Quadros, inaugurated as president on Jan. 1961, he found the country ruined, burdened with debt and in the throes of unstoppable inflation. The previous Kubitschek government was accused of having spent large sums, especially for the construction of Brasilia, and of having allowed scandalous illicit enrichments. The new president addressed the situation with a program of vigorous reforms: attacking the wealthy, imposing an austerity regime the country was not accustomed to, making deep cuts in spending, eliminating subsidies, curbing wage increases, and bravely suspending buying from part of the surplus governmentof less valuable coffee to burn. He also intended to have land and tax reforms adopted. The Congress, dominated by the Kubitschek Social Democrats and the Trabalhistas of Vice President João Goulart, intimidated by Quadros’ reformist impetus, stiffened and denied him any support. In foreign policy Quadros was equally dynamic: he declared himself a proponent of an independent policy between East and West; he did not spare demonstrations of sympathy for popular China, the Communist bloc and Castroism; awarded E. Guevara the highest Brazilian honor. Indeed, this line of conduct was not the most suitable for gaining the confidence of the USA, lavish in the past with financial aid to Brazil. Within a few months Quadros found himself isolated from growing opposition and suddenly resigned (25 August) in order not to submit to “internal and external pressures” in the exercise of his mandate.
The succession of Quadros belonged to the young vice president João Goulart, familiarly called “Jango”, heir of Vargas to the direction of the PTB (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro), known for his leftist attitudes. Goulart, at the time of the resignation of the president, was visiting Beijing, having just returned from Moscow. His installation was greatly opposed by the military and by a part of the press who were alarmed: it could only take place after a constitutional amendment had transformed the current presidential regime into a parliamentary one. On 7 September 1961 Goulart took office, flanked by Prime Minister Tancredo Neves. The strenuous defense of the rights of the new president was assumed by his brother-in-law L. Brizola, governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and founder of a “National Liberation Front” which advocated radical reforms and which he decreed in his state, one of the most prosperous del Brazil, a series of expropriations of fazendas in favor of peasants and the nationalization of large North American electricity, telegraph and telephone companies (February 1962). Foreign investments decreased significantly and there was a massive flight of capital; relations with the USA deteriorated, but the reaction was mild thanks mainly to Kennedy, who probably wanted to avoid the mistakes made in the past in Latin America (the last of which was in Cuba). Meanwhile, in the most depressed area of Brazil, the North-East, defined by J. de Castro as “explosive zone”, a movement developed, led by the deputy F. Julião, considered Castroist or Maoist, which promoted “peasant leagues” and he proceeded to the occupation and distribution of lands. The federal government intervened to stem the movement, using the armed forces.
Goulart, in order to govern with greater authority, called for a referendum (January 6, 1963) with which he restored the presidential regime. Then measures were taken to cope with the difficult economic situation: taxes increased, government expenses reduced, wages increased, new debt contracts and a lot of paper money printed. In early 1964, Goulart, despite the credits obtained by the USA, had lost confidence and authority, while opposition grew. He thought of resorting to extreme remedies, calling the people to a large rally (March 13) to announce the land reform and the nationalization of oil refineries. Two days later he asked Congress for constitutional reforms: extension of the vote to the illiterate and the military, payment of expropriations through state bonds, recognition of all parties (including the communist party declared outlawed since 1947), strengthening of executive power, possibility of re-election of the president of the republic. Goulart also believed he was bypassing the military hierarchies, appealing directly to the people, the non-commissioned officers and the troops. On March 26, 1500 naval fusiliers rebelled against their commanders, who soon obtained an amnesty. Public opinion was disoriented: conservatives, moderates, economic groups, senior military ranks compactly against the. president. In São Paulo, 500,000 people demonstrated in “defense of the family and of God”; on the other hand, the unions, in favor of Goulart, threatened to take to the streets. It came to the brink of anarchy and civil war. On March 31, the army, breaking the delay, he rebelled against the authority of the President of the Republic: the revolt, which broke out at the same time in the main points of the country, showed that the officers were firmly in control of the situation. Goulart, fearing arrest, left Brasilia and took refuge in his fiefdom of Rio Grande do Sul, later moving to neighboring Uruguay. By the end of his rule, the cost of living had risen by 300%, the cruzeiro devalued by 83%, the foreign debt increased dramatically and the investments of foreign capital stopped. The evident attempt to impose a personal dictatorship seemed destined to lead to a regime similar to the Cuban one. It is not without significance that the first congratulations to the new government, while Goulart was still in Brazil, came from President Johnson.
After the president fled, following a bloodless revolution, there was the constitution and establishment of an iron military regime. With an urgent procedure, the Chambers approved on April 9 an “institutional act” (an instrument aimed at reconciling democratic normality with the political objectives of the coup d’état), thanks to which the presidential election, until then by direct suffrage, became prerogative of the Congress: it was thus possible to bring the Chief of Staff Marshal H. Castello Branco, who took office on April 15, to the presidency of the Republic.
The first security measures of the new government, which granted itself the right to make arrests for subversive activities, caused a gigantic purge in Brazil Thousands of people, more or less linked to the previous regimes, were thrown into prison; Political personalities deprived of civil rights included former governors, parliamentarians, officers, magistrates, intellectuals and senior officials. In the ban lists the names of the three former presidents Kubitschek, Quadros and Goulart were read, together with those of the sociologist J. de Castro, the economist C. Furtado, the leader Christian Democrat P. de Tarso, the governor of Pernambuco M. Arraes, known for his aversion to Washington policy, the organizer of the “peasant leagues” F. Julião. The drastic purge seriously affected Brazilian and world public opinion. The article of the “institutional act” which prescribed the purge was subsequently repealed (10 October). Castello Branco tried to restore the finances of the town by decreeing a series of measures which, although dictated by strict economic criteria, were particularly burdensome for the less well-off classes. In foreign policy, the president aligned himself with the USA: the break in relations with Cuba (May 1964) and Brazil’s participation in the North American intervention in the Dominican Republic (April 1965) won him some sympathy; to internal, however, the unpopularity of the regime was underscored by student demonstrations. The regional elections (for governors) of October 1965 revealed that government candidates did not enjoy the confidence of the electoral body: in two major states, Minas Gerais and Guanabara, opposition candidates were elected. In retaliation, the government issued a second “institutional act” (October 27), with which all political parties were dissolved, replaced by a government party, ARENA (National Renewal Alliance) and by an “official” opposition party. MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement). The measure represented a new blow to democracy but, to add to the dose, a third “institutional act” (February 1966) established that the choices for all government positions rested with the government. The new constitution (January 21, 1967) again came to strengthen the power of the executive.