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Abertura, the policy of political liberalization or "opening" to democracy in Brazil initiated by the government of General João Batista Figueiredo in 1979. With abertura, the military regime planned to implement democratic reform under the careful supervision of state political strategists in order to provide a more permanent means of support for the national security state. The forces of liberalization unleashed by the Figueiredo government, however, soon swept the military regime out of power.

The first stage in the abertura process was the passage of the Amnesty Act of 1979. This law revoked the imprisonment and banishment orders for persons convicted of political crimes by past regimes. Later that year, the Party Reform Bill allowed the creation of numerous opposition parties—a measure meant to divide the government's opponents. Nevertheless, it established the most open political system that Brazil had seen in over a decade.

Another major step in the abertura process occurred in November 1980 when Congress passed an executive-proposed constitutional amendment that reintroduced the direct election of state governors and all federal senators. Threatened by the progress of the abertura, military hard-liners initiated a series of bombings to thwart the liberalization process. Although it spread fear, the campaign of violence did not halt the decline of the hard-liners' influence.

The power of the National Renovation Alliance (ARENA), the regime's party, also began to wane. Opposition groups made key gains in the 1982 elections, and opponents of the military government organized a campaign for direct presidential elections (diretas) that gained vast popular support but fell short of securing the two-thirds' majority of senators needed to amend the Constitution. The end of the military regime came on 15 January 1985, when a majority of government party members joined forces with the opposition to elect Tancredo Neves, Brazil's first civilian president since 1964.

See alsoBrazil, Amnesty Act (1979); Brazil, Political Parties: National Renovating Alliance (ARENA).


Maria Helena Alves, State and Opposition in Military Brazil (1985).

Thomas Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964–1985 (1988).

Alfred Stepan, Rethinking Military Politics (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Farcau, Bruce W. The Transition to Democracy in Latin America: The Role of the Military. Westport: Praeger, 1996.

Hagopian, Francis, and Scott Mainwaring. The Third Wave of Democratization in Latin America: Advances and Setbacks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Kingstone, Peter R., and Timothy J. Power. Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions, and Processes. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

Maciel, David. A argamassa da ordem: Da ditadura militar à nova república (1974–1985). São Paulo: Xamã, 2004.

Rossiaud, Jean, Ilse Scherer-Warren, and Paulo Evaristo Arns. A democratização inacabável: As memórias do futuro. Petrópolis: Editora Vozes, 2000.

Whitehead, Laurence, Democratization: Theory and Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

                                           Michael Poll