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The Coup – Beyond the Images

Questions and hypotheses from hundreds of historians and social scientists form the fundamental avenues along which knowledge of the history of the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-1985 is gained

Army tanks en route to Laranjeiras Palace, in Rio de Janeiro, on April 1, 1964

File photo / O Globo News AgencyArmy tanks en route to Laranjeiras Palace, in Rio de Janeiro, on April 1, 1964File photo / O Globo News Agency

The immediate circumstances that defined the military-civilian coup of March 31,1964 have been described to the point of exhaustion, and generous portions of their most emblematic images have not only been served up to public opinion by various media and with different focuses in recent weeks, but remain on the Internet at the disposal of anyone who would like to access them more slowly, at a more personal reflective pace. Among those images is the black-and-white footage of São Paulo Senator Auro Soares de Moura Andrade, president of the National Congress, declaring in the wee hours of April 2 that the office of the President of the Republic was now vacant—even though João Goulart, the constitutional president of Brazil, was still in the country. That statement was made during a tumultuous legislative session in which the insults directed by Minas Gerais Senator Tancredo Neves to his São Paulo colleague were clearly heard, as were the repeated shouts of golpista that came from someone in another part of the chamber. A little later, people looked on in confusion as Deputy Rogê Ferreira spat in Moura Andrade’s face before the latter left the chamber and went to the Planalto Palace to swear in Chamber of Deputies President Ranieri Mazzilli as President of Brazil. Equally emblematic are the images of Army tanks occupying downtown Rio de Janeiro or the Praça de Três Poderes in Brasília or, days later, those of wounded Communist Party leader Gregório Bezerra being physically dragged by soldiers through the streets of Recife.

Dictatorship special issue

In recent decades, however, researchers in human and social sciences in Brazil, restricting themselves to their own fields and to that end, also resorting, and legitimately so, to other reliable sources, have attempted to go beyond the images to learn more about and decipher the 1964 coup and the 21 years of dictatorship that followed it. Historians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, economists, and jurists formulated the questions that they believed crucial, suggested hypotheses, and launched studies. From their work flowed certain broad questions that seem to form the fundamental avenues along which knowledge of the history of the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-1985 is gained. Some approaches are more opaque, while others produce somewhat tenuous answers that require further investigation. Among these broad questions are: 1. What was the true nature of the 1964 coup and who were its agents; 2. What legal and institutional orders enabled the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-1985 to function differently from other dictatorships in the Americas; 3. How did the dictatorship insert itself organically into the history of Brazil; 4. What have been the impacts of the dictatorship on Brazilian society, its institutions, and its economic development; and 5. What have been the effects of the dictatorship on Brazilian culture and cultural production.

army troops in front of the National Congress on 1964, 2

File photo / O Globo News AgencyArmy troops in front of the National Congress on April 2, 1964File photo / O Globo News Agency

First, taking advantage of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 coup to enter the vast, dense thicket of research guided by those approaches, and determined to bring to light the most significant findings produced to date in this complex and controversial field that generates such a variety of passions, Pesquisa FAPESP has from the outset relied on several guides whose assistance is essential to the journey: historians Maria Helena Capelato and Marcos Napolitano, both of the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP); sociologist Angela Alonso and historian Miriam Dolhnikoff, of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap); sociologist Marcelo Ridenti, of the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences of the University of Campinas (IFCH-Unicamp); and political scientist Glenda Mezarobba, of FAPESP, currently detailed to the National Truth Commission (CNV), who also helped produce the material. Based on their orientation, dozens of researchers were consulted and helped compile the special Pesquisa FAPESP report on the 50-year anniversary of the 1964 coup that is presented on the following pages.

Senator Auro Moura Andrade declares the office of the President of the Republic to be vacant (1) observed by a perplexed Tancredo Neves (2).  Doutel de Andrade, who had read aloud the communiqué from Jango, protests at the microphone (3). Deputy Ernani do Amaral Peixoto chats confidentially, seated at left (4). Moura Andrade announces that Ranieri Mazzilli will take over as President of the Republic (5) and Almino Afonso, Jango’s labor minister, objecting, protests (6).

reproductions from YouTube Senator Auro Moura Andrade declares the office of the President of the Republic to be vacant (1) observed by a perplexed Tancredo Neves (2). Doutel de Andrade, who had read aloud the communiqué from Jango, protests at the microphone (3). Deputy Ernani do Amaral Peixoto chats confidentially, seated at left (4). Moura Andrade announces that Ranieri Mazzilli will take over as President of the Republic (5) and Almino Afonso, Jango’s labor minister, objecting, protests (6).reproductions from YouTube

 

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