Sarney, José (1930–)

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Sarney, José (1930–)

José Sarney was the president of Brazil from 1985 to 1990. He was born José Ribamar Ferreira Araújo Costa in Pinheiro, Maranhão on April 24, 1930, and received a law degree in 1953. From childhood he was referred to as Zé do Sarney. For electoral purposes, in 1958 he adopted the name José Sarney and legally changed his name to José Sarney da Costa in 1965.

Sarney began his political career in 1954 as an alternate federal deputy from the National Democratic Union (UDN) and assumed the deputy position in 1956. He was reelected in 1958 and 1962. Although part of the reformist and nationalist wing of the UDN, he made his peace with the military government established in 1964. In 1965 he became the governor of his home state on the Arena ticket, the same party that brought him to the federal senate in 1970 and 1978. He was a founder of the Social Democratic Party (PDS) and twice its president and a loyal supporter of the military government. Asked by President João Figueiredo to coordinate the presidential succession with the goal of finding a national union candidate within the PDS, Sarney failed and renounced the party presidency at that time. He refused to back the PDS candidate Paulo Maluf, and subsequently ran for vice president on the opposition Democratic Alliance ticket of the PMDB-PFL (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party-Liberal Front Party) in the indirect elections won easily by Tancredo Neves in January 1985.

When Neves fell ill on the eve of his inauguration in March 1985, Sarney became interim president and reaffirmed the ministerial choices made by Neves. With the death of Neves in April, Sarney was sworn in as president and governed until March 1990. He helped to lead the country toward direct elections and a new constitution in 1988, but his time in office was marred by extremely high inflation rates. In November 1990 he was elected senator from Amapá, which had achieved statehood during his presidency. His attempts to become a presidential candidate in 1994 were frustrated even though polls indicated he still retained a small but solid following. He has remained a flexible and powerful politician, illustrated by his role as head of the Senate. His children have also pursued successful political careers.

Sarney became a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1980. He has written several books, including Norte das Águas (1969), Marimbondos de fogo (1980), Brejaldos Guajas (1985), and Sentimento do Mundo (1985).

See alsoBrazil: Since 1889; Brazil, Political Parties; Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB); Brazil, Political Parties: Liberal Party; Brazil, Political Parties: National Democratic Union of Brazil (UDN); Brazil, Revolutions: Revolution of 1964; Figueiredo, João Baptista de Oliveira; Neves, Tancredo de Almeida.


Noblat, Ricardo. Ceu dos Favoritos: O Brasil de Sarney a Collor. Rio de Janeiro: Rio Fundo Editora, 1990.

Skidmore, Thomas E. The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964–85. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

                                    Andrew J. Kirkendall