Brazil, New Republic

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Brazil, New Republic

The New Republic, a term denoting both the period in Brazilian politics and the governmental system that began on 15 March 1985, when civilians regained control of the federal government after twenty-one years of authoritarian military rule. The transition to democratic civilian rule was the culmination of Abertura, a lengthy process of political liberalization that began in the late 1970s under military president João Baptista Figueiredo. Initially, Brazilians hoped that the New Republic would restore political freedoms and achieve economic growth under democratic procedures. The widespread social and political mobilization against military rule seemed to promise a period of more inclusive politics, incorporating grass-roots organizations, church-based social movements, and unionized labor into the more traditional political establishment. This optimism, however, has been marred by incessant political gridlock, economic stagnation, high inflation, scandal, and deteriorating social conditions, which plagued Brazil during the 1980s and 1990s.

The New Republic began under unexpectedly tense circumstances when illness prevented President-elect Tancredo Neves from assuming the presidency and Vice President-elect José Sarney was sworn in as "acting president." Sarney assumed full presidential powers the week before Neves's death in April 1985. Sarney's coalition government was an immediate victim of the widespread grief and disappointment surrounding Neves's death, as well as its own numerous political missteps. During his five-year presidency, Sarney was generally unsuccessful at effective leadership of the executive branch. The executive was unable to form a lasting coalition with the legislative branch to overhaul Brazil's political system. The Constituent Assembly, convened in late 1986 to write a new federal constitution, also proved ineffective in implementing most major reforms of the national political system. Although democratic procedures, most notably open elections and the lack of direct military intervention in politics, were consolidated and expanded during Sarney's presidency, a party system weakened by extreme factionalism and corruption undermined much of the program of political reform. Economic reform packages such as the Cruzado Plan (1986) and the Verão Plan (1989), which included currency devaluation, price controls, wage freezes, and debt renegotiations, provided only temporary respites from high inflation and economic instability.

Hopes for true change in national political and economic life were renewed during the 1990 presidential race, the first direct presidential elections in Brazil since 1960. In the November runoff election, former metalworker Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a candidate of the Workers Party (PT), faced the conservative governor of the state of Alagoas, Fernando Collor De Mello. Collor defeated Silva and immediately after assuming the presidency enacted a radical economic reform package that included strict price controls, the seizure of private assets, and the aggressive downsizing of the federal bureaucracy and state-owned enterprises. Like its predecessors, this economic stabilization package functioned briefly and drastically reduced inflation. The Collor administration crumbled when a 1992 congressional committee uncovered massive corruption within the executive branch. Collor was impeached and resigned in December 1992, and Vice President Itamar Franco became president. The Brazilian republican system continues to strain under the weight of a bloated federal bureaucracy, recurring economic recessions, and abysmal social disparities. The New Republic consolidated the end to active military presence in national politics, but not to the socioeconomic distortions of the authoritarian period. The economic stabilization package and political reforms introduced during the early months of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's presidency, which began in January 1995, were a continuation of the Plano Real he enacted in 1993 while he was serving as Brazil's Minister of Finance. Cardoso's successor was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won the presidency in 2002. Silva befriended both Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and U.S. President George W. Bush in an effort to expand Brazil's presence in the international marketplace and to strengthen the country's economic position. Domestically, Silva enacted social programs to tackle what he saw as the country's most pressing needs: eliminating hunger, poverty, and child labor, and increasing education.

See alsoBrazil: Since 1889 .


John Wirth et al., eds., State and Society in Brazil: Continuity and Change (1987).

Thomas Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964–85 (1988), pp. 256-310.

Alfred Stepan, ed., Democratizing Brazil: Problems of Transition and Consolidation (1989).

Sonia Alvarez, Engendering Democracy in Brazil: Women's Movements in Transition Politics (1990).

Miguel Reale, De Tancredo a Collor (1992).

Pedro Collor, Passando a limpo: A trajetória de um farsante (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Hagopian, Frances. Traditional Politics and Regime Change in Brazil. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Martínez-Lara, Javier. Building Democracy in Brazil: The Politics of Constitutional Change, 1985–1995. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Santos, Theotonio dos. Evolução histórica do Brasil: Da colônia à crise da Nova República. Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes, 1995.

                                        Daryle Williams

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Brazil, New Republic

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