Fifty years today, on December 13, 1968, Brazil’s military regime enacted a decree which came to define the dictatorship period of 1964-1985. Known as Institutional Act No. 5, or AI-5, it served to institutionalize the generals’ practices of torture, repression, and censorship, signaling the beginning of Brazil’s Years of Lead.
Four and a half years after the military coup which deposed President João Goulart and installed a dictatorship in charge of Brazil, AI-5 gave the head of state almost unlimited powers, closing the Congress, impeaching politicians, and suspending the right of habeas corpus for political prisoners.
In the early years of the dictatorship, the regime issued a series of “Institutional Acts,” dissolving political parties, establishing indirect elections for the presidency and enforcing the 1967 Constitution, drafted by the military. However, none were as repressive as AI-5.
The motivations behind AI-5
1968 was a difficult year for the generals. After four years in power, the regime’s opponents began organizing and mounting a credible resistance, launching significant protest movements against a dictatorship whose grip on Brazil appeared to be slipping.
In March, 18-year-old student Edson Luís was murdered by the military police in Rio de Janeiro. While dispersing a protest in a downtown restaurant, a police officer shot Mr. Luis point blank in the chest, becoming one of the first students killed by Brazil’s military dictatorship. His death sparked public outrage and led to even larger protests, especially in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
The student movement became more and more organized, and demonstrations became more and more violent. Three were killed, dozens injured and over one thousand arrested in a protest outside the headquarters of newspaper Jornal do Brasil, which was later referred to as Bloody Friday.
Five days later, huge crowds took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the “March of the Hundred Thousand.” It was clear that the population had had enough of the generals. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, did not come directly from the streets. Instead, it was a momentous defeat for the dictatorship in Congress that led to the generals gathering together and issuing AI-5.
In September 1968, Rio de Janeiro congressman Márcio Moreira Alves delivered a rousing speech in Congress, demanding a boycott of the military’s Independence Day celebrations, denouncing its practice of torture, and even suggesting that young Brazilian women shouldn’t date men from the Armed Forces.
The government requested Congress’ permission to sue Mr. Moreira Alves, which was rejected by lawmakers. Not only had the population turned against the dictatorship, but the politicians did too. Seeing their power decay, General Artur Costa e Silva, Brazilian president at the time, turned to the hard-line of the military and AI-5 was born.
AI-5: item by item
The infamous decree lists a series of measures to be taken in order to “protect the Revolution of 1964” and mentions factors which “provoke the public order.”
It begins by decreeing that the president has the power to close federal, state and municipal legislatures, stating that while closed, the Executive branch would serve as the sole legislator of the country, being able to appoint specific interventors to command states and municipalities.
Article 4 of AI-5 is among the most notorious, allowing the president to “suspend the political rights of any citizen for 10 years and impeach elected officials at the federal, state an municipal levels.”
The decree also gave the Ministry of Justice the power to monitor any citizen and “prohibit access to certain places.” Article 10 enshrined the military’s removal of habeas corpus for those arrested for political crimes.
Arrests, torture, murder: AI-5 in action
AI-5 signaled the beginning of Brazil’s Years of Lead, where forced retirements, arrests, torture, disappearances and killings became the norm. Particularly chilling was the police’s newly-gained right to arrest any citizen and hold them for up to 60 days, with up to 10 of those days in solitary confinement. This greatly facilitated the regime’s torture program, often arbitrarily arresting citizens, torturing them for ten days, before releasing them due to having no charge.
Documents consulted by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo showed that at least 1,390 people were directly affected by AI-5 during its first five years in effect, suffering from punishments such as forced resignation and firing, to imprisonment, torture, and sometimes death.
A little over 10 years later, in the slow process of democratization, military president Ernesto Geisel repealed AI-5, and the dictatorship would last for another 6 years.