You can’t understand Brazilian politics without knowing the Portuguese word coronel (colonel). This term dates back to 1830s Brazil when the monarchy decided to create the National Guard in response to several separatist movements which erupted across the country. This force was sponsored by rich landowners, who bought their military ranks and became lieutenants or – if they had more money and prestige – colonels.
The government extinguished the National Guard in 1922, but the political influence and financial power of these men persisted. Not least because during Brazil’s First Republic, the central government articulated a deal with these colonels to ensure that only candidates backed by local oligarchs – and supportive of the president – would be accepted in Congress.
Political prominence helped these families multiply their wealth, turning them into regional political dynasties. This phenomenon, we must add, is not exclusive to Brazil. The U.S. elected two Bushes to the White House and nearly chose a second Clinton in 2016. Not to mention the Cuomos, in New York, and the Daleys, in Chicago – to stay with the more recent families.