“People looked on amazed, astonished, without knowing what it meant. Many seriously believed to be seeing nothing but a military parade,” wrote journalist Aristides Lobo on November 15, 1889. He was reporting on the fall of Brazil’s monarchy and the proclamation of the Brazilian Republic, but clearly, citizens did not understand what was happening that day. The “it” referred to by the reporter was when Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca proclaimed that Brazil was, from then on, a republic, ending the empire at Campo de Santana, in Rio de Janeiro, the country’s capital. In the painting that depicts this historical moment, there are cannons, cavalry, and soldiers, but no civilians.
It would not be the last foray of the military into Brazilian politics. In the 1930s, lieutenants staged several revolts that culminated in the rise of Getulio Vargas to power. In 1955, factions of the army fought over newly-elected president Juscelino Kubistchek: part of the Armed Forces’ top brass wanted to prevent him from taking office, and part acted to ensure that the president-elect would be inaugurated. Then, in 1964, the military launched another coup and stayed in power until 1985.
With the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, it seems the Armed Forces are once again involved in politics. Though the president-elect and his vice (a former general) won the elections democratically, many see this move as an excuse to put the military in power again.
Journalist and historian Laurentino Gomes wrote a trilogy about Brazilian history that ends exactly in 1889, the year of the Proclamation of the Republic. He spoke with The Brazilian Report via email about why have the Armed Forces been so involved in politics and what risks it poses to our democracy.