Castello Branco, Humberto de Alencar (1900–1967)

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Castello Branco, Humberto de Alencar (1900–1967)

Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco (b. 20 September 1900; d. 18 July 1967), president of Brazil (1964–1967). A nordestino (northeasterner) from Fortaleza, Castello Branco was born of a long line of military officers. After studying at the Military Preparatory School of Rio Prado in Rio Grande do Sul from 1912 to 1917, he enrolled as a cadet in the Realengo Military Academy in Rio de Janeiro. Commissioned into the army in 1921, he married Argentina Vianna the next year. Devout Catholics, the couple formed a close union until her death in 1963.


As a young lieutenant devoted to professionalism and the rule of law, Castello Branco declined to participate in the various military uprisings of the 1920s. Instead he fought against the Luís Carlos Prestes Column in Mato Grosso and Bahia and remained loyal to the government during the Revolution of 1930.

Castello Branco was promoted to captain in 1932, and then named assistant director at Realengo, where he had previously served as an instructor. He was also attached to the French military mission. Subsequently he was sent to Paris to attend the Superior War College, which enhanced his academic reputation.

In 1940 Castello Branco, now a major, was posted to assist the minister of war, Eurico G. Dutra, who later became president (1946–1951). In preparation for dispatching the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB), Castello Branco was enrolled in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1943. As a lieutenant colonel he embarked the next year for Italy, where he was chief of operations (G-3) of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. After advancing to colonel in 1945 for his effectiveness during that campaign, he returned to Brazil, where he alternated between general staff and field assignments. In 1952 he was named brigadier general and assumed command of the Tenth Military Region (Ceará). In 1954 he signed the General's Manifesto of 23 August calling for the resignation of President Getúlio Vargas.

After commanding the army's general staff college in 1954–1955, Castello Branco moved on to the Escola Superior da Guerra (ESG), Brazil's Superior War College, as assistant commandant and director of the armed forces and command course in 1956–1958. As general of division he was transferred in 1958–1960 to head the Amazonia and Eighth Military Region headquartered in Belém, Pará, and went on to assume the directorship of army instruction, which allowed him to remain in close contact with the war college.

The ascension to the presidency of reformist Jânio da Silva Quadros in 1961 and his subsequent resignation and replacement by populist João Goulart provoked a crisis in the officer corps that polarized into legalist and hard-line factions. In spite of Goulart's pro-Castro stance, nonaligned foreign policy, counterproductive economic policies, and support for a radical syndicalist republic, Castello Branco remained a legalist until early 1964.

Named a four-star general and posted to command the Fourth Army at Recife in 1962, Castello Branco found the Northeast unsettled by Peasant League-provoked turmoil, fomented, he believed, by Pernambuco governor Miguel Arraes and President Goulart's brother-in-law, Leonel Brizola, leader of one of the socialist parties. Once elevated to army chief of staff in mid-1963, Castello Branco sought to persuade President Goulart to abandon certain of his allegedly unconstitutional actions. Failing to do so, he agreed, in the name of legality, to head a long-prepared military-civilian conspiracy to oust the chief executive.


A well-planned coup led by the army, state governors, and opposition congressmen came off easily, with little loss of life on 31 March 1964. Discussions among the various governors, congressmen, business leaders, politicians, and high-ranking military men resulted in Castello Branco's selection as president. On 11 April 1964, by a wide margin the congress confirmed him as president to complete the remaining two years of Goulart's term. While pledging to respect the Constitution of 1946, Castello Branco appointed coconspirator General Artur da Costa e Silva as war minister.

The new chief executive hoped to turn this joint military-civilian coup into a revolution dedicated to controlling inflation, containing Communism, fomenting economic development, and promoting political, social, and educational reform. A team player, Castello Branco selected Roberto Campos as minister of finance and Octavio Bulhões as minister of planning. Together they instituted an indexation system to neutralize economic distortions caused by a high rate of inflation, as well as a tax-reform structure that forced firms and individuals to adopt realistic accounting methods.

A long-term economic policy that endured for some fifteen years was launched under Castello Branco, who sought to promote capital formation, expand the market for durable consumer goods, reduce wages, foster industrial exports, and stimulate foreign capital investment. This growth strategy, however, was designed to perpetuate the country's basic economic and social structure, thereby permitting the traditional agricultural elite to support the regime while the industrial sector expanded. Hence, the nation's potential was developed while its agricultural and industrial sectors retained control. Because foreign as well as domestic stability was deemed essential to development, Brazil avoided being drawn into conflict with the United States, the dominant power in the hemisphere, and sought to associate itself with the United States in global affairs. The latter in turn reciprocated with generous financial aid and investment.

The Castello Branco regime further insured internal order by a series of measures known as Institutional Acts. The first, promoted by the hard-liners and enacted on 9 April 1964, actually prior to Castello Branco's inauguration, sought to purify the government. Three former presidents—Jânio da Silva Quadros, João Goulart, and Juscelino Kubitschek De Oliveira—as well as seventy others were stripped of their political rights. In addition, the granting of tenure to civil servants was suspended for six months and military police courts, called IPMs, were established to investigate subversion.

The Second Institutional Act, effective 27 October 1965, was provoked by the reaction of hardliners to state elections that went against the regime. Under this act all political parties were dissolved, indirect election of the president by congress was mandated, the government's right to dismiss civil servants was reinstated, citizens' political rights were canceled, and the Supreme Court was packed. The next month Brazil's political parties were re-formed. A government party, the National Renovating Alliance (Arena), and an opposition party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), were established in congress.

Early in 1966, Castello Branco's presidential term was extended, against his wishes, for another year, to 15 March 1967. Protests against these measures then erupted, led by the National University Students Union and by certain socially sensitive Catholic clergy, notably Hélder Cámara, archbishop of Olinda and Recife.

Tensions increased as presidential candidates proliferated. Castello Branco favored a civilian successor. União Democrática Nacional leader Olavo Bilac Pinto, Senator Daniel Krieger of Rio Grande do Sul, and Foreign Minister Juracy Magalhães were his top choices. Nevertheless, the hard-liners prevailed. War Minister Costa e Silva, who was nominated and inaugurated on 15 March 1967, served as president until 1969.

In retirement, Castello Branco continued to exert a moderating influence on national affairs until his untimely death in an airplane accident.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB); Brazil, Political Parties: National Renovating Alliance (ARENA); Institutional Acts.


Richard Bourne, Political Leaders of Latin America (1970).

Rollie E. Poppino, Brazil: The Land and People (1973).

John W. F. Dulles, Castello Branco: The Making of a Brazilian President (1978) and President Castello Branco, Brazilian Reformer (1980).

Hélio Vianna, "O pensamento militar de Castello Branco," in Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográ fico Brasileiro 321 (1978): 242-249.

Vernon A. Walters, Silent Missions (1978).

Eurico De Lima Figueiredo, Os Militares e a democracia: Análise estrutural da ideologia do Pres. Castello Branco (1980).

Additional Bibliography

Neto, Lira. Castello: A marcha para a ditadura. São Paulo: Editora Contexto, 2004.

Silva, André Luiz Reis da. A diplomacia brasileira entre a segurança e o desenvolvimento: A política externa do governo Castelo Branco, 1964–1967. São Paulo: Editora Contexto, 2004.

                                      Lewis A. Tambs

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Castello Branco, Humberto de Alencar (1900–1967)

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