1964 Brazilian coup d'état

1964 Brazilian coup d'état
Part of the Cold War

Tanks in front of the National Congress patrol the Monumental Axis after the coup d'état.
DateMarch 31 – April 1, 1964
Result João Goulart government overthrown;
Military Junta assumed power.
Brazil Brazilian Government

Brazil Brazilian Armed Forces:

Brazil Military reserve force:

Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
Brazil João Goulart Brazil Humberto Castelo Branco
Brazil Artur da Costa e Silva

The 1964 Brazilian coup d'état (Portuguese: Golpe de estado no Brasil em 1964 or, more colloquially, Golpe de 64) was a series of events in Brazil, from March 31 to April 1, that led to the overthrow of President João Goulart by part of the Armed Forces, supported by the United States government.[1][2] The following day, with the military already in control of the country, Congress came in support of the coup and endorsed it by declaring vacant the office of the presidency.[3] The coup put an end to the government of Goulart, also known as Jango, a member of the Brazilian Labour Party, who had been democratically elected Vice President in the same election that led conservative Jânio Quadros, from the National Labour Party and backed by the National Democratic Union to the presidency.

Quadros resigned in 1961, the same year of his inauguration, in a clumsy political maneuver to increase his popularity. According to the constitution then in force, enacted in 1946, Goulart should have automatically replaced Quadros as president, but he was on a diplomatic trip to the People's Republic of China. A moderate nationalist, Goulart was accused of being a communist by right-wing militants, and was unable to take office. After a long negotiation, led mainly by Tancredo Neves, Goulart's supporters and the right-wing reached an agreement under which the parliamentary system would replace the presidential system in the country, where Goulart would be named head of state, and Neves would be named Prime Minister.

In 1963, however, Goulart successfully re-established the presidential system through a referendum. He finally took office as president with full powers, and during his rule several problems in Brazilian politics became evident, as well as disputes in the context of the Cold War, which helped destabilize his government. His Basic Reforms Plan (Reformas de Base), which aimed at socializing the profits of large companies towards ensuring a better quality of life for most Brazilians, was labelled as a "socialist threat" by the military and right-wing sectors of the society, which organized major demonstrations against the government in the Marches of the Family with God for Freedom (Marchas da Família com Deus pela Liberdade).[4]

The coup subjected Brazil to a military regime politically aligned to the interests of the United States government.[5] This regime would last until 1985, when Tancredo Neves was indirectly elected the first civilian President of Brazil since the 1960 elections.

Conspiracy against Jango

Goulart and wife Maria Teresa during the March 13, 1964, speech

Jânio Quadros resigned on August 25, 1961.[6] At the time of his resignation, João Goulart was in the People's Republic of China on a foreign relations trip. On August 29, the Brazilian Congress heard and vetoed a motion to stop Goulart from being named president, brought by the heads of the three branches of the military and some politicians, who claimed Goulart's inauguration would place the country "on the road to civil war".[7] A compromise was reached: Brazil would become a parliamentary democracy, with Goulart as President. As such, he would be head of state, but with limited powers of head of government. Tancredo Neves was named as the new prime minister. On January 6, 1963, Goulart successfully changed the system of government back to presidential democracy in a referendum won by a large margin. Goulart found himself back in power with a rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation.[7] During this period, Goulart was politically isolated, with a foreign policy which was independent of any alignment (he openly criticized the Bay of Pigs invasion by the US, but criticized the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis).[4] The country's economic situation deteriorated rapidly, with attempts at stabilizing the currency being financed by aid packages from the International Monetary Fund. His failure to secure foreign investment and curb domestic inflation put the country in a difficult situation with exacerbated social conflicts.[7] On March 13, 1964, Goulart gave a speech where he promised to nationalize the country's oil refineries, as well as carry out "basic reforms" including rent controls. This was followed by a large demonstration on March 19, where a conservative group marched on Praça da Sé, São Paulo, in a demonstration called "March of Families for God and Freedom" against Goulart and his policies.[8]

The Sailors' Revolt

The friction between the military and Goulart boiled over with his intervention in a revolt by sailors of the Brazilian Navy led by José Anselmo dos Santos, historically known as Cabo Anselmo, and later exposed as an agent provocateur. On March 25, 1964, nearly 2,000 sailors assembled in Rio de Janeiro, petitioning for better living conditions and pledging their support for Goulart's reforms. The Minister of the Navy, Sílvio Mota, ordered the arrest of the sailors leading the assembly. Mota sent a detachment of marines to arrest the leaders and break up the assembly, led by Rear Admiral Cândido Aragão. These marines ended up joining the assembly and remained with the other sailors.[9] Shortly after Aragão's refusal to arrest the leaders, Goulart issued orders prohibiting any invasion of the assembly location (the headquarters of the local metalworker's union), and sacked Sílvio Mota as Minister of the Navy. The following day, March 26, the Minister of Labor, Amauri Silva, negotiated a compromise, and the sailors agreed to leave the assembly building. They were promptly arrested for mutiny.[10] Goulart pardoned the sailors shortly after, creating a public rift with the military.[4] Soon after, on March 30, 1964, the day before the coup, Goulart gave a speech to a gathering of sergeants, where he asked for the military's support for his reforms.[4]

The coup

Soldiers guarding the Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro on March 31, 1964.

The run-up

The coup was foreseen by both pro- and anti-Goulart forces. In Rio de Janeiro, Leonel Brizola, a Goulart ally (and brother-in-law), had organized as far back as in October 1963 so-called "Groups of Eleven", or groups of eleven people who would work in supporting Goulart's reforms,[11] but could theoretically be converted to a form of militia to defend Goulart's presidency.[12] On the other side, on March 20, 1964, some 10 days before the coup, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, chief of staff for the army, circulated a letter to the highest echelons of the military warning of the dangers of communism.[13] On March 30, the American military attaché in Brazil, Colonel Vernon A. Walters, telegraphed the State Department. In that telegraph, he confirmed that Brazilian army generals had committed themselves to acting against Goulart within a week of the meeting, but no date was set.[14]

March 31

Generals Antônio Carlos Muricy (left), commander of the 7th Military Region and Olímpio Mourão Filho (right), commander of the 4th Military Region.

In the early hours of March 31, 1964, General Olímpio Mourão Filho, Commander of the 4th Military Region, headquartered in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, ordered his troops to start moving towards Rio de Janeiro.[15] The move was not coordinated with the other main generals in the plot, namely General Amaury Kruel of the 2nd Army (based in São Paulo) and Castello Branco, the deposed army chief of staff. The troop movement took them by surprise, as they felt it was too soon for a successful coup. Less than two hours after receiving news of Mourão's march, Kruel was reported saying "This is nothing more than a quartelada (military adventure, from quartel, the Portuguese for "barracks") by General Mourão, and I will not join it."[16] In the morning, Castello Branco would twice try to stop Mourão's march on Rio. At the same time, news of the march had reached General Argemiro Assis Brasil, João Goulart's military aide, who felt confident he could put the rebellion down.[17] As the day progressed, minor revolts and military actions ensued, such as Castello Branco's barricades at the Ministry of War building, and at the Escola de Comando do Estado Maior, in Rio de Janeiro. Despite this, the crucial support needed for the coup (that of General Kruel's 2nd Army) had not yet been implemented.[18] At around 10:00PM, General Kruel called João Goulart. In the call, Kruel asked the president to break with the left-wing by sacking his Minister of Justice and Chief of Staff and outlaw the Comando Geral dos Trabalhadores (Worker's General Command), a major workers' organization. Goulart replied that doing so would be a humiliating defeat for him, making him a "decorative president". Goulart told Kruel: "General, I don't abandon my friends. (...) I would rather stick with my grassroots. You should stick to your convictions. Put your troops out on the street and betray me, publicly."[19]

General Amaury Kruel, of São Paulo's 2nd Army

After the 10:00PM call, Kruel called Goulart two more times, repeating his demands, and receiving the same answer from Goulart.[20] Goulart's attempt to countermand the Generals was disastrous. Two of his three military chiefs of staff were out of action for various reasons. His personal military aide was a newly promoted Brigadier General, General Assis Brasil. His greatest base of military support was located in his native Southern Brazil. His reaction, orchestrated by Assis Brasil, consisted of shifting a general from the southern 3rd Army to the southeast, to replace Castello Branco (he never arrived). Of his other generals, in the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, four were on vacation, while two others were returning to their posts in Curitiba when they were forced to land in Porto Alegre due to bad weather, and thus away from their commands.[20]

April 1

On April 1, at 12:45PM, João Goulart left Rio for the capital, Brasília, in an attempt to stop the coup.[21] At the same time, General Kruel and the 2nd Army began to march towards the Vale do Paraíba, between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.[22] In the southeast, only the 1st Army, commanded by General Âncora and based in Rio de Janeiro, had not enlisted in the coup. General Artur da Costa e Silva called Âncora and demanded his surrender. Âncora replied he would honor a promise to Jango and first meet to discuss the situation with General Kruel, who was marching in his direction. The meeting would take place later in the day at the Academia Militar de Agulhas Negras, in Resende, between Rio and São Paulo. At that meeting, Âncora surrendered the 1st Army.[23] Goulart had no military support outside of the south. When he reached Brasília, Goulart realized he lacked any political support. The Senate president, Auro Moura Andrade, was already articulating for congressional support of the coup. Goulart stayed for a short time in Brasília, gathering his wife and two children, and flying to Porto Alegre in an Air Force Avro 748 aircraft. Soon after Goulart departed, Auro Moura Andrade declared the position of President of Brazil "vacant".[24] Altogether seven people would die during the events of April 1. Casualties included two students who were shot amidst a demonstration against the troops encircling the Governor's palace in Recife, three in Rio and two in Minas Gerais.[25]


In the early hours of April 2, Auro Moura de Andrade, along with the president of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, swore in Pascoal Ranieri Mazzilli, the speaker of the house, as president. This move was arguably unconstitutional at the time, as João Goulart was still in the country.[25] At the same time, Goulart, now in the headquarters of the 3rd Army in Porto Alegre (which was still loyal to him at the time), contemplated resistance and counter-moves with Leonel Brizola, who argued for armed resistance. In the morning, General Floriano Machado informed the president that troops loyal to the coup were moving from Curitiba to Porto Alegre, and that he had to leave the country, risking arrest otherwise. At 11:45AM, Jango boarded a Douglas C-47 transport for his farm bordering Uruguay. Goulart would stay at his farm until April 4, when he finally boarded the plane for the last time, heading for Montevideo.[26] Mazzilli would continue as president while the generals jockeyed for power. On April 11, 1964, General Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco was elected President by the National Congress. Upon taking power, Castello Branco promised to "deliver, in 1966, to my successor legitimately elected by the people, a united nation." In 1967, he delivered what journalist Elio Gaspari dubbed "a fractured nation" to a president elected by 295 people.[27]

Within two years, in accord with concessions promised to the U.S. government for its financial support of the overthrow, foreign companies gained control of about half of Brazilian industry. This was often accomplished through combined fiscal and monetary measures, "constructive bankruptcy" that caused the choice of selling out or going broke. By 1971, of the 19 of Brazil's 27 largest companies that were not state owned, 14 were foreign-owned.[28]

US involvement

LBJ receives briefing on Brazil.
Lyndon B. Johnson receiving briefing on events in Brazil on March 31, 1964, on his Texas ranch with Undersecretary of State George Ball and Assistant Secretary for Latin America, Thomas C. Mann. Ball briefs Johnson on the status of military moves in Brazil to overthrow the government of João Goulart.

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The US ambassador at the time, Lincoln Gordon, and the military attaché, Colonel Vernon A. Walters, kept in constant contact with President Lyndon B. Johnson as the crisis progressed. Johnson urged taking action to support the overthrow of João Goulart by the military, as action against the "left-wing" Jango government.[29]

Operation Brother Sam

Declassified transcripts of communications between Lincoln Gordon and the US government show that, predicting an all-out civil war, and with the opportunity to get rid of a left wing government in Brazil, Johnson authorized logistical materials to be in place and a US Navy fleet led by an aircraft carrier to support the coup against Goulart. These included ammunition, motor oil, gasoline, aviation gasoline and other materials to help in a potential civil war in US Navy tankers sailing from Aruba. About 110 tons of ammunition and CS gas were made ready in New Jersey for a potential airlift to Viracopos Airport in Campinas. Potential support was also made available in the form of an "aircraft carrier (USS Forrestal) and two guided missile destroyers (expected arrive in area by April 10), (and) four destroyers", which sailed to Brazil under the guise of a military exercise.[30]

CIA involvement

In the telegraphs, Gordon also acknowledges US involvement in "covert support for pro-democracy street rallies…and encouragement [of] democratic and anti-communist sentiment in Congress, armed forces, friendly labor and student groups, church, and business" and that he "may be requesting modest supplementary funds for other covert action programs in the near future.".[31] The actual operational files of the CIA remain classified, preventing historians from accurately gauging the CIA's direct involvement in the coup.[29]

See also


  1. Kingstone, Steve (2004-04-01). "Brazil remembers 1964 coup d'etat". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  2. "US Role in 1964 Brazilian Military Coup Revealed". Dominion. Archived from the original on 2013-06-30. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
  3. House of Representatives, News (2013-11-21). "Congress nullifies session that declared vacant the presidency of Joao Goulart". Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Centro de Informação de Acervos dos Presidentes da República - João Goulart" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  5. Skidmore, Thomas: The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964-1985
  6. "Centro de Informação de Acervos dos Presidentes da República - Jânio Quadros" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  7. 1 2 3 "João Goulart - CPDOC - FGV" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  8. SÃO PAULO PAROU ONTEM PARA DEFENDER O REGIME Folha de S.Paulo. March 20, 1964 Retrieved on August 20, 2007.
  9. "A revolta dos marinheiros - CPDOC - FGV" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  10. EM LIBERDADE PROVISORIA OS MARINHEIROS REBELDES Folha de S.Paulo. March 28, 1964. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  11. "Leonel Brizola - Portal PDT" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  12. Brazil: The Post-Vargas Republic, 1954–64. Library of Congress. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  13. "Os militares e o governo João Goulart - CPDOC - FGV" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  14. 192. Telegram From the Army Attaché in Brazil (Walters) to the Department of the Army United States State Department. March 30, 1964. Retrieved on August 20, 2007.
  15. "Olímpio Mourão Filho - CPDOC - FGV" (in Portuguese). Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  16. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. pp. 68–69. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  17. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. pp. 69–70. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  18. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. pp. 80–81. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  19. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 88. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  20. 1 2 Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 90. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  21. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 103. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  22. II EXERCITO DOMINA O VALE DO PARAIBA. Folha de S.Paulo. April 1, 1964. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  23. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 106. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  24. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 111. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  25. 1 2 Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 112. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  26. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 113. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  27. Gaspari, Elio (2002). A Ditadura Envergonhada. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras. p. 125. ISBN 85-359-0277-5.
  28. Williams, P. 2015. "Operation Gladio: The unholly alliance between the Vatican, the CIA and the Mafia." Prometheus Books. p.115 in hardcover. Citing: Lernoux, P. 1980. "Cry of the people: The struggle for human rights in Latin America. Penguin Books. p.51.
  29. 1 2 Kornbluh, Peter. BRAZIL MARKS 40th ANNIVERSARY OF MILITARY COUP GWU National Security Archive. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  30. 198. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Brazil. Washington, March 31, 1964, 2:29 p.m. Retrieved on August 20, 2007.
  31. 187. Telegram From the Ambassador to Brazil (Gordon) to the Department of State Rio de Janeiro, March 28, 1964. Retrieved on August 20, 2007

External links

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