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Tenentismo, a 1920s Brazilian politico-military movement that, after joining forces with the 1930 Revolution, exercised great power in the early 1930s. The tenentes were young military officers and intellectuals who participated in conspiracies and revolts to protest against political corruption and to force government reforms, especially elimination of the extreme federalism of the period. They first rebelled on 5 July 1922 in Rio de Janeiro against the inauguration of President-elect Artur da Silva Bernardes, who for them symbolized the iniquity of Brazilian politics and social structure. Most troops remained loyal and quickly put down the uprising, but eighteen rebels refused to surrender and marched down Copacabana beach, where they were fired upon and arrested. Two were martyred and the rest went to prison, among them Antônio de Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes.

During the next two years several more tenente revolts erupted, culminating in the July 1924 capture of the city of São Paulo for a month under the leadership of Miguel Costa, of the state police. The brothers Juarez and Joaquim Távora were among the masterminds of this victory. The tenentes escaped into the interior, where they joined with other groups, especially one commanded by Luís Carlos Prestes, a captain in the engineering corps.

Led by Prestes and Costa, the revolutionaries (numbering several thousand) set out on a great march (the Prestes Column) through the backlands to publicize their demands for honest elections, political freedoms, amnesty for themselves, and strengthening of the national state. They covered some 15,000 miles in eleven states, mostly in the poor Northeast, using guerrilla tactics to avoid major engagements. Finally, with their ranks thinned and the army dogging their tracks, the tenentes crossed into Bolivia in February 1927 and dispersed.

From 1927 until 1930, the tenentes remained in exile or underground, hoping for pardons but continuing their criticism of the government and oligarchic society. Those in hiding often met in the Rio clinic of a sympathizer, Dr. Pedro Ernesto Batista. Their ideas ranged from fascist on the right to communist on the left, and no single person spoke for the group. Many took hope when presidential candidate Getúlio Vargas promised them amnesty in the 1930 campaign; and most answered the call when Vargas's managers, Oswaldo Aranha and Góis Monteiro, recruited them for a revolt later in the year. Tenente leaders such as João Alberto Lins de Barros, Djalma Dutra, Oswaldo Cordeiro de Farias, and Juracy Magalhães, among the most experienced soldiers in the country, made up the high command of the revolutionary army.

In the months following Vargas's victory, the tenentes became convinced that they were being passed over. They wanted army reinstatement at the ranks they would have held, control over a majority of the troops, and influence in government policy. In order to achieve these goals, they formed the Club 3 de Outubro in early 1931 to pressure Vargas. They soon chose their ally Pedro Ernesto as president, partly because he had access to Vargas as the first family's physician.

Within several months Vargas came to depend on the club for political support—his hold on power was extremely tenuous—and in exchange he appointed them as state interventors, promoted them in the army, and consulted them on major decisions. The tenentes reached the pinnacle of their power in early 1932, serving as a praetorian guard for Vargas. They compiled an eclectic program of reforms, some socialist, others fascist, to be enacted by a corporatist regime. By mid-1932, however, the club had outlived its usefulness, having provoked a civil war in São Paulo. After his victory, Vargas decided to democratize his government. Some tenentes went into civilian politics, while others returned to military life. The club symbols were invoked from time to time, but its leadership had disbanded. Several tenentes went on to prominence during the Vargas era and enjoyed heroic images, for example, Távora, Prestes, Gomes, José Américo de Almeida, and Cordeiro de Farias; they did not work together, however, nor forge a common program.

Tenentismo was uniquely Brazilian; nothing like it occurred elsewhere in Latin America, despite frequent military intervention in politics.

See alsoAranha, Oswaldo; Bernardes, Artur da Silva; Brazil, Revolutions: Revolts of 1923–1924; Brazil, Revolutions: Revolution of 1930; Gomes, Eduardo; Prestes, Luís Carlos; Prestes Column; Távora, Juárez; Vargas, Getúlio Dornelles.


Jordan Young, The Brazilian Revolution of 1930 and the Aftermath (1967).

Boris Fausto, A revolução de 1930 (1970).

Neill Macaulay, The Prestes Column (1974).

Michael L. Conniff, "The Tenentes in Power," in Journal of Latin American Studies 10, no. 1 (1977): 61-82.

José Augusto Drummond, O movimento tenentista (1986).

Maria Cecília Spina Forjaz, Tenentismo e forças armadas na revolução de 30 (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Cascardo, Francisco Carlos Pereira. O tenentismo na Marinha: Osprimeros anos (1922 a 1924.) São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2005.

Moraes, João Quartim de. A esquerda militar no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Expressão Popular, 2005.

                                        Michael L. Conniff