It was the morning of March 31, 1964 when, at Palácio das Laranjeiras, in Rio de Janeiro, President João Goulart answered the phone. On the other side of the line was Senator Arthur Virgílio, who had important news: Army troops were moving to act against the government.
Jango called his head of the Military Cabinet, General Assis Brasil, who told him that everything was in order, and that General Olympio Mourão Filho, from Minas, was just carrying out a military maneuver. In fact, Mourão, a former lieutenant, was marching to Rio to overthrow the government.
The general began his movement alone, but it turns out that no one was willing to come to Jango’s defense. The president, who had been Minister of Labor under Getúlio Vargas, had been radicalizing his speech in favor of agrarian reform. Linked to the left, he had already promised to reduce the power of foreign companies, which deeply angered the country’s biggest businessmen.
Furthermore, it seemed to stimulate the soldiers’ revolt against their commanders. On the night of March 30, speaking to noncommissioned officers and sergeants at the Automóvel Clube do Rio, Jango supported young people trying to democratize the Army. “I will not accept the coup of the reactionaries,” he said. The provocation of the generals was very costly.
Who will attack?
The situation was escalating and it looked like someone, from the left or the right, would strike at any moment. Jango intended to approve reelection in Congress to get another term in 1965. Deputy Leonel Brizola, the president’s son-in-law and ally, said: “If we don’t carry out the coup, they will against us”.
On that March 31, when Mourão took to the streets, Goulart received a call from Amaury Kruel, the general who headed the troops in São Paulo and Mato Grosso.
Amaury demanded that the president break with the left. Jango replied, “General, I don’t abandon my friends.” Amaury joined Mourão. On the morning of April 1st, the president placed five tanks at the door of Laranjeiras – Rio de Janeiro was no longer the capital, but it was there that the entire crisis took place.
By taking over the government in place of Jânio Quadros, who had resigned in 1961, Jango placed his allies in the most important positions in the Army, Navy and Air Force. His plan was to always count on the support of friends in these sectors to prevent a coup from happening. Did not work.
Fighting with the military leadership, Goulart had another card up his sleeve: the demonstration of the people. He tried to appeal to this when communist leader Luiz Carlos Prestes called for a general strike and a large march for the 1st.
But one thing got in the way of the other. With the transport sector strike and the rain that fell in Rio that day, only 4,000 people managed to reach the protest.
Then the president went for one last bet. The story is told by journalist Elio Gaspari in his book The Embarrassed Dictatorship. The head of Jango’s Civil Cabinet, Darcy Ribeiro, called Congressman Marco Antonio Coelho, from the Communist Party of Brazil, to talk.
He offered Marco Antonio submachine guns for the communists to fight against the military and gave him a list of people who should be executed if the left won. But the deputy refused to participate in the plan.
Just before noon on that 1st of April, Jango’s Minister of War, Jair Dantas Ribeiro, resigned and joined Mourão’s gang. The president flew to Brasília, where the coup was advancing fast. At that time, troops from Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo were already in favor of overthrowing the government.
The new leader of the military, Marshal Castello Branco, was hiding in an apartment in Rio, and from there he used the telephone to win new allies. At 8 pm, the certainty of victory was so great that Castello was already discussing the division of power with his colleague, General Arthur da Costa e Silva.
They decided that Castello would assume the presidency, and Costa e Silva would take command of the army. When the first president of the dictatorship died, in 1967, it was Costa e Silva who took over the government.
Meanwhile, in Brasília, Jango realized that he could no longer remain in the presidency. Without resigning, he took a plane at 11 pm. He went to Rio Grande do Sul and from there he fled to Uruguay. Even before he left the country, Congress had already handed over power to the president of the house, Ranieri Mazzilli, who would later hand over the position to Castello Branco.
From then on, Brazil was under new management. What came later were 20 years of dictatorship, with five general presidents. It was only in 1985 that Brazil would once again have a civilian president, José Sarney, from Maranhão.
The left’s reaction
When it started, the dictatorship promised to be short-lived. Everyone, from businessmen to government officials, believed that, after a period of transition in which tempers had calmed down, the military would call a new election.
When, on December 13, 1968, President Marshal Costa e Silva decreed Institutional Act number 5 and closed the National Congress, it was seen that democracy was far from returning. It was there that the organized opposition movements had to choose: either they disappeared or they radicalized and left for clandestine life.
In turn, the military responded with arbitrary arrests, torture and death. One of the most emblematic cases was that of journalist and professor Vladimir Herzog.
In October 1975, summoned to testify at the DOI-CODI (Detachment for Information Operations – Center for Internal Defense Operations), in São Paulo, he was arrested and turned up dead in his cell. His death, full of signs of torture, provoked the mobilization of society against torture.
Source: with agencies