On April 1, 1964 the army took power and implemented an institutional act to persecute anybody who posed a potential threat to the regime. This was the start of the Brazilian military dictatorship, which would last until 1985.
Castelo Branco, the first military president, ruled until 1967. With the implementation of the 2nd Institutional Act, he abolished all political parties. Founded by the military regime, the Aliança Renovadora Nacional (Arena) and Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (MDB) would be the only political parties in Brazil until 1979.
There were four more military presidents between 1976 and 1985, as well as an interim junta in 1969. The 20-year military dictatorship was marked by economic growth, fuelled by large international loans, the increase of inflation, the dissatisfaction of the population, left-wing guerrilla activities and the repression of freedom of expression.
However, despite the repression, this was also a period of great cultural wealth that saw a generation of composers and university professors flourish. Many were forced into exile, including sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso and musician Gilberto Gil.
Protests united various sectors of society to speak out against the government of Costa e Silva. The middle class sided with the student movement and the Catholic Church, who initially had supported the army. In June of 1968, the 100.000 March took place in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, a milestone against the dictatorship.
At the end of the same year, the regime implemented Institutional Act 5, or AI-5, further restricting freedom of the press by requiring prior approval of all media content and inspection by authorized agents.
From 1969 to 1974, Emílio Médici governed the country during the so-called “Brazilian Miracle”, a period of significant economic growth, with growth rates of more than 10% in the early 1970s. This period was marked by large infrastructure projects, such as the Rio-Niteroi Bridge and the Transamazonian Highway.
However, this period was also marked by growing poverty and social inequalities, the invasion of indigenous lands and the destruction of the environment. We lived under one of the most repressive governments of all times. Accusations of torture made international headlines, greatly embarrassing the government who claimed that these rumors were a left-wing communist smear campaign against Brazil.
Ernesto Geisel served as president of Brazil from 1974 to 1979. His mandate was the first step on the road to redemocratization. He abolished AI-5 and prepared the next government administration under João Figueiredo to begin a process of political amnesty and allow those in exile to return. At the end of the 1970s, the country experienced an economic decline. A series of strikes in the automotive industry signaled the beginning of a new era in Brazil. The Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT) emerged as the first large political party that appealed to the lower class workers.
In January of 1980, the first PT manifest affirmed the need to build an equal society, where there are no more exploiters or exploitees.
The last military president was João Figueiredo, who governed from 1979 to 1985. He oversaw the slow transition from military to civilian rule, promising to make this country a democracy. Political prisoners and those in exile were granted amnesty and six new political parties were founded. Towards the end of the dictatorship, civil society organized large political rallies to demand direct presidential elections.
The end of 21 years of military presidents marked the end of the first phase of Brazil’s democratic transition process. In 1985, the military peacefully handed over power to civilian president Tancredo Neves, elected by the National Congress.
Tancredo Neves was widely applauded and millions of Brazilians took to the streets to celebrate the end of the military regime. But before he was able to take office, the president died of a heart attack. His vice-president, José Sarney, became president until 1990.