An interrupted future: the consequences of the military


An interrupted future: the consequences of the military

Northeast Brazil was the country’s most affected region by the 1964 military coup. The thesis was put forward by economist Celso Furtado in a 2004 text published on the occasion of the 40th year since the coup that installed a dictatorship in Brazil.

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It wasn’t a random thesis. Celso knew quite well the subject and had the indisputable qualifications to make this statement. In the 1950s, he led the main development plans for the region and was one of the first people to have their political rights revoked by the military regime.

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“For Northeast residents in particular, its most damaging consequence was, without a doubt, the interruption of the process focused on rebuilding the anachronistic agrarian and social structures of our country, in a region where the effects of landlordism were most deleterious and, paradoxically, whose renewal movement was stronger,” wrote the economist, looking back on the effects of the 1964 coup.

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“In the Northeast, where I was at the time, the consequences of the coup were very serious, because there was a social policy underway there. The repression exerted from the start wiped out far-reaching social movements that had emerged in the previous decade and which foreshadowed a broad reconstruction of their structures,” he concluded.

The abovementioned thesis is the starting point for the report series produced by Brasil de Fato, which will pick up the thread of Celso Furtado’s thinking to assess the impacts of the coup on the Northeast. Divided into three episodes, the series will rediscover the biography of three crucial personalities for the region during that period: Celso Furtado, Paulo Freire and Josué de Castro.

Each of them in their fields of research was responsible for developing innovative ideas for 20th century Brazil. They were committed to putting on the agenda the urgency of moving forward with agrarian reform, industrialization, literacy for young people and adults, the politicization of workers and the fight against hunger – a plan interrupted by the military.

In the first episode, the series diagnoses the social and economic conditions of the Northeast in the 1950s and looks at the ideas developed by Celso Furtado, particularly the creation of the Northeast Development Superintendence (Sudene, in Portuguese).

A future in the making

Celso Furtado is not alone. Other researchers also confirm that, despite the negative effects on the country as a whole, the Northeast was the Brazilian region that suffered the most consequences of the coup.

“Without a doubt, the Northeast was the region most affected by the civil-military coup, or one of the two main regions affected – the North and the Northeast, but above all the Northeast. The federal government took measures to try to minimize regional inequalities, with a series of policies, from the creation of Sudene (which is the institutionalization of a planning action in the region) to tax incentives, exemptions and tax breaks,” said political scientist Túlio Velho Barreto, director of culture and memory at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation.

“Between the 1950s and 1960s, the Northeast staged many movements. It was the region where the greatest social backwardness in the country had accumulated. The Northeast was then the most socially and economically underdeveloped region in Brazil,” explained Vandeck Santiago, a journalist and author of the biographies of Francisco Julião and Josué de Castro.

Indeed, the Northeast was in the spotlight. The region was also on the US agenda. On July 14, 1961, economist Celso Furtado was welcomed at the White House by then US President John Kennedy. The president received with honors an economist who was in charge of a regional superintendency in a foreign country. It was unprecedented for a specific location to arouse so much interest from the US president.

“No area in our hemisphere is in greater and more urgent need of attention than the vast Northeast of Brazil,” said Kennedy after his meeting with Furtado.

That move “officially included the Northeast on the world map of the Cold War,” writes Vandeck Santiago in his book “Pernambuco em Chamas – a intervenção dos EUA e o golpe de 1964” (“Burning Pernambuco – the US intervention and the 1964 coup”, in a rough translation).

It wasn’t a random interest. The Americans feared that the poor social conditions in the region would favor the emergence of a movement similar to that led by Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959.

“We need a program of concentrated efforts to attack these problems in Latin America, otherwise the Castros will spring up all over South America in the next five years,” Kennedy said in a speech while still a presidential candidate in 1960.

Many news stories by foreign correspondent Tad Szulc published in The New York Times showed the serious social problems in the Northeast region, and described popular movements that were on the rise at the time as serious threats of disruption. Headlines such as “Northeast Brazil Poverty Breeds Threat of a Revolt” built up a fearful imaginary about Brazil.

Talks between US officials, including the president, revealed in the book “Na Lei ou Na Marra” (“By Law or by Force”, in a rough translation), by journalist Paulo Markun, show that the United States was already plotting action against the João Goulart government. On the list of possibilities, military support for a coup movement.

The stories published in the USA told of a land of contrasts. In the 1950s, there were two Brazils: one in the Southeast and the other in the Northeast region. The former was intensely marked by the Juscelino Kubitschek government, known for his seductive charisma, political astuteness and entrepreneurial vision. It enjoyed widespread industrialization and the implementation of the “Plano de Metas” (“Plan of Goals”), summed up in the famous phrase that marked Kubitschek’s government: to develop 50 years in 5. 

On the other hand, the Northeast region presented feudal numbers, was still marked by colonial heritage and landlordism violence. According to data published in Joseph Page’s book “The Revolution That Never Was” (1972), the life expectancy for 80% of the northeastern population was no more than 35 years. Only 4% of children living in the sugarcane zone were still breastfed by their mothers after six months of age. Reading and writing were rare in rural areas: illiteracy could reach 80% in some areas.

Congressman Francisco Julião, leader of the Peasant Leagues, alongside journalist Antonio Callado, author of the book “Os industriais da seca e os Galileus de Pernambuco” (“The industrialists of the drought and the Galileos of Pernambuco state”, in a rough translation) / Memória da Ditadura

The Northeast development plan

Faced with difficulties, it was expected that movements for social transformation would spring up among the people – and that’s what happened. In the city of Vitória de Santo Antão, in Pernambuco state, the Peasant Leagues were born in Engenho Galileia. It was a movement that initially fought for improvements in quality of life and later embraced the agrarian reform agenda, with the support of state deputy Francisco Julião.

In Pernambuco’s capital city, Recife, the arrival of Miguel Arraes as mayor also brought news to the region. His government advanced with works in the poorer areas of the city and created the Popular Culture Movement (MCP, in Portuguese), with initiatives to raise the political awareness of the most vulnerable population. This helped him to ascend to the state government and put the defense of rural men and women on the agenda.

This climate of unrest set off the president’s alarm bells. At the end of the 1950s, Juscelino Kibitschel decided to launch a bold initiative for the Northeast. Initially, he launched the Northeast Development Working Group. This document was the basis for the creation of a public body directly linked to the Presidency of the Republic, with a budget earmarked exclusively for industrializing the Northeast. This would be Sudene.

Celso Furtado was one of the main intellectuals on underdevelopment and the creator of development plans for Northeast Brazil / Arquivo Celso Furtado

Ideas for overcoming underdevelopment

Economist Celso Furtado was born in Pombal, Paraíba state. He studied law in Rio de Janeiro and economics in France. He worked at ECLAC, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. This was a United Nations body focused on development. Inspired by this experience, Furtado wrote the books “A Economia Brasileira” (“The Brazilian Economy”, in a rough translation) and “The Economic Formation of Brazil”, both considered classic works on Brazilian reality.

Celso was already an economist known to the JK government. The ideas discussed at ECLAC helped to theoretically underpin the “Plano de Metas”, which aimed to develop 50 years in 5. One word was decisive in helping the government team to understand Brazil’s problems: underdevelopment.

“It wasn’t a Brazilian debate. It was a debate that tried to answer why some countries did not develop and others did,” explains Tânia Bacelar, an economist and retired UFPE professor.

Inspired by the ideas of ECLAC, Celso would later lead the process of setting up Sudene. The agency would be guided by four pillars: industrializing the region, advancing policies for the semi-arid region, expanding the occupation of Maranhão state and reducing land concentration by diversifying production in the sugarcane zone.

“Sudene emerged as a hope of reestablishing Northeast’s development, which was coming out of a very difficult phase of constant droughts,” explained Clemente Rosas, a former attorney for the agency.

“He (Celso Furtado) thought that, so to speak, the most important economic decisions should be made by the country itself and not be subordinated to multinationals that wanted to install here. He also thought that you can’t overcome underdevelopment without effective state action,” says Rosas, about the ideas that guided the economist from Paraíba state.

The dictatorship completely changed Sudene

With the coup, the military established a new order: they imprisoned opponents, banned workers’ political organizations and censored newspapers. Right from the start, they demolished what had taken centuries to be seen as a priority, especially those actions and ideas aimed at developing the Northeast area of Brazil.

Sudene was among them. Clemente Rosas was directly affected by censorship. He was one of the workers sought out by the regime, accused of being a communist. Faced with what he saw in 1964, Clemente recounts the losses caused by the coup.

“The first big loss was human loss. Then, Sudene lived in a kind of discreet widowhood. It was followed by a phase of financial discouragement: Sudene’s power to coordinate or guide the federal government’s activities in the Northeast gradually vanished.”

The plans to develop the Northeast remained active during the governments of Jânio Quadros and João Goulart, particularly through the ideas defended in the Grassroot Reforms.

“That’s another reason why he was on the list of the first people to be exiled. He was a sponsor of the Jango government’s reformist proposals,” says Tânia Bacelar, regarding the military’s attacks on Furtado’s thinking.

Although he always presented himself as a technician, Furtado did not discard the importance of the political position behind his professional work. He defended agrarian reform and confronted the interests of the region’s landowning elite. “The economist can’t just be someone who sells services. They have to be someone who conveys a message based on values, a vision of society, a vision of the country,” said the economist.

“That’s what the military regime interrupted: the possibility of the country gaining an economic position and, consequently, followed by income distribution, which would make it possible to build a more homogeneous society,” said Túlio Velho Barreto.


Edited by: Nicolau Soares

Fonte: clique aqui.

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