Tuesday, March 9, 2021

OP-ED | 03-02-2018 15:25

An inner court with an image of imperial management

In Brazil, we are again seeing the “core” moving to exclude those not acceptable to the inner court.

There are two sentences that have never left their place in my memory, popping up whenever Brazil and its politics were mentioned. “The move is part of a conservation of Empire. The core acted to preserve the imperial heritage.” It was a remark made by an English language and history teacher in Brazil who was returning to the United Kingdom at the end of his contract and several years in Rio de Janeiro. The conversation happened shortly after General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco (1897-1967) became president, on April 15, 1964. That was the climax of a military takeover in united and staunch opposition to the then-president João Goulart (1918- 1976), son of a wealthy rancher and colonel, promoted from vice-president to Jânio Quadros (1917-1992), a teacher, who had served only a few months in office from January 31 to August 25, 1961. Goulart played too close to the Left and his friendship with Cuba and the Soviet Union was not welcomed by the military at the height of the Cold War. The “core” of the court was composed by the military, by bankers and business (not necessarily land-owners, although a select few among the feudal north-easterners were acceptable) and a smattering of the most decadent who still brandished hereditary titles of an antiquated nobility, all of whom operated in a sort of union to protect their interests by upholding the existence, real or not, of a kind of supreme imperial authority. If that interpretation is in any measure acceptable in this second decade of the 21st century, we are again seeing the “core” moving to exclude those not acceptable to the inner court. However, we have moved on from military coups to manipulation by the higher echelons of the Judiciary and business, with the Army represented as well. The history of Brazil starts with an imperial court and two emperors, father and son, Pedro I and II, who together spanned the 19th century. The Portuguese empire and the capital of Portugal were established in Rio de Janeiro after a British fleet, including officers such as Lord Cochrane (later active in Chile, Peru and Brazil again), helped remove Queen María and the Braganza family with a court of about 15,000 people from Lisbon in November, 1807. The evacuation took place just three days before Napoleonic forces invaded, as they had already seized Spain. King Ferdinand VII of Spain was imprisoned in France the following year. The top Braganzas probably saw similar in store if they stayed in Europe. Also, such a defeat was not welcome to Westminster. Rio de Janeiro remained the capital of Portugal for 13 years. The second emperor, Dom Pedro II, reigned for 58 years. He was removed in 1889 by a group of military officers who, seeing that their coup was deeply unpopular, tried to bring the emperor back to power. A benevolent man, interested in economic and scientific advancement, and an advocate of a republican parliament and such things as freedom of the press, he refused to return to his throne and died in Paris 1891. Thus the theory present from that time on in the politics of Brazil, or rather, Rio de Janeiro, have at times appeared to function as those of an imperial centre even if there were no emperors or successors of the last Dom Pedro. Locally grown dictators were to be favoured. Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954) rose to power as from 1930 after a series of civilian-military clashes, and launched the most complex quarter-century of politics in modern Brazil. He was a neo-Fascist, a right-wing nationalist, the founder of populism, a democrat, a political reformer (he gave women the vote) and he took Brazil to war in 1942 (Argentina declared in March 1945). He was also the clearest example of Brazil’s preference and reliance on a strong leader. In 1954, still in office, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Some analysts argue that it was Vargas’ suicide that delayed a military takeover for the next 10 years, until 1964. But in the decade between suicide and military subversion, a gallery of great names came and went. There was Juscelino Kubitschek, who governed from 1956 to 1961 and saw the making of the vast project that was Brasilia. And then came Quadros, and Goulart, of course. Then the military spent over 20 years in government, very unlike Argentina where the Armed Forces left a bankrupt and defaulting nation to Raúl Alfonsín. Brazil had a similarity with the more successful economy left by Augusto Pinochet in Chile. That’s not to excuse any of the three regimes from their political vulgarity and their savagery. The transfer of power did not happen as planned though because the winning candidate, Tancredo Neves, then 75, perhaps the nearest to an heir to the governments of Getúlio Vargas, died on the eve of the inauguration after the failure of more than half-a-dozen intestinal surgeries. His vice-president, José Sarney, now a rosy 87, had to take office, a post for which he was not prepared according to the contemporary political jokes and jibes. A novelist as well as politician, he made a reasonable presidency, handing office to the later disgraced Fernando Collor de Mello, succeeded by the academically brilliant Fernando Henrique Cardoso. That is when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, now 73, and afterwards Dilma Vana Rouseff, 72, come in, constituting in a way the heirs to Vargas’ two Labour parties. That is when the establishment reacted. The impeachment of Rouseff was a coup generated by the inner court, which has reacted strongly. And the coup-plus reaction does not simply hinge on the alleged corruption. Corruption in the Brazilian establishment is different to ours in Argentina (a population 44 million strong). Here we have seen massive swindles but with the cash funnelled into personal pockets. The robbery, if proved, in Brazil (population 207 million) goes mainly to party coffers, and a relative portion into private pockets. The inner court reacted against the strengthening of a rival establishment. So much for political theory

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Andrew Graham-Yooll

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).


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