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Revolution of 1964

Revolution of 1964

In a military coup (31 March-2 April 1964) the Brazilian armed forces overthrew the democratically elected government of President João Goulart and went on to rule Brazil for the next twenty-one years. Believing Goulart to be a radical leftist, the military high command and the political Right had long opposed him. The candidate of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), Goulart was elected vice president in 1960. When President Jânio Quadros resigned in August 1961, the military vehemently opposed Goulart's inauguration. Only after the congress created a quasi-parliamentary system, stripping the president of many of his powers, was he allowed to be sworn in. In January 1963, a national plebiscite abolished the compromise solution and reinstated Goulart's full presidential powers.

Goulart inherited major economic problems from previous administrations. His mishandling of the economy aggravated these problems and along with a move to the left, contributed to the crisis leading to the coup. After drawn-out negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the government abandoned any effort to formulate an economic austerity plan and to resolve a balance of payments and external debt crisis. By early 1964 the annual inflation rate approached 100 percent. When Goulart staged a series of mass rallies calling for such basic reforms as nationalization of foreign corporations, the franchise for illiterates, and agrarian reform, the military high command made plans for a coup d'état.

As peasants organized unions in the countryside and leftist labor leaders mobilized workers in the cities, many Brazilians believed the country was moving toward a leftist revolution. Opponents on the Right increasingly called for a military coup and mobilized resources to check the government. The U.S. government, also fearing a leftist revolution, supported the conspirators and the coup. By 1964, the political Center was rapidly disappearing as both the Right and the Left promoted political polarization.

Goulart's intervention into the military chain of command provided the spark for the coup. His mishandling of a naval mutiny infuriated the high command. In a nationally televised speech to a group of sergeants on 30 March, he essentially called for them to disobey their superiors should they feel their orders were not in the best interest of the nation. Incensed by the speech, the commander of the First Army in Minas Gerais, General Olímpio Mourão Filho, ordered his troops to move on Rio de Janeiro on the morning of 31 March, thus setting the coup into action. Within hours other army commanders joined the coup led by General Humberto Castello Branco. Goulart fled into exile in Uruguay, and the military took control in a virtually bloodless coup d'état.

See alsoGoulart, João Belchior Marques; Military Dictatorships: Since 1945.


Thomas E. Skidmore, Politics in Brazil, 1930–1964 (1967).

Alfred Stepan, "The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Brazil," in The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Latin America, edited by Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan (1978).

René Armand Dreifuss, 1964: A conquista do estado (1981).

Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, Sessenta e quatro: Anatomia da crise (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Borges, Maruo. O golpe em Goiás: História de uma grande traição. Goiás: Editora Viera, 2006.

Johnson, Ollie A. Brazilian Party Politics and the Coup of 1964. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Lattman-Wetlman, Fernando, and Alfonso Arinos de Melo Franco. A política domesticada: Afonso Arinos e o colapso de democracia em 1964. Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2005.

Leacock, Ruth. Requiem for Revolution: The United States and Brazil, 1961–1969. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990.

Silva, Marcos A. Brasil, 1964–1968: A ditadura já era ditadura. São Paulo: LCTE Editora, 2006.

                                     Marshall C. Eakin

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