Brizola, Leonel (1922–2004)

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Brizola, Leonel (1922–2004)

Leonel Brizola (b. 22 January 1922; d. 21 June 2004), governor of Rio Grande do Sul (1959–1963) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1983–1987, 1991–1995). Born into a poor family in rural Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola was raised by his mother. He worked hard to complete his education, moving to Pôrto Alegre at age fourteen. By taking different jobs, he managed to complete his engineering degree.

In 1945, as a recruiter for the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), Brizola cultivated the working-class and socialist identity that helped him win election to the state legislature. His association with João Goulart led to his marriage to the latter's sister and to closer ties to Getúlio Vargas. After several state posts, Brizola won election as federal deputy in 1954.

In 1955 Brizola's promises to improve the lives of the workers won him the mayoralty of Porto Alegre. For three years he developed his reputation as an engineer with a social conscience, speaking on the radio, writing newspaper columns, meeting with civic groups, and overseeing projects.

His success as mayor led to his victory in the 1958 gubernatorial election. Two controversial nationalizations—the American-owned electric power and telephone companies—projected Brizola onto the national scene. Moreover, he mobilized civilian and military forces in Rio Grande to compel the succession of Goulart to the presidency in 1961. A year later Brizola heightened his national prominence when he was elected Guanabara's federal deputy by the most votes ever cast. From his new political base he pressured Goulart and Congress to carry out major reforms, such as land distribution, rent control, and nationalization of utilities. Although popular among workers, Brizola's campaign alienated businessmen, the upper middle class, the U.S. government, and the military. His tendency to polarize issues contributed to the crisis of 1964.

After the 1964 coup, Brizola fled in exile to Uruguay, where he organized guerrilla resistance and participated in various conspiracies; eventually he settled down and conducted business there. Deported in 1977, he traveled in the United States and Europe, making contacts and developing a democratic socialist image.

In 1979 he returned to Brazil under the amnesty and founded the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), with which he won election as governor of Rio in 1982. He was notable for founding integrated school centers for children, curbing police abuses, and pressuring Congress to hold direct elections for president in 1984–1985. Having run unsuccessfully for president in 1989, he was elected governor of Rio the following year. After a successful term as governor, he again ran an unsuccessful race for president in 1994. In May 2004, he announced his intention to run again for the presidency in 2006, but he died of heart failure on June 21, 2004.

See alsoBrazil: Since 1889 .


John W. F. Dulles, Unrest in Brazil (1970).

Guita Grin Debert, Ideologia e populismo (1979).

Luís Alberto Moniz Bandeira, Brizola e o trabalhismo (1979).

Israel Beloch and Alzira Alves De Abreu, comps., Dicionário histórico-biográfico brasileiro, 1930–1983 (1984).

Additional Bibliography

Aguiar, Ricardo Osman G. Leonel Brizola: Uma trajetoría política. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record, 1991.

Basilio de Olivera. Brizola e o estado brazileiro perante a história. Rio de Janiero: Liber Juris, 1989.

Kuhn, Dione. Brizola: Da legalidad ao exílio. Porto Alegre: RBS Publicacãoes, 2004.

Quadros, Claudemir de. As brizoletos cobrindo o Rio Grande: A educacão pública no Rio Grande do Sul durante ogoverno de Leonel Brizola, 1959–1963. Santa Maria, Brazil: Editora UFSM, 2003.

                                  Michael L. Conniff