Collor de Mello's Presidency, 1990-92

Brazil Table of Contents

Collor created extremely high expectations that he could solve Brazil's economic problems and that he could insert Brazil into the international economic arena. With one "silver bullet," he promised to rid Brazil of inflation, rampant corruption, and all marajás (literally maharajahs, or do-nothing, corrupt high government officials who draw huge salaries), while modernizing Brazil's economy and society.

Collor's ambitious program began by confiscating some US$50 billion in financial and bank assets from depositors and investors, thereby plunging the country into recession. He set about "taking the state apart," announcing that he would reduce the number of federal civilian employees from nearly 1 million to 300,000. Further, he would auction off government cars and housing in Brasília, sell all state enterprises, and begin a program to consolidate or eliminate the myriad of federal agencies. Collor's style of presidency was similar to that of developed countries and included well-orchestrated public relations campaigns and lavish entertaining.

Although he commanded a small minority bloc in Congress, Collor's high ratings in the polls and excellent television communication skills dissuaded many politicians from opposing his unusual proposals in an election year. Unlike the Cruzado Plan, which had helped Collor's election as governor of Alagoas in 1986, his 1990 stabilization plan did not produce positive economic results before the November 15 elections. Most of his allied gubernatorial candidates were defeated, and his coalition remained a minority in Congress. As inflation increased in 1991, the government began to flounder, and the opposition was able to thwart many of his proposals. Many of his initiatives in the international arena came to naught.

In late 1991, Collor counterattacked in a media blitz, blaming constitutional impediments for obstructing his modernization plan and boldly proposing a broad constitutional reform package of sixteen amendments. However, in March 1992, as new accusations of corruption mounted daily, Collor fired almost his entire cabinet (except for the military ministers and the ministers of health and education, who were not politicians) and brought in older, more experienced politicians who generally were considered "clean."

A month later, the president's younger brother, Pedro Collor, unleashed his bombastic accusations regarding the modus operandi of the corruption system, and on June 1, 1992, Congress installed the impeachment CPI. President Collor, together with his adviser, Paulo César Farias, and other cronies from Alagoas, had taken office with a "dynasty" strategy in mind. As described by Pedro Collor and other CPI witnesses, the Collor-Farias administration centralized all corruption, demanding 40 percent kickbacks for all government contracts and special policy decisions. With a war chest accumulating at nearly US$2 billion a year, they apparently expected to bribe their way into power for the next twenty years. As the 1993-94 Budgetgate CPI revealed, this conspiracy had numerous collaborators in Congress and the executive branch. Because the 1992 impeachment CPI threatened to widen its inquiry, the politicians decided to sacrifice Collor quickly to obscure their own involvement.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress