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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Brazil's Military Regime
Created by John Eipper on 02/17/13 4:42 AM

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Brazil's Military Regime (Istvan Simon, USA, 02/17/13 4:42 am)

John Heelan brings up some valid points in regards to the Roman Catholic Church, but his suggestions for me about Brazil are unnecessary. I was in Brazil during the military regimes that he talks about, and I supported them, and still support them, with qualifications. More on this later in this post.

I am perfectly aware of the various plans that John Heelan brings up in his post of 16 February. Yet I must point out that I have a kind of knowledge about Brazil from 1964 (and before) to the 1970s that can be only had by those that actually were there. And I was there.

Likewise, John Heelan may dismiss what I have to say as "anti-communist rhetoric," but once again, my anti-communist ideas come from a deep knowledge of communism--once again I was there.

I was in Budapest during the 1956 revolution, and therefore I was present at an event which shaped my views about communism in a way that no amount of reading of Marx or history books or anything else ever could. I experienced communism on my skin, saw the lies of communism with my own eyes, saw the Soviet cannons and the Russian soldiers that were shooting them, cannons which were being used to bombard people's homes, and I saw the enormous holes in people's bedrooms that those artillery shells caused. I read the communist secret police's files about my own father. I saw with my own eyes the enormous bronze statue of Stalin, in front of which I had walked so often, being hammered into smithereens by the people, with people taking little pieces of the bronze statue home for souvenirs. I saw the jewelry store near my home, in the brief time of liberty that Hungary experienced, when the revolution had been victorious, but the Soviets had not yet invaded Hungary with a massive force, with its windows broken, with jewelry in plain sight, easily reachable by anyone to take, and yet no one took it. With all due respect, I must ask, how could John Heelan ever get the same education about what communism and the people's feelings towards it were really like? It is impossible. He had to be there.

I should point out that I am bringing this up as no disrespect to John Heelan. John has valuable knowledge, and he is welcome to share it in WAIS. But so do I.

So let us go back to Brazil of March 1964, and the military regimes.

The military junta that deposed Goulart had enormous popular support in Brazil. I ask Joe Listo, who was also there, to write his own thoughts about these same events. The "March with God for Freedom" that had been organized prior to the military taking power, had more than a million people marching in São Paulo alone. Similar enormous crowds had marched in Belo Horizonte and other places in Brazil where the people were voicing their anti-communist desires. It is a fact that the people of Brazil, in their overwhelming majority, did not want communism. The communists in Brazil were, as always, a small minority, amongst them the current President of Brazil, who admired Cuba and wanted the same disgraceful and disgusting regime in Brazil. So the Catholic Church's support of the military takeover was nothing more than what the people of Brazil themselves wanted. It was no sin, for which it must now somehow atone, as John Heelan seems to think.

The first military President in 1964 was General Castello Branco, a hero of the Brazilian military during World War II, a man of enormous personal integrity, honesty and patriotism. His government did great things in Brazil, for Brazil, a whole range of economic and political measures that were necessary to restore Brazil's economy and politics to health. I supported his government 100%, and still support it today.

In my eyes, the next military President, General Costa e Silva, was much less successful. At the time, indirect elections were instituted, a highly unpopular turn of events that were being ridiculed with jokes about Costa e Silva.

Costa e Silva had an image of not being particularly bright. So here is a sample joke that only people that know Portuguese will fully understand.  Costa e Silva is being interviewed. The reporter asks: "Se houver eleições diretas o senhor disputa?" Costa e Silva answers: "Digo, sim senhor." The joke is funny, but untranslatable, because the humor is in the misunderstanding of the question by Costa e Silva, which only makes sense in Portuguese.

[Anyway here is the translation: Reporter: "If there are going to be direct elections will you run?" Costa e Silva: "Yes sir, I will say 'what the fuck.'" The humor is in Costa e Silva misinterpreting "disputa?" (which means will you run?) with the similar sounding "diz puta" (which means "say what the fuck," or more literally "say whore.")]

It was during Costa e Silva's government that the communists in Brazil started guerrilla warfare against the government. The communists were thus directly responsible for the toughening of the military regime into a less benign form of dictatorship. Carlos Marighela went to Cuba, prior to starting his guerrilla terrorist activities, which makes it quite obvious that this was not a spontaneous movement by Brazilian patriots against the military regime, but rather a foreign-supported and foreign-funded artificial insurrection. It never took hold. The Brazilian military crushed the communist insurrection with ease, and the terrorists never had any significant popular support in Brazil.

In São Paulo, where I lived, the terrorism started with the daily explosion of bombs during the night at various places. These bombs initially did not cause victims, but caused much anxiety. The Brazilian Federal Police Headquarters in São Paulo, were two blocks away from where I lived on Rua Itacolomy. The immediate effect of the bombings were mild. They simply put up barriers in front of the building, so no one could park near the it. A number of communists were arrested, and imprisoned. A few may have been tortured, but in fact I do not think that that was the case at the time. It came later, during the Medici and Geisel governments.

In response to the successful arrest and imprisonment of their comrades, the communists started to kidnap foreign diplomats, and exchange their liberty for that of their imprisoned comrades. The Brazilian government complied, and released the terrorists, but they were transported into exile. It was an intelligent and enlightened policy of the military and it worked very well. It did not take long for the military to defeat the guerrillas. They were crushed. The most violent ones were killed, like Marighela and Lamarca. The less violent ones, but no less poisonous, like Dilma Rousseff, the current President of Brazil, went into exile.

The Medici government, which came after Costa e Silva, was enormously popular in Brazil. This was during the Brazilian miracle years, where the economic policies of the successive military governments started to pay off, and Brazil was growing at a very fast pace, and the people were getting more prosperous. Inflation, which had been uncontrollable before 1964, had been practically eliminated, and so the economic growth was producing real prosperity, prosperity shared by the poor in Brazil as well, whose lives were getting much better. A prosperity that no Liberation Theology ever produced. Medici was also popular for another reason, because he was a soccer fan, and this was during a golden period of Brazilian soccer, when Brazil once again was World Champion in 1970.

Politically though, the Medici government was a disaster. It was during Medici's government that political prisoners were tortured and while the military were successful against the communist challengers, as I mentioned above, this was an excess that was unnecessary, and eventually produced the downfall of the military governments. I never supported torture. In 1972 I left Brazil, to study for my PhD at Stanford. Thus I was absent from Brazil during much of this period, from 1972 to 1977, though I was still reasonably well informed about what was going on.

The undoing of the military regimes in Brazil did not occur because of the communist insurrections, or their less challenging political challenges, for example by Lula, as a labor leader. Rather, it was caused by the after-effects of the Israel-Egypt war of 1973. During this war Saudi Arabia started to use the oil weapon against the West. As a result oil prices quadrupled, and this hit Brazil very hard, because Brazil was importing most of its oil that was fueling the economic boom that I just mentioned.

The Brazilian government had to pay dollars for the suddenly much more expensive oil. To produce those dollars, the Brazilian economy was redirected towards high incentives for exports, and simultaneous draconian restrictions on imports. This was not good policy, but it had to be done, because otherwise Brazil could not pay for its energy imports. Inflation returned. Not to the levels that existed prior to 1964, but still it was quite high, and it hurt again all except the richest people in Brazil, and in particular it hurt the poor and the middle class.

As a result the military governments were becoming less and less popular in Brazil. It was during the Geisel government that the worst political excesses were committed. A journalist, who was a communist sympathizer, but otherwise was relatively inoffensive, was tortured to death in the custody of the Second Army in São Paulo. His death produced a popular revulsion against the regime, and a large protest march was organized in São Paulo. My father, who had supported the military regimes until this point, and who was not otherwise the marching type, participated in this protest. Geisel heard the voice of the people, and dismissed the General that was in charge at the second Army, but other than losing his job, nothing happened to him. In any case, the Brazilian people started to think that the military regimes had served their purpose, and that it was time to return to democracy in Brazil, and to a civil government.

The Brazilian military heard the voice of the people, and reacted accordingly. They withdrew voluntarily from the government, and free elections were held. The people of Cuba, or of Venezuela for that matter, can only dream of a such a development.

JE comments: A most interesting first-hand memory of life under the Brazilian Generals. Istvan cc-d this note to Joe Listo in São Paulo. I already have Joe's response, which I'll publish next.

It would be instructive to explore the divisions within the Brazilian Church at this same time. The Church oligarchs supported the Generals, but this is also the time when many grass-roots clergy began espousing Liberation Theology.  We should not confuse them with the revolutionary Marxists.


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  • Brazil's Military Regime (Joe Listo, Brazil 02/17/13 4:43 AM)
    Istvan Simon's description (17 February) of the events in and around 1964 in Brazil were so precise they took me back to the night of March 30, 1964, one day before the military took over. I remember my father arrived shortly before his usual dinner time and told my mother they would have to go out and buy food and gas. He had received a call from my uncle (then a Colonel with the Second Army-Southeast Division), in which he said the Jango Goulart government was about to be toppled and that he would be arrested as soon as his flight from Peking landed in Brasília. I did not fully comprehend what all that meant at the time, but was quite thrilled because my father told me I would be driving one of the two family cars to the gas station--even though I did not have a driver´s license! We stocked enough food for about two months, just to later understand it was a waste of time and money. The transition into the military regime was quiet and peaceful.

    Looking back into what is now history, I frankly cannot envision what would have happened to this country without the military intervention, but there is no doubt in my mind that Brazil would be at least something similar to a larger Cuba. Communist President Jango Goulart had taken a trip to Moscow and Peking and was returning to Brazil intent on putting Mao's ideas in practice. Goulart wanted Brazil to be divided into small tracts of land, freely distributed to farmers. This was Goulart´s idea of an Agrarian Reform, although anyone with a minimum knowledge of farming knows it just does not work that way. One can give the land away for free, but a substantial amount of money will be required for that land to become productive. Without the money, the beneficiary farmer will simply sell the property and return to a nearby city to look for a job. The Brazilian government did not learn this lesson, and in order to retain popularity still distributes the Union´s land, only to perpetuate this vicious cycle. Coming from Goulart, the notion of distributing land is ludicrous: he was a cattle rancher and owner of extensive properties on the Brazil-Uruguay border. Depending on the prices of meat in the market, he would transfer his herds from one country to the other, no questions asked, because corruption was rampant in Brazil prior to the military intervention.


    From 1985 (when the country was returned to the civilians) to this day, corruption became absolutely out of control in Brazil. With very few exceptions, Dilma Rouseff's cabinet members have been involved in widely publicized corruption scandals. Corruption in the Lula da Silva administration was much worse, and some of his closest advisers have recently been convicted by the Supreme Court.


    After the military relinquished power, the succeeding civilian governments went out of their way to find corruption perpetrated by the men in uniform. To their chagrin, they found out the military had a different mindset. A lot was said about Col. Mario Andreazza, Minister of Transportation responsible for the construction of the Rio-Niterói bridge. Word was out that he had spent twice the actual cost of the bridge and stashed the difference in hidden accounts outside Brazil. When he passed away just a few years ago, his widow did not have money to cover the funeral costs. His old comrades-in-arms chipped in to buy the casket. General Ernesto Geisel had a small family farm some 14 miles from the city of Bagé, Rio Grande do Sul. He was approached by an aide saying that asphalt was being laid in a nearby federal road and whether he wanted the asphalt to cover the 14 miles to his property. Said Geisel: "I will pretend I did not hear what you said just not to have you dishonorably discharged, but consider yourself immediately removed from your post."


    Brazilian citizens were quite content and supportive of the military regime. A great deal of development could be observed, and there was an almost instantaneous shift in the manner people looked at their country, for the first time exceeding the realm of soccer "pride." There was a sense of accomplishment and security. Obviously, there were excesses of power, although nothing which compares with the excesses observed in Argentina and Chile, where they would fill helicopters with detainees and drop them into the ocean in the middle of the night. The Araguaia guerrilla was particularly bloody, but one has to consider that the military were up against Cuba-trained soldiers in that war theater. I would not expect a mild reaction had I chosen to exchange fire with a military force. Marighela and Lamarca, and many others, were trained assassins and they had to be terminated in order to preserve civilian lives. Dilma Rousseff was the mastermind behind several assaults, bank robberies and kidnappings, including that of the American ambassador. At a point she became so important to the movement her whereabouts were kept secret even from close friends. To my astonishment, she got away with a very light sentence.


    Istvan´s disenchantment with the military regime is linked to the assassination of journalist Wladimir Herzog while in custody at a DOI-CODI facility in São Paulo. DOI-CODI can be described as a military black-ops installation where prisoners were debriefed / tortured. Herzog most likely succumbed to torture, and the persons in charge staged a scene in which he appeared to have hanged himself. While I agree with Istvan that Herzog was relatively harmless, he was a fierce detractor of the regime and an open communist. In some circumstances, the power of words equals or exceeds that of weapons. He had been warned by the SNI (the military information agency) to tone down his remarks against the government, which he completely ignored. Therefore, while a sad event, it could be said that Herzog brought his demise on himself.


    Probably as a payback, since 1985 the several civilian administrations have succeed in dismantling the Brazilian armed forces. Very recently, a General interviewed by VEJA magazine reported that Brazil has an ammunition stock that would last a mere 50 minutes of battle. Our Navy is not able to protect existing oil rigs off the coast of Rio, let alone new platforms if the Pre-Salt project advances. The situation got to a point that Army draftees are released around noon so they can go home and eat a full meal, as the Army pantries are completely empty. In the meantime, billions go down the corruption drains. Dilma Rousseff accomplished nothing but pain as a terrorist. Now that she is legally in power, it seems she forgot her old "dreams."


    JE comments: Many thanks to Joe Listo for his comment. I'd like to know more about Brazil's declining military preparedness. According to one source, it's still in the world's top ten (#10) for "global firepower," making it the leading armed force in Latin America. To be sure, the last time I cited Global Firepower, in the case of the UK, a couple of responses came in to question the ranking:


    http://www.globalfirepower.com



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    • Brazil's Military Regime (David Fleischer, Brazil 02/17/13 6:56 AM)
      Responding to the 17 February posts by Joe Listo and Istvan Simon, I would like to add some considerations about the 31 March 1964 military coup in Brazil.



      At the time I was doing Peace Corps service in Brazil, posted in a small town in the southern region of the state of Minas Gerais--Lavras. Our Brazil I group arrived in Brazil in March 1962 (the first group to Brazil), and we worked with the rural extension service in 10 different states--helping develop their version of 4-H Clubs (Clubes 4-S--sentir, servir, saber & saúde). Most of our group went home at the end of 1963 (two years service), but I extended for another seven months to the end of the 1963/64 agricultural year in July 1964.



      There was increasing concern about the direction the João Goulart government was going in late 1963 and 1964--especially the possibility of legalization of the Brazilian Communist Party (that had been outlawed in 1947/1948). The "eternal" President of the clandestine PCB, Luiz Carlos Prestes (from the famous "Prestes Column" in 1924/1925) was asked by reporters about the legalization of the PCB, to which he replied, "Not to worry, we are part of the Goulart government already." Very bad form regarding the public relations of the Goulart government.



      In Lavras, my extension service colleague had a TV and could pick up stations in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Thus, we watched the large rally organized by Goulart on Friday, 13 March 1964, in front of the "Central [railroad] Station" in Rio--that was part of the recent Brazilian movie "Central Station" that was nominated for an Oscar--where he signed several presidential decrees to promote his "Reformas de Base" [basic reforms], especially expropriations for the agrarian reform.



      Then, on the evening of 30th March 1964, my colleague invited me to dinner and had the TV on as we ate. The TV flashed on live coverage of a fiery speech by Goulart to a gathering of sergeants and non-com officers at the Rio Automobile Club where he harangued them about the unionization of non-com officers--that did not even exist in Europe at that time. Leaders of the CGT--national labor union central--were also present.



      At this point, I must correct Joe Listo's rendition. Goulart was not on a "trip to Moscow and Peking" in 1964. He was in Brazil. Joe is remembering August/September 1961--when then President Jânio Quadros had sent his then Vice-President João Goulart to lead a trade mission to "Communist" China. Quadros resigned on 25th August and left Goulart "hanging in Peking"--out of the country. The conservative part of the military declared that Goulart would not be allowed to return to Brazil to assume the Presidency, because "he was a Communist," while the other half of the military said "we must follow/obey the Constitution, and Goulart must be allowed to assume the Presidency." A civil war in the making. However, cooler [civilian] heads prevailed and a "solution" was encountered. Congress hastily passed a constitutional amendment installing a parliamentary system in Brazil making Goulart a figurehead president (chief of state), while all power was vested in the prime minister (chief of government). The hardline generals acceded and Goulart was allowed to return to Brazil (via Uruguay).



      Back to 1964. Watching Goulart's "performance" at the Automobile Club on 30 March, my colleague exclaimed "that's it; the military will topple him right away." He was right, because the Army unit in Juiz de Fora, MG mobilized that very night and marched (down the mountains) on Rio. Goulart was back in Brasilia and troops from Belo Horizonte and Goiás were marching toward Brasilia. Goulart ordered his Air force plane to fly him to Porto Alegre--the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, where he thought he could "make a stand." Some Air Force officers wanted to shoot down this plane, but would have killed the pilot and co-pilot (Air Force officers). Instead, the President of the Chamber of Deputies [next in line of Presidential succession] declared the Presidency vacant and took over. To avoid any bloodshed, Goulart went into exile in Uruguay.



      My extension colleague called his father-in-law on the phone (he was the beer distributor in Lavras), and we took our four-wheel drive vehicles (his Jeep and my Jeep station wagon) to the beer warehouse and hid them behind many stacks of beer cases. My colleague was fearful that the military would confiscate all 4-wheel drive vehicles--he was right. The coup was quick. The Second Army division in São Paulo joined the First Army in Rio and it was all over.



      Later, my colleague discovered that he and I and other extension service agents were on "hit lists" on both sides--the Pro-Goulart and anti-Goulart groups--who must have thought that the extension service was "very dangerous."



      Joe Listo and Istvan Simon are right that early on the Brazilian Catholic Church was against Goulart and in favor of the military coup and ensuing military regime--until the latter "hardened" and descended into deep dictatorship in 1968/1969. Many priests were arrested and tortured, some killed--so the Church became a "discrete" opposition to the military regime.



      One final anecdote [story]. I lived in a República [student co-op residence] and we rented a small apartment to a Frenchman, wife and baby. He was a bus driver on the route to Belo Horizonte. He left Lavras at noon on 31st March and should have arrived around 4:30 pm in Belo Horizonte. As he approached the city, he thought it strange that there was "no movement"--no cars or busses on the streets--so he suspected that the coup had been launched. Thus, as a loyal employee of his bus company, he dumped all the passengers and their luggage off in the suburb, turned around and headed "home" to Lavras to avoid his bus being confiscated. He almost succeeded--but as he arrived in Lavras, the state military police had erected a barricade and his bus was confiscated anyway. Oh well.



      To end my "saga": I left the Peace Corps at the end of July 1964, my wife (from Lavras) and I were married in early August, and returned to the US--for me to finish my BA at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

      JE comments: This is amazing: We've heard today from three WAISers who lived through the March 1964 coup. (Other milestones from that month: my 1964 Chevy Corvair was assembled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and I came into the world on Saturday the 14th--just hours after Goulart's Reformas de Base rally.)


      That both sides of the confrontation put David Fleischer and his Peace Corps colleagues on the "hit list"--this just goes to show how hysteria can overshadow politics.  And hiding your Jeep behind beer cases:  brilliant.  Beer usually leads to the loss of your vehicle.


      My thanks to David, Istvan and Joe for this very informative discussion.



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      • Brazil's Military Regime (Istvan Simon, USA 02/18/13 6:01 AM)
        I greatly enjoyed reading Joe Listo's and David Fleischer's posts of 17 February, for their personal recollections of the events of 1964 and subsequent history of the military governments from 1964 to 1985 in Brazil.

        David's account is fascinating, because he adds the perspective of an American caught up in these events, and also because he was in a different part of the country from where Joe and I were. I found his recalling of Luis Carlos Prestes's response about Goulart's government illuminating. I did not know that Prestes ever said that. In any case, three independent accounts in WAIS now confirm that Goulart's government was communist, and that the military's coup was welcomed in Brazil by the majority of the Brazilian people.


        I would like to add a few additional thoughts to this fascinating subject.


        First on Vladimir Herzog, the journalist who was murdered in São Paulo by the military. Vladimir Herzog was a communist. He was a member of the PCB, which at the time was illegal in Brazil. That is why he was summoned to the DOI-CODI. But I disagree with Joe that he brought his death upon himself because he "had been warned."


        As far as I know, Vladimir Herzog committed no crime other than being a communist. He was a journalist and a good one. I make a distinction between say Carlos Marighela, Carlos Lamarca, and Dilma Rousseff, on the one hand, who were communists and committed crimes, and Vladimir Herzog, who was a communist but did not. I do not question the killing of Marighela and Lamarca--they were armed terrorists and deserved to be killed. I would not have questioned the jailing of Dilma Rousseff to a long prison sentence. She had committed crimes, and deserved to be imprisoned. But I do question the harassment and unconscionable murder of Vladimir Herzog, who was murdered merely because he was a communist. Being a communist is in my opinion stupid, but it is not a crime. So Vladimir Herzog should have never been even questioned, much less tortured, and most certainly should never have been murdered.


        Furthermore, this happened during a time when President Geisel had started a process that would return Brazil to civilian rule--a process he called "abertura" (or opening up) in some ways similar to Perestroika in the Soviet Union of Gorbachev. By the time Geisel was president, there were many voices in Brazil that were asking for a return to the "Estado de Direito," that is the Rule of Law. The military in Brazil were neither stupid nor insensitive to the desires of the Brazilian people. Thus Geisel had started a process by which the military could return power to civilian society. This was continued under the last military president, Figueiredo, who indeed then returned Brazil to civilian democratic rule. I mention this, because Herzog's murder thus occurred at a most inopportune political moment, and Geisel was genuinely upset by the murder of Herzog (and also of the less well-known case of worker Manoel Fiel Filho), and probably would have fired General Ednardo D'Ávila Mello, who was responsible for DOI-CODI of the Second Army where these murders took place, even without the large protests that I mentioned in my previous post, which followed Herzog's death.


        But in spite of these sad events, the military governments in Brazil have an undeserved reputation of having been hard dictatorships. David Fleischer, whose post is very accurate, also suggests this in his post. But the military governments of Brazil were never hard dictatorships. They were in comparison to all other dictatorships that I am aware of very soft dictatorships, and this fact is often overlooked in WAIS debates, where often an overly broad brush is used to describe what happened in Latin America during this period.


        The generals in Argentina, Chile, Urugay, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia were not all the same. In Argentina the so-called "Dirty War" claimed thousands of victims. In Chile too, the victims of Pinochet were about three thousand. In Uruguay the Tupamaros caused more havoc than the communist terrorists were able to cause in Brazil, and so did the murderous Sendero Luminoso in Peru. Paraguay had an old-fashioned right-wing dictator in Stroessner. None of this was ever true in Brazil.


        First, from the start the Brazilian generals avoided the trap of personal dictatorships. They instituted a system in which each president would serve for only one term of 4 years. Castelo Branco served for only 2 years. Contrast this with Fidel Castro's 50 years in power, Stroessner's 35 years, Mao's 31 years, Franco's 39 years, Stalin's 30 years, Mussolini's 18 years.


        Second, the Brazilian generals did not rule with a one-party system, as did all the above dictators of the left or right. There was an opposition party, and they had a real voice.  It was not merely token opposition. While Brazil from 1964 to 1985 was not a true democracy, it was far from a totalitarian government either.


        Third, the violence of the military governments in Brazil were restrained and constrained. In 21 years of military rule, in a country of continental size, with a population of 200 million, only 333 people were killed for political reasons by the military. 67 of these were in direct combat in guerrilla warfare. A number of others, like Marighela and Lamarca, were killed in armed urban guerrilla actions. So less than 250 people were killed in other circumstances for political reasons in 21 years of military rule. The communists in Brazil killed 97 people, military and civilian, in the same period. These numbers come from the Committee for Human Rights of the OAB, the Brazilian lawyers association, who painstakingly documented all the deaths.


        To put this in its proper perspective, contrast this with the victims of Mao, Stalin, and Hitler, who murdered tens of the millions. The genocidal wars in Africa, in Rwanda and Darfur, that each killed about half a million people, the murderous regime in Syria whose victims already number 60,000, or of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose political murders reach certainly tens of thousands also, in a country much smaller than Brazil, and with one-third its population. Contrast it with Fidel Castro's many thousands murdered at the paredon. Though I am sure that precise statistics are available, in my brief research on the subject for this post I have not been able to determine their exact number, in Cuba, a country with one twentieth the population of Brazil. Perhaps some WAISer historian can enlighten us about the number murdered by Fidel Castro, and also provide more precise statistics on the political murders committed by the murderous regimes of Khomeini and Khamenei, as well as during the regime of the deposed Shah of Iran.


        JE comments: That would be a grim accounting exercise.


        What I do find interesting is the notion of what we might call Brazilian exceptionalism. Note that Brazil achieved both independence and abolition of slavery without firing a shot. I know of no other country where this is the case. And as Istvan points out, its military regime was less murderous than those of its neighbors during the dictator-prone 1970s.


        WAIS is blessed with a number of active Brazilian correspondents. I'd very much like to open up the floor to the topic of Brazilian exceptionalism.

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        • Brazil's Military Regime (John Heelan, -UK 02/19/13 3:44 AM)
          Istvan Simon wrote on 18 February: "The military governments of Brazil were never hard dictatorships. They were in comparison to all other dictatorships that I am aware of very soft dictatorships, and this fact is often overlooked in WAIS debates, where often an overly broad brush is used to describe what happened in Latin America during this period."

          It will be interesting to see the Report of the Brazilian Truth Commission currently being investigated and due to be published next year.



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          • Brazil's Military Regime and Liberation Theology (John Heelan, -UK 02/19/13 5:04 AM)
            As a coda to the interesting discussion on the papacy, Brazil and the RC Church's attitude to Liberation Theology, WAISers interested in the subject might be interested in an essay by Erik Sanders entitled "The Division withing the Catholic Church in Brazil from 1964-1985":

            http://voices.yahoo.com/the-division-within-catholic-church-brazil-7339714.html?cat=34


            "The Church spoke many voices on the subject of how to handle the military regime and its human rights violations. Some, namely the progressive clergy including Dom Helder Camara, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, and Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider, felt that it was their duty to speak out openly against the abuses. Embracing liberation theology, progressive Catholics cited the gospel as justification for social action. The conservative sector of the Church, men such as Cardinal Eugenio de Araujo Sales and Cardinal Alfredo Vicente Scherer, both who carried the support of the Vatican, strongly opposed the notion that the Church be involved in politics. The conservatives did not see Christ as a revolutionary or a politician and they condemned liberation theology when it went against the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. [...]   Like most other conservative leaders within the Church hierarchy, Pope John Paul II supported the ideas of liberation theology when they did not go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II also felt that some aspects of liberation theology, most notably the CEBs, were of a Marxist and Communist nature and thus condemned. He was strongly opposed to the politicized view of Christ as a 'Liberator' [...] John Paul II viewed liberation theology as a danger to traditional Catholic doctrine. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger believed that the Second Vatican Council had been reinterpreted. [...]  Cardinal Ratzinger, who had been opposed to liberation theology for some time, was appointed to the most important post in the Curia. It was Cardinal Ratzinger who had the power to challenge and enforce punishment on those who went against Catholic doctrine while promoting liberation theology."


            Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.


            JE comments: Yes, some critics called him "Cardinal Rottweiler" for his hardline stance against Liberation Theology.


            The CEBs referred to above are "Comunidades Eclesiais de Base" (Basic Ecclesial Communities), which can be seen as grass-roots "cells" within the Liberation Theology movement. They got their start in Brazil and the Philippines in the 1960s, and later spread throughout Latin America and the developing world.

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      • Brazil and Liberation Theology (Joe Listo, Brazil 02/18/13 6:40 AM)
        First of all, David Fleischer (17 February) is right about Goulart's whereabouts in March 1964. It's been a long time, and my memory played tricks on me.

        I´m not sure I can add anything about Liberation Theology that WAISers who study the topic don´t already know. The only book I read on the subject (Teologia da Libertação e sua influência na Igreja, authored by Father Paulo Ricardo, a follower of Leonardo Boff) is entirely based on Marx's view of religion. Father Ricardo calls LT "The Marxian Thoughts."


        I´m not a religious man and therefore have no interest in religious subjects, but the Catholic Church seems to be distancing itself more and more from Liberation Teology. I never heard of a LT supporter that was not a dedicated Marxist.


        JE comments: Is it accurate, as Istvan Simon does, to pronounce the death of Liberation Theology?



        A couple of days ago I asked whether the term itself has worn out its usefulness, even if the tenets of LT (a focus on helping the poor, the "conscientization" of the masses) are making a comeback.  I stress that the Marxist element of the LT of a generation ago is now absent.  Is it time to find a new word, just as the quondam liberals in the US decided to become "progressives"?



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    • Brazil's Military Regime; Communism, Capitalism, and Liberation Theology (John Heelan, -UK 02/17/13 7:56 AM)
      My grateful thanks to Istvan Simon and Joe Listo (both 17 February) for their interesting first-hand accounts of life under communism and thus their support of the military coup in Hungary and Brazil. I fully appreciate how Istvan's experiences are the source of his anti-communist sentiment.  Had I lived through similar times, no doubt, I would have a similar opinion.

      Yet those experiences were some 50 years ago, and the world has changed dramatically since then. USSR-style Communism per se no longer exists, except perhaps in Cuba and China, and even there it is substantially different to that practised in the last century. Communism as an ideology perished, rightly so in my opinion, because as with all other ideologies human nature aborts fundamental ethical ideas for personal gain. Over time, in all ideologies--secular and religious--power is eventually held by a minority and corrupt group of individuals who cling onto that power via repressive means until those repressed take action, sometimes violent, to restore the balance. One sees this situation today in China, Cuba, Syria, various countries in the Middle East, as well as perhaps Argentina (once again). (On a very minor scale in comparison, tired of trades unions holding the UK to ransom, I welcomed Thatcher to correct the situation. It was only some years later that she became autocratic.)


      I believe that Communism as practised is an untenable and unworkable ideology for the long term. Marx was blind not to recognise that his own ideology also "carried the seeds of its own destruction," just as much he claimed for Capitalism. Time will tell for the latter! In mainly capitalist Western nations, one can observe the emergence of the usual weaknesses in practice of all ideologies. Power is devolving in the hands of the few under a cosmetic democracy. The striving for personal gain encourages the increase in corruption in most countries. Similarly, future repression is implicit in the rapid increase of state surveillance on populations under the guise of "national security" and the "fight against crime." (One has to ask why threats to national security and crime exist.) Austerity budgets, increased taxation, inflation, rising unemployment--especially for the young educated sector--corruption of those in power, large-scale redundancy being forced on those serving in the armed services, savage cuts to the budgets of the forces of law and order, etc. Why? To satisfy the demands of world financial operators. Are these not the stimulants for current and future social unrest? (Maybe the Greeks were right with their cycle of government being democracy-oligarchy-tyranny-ochlocracy-democracy?)


      The losers in the current situation are the poor and sick who require a safety net of support. Increasingly governments are cutting holes in that net for budgetary reasons to satisfy the demands for profits in the global capitalist world. There is a need for another ideology (not a theology) to support the poor and sick. In my opinion, it is inappropriate to use out-of-date anti-communist rhetoric to dismiss the previous attempts of the ill-fated "Liberation Theology" to remedy governmental failures, while ignoring the basic reasons for the need occurring in the first place. It is unforgivable for religious hierarchies to shrug their shoulders quoting Christ's "You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." (John 12:8). Better they should remember "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land."(Deut 15:11)

      JE comments:  Nothing to quarrel with here.
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      • Thoughts on Marxism; from Luciano Dondero (John Eipper, USA 02/18/13 2:10 AM)
        Our reader on the Canary Island of Fuerteventura, Luciano Dondero, sends this reply to John Heelan (17 February):

        As a former Marxist and activist in the revolutionary communist movement, I appreciate very much John Heelan's contribution, which I find quite apt in reference to Marxism and its basic failure to explain the world we live in.


        However, what I find somewhat contradictory, and not only in this text I should add, is the continuous use of fundamental Marxist analytical categories, starting from the notion of capitalism as a specific socio-economic stage in the history of mankind.


        I know that it was not Marx who introduced this term, but after Das Kapital, not to mention some decades of actual Marxists in power on one-third of the planet, clearly one cannot talk of capitalism as if Adam Smith and David Ricardo were the actual reference. Don't you think?


        Honestly I'm unable to offer any alternative analysis, but to a certain extent I don't see a problem with this.



        Probably our human tendency to want to find an explanation for everything, even beyond our ability to do so, as well as our human penchant for constructing coherent chronological sequences, even where this is not warranted, are to blame--and we would certainly benefit from not trying too hard.


        For instance, anti-communism has about as much cogency as communism--in fact, it was just a question of siding with one of the two sides at the time of the Cold War, so what's the point of it all nowadays?


        It seems to me that in order to be better placed to understand the past and possibly draw some lessons from it, it's truly necessary to throw away old labels.



        Thinking in terms of Italy and Spain, let me add that I also am convinced that talking of fascism and anti-fascism, beyond the obvious historical references, is pretty useless--if a some gangsters carve a swastika on the cheeks of a young woman, how does that warrant raising the flag of fascism or blaming the Third Reich for it?


        Speaking from the shores of Africa, where the journey of mankind started a long time ago, I am convinced that we (historians, politicians, reformers, and plain human beings) need to take a long perspective, to look into the distance of our origins, and make an effort to understand ourselves for what we really are.


        This is not going to make everything easy nor solve all the problems, but it might help us by beginning to put some of the blame where it should truly go--on human nature, for who we are. That's not a way of exonerating ourselves, rather a way of saying that we need a great change in our manner of dealing with these issues.



        Let me put it another way: we don't really think that there can be any Marxist, Catholic, Liberal or Fascist physics or chemistry or astronomy--why should we admit the validity of an ideological approach to human history, be it anthropology, prehistory or contemporary history?


        JE comments: A very coherent appeal from Luciano Dondero. At the very least, we should be aware of the limitations of labels. I'm especially struck by the continued use of Cold War terminology in the pages of WAIS.  Granted, many of our discussions are historical in nature--such as our recent analysis of Liberation Theology, which is grounded in the Cold War context.  But where do we go from here?  As Luciano rightly points out, humans are enamored of categorizing everything.  The best approach is the self-critical one:  how does our use of categories actually inhibit, as much as enhance, our understanding?



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      • Communism, Capitalism and Liberation Theology in Brazil (Istvan Simon, USA 02/20/13 2:31 AM)
        I thank John Heelan for his interesting post of 17 February, most of which I agree with. I agree that communism should be pretty much dead, and in many places of the world it is, or it is greatly changed. But Cuba is still ruled by the same disgraceful clique that took power some 50 years ago. And in Latin America this ideology stubbornly hangs on in certain quarters. Amazingly there are still places on earth where people will shout "socialism or death" and wave little red flags with hammers and sickles on them--surely a depressing phenomenon after all the disgraceful events that occurred in Eastern Europe, and the fall of the Soviet Union. We see this in Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, and to a certain degree also in Argentina. So anti-communist ideas are not everywhere an anachronism.

        Also, it is important to remember that when the military took power in Brazil this was definitely not the case--communism then was still alive and kicking, and trying to subvert a large number of countries in the world, including Brazil.


        I do not see the world today in the largely pessimistic terms described by John Heelan. I am much more optimistic about the prospects of political freedom and capitalist economies, both of which I highly prize. I have no quarrel with those who opt for the poor, and in fact except for certain apparently hopeless countries mostly in the Muslim world, I think that poverty and ignorance has declined, not increased, in recent years.


        As for Liberation Theology (LT), I think that it is as dead as communism itself ought to be. JE argued that its originator in Peru was a saintly man and not a Marxist. But he is wrong to assume that therefore the clergy that called themselves followers of LT were also not Marxists in Brazil. I contend that in Brazil they were in fact all Marxists, and challenge anyone to come up with a name in Brazil of a prominent figure in the clergy who followed LT and yet was not a Marxist.


        JE comments: Two Latin America developments, one major, one tiny: 1) President Chávez is back in Caracas, after his two-month hospitalization in Cuba. Pundits speculate that he has returned just to ensure an orderly transition to his Vice President, Nicolás Maduro. 2) This afternoon I'm scheduled to do a Cuba "unit" in my Spanish II class--any suggestions? Keep in mind that my fundamental goal is to convince students of the importance of mastering a new language. Rule #1 for the language "edutainer": don't be boring. This precludes any deep conversation about politics and economics.  I have a lot of photographs to share from my visit to Havana in 1998, but for my 19 and 20 year-old clientele, this is ancient history.  Might as well be 1898--or at best, 1959.

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        • Were All Liberation Theologians Marxists? (John Heelan, -UK 02/21/13 4:27 AM)
          Istvan Simon (20 February) issued a challenge for anyone "to come up with a name in Brazil of a prominent figure in the clergy who followed Liberation Theology and yet was not a Marxist."

          Perhaps we might start with those in the hierarchy of Brazil's RC Church, such as Dom Helder Camara, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, and Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheide.  (It is indicative of the tendency to attach a pejorative tag on supporters of LT that Dom Camara is quoted as saying, "When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist.")

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