History of Brazil since 1985

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The period of Brazilian history since 1985 corresponds to the contemporary epoch in the history of Brazil, since the end of the military regime that had ruled the country from 1964 until 1985 and the restoration of civilian government.

In January 1985 the process of negotiated transition towards democracy reached its climax with the election of Tancredo Neves of the PMDB party (the party that had always opposed the military regime), as the first civilian president since 1964.

Neves' election to succeed general Figueiredo, the last of the military hand-picked Presidents, was hailed as the dawn of a New Republic (Nova República) and that term, that contrasts with the term República Velha (or Old Republic, the name of the first epoch of the Brazilian Republic, that lasted from 1889 until 1930), became synonym with the contemporary phase of the Brazilian Republic, that is, with the political institutions established in the wake of the country's re-democratization.

The first phase of the Brazilian New Republic, from the inauguration of José Sarney in 1985 (President Tancredo Neves fell ill on the eve of his inauguration so that he could not attend it; his running-mate José Sarney was inaugurated as vice president and served in Tancredo's stead as acting president until Tancredo died, without having ever taken the oath of office, whereupon Sarney succeeded to the presidency) until the inauguration of Fernando Collor in 1990 can be considered a still transitional period because, while the 1967–1969 constitution still remained in force the executive still had enormous powers and the president was able to legislate by means of decree-laws.

In 1986 the Sarney government fulfilled Tancredo's promise of passing in Congress a Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution inherited from the military period, summoning elections for a National Constituent Assembly to draft and adopt a new Constitution for the country. The Constituent Assembly began deliberations in February 1987 and concluded its work on October 5, 1988.

The adoption of Brazil's current Constitution in 1988 completed the process of re-establishment of the democratic institutions. The new Constitution replaced the authoritarian legislation that still remained in place and that had been inherited from the days of the military regime.

In 1989 the first elections for president by direct popular ballot since the military coup of 1964 were held under the new Constitution, and Fernando Collor was elected. Collor was inaugurated on March 15, 1990. With the inauguration of the first president elected under the 1988 Constitution, the last step in the long process of democratization took place, and the phase of transition was finally over.

Since then, six presidential terms have elapsed, without rupture to the constitutional order: the first term corresponded to the Collor and Franco administrations (Collor was impeached on charges of corruption in 1992 and resigned the presidency, being succeeded by Franco, his vice president); the second and third terms corresponded to the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Administration; in the fourth and fifth presidential terms Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva served as President; and the sixth term is equivalent to Dilma Rousseff's first administration. In 2015, Mrs. Rousseff started another term in office, due to end in 2018, but was impeached for violations of budgetary and fiscal responsibility norms in 2016, being succeeded by her vice-president Michel Temer.

Transition towards democracy

The last military president, João Figueiredo signed a general amnesty into law and turned Geisel's distensão into a gradual abertura (the "opening" of the political system), saying that his goal was "to make this country a democracy".

The process of transition towards democracy, that culminated in the end of the military regime in 1985 and the adoption of a new, democratic, Constitution in 1988, was, however, troubled.

The hard-liners reacted to the opening with a series of terrorist bombings. An April 1981 bombing incident confirmed direct military involvement in terrorism, but Figueiredo proved too weak to punish the guilty. The incident and the regime's inaction strengthened the public's resolve to end military rule. Moreover, Figueiredo faced other significant problems, such as soaring inflation, declining productivity, and a mounting foreign debt.

The 1980's "lost decade": stagnation, inflation, and crisis

Political liberalization and the declining world economy contributed to Brazil's economic and social problems. In 1978 and 1980, huge strikes took place in the industrial ring around São Paulo. Protesters asserted that wage increases indexed to the inflation rate were far below an acceptable standard of living. Union leaders, including the future three-time presidential candidate and president Luís Inácio da Silva, were arrested for violation of national security laws. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a painful austerity program on Brazil. Under that program, Brazil was required to hold down wages to fight inflation. In the North, Northeast, and even in relatively prosperous Rio Grande do Sul, impoverished rural people occupied unused private land, forcing the government to create a new land reform ministry. Tension with the Roman Catholic Church, the major voice for societal change, peaked in the early 1980s with the expulsion of foreign priests involved in political and land reform issues.

To attack the soaring debt, Figueiredo's administration stressed exports — food, natural resources, automobiles, arms, clothing, shoes, even electricity — and expanded petroleum exploration by foreign companies. In foreign relations, the objective was to establish ties with any country that would contribute to Brazilian economic development. Washington was kept at a certain distance, and the North-South dialogue was emphasized.

In 1983, the economy floundered as GDP declined by 5.0%, the impact of which was accelerated by rising inflation and the failure of political leadership. Figueiredo's heart condition led to bypass surgery in the United States, removing him from control of the situation. In an impressive display, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in all the major cities demanding a direct vote (Diretas Já!) in the choice of the next president. In April 1984, Congress failed to achieve the necessary numbers to give the people their wish, and the choice was left to an electoral college. Figueiredo did not act forcefully to back a preference, so it became a scramble as candidates pursued the collegial votes.

Transitional period: Tancredo's election, restoration of civilian government, the Sarney years and the 1988 Constitution

In 1984, many public demonstrations were held in major Brazilian cities which made it clear that military rule could not continue. Brazilians started to demand change in the electoral system, aiming to directly elect the President (Diretas Já). As public pressure built up, the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, PMDB) proposed a law to implement this change (Emenda Dante de Oliveira). As Congress was controlled by the pro-government Democratic Social Party (PDS, formerly ARENA), the law failed to pass.

Tancredo Neves of Minas Gerais, Getúlio Dornelles Vargas' minister of justice in the 1950s, and former federal deputy, senator, and prime minister seized the momentum. Neves had a reputation of honesty.

His abilities allowed him to build up an alliance between the PMDB and defectors from the (PDS) who founded the Liberal Front Party (PFL). The Democratic Alliance (Aliança Democrática) presented itself as supporting with 1984 demands for political change and end of military rule.

It presented Neves as an opposition candidate against Paulo Maluf.[1] Tancredo Neves was elected by majority vote of the Parliament on January 15, 1985.[2] However, Neves collapsed the night before his inauguration in March, and died on April 21, passing the presidency to Vice President José Sarney (president, 1985–90), long-time supporter of the military regime. The hope that 1985 would provide a quick transition to a new regime faded as Brazilians watched the turn of events in a state of shock. Like the regime changes of 1822, 1889, 1930, 1946, and 1964, the 1985 change also proved to be long and difficult.

Sarney's Government fulfilled Tancredo's promise of passing a constitutional amendment to the Constitution inherited from the military regime so as to summon elections for a National Constituent Assembly, with full powers to draft and enact a new democratic constitution for the country. Ulysses Guimarães, who led the civilian resistance to the military rule, was chosen by his fellow Assembly members to preside over the Constituent Assembly, that was in session from February 1987 until October 1988.

The National Constituent Assembly proclaimed a new constitution in October 1988 and restored civil and public rights such as freedom of speech, independent Public Prosecutors (Ministério Público), economic freedom, direct and free elections and universal health system. It also decentralized government, empowering local and state governments.

As the political transition developed, the economy suffered high inflation and stagnancy.[3] Sarney tried to control inflation with many economic acts, or Plans: Plano Cruzado 1, Plano Cruzado 2, Plano Verão. All of them included government control over prices, price freezes and ultimately changing the national currency. During Sarneys's presidency, Brazil had three currency units: Cruzeiro, Cruzado and Cruzado Novo. Economic domestic troubles led to canceling payments of Brazilian International Debt in 1988. This closed international financial markets for Brazil and the economic situation worsened.

Despite the initial decrease, inflation returned higher than before economic plans, achieving 84% a month at 1990. The government's inability to deal with inflation ultimately led parties that had led the political transition to lose the 1989 elections, the first elections under the new Constitution and the first presidential elections to take place by direct popular ballot since the 1964 military coup.

Collor and Franco administrations

The first direct presidential election after 29 years was held on October 15, 1989 (first round) and November 15, 1989 (second round). Fernando Collor de Mello won the run-off election with 53% of the vote for a five-year term.[4]

Collor's agenda focused on fighting corruption in Sarney's administration and completing the transition from the 21-year military rule to civilian government. Economic changes aimed to control soaring inflation and modernization.

Although he had massive support amongst the voters, the administration had a small parliamentary base as Collor's recently founded party had few deputies and no senators and faced fierce opposition from main parties that splintered from Democratic Alliance: the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), Liberals (PFL), and Social Democrats (Brazilian Social Democracy Party, PSDB).

His first act was known as Plano Collor: all savings accounts and financial investment were frozen, and the national currency was changed from Cruzado Novo to Cruzeiro (NCz$1,000 = Cr$1). Plano Collor had an initial success, but after six months, it failed in its main goal as inflation accelerated again. This started to erode Collor's prestige.

Economic changes included lifting import barriers exposing local companies to international competition. Many companies went bankrupt or were sold, unemployment grew and support for the government deteriorated.

Parliamentary elections were held on October 15, 1990 and the government failed to win a reliable base in Congress and the president started to lose support.

In May 1991, Fernando Collor was accused by his brother, Pedro Collor, of corruption, by condoning an influence peddling scheme run by his campaign treasurer, Paulo César Farias. The Federal Police and Congress began an investigation soon after. Some months later, with the investigation progressing and under fire, Collor went on national television to ask for the people's support, by going out on the street and protesting against "coup" forces. On August 11, 1992, students organized by the National Student Union (União Nacional dos Estudantes – UNE), thousands of students protested on the streets against Collor. Their faces, often painted in a mixture of the colors of the flag and protest-black, lead to them being called "Caras-pintada".[5]

On August 26, 1992, the final congressional inquiry report was released, where it was proven that Fernando Collor had personal expenses paid for by money raised by Paulo César Farias through his influence peddling scheme. Impeachment proceedings were installed in the lower house of congress on September 29, 1992. Collor was impeached, and subsequently removed from office by a vote of 441 for and 38 votes against.[6] Fernando Collor resigned his term in office just before the Brazilian Senate was to vote for his impeachment. The senate did so anyway, suspending his political rights for eight years.[7]

His vice-president, Itamar Franco, assumed the presidency for the remainder of Collor's term.

Franco moved away from Collor and made arrangements for a National Coalition Government including main leaders from PMDB, PFL, and PSDB. Franco appointed Fernando Henrique Cardoso as Minister of Treasury and gave him the responsibility to control inflation – the average annual inflation rate from 1990 to 1995 was 764%.

Cardoso put together a successful stabilization program, Plano Real, that brought inflation to 6% annually. Franco's approval ratings rose and he supported Cardoso to succeed him.

In the October 3, 1994 presidential elections, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, was elected with 54% of the votes.

FHC administration

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–2002)

Fernando Henrique Cardoso started his first term on January 1, 1995 and was reelected in 1998. President Cardoso sought to establish the basis for long-term stability and growth and to reduce Brazil's extreme socioeconomic imbalances. His proposals to Congress included constitutional amendments to open the Brazilian economy to greater foreign investment and to implement sweeping reforms – including social security, government administration, and taxation – to reduce excessive public sector spending and improve government efficiency.

His government is credited with providing economic stability to a country marred by years of hyperinflation. At the same time the Mexican, 1997 East Asian, 1998 Russian and 1999–2002 Argentinian economic crises diminished the prospects for economic growth during his presidency.

It was also during his administration that many state-owned companies were privatized, and agencies created for the first time to regulate many sectors of industry (energy, oil, aviation, etc.)

Cardoso's administration also placed a strong focus on external affairs. In addition to acceding to the WTO and participating in the Uruguay Round, Brazil participated in the INTERFET peacekeeping mission to East Timor.

Lula administration

President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2010)

In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the PT (Workers' Party), won the presidency with more than 60% of the national vote. In the first months of his mandate, inflation rose perilously, reflecting the markets' uncertainty about the government's monetary policy. However, the markets' confidence in the government was promptly regained as Lula chose to maintain his predecessor policies, meaning the continuation of Central Bank's task of keeping inflation down. Since then, the country underwent considerable economic growth and employment expansion. On the other hand, Lula's mainstream economic policies disappointed his most radical leftist allies, which led to a breakdown in PT (Workers' Party) that resulted in the creation of PSOL.

In 2005, Roberto Jefferson, chairman of the Brazilian Labour Party (PTB), was implicated in a bribery case. As a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry was set up, Jefferson testified that the MPs were being paid monthly stipends to vote for government-backed legislation. Later, in August of the same year, after further investigation, campaign manager Duda Mendonça admitted that he had used illegal undeclared money to finance the PT electoral victory of 2002. The money in both cases was found to have originated from private sources as well as from the advertising budget of state-owned enterprises headed by political appointees, both laundered through Duda's Mendonça advertising agency. The collection of these incidents was dubbed the Mensalão scandal. On August 24, 2007, the Brazilian Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal) accepted the indictments of 40 individuals relating to the Mensalão scandal, most which are former or current federal deputies, all of which were or still allies of the Brazilian president.[8]

The loss of support resulting from these scandals was outweighed by the president's popularity among the voters of the lower classes, whose income per capita was raised as a consequence of both higher employment, expansion of domestic credit to consumers and government social welfare programs. The stable and solid economic situation of the country, which Brazil had not experienced in the last 20 years, with fast growth in production both for internal consumers and exportation as well as a soft but noticeable decrease in social inequality, may also partially explain the high popularity of Lula's administration even after several scandals of corruption involving important politicians connected to Lula and to PT. Hence Lula's re-election in 2006: After almost winning in the first round, Lula won the run-off against Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), by a 20 million vote margin.

Following Lula's second victory, his approval ratings started to rise again (fueled by the continuity of the economical and social achievements obtained during the first term) to a record of 80%, the highest for a Brazilian president since the end of the military regime. The focus of Lula's second term have been to further stimulate the economy by investments in infrastructure and measures to keep expanding the domestic credit to producers, industry, commerce and consumers alike. In 2009, Brazil's economic rise was temporarily halted by a worldwide financial crisis, forcing the government to implement a temporary Tax Relief policy in strategic segments of the economy like automobiles and construction. These measures helped the country to prevent a long term recession and ensured a quick recovery to Brazil's economic ascension.

Another mark of Lula's second term were his efforts to expand Brazil's political influence worldwide, specially after G20 (from which Brazil and other emerging economies participate) replaced the G8 as the main world forum of discussions. Just like his predecessor, he is an active defender of the Reform of the United Nations Security Council, as Brazil is one of the four nations (the others being Germany, India and Japan) officially coveting a permanent seat in the council. Lula is also notorious for seeing himself as a friendly, peacemaker conciliator Head of State. Managing to befriend leaders of rival countries from the likes of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from the United States to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, Cuban former president Fidel Castro, the President of Bolivia Evo Morales, and lastly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fueling protests inside and outside the country due to Ahmadinejad's polemical anti-Semitic statements. Lula took part in a deal with the governments of Turkey and Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program despite the United States' (among other nuclear powers) desire to strengthen the sanctions against the country, fearing the possibility of Iran develop nuclear weapons.

During the Lula administration the Brazilian Army's most important assignment is by being the main force of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti which have been established to bring aid to the Haitian population, and suffered important casualties during the 2010 Haiti earthquake which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Rousseff administration

President Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016)

On October 31, 2010, Dilma Rousseff, also from the Worker's Party, was the first woman elected President of Brazil, with her term beginning in the January 1, 2011. In her winning speech, Rousseff, who was also a key member in Lula's administration, made clear that her mission during her term will be to keep enforcing her predecessor's policies to mitigate poverty and ensure Brazil's current economic growth.

Challenges faced during Rousseff's term include managing the infrastructure projects to increase the country's economic activity with special attention to the 12 cities set to host the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro being a special case as it will also hold the 2016 Summer Olympics), and taking cautionary measures to protect the Brazilian economy in face of the ongoing economic crises in Europe and the United States, which also contributed to reduce the national GDP growth during the first half of her term, in comparison to her predecessor's tenure.

On June 2011, Rouseff announced a program labelled "Brasil Sem Miséria" (Brazil Without Poverty). With the ambitious task of drastically reducing absolute poverty in Brazil until the end of her term, which currently afflicts 16 million people in the country or a little less than a tenth of the population. The program involves broadening the reach of the Bolsa Família social welfare program while creating new job opportunities and establishing professional certification programmes. In 2012, another program labeled "Brasil Carinhoso" (Tenderful Brazil) was launched with the objective to provide extra care to all children in the country who live below the poverty threshold.

Although there are several criticism from the local and international press regarding the lower-than-expected economic results achieved during her first term ahead of the government and the measures taken to solve it, Rouseff's approval rates reached levels higher than any other president since the end of the military regime until a wave of protests struck the country in mid 2013 reflecting insatisfaction from the people with the current transport, healthcare and education policies, among other issues that affected the popularity not only of the president, but several other governors and mayors from key areas in the country as well.

In 2014, Rousseff won a second term by a narrow margin, but so far has failed to prevent her popularity from falling. In June 2015, her approval dropped to less than 10%, after another wave of protests, this time organized by oppositors who want her ousted from power, amid revelations that numerous politicians, including those from her party, were being investigated for accepting bribes from the state-owned energy company Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, during which time she was on the company's board of directors. In 2015, a process of Impeachment was opened against Rousseff that culminated with her temporarily removed from power in May 12, 2016 with Vice President Michel Temer assuming temporarily until the final trial was concluded in August 31, 2016, when Rousseff was officially impeached and Temer was sworn President until the end of the term. During the Impeachment process, Brazil hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics.


  1. Waisman, Carlos Horacio (2005). Spanish and Latin American Transitions to Democracy. p. 173.
  2. Freire, Paulo; Donaldo Pereira Macedo (1996). Letters to Cristina. p. 251.
  3. The Hyperinflation in Brazil, 1980–1994
  4. Solingen, Etel (1998). Regional Orders at Century's Dawn. p. 147.
  5. Rezende, Tatiana Matos UNE 70 Anos: "Fora Collor: o grito da juventude cara-pintada" União Nacional dos Estudantes. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  6. Lattman-Weltman, Fernando. September 29, 1992: Collor's Impeachment(Portuguese) Fundação Getúlio Vargas. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  7. Sérgio Campos Gonçalves, Collorgate: mídia, jornalismo e sociedade nos casos Watergate e Collor, (Rio de Janeiro: CBJE, 2008). ISBN 9788578101626.
  8. Folha Online: STF opens criminal action
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