August 25, 1961, seven months after taking office as President of Brazil, Jânio Quadros (1917-1992) resigned and threw the country into an institutional crisis and, according to analysts, paved the way for the coup d’état of 1964. In spite of various versions of the reasons that led Quadros to resign from office, his real motives remain obscure. Journalist Joel Silveira reported how the former president liked to invite him to do an interview and, when asked about his resignation, “he would take a sip of whisky, pause for a long time and then say: ‘Joel, I’ll tell you,’ and then give me a different version every time.” “The barely convincing nature of the reasons has led various experts to believe that the resignation was really an attempt to carry out a coup d’état. The obscure nature of the episode was always of interest to Jânio himself, who used it to rekindle the mystique of the fair, inflexible man: “I’d rather break rather than bend.” Thus, he was able to take advantage of the resignation, re-interpreting and reinforcing the heroic side of his persona that, “beaten,” promised to return one day to fight the powerful,” points out political scientist Maria Teresa Sadek, research director at the Brazilian Center for Legal Studies and Research, professor of the Political Sciences Department at the University of São Paulo (USP), and author of the study A trajetória política de Jânio Quadros [The political path of Jânio Quadros].
‘He created an individual political marketing model that still attracts and influences many Brazilian politicians. It was a new and very personal political leadership style that followed a marketing model comprised of a system of communication based on self-enhancement, on accusations of administrative irregularities, on contempt of Congress and politics, and on the systematic use of the press, mixed with a discourse that seduced various sectors of society. However, when he took this style to the Presidency, showing contempt for the Legislative Power and appointing political party members to take on political appointments, the system had already changed. The legislative branch of government had gained strength and the executive branch had become isolated – an unfavorable political moment to run the country as he would have liked,” says political scientist Vera Chaia, coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Arts, Media and Politics of the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and author of A liderança política de Jânio Quadros [The political leadership of Jânio Quadros] (Humanidades publishing house). “The most important thing is to understand that the reign of the broom [Jânio’s political symbol] paved the way for domination by the sword. Jânio’s political platform ” “to govern is to penalize” transformed the country into a huge Inquisition barracks. His administration was instrumental in strengthening the role of the Armed Forces, as was the aftermath of the 1964 coup d’état. His style and his resignation also helped to demoralize the voting process and democratic participation. The misleading belief that the “people do not know how to vote” became an ideological weapon to instill in the people a negative perception of their political rights as citizens. If your vote is worthless, then why bother voting?” analyzes sociologist Maria Victoria Benevides, a senior professor at the School of Education of USP and author of O governo Jânio Quadros [The Jânio Quadros Administration] (Brasiliense publishing house). Jânio died without ever having explained the reasons behind his resignation. The closest clue we have is an alleged conversation with his grandson, Jânio Quadros Neto, when he was on his deathbed; this was revealed by the grandson in 1996, in Jânio Quadros: memorial à história do Brasil [Jânio Quadros: a memorial to the history of Brazil] (Rideel publishing house): “My resignation was to have been based on connections. I never expected it to be really accepted. I resigned from running for the Presidency in 1960 and my resignation at that time was not accepted. I returned with more strength and vigor. The act in August 1961 was a political strategy that didn’t succeed. It was also the biggest political mistake in the republican history of the country. It was the biggest mistake that I ever made. I resigned on Soldier’s Day because I wanted to raise the awareness of the military and get their support. At that time, Jango was not accepted by the elite and I believed that everybody would beg me to stay. I wanted to create a political climate and I thought that the people and the military would go to the streets to clamor for my return. Brazilians are very passive; nobody reacted. Terrible forces were the factors that controlled the abused democracy that governed Brazil at the time. Undoubtedly Congress was the worst element. I was a mayor and a state governor and I was able to deal with the legislative branch. I thought Brasilia would have continuity, but that pressure is nothing compared with the Presidency.”
Is this true or merely the one of the “versions’ after a shot of whisky” Perhaps, 50 years after the resignation, it might be more important to understand the “Jânio” phenomenon, its consequences and, above all, the permanent nature of the values that he exploited so skillfully and that are still part of the Brazilian political persona. “His total disregard for political parties and for the commitments related to public service reflects qualities that are still valued socially and raise the hopes that a courageous, independent leader might someday be willing to head a veritable redemptive crusade. This diagnosis of Brazilian society, of the existence of a ‘moral crisis,’ is quite persuasive,” points out Maria Teresa. “Jânio’s strength lay in how he simplified the political world, how he divided this world between good and bad, and the apparent efficiency of moral solutions. He held the politicians and the ‘sharks’ responsible for all the misfortunes of the past and present, and thus he seemed to differ from the familiar models.”
The recent study A desconfiança dos cidadãos nas instituições democráticas [The suspicion of citizens concerning democratic institutions], coordinated by the political scientist José Álvaro Moisés with the support of FAPESP, reveals, for example, that nearly two-thirds of Brazilians mistrust Congress, politicians, and governments. “Political parties and Congress are deeply discredited in the eyes of the people. This reinforces the Brazilian tradition of personalizing political relationships, where individual political leaders stand above institutions of representation. Nowadays, there is an overall preference for a ‘democracy without Congress and without political parties’ in Brazil. The consequences are already visible in some Latin American countries, where the administrations that have the support of the masses are personalistic, with figures that broaden their legitimacy through direct attacks on political parties and on Parliament,” says Moisés. “The populist manipulation of political corruption as the central theme of political debate in a country that lacks in-depth public discussions on fundamental collective choices is a specific Brazilian trait,” points out sociologist Jessé Souza, from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora and author of Democracia e subjetividade [Democracy and subjectivity] (Liberdade de Expressão).
“Morality was the fundamental appeal of Jânio’s discourse. It was translated into the accusation that politics was all about ‘political cronyism’ and political parties were viewed as gangs interested only in the handouts of the State. Jânio even attacked his own political party. He always claimed that he was independent and loyal only to his principles,” Maria Teresa points out. According to the researcher, ever since his election to the mayor’s office in 1953, he always portrayed himself as someone who was above good and evil, with the strength to fight “evil.” “He let people glimpse the model of an atomized society, without any kind of political party arrangement; it was enough for such a society to have a leader who was strong enough to eliminate evil. He didn’t have a government program and based his political platform on ‘honesty and work,’ promising to sweep away corruption and to moralize the administration,” explains Maria Teresa. “Early on, from his days as a city councilman in 1947, he started to create an image of a different politician. At that time, his political platform attracted sectors of the working class. He would visit low-income neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, always with journalists tagging along. The journalists would document these visits so that he could use this material for his speeches at the City Council,” says Vera. “Jânio was always in the newspaper headlines. When there were no political facts to make headline news, he would very skillfully create them – either by sending ‘notes’ or by wearing unusual clothes when he was in the Presidential Office. His agenda was full of earth-shaking measures, even measures for issues the government has no business to meddle in – such as cockfights, ethyl chloride spray, and bikinis – but these measures always found their way to the headlines. He even established morality rules for beauty pageants,” says Maria Teresa. “This was a kind of moralistic attitude that makes no distinction between public and private; at the same time, his political platform praised conservative morality and preached public morality based on rational and modern rules. This was an ambiguous morality in terms of the gap between the discourse and the practice,” Vera Chaia adds.
Meanwhile, Jânio’s speeches conveyed the message that politicians and political parties were inefficient and unnecessary, and that “good politics” should be exercised by people with no commitment to ideologies. “Jânio’s authoritarian, moralistic and personified style evoked a ‘right-wing populism’ with military characteristics; it was anti-congress and associated with big business. It was aimed at ‘all classes and the entire nation,’ which ultimately diluted the meaning of people and mass. It meant not only the demise of the political party system but also contradiction being taken to its most extreme condition, ultimately turning against itself” says Maria Victoria Benevides. Vera Chaia points out that the core of Jânio’s political platform was the strong presence of government authority, which was confused and identified with the ideas and actions of a single man to whom the power to organize, decide and see to the compliance with the law was conferred, while respecting the laws in a singular manner, the unmistakable imprint of personal will. “In this context, the political party system and Congress are elements that cause a disturbance; plurality is not to be tolerated, as it would legitimize attitudes such as those of the left wing,” says Vera. Instead of political parties, Jânio had his administrative staff, the support group that accepted the fact that power was concentrated in the hands of the leader. The administrative staff established the relationship between the political parties, the press, other centers of power, and society at large. “Everything was concentrated in an authoritarian exercise of power, based on the view of Brazilian society as a disorganized entity incapable of organizing itself on the basis of the movements of civil society and of public opinion. Such a situation presumably called for strong government authority. Jânio viewed politics as an administrative technique, guided by pragmatic criteria of efficiency, and conceived anti-politically.”
The noteworthy element in Jânio’s rise to power is how he benefited from Brazilian society’s development following the accomplishments of Juscelino Kubitscheck’s administration. “The development that occurred during the Juscelino Kubitscheck administration raised the awareness of social groups to requirements expressed not only in public works or jobs, but also in the effective broadening of the limits of political participation,” points out Maria Victoria. “There was growing political dissatisfaction among various social sectors as to the high cost of living; these sectors had already awakened to political participation and to the possibility of voicing their discontent, thanks to the results of development embraced by a politically open government,” she adds. This discontent, however, did not translate into “hope of personal protection” but, rather, into a desire for justice, because what these sectors wanted was the opportunity to work and to get the corresponding merit; they expected no favors.
“This idea of justice is permeated by a moralistic content. Those who voted for Jânio believed that corruption was the biggest problem in society and that to fight corruption it was enough to have a leader willing to sweep corruption away, to engage in a crusade of redemption,” Maria Teresa points out. “This sweeping away, however, involved various versions of ‘dirt.’ It could be the ‘dirt of corruption´- or the – dirt of the plebs’ wanting to show off despite all its ‘dirt,’ to participate, to demand, to ‘soil’ the stage,” Maria Victoria points out. Therefore, at the same time that Jânio was the advocate of the tostão contra o milhão (a penny up against a million), and was the man who ate baloney sandwiches at political rallies, some of them held by candlelight, he was also the man who, from the earliest stages of his political career, was financially supported by the big corporations, especially the pharmaceutical and media industries. He also counted on the support of such powerful rural landowners as Auro de Moura Andrade.
According to analysts, the same could be said of his boldest political move, which was his independent foreign policy, focused on achieving closer contact with socialist countries. This provided his enemies – such as Carlos Lacerda – with ammunition. “He wanted to court the leftists by giving them a Trojan horse and he embarked upon arguments with the Church, the military and the country’s more conservative sectors with no need for this and deriving no benefit from it,” says Benevides. He sent the Dantas Mission to Eastern Europe while also dispatching ambassador Roberto Campos to Western Europe and ambassador Walter Moreira Salles to the United States, in order to negotiate debts and raise loans, as well as to assure Brazil’s allies that Brazil would remain in the capitalist block. “Forced to comply with the demands of the IMF and convinced that the United States , because of the Cuban crisis, would be more benevolent when confronted by a situation of international urgency, Jânio did what he could to create alarm about the direction his government was going in and thus increase Brazil’s bargaining power at the negotiating table,” wrote sociologist Carlos Estevam Martins in his article Brasil-Estados Unidos dos anos 60 aos 70 [Brazil-United States in the 1960s and 1970s] (Cadernos Cebrap).
In the same opportunistic manner, as president, Jânio tried to replicate the formulas that had been successful during his stints in government in São Paulo, and during his participation in national politics. ‘He wanted to be independent in relation to those who supported him. This quickly led to disagreements with the UDN political party, which had concentrated Lacerda’s fire power on Jânio’s administration. The clear dissonance between his domestic and foreign policies stirred discontent among the leftists and the rightists. Most of the political community felt abandoned, betrayed, and unable to control the President’s idiosyncrasies. This feeling, however, was not shared by the population, and Jânio’s popularity among most Brazilians was very high,” says Maria Teresa. This was the result of Jânio’s strategy, which worked even better with progress. “Because he was based in Brasília [he was the first president to take office in the new capital city], contact with people and outdoor political rallies became unfeasible. Therefore, to communicate with the people, Jânio resorted to the mass media: radio and television,” says Vera. However, this never resulted in the mass movements that he expected when he resigned from office; the only result was the serious damage done to national democracy. “His contempt for institutions, especially for Congress, and his exaggerated respect for the military: might those have been the major factors that unleashed the crisis that would be ‘resolved’ in 1964, when a repressive, authoritarian and revengeful regime took over” The president’s responsibility – the fact that he resigned – in this outcome cannot be denied. He wanted to govern without political parties. He wanted to govern with the support of the military. Jânio’s authoritarian individualism, his Bonaparte-like style, the moralistic views that resumed the issue of a military takeover – which had been minimized during the second half of the JK government – contributed to the coup d’état” says Maria Victoria. “He consolidated military intervention in the political scenario; he exacerbated the far right, which organized itself and was mobilized on account of Jânio’s foreign policy. Finally, Jânio’s resignation radicalized the popular sectors and the leftists, whose demands for social transformations had not been met. All of these elements overburdened the Goulart government with demands that were unsustainable for the oligarchical society of the time,” the researcher adds. As Vera Chaia pointed out, Jânio’s political platform may have disappeared with Jânio’s demise, but its influence still raises the issue that concludes the research study on Brazil today by Álvaro Moisés: “Might not this process of progressive de-legitimizing of representative democracy’s basic institutions be used, in the medium and the long term, to fuel anti-democratic alternatives?”
A desconfiança dos cidadãos nas instituições democráticas (nº 2004/07952-8); Type Thematic Research Grant; Coordinator José Álvaro Moisés – USP; Investment R$ 224,161.00
MARTINS, C. E. Brasil-Estados Unidos: dos anos 60 aos 70. Cadernos Cebrap. n. 9. 1975.