The Republican Era, 1889-1985

Brazil Table of Contents

The history of the republic has been a search for a viable form of government to replace the monarchy. That search has lurched back and forth between state autonomy and centralization. The constitution of 1891, establishing the United States of Brazil (Estados Unidos do Brasil), restored autonomy to the provinces, now called states. It recognized that the central government did not rule at the local level, that it exercised control only through the local oligarchies. The empire had not absorbed fully the regional pátrias , and now they reasserted themselves. Into the 1920s, the federal government in Rio de Janeiro would be dominated and managed by a combination of the more powerful pátrias (São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, and to a lesser extent Pernambuco and Bahia). After the revolution of 1930, the trend would be strongly toward absorption of the pátrias , reaching a peak in the New State (Estado Novo) of 1937-45. Centralization extended into the smallest remote villages as the nation-state's bureaucracy and power grew to previously unknown levels. Renewed autonomy would come with the constitution of 1946 but would disappear under the military regime. The constitution of 1988 once again restored a degree of state autonomy but in the context of a powerful, all-embracing nation-state. In the 1990s, the pátrias are more folkloric vestiges than autonomous centers of power.

The history of the republic is also the story of the development of the army as a national institution. The elimination of the monarchy had reduced the number of national institutions to one, the army. Although the Roman Catholic Church continued its presence throughout the country, it was not national but rather international in its personnel, doctrine, liturgy, and purposes. By the time of the 1964 coup, the political parties were not national parties; they were oriented more along regional, personalist (personalism--see Glossary), and special-interest lines. Only in the struggle to reestablish civilian rule in the 1980s did a fitful process of creating national parties take shape. Thus, the army was the core of the developing Brazilian state, a marked change from the marginal role that it had played during the empire. The army assumed this new position almost haphazardly, filling part of the vacuum left by the collapse of the monarchy and gradually acquiring a doctrine and vision to support its de facto role. Although it had more units and men in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul than elsewhere, its presence was felt throughout the country. Its personnel, its interests, its ideology, and its commitments were national in scope (see The Military Role in Society and Government, ch. 5).

The republic's first decade was one of turmoil. It appears to be a pattern of Brazilian history that seemingly peaceful regime changes are followed by long periods of adjustment, often scarred by violence. Years of "regime change" in 1889, 1930, and 1964 introduced protracted adjustment that involved some authoritarian rule. Curiously, because the violence occurred over long periods, usually without overturning the government in Rio de Janeiro or Brasília, Brazil acquired an undeserved reputation for having a nonviolent history of political and social compromise.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress