October 5th 1988: Constitution of Brazil promulgated
On this day in 1988, the current Brazilian Constitution was promulgated. Emerging from twenty years of military dictatorship, the South American country sought to enshrine citizens’ rights and establish democracy. Brazil’s woes began with a military coup in 1964 which ousted the sitting president. The new military leadership swiftly established a repressive state, issuing a series of military decrees suspending habeas corpus and disbanding congress. Groups opposing the government, notably the Communist Party, were forced undergroud and formed armed resistance movements. Dissent was harshly repressed, and a 2007 report found that 475 people ‘disappeared’ during the twenty-year dictatorship, with thousands imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. Brazil’s military and police officers were trained in torture techniques by American operatives from the CIA, intent on eradicating communist influence in the region. The dictatorship in Brazil was followed by similarly repressive governments in Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. These Latin American dictatorships violently suppressed opposition to their governments in the US-sponsored Operation Condor. In the 1970s, with the dictatorship at its peak, Brazil’s economy boomed, reaching annual GDP growth rathes of 12 percent. In 1974, the more moderate Ernesto Geisel came to the presidency, and began relaxing the autoritarian aspects of the regime. It was under his leadership that exiles were allowed to return, and habeas corpus was restored. However, the era of military dictatorship did not come to an end until a declining economy and frustration with the lack of democracy caused public protest to reach a fever pitch. In 1985, the electoral college elected a new leader, and the process of dismantling the military dictatorship began. A year later, a Constitutional Congress began drafting a new constitution to end dictatorship and establish democracy. The constitution, which was promulgated two years later, restricted the state’s ability to curtail civil liberties and suppress the democratic process. In 1989, a democratic presidential election was held, and Fernando Collor de Mello became Brazil’s president. The painful memories of the repressive dictatorship continue to haunt many Brazilians, including current president Dilma Rousseff, who was among the 30,000 people tortured by the government.