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Distensão, the policy of decompression, or political liberalization, pursued by the Brazilian regime of General Ernesto Geisel during the late 1970s. Through a careful manipulation of the distensão process, the military government implemented democratic reforms.

In November 1974, President Geisel allowed an open election in which the opposition party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), made substantial gains. The election results convinced Geisel that political liberalization would have to occur slowly in order to prevent the overthrow of his moderate military faction. To avoid future electoral surprises, President Geisel suspended Congress on 1 April 1977 for fifteen days and issued a decree providing for the indirect election of state governors and one-third of the federal senators. Ensured of keeping the government's party, the National Renovating Alliance (ARENA), in power, Geisel proceeded to dismantle components of the government's authoritarian structure.

Under the provisions of an executive-sponsored constitutional amendment in 1978, the regime stopped its censorship of the print media, reinstated habeas corpus for political detainees, and abolished the fifth Institutional Act, thereby ending the president's authority to suspend Congress, remove congressmen, and deny citizens their political rights.

Although the government retained significant arbitrary powers during Geisel's term, the distensão period prepared the way for the opening to democracy under General João Batista Figueiredo.

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


Maria Helena Moreira 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

Mathias, Suzeley Kalil. A distensão no Brasil: O projeto militar, 1973–1979. Campinas: Papirus Editora, 1995.

Salles, Severo. Ditadura e luta pela democracia no Brasil: O início da distensão política (1974–1979). Salvador, Bahia: Quarteto, 2003.

                                        Michael Poll