From dictatorship to democracy and development – Lessons to learn from Brazil

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz 'Lula da Silva who have successfully addressed the country's economic and social gaps, lifting millions of their people out of poverty.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor ‘Lula’ da Silva who have successfully addressed the country’s economic and social gaps, lifting millions of their people out of poverty.

By Eric Kashambuzi

After many years of debate, it has finally been recognized by world leaders in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that they endorsed on September 25, 2015 at the start of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, that dictatorship and exclusion of large segments of society from the political, economic and social spheres undermine democracy, rule of law and development while lack of development and endemic inequality undermine prospects for peace and democracy.

Thus goal 16 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in the 2030 Agenda is to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the search is on to present lessons where countries have transitioned from dictatorship to democracy and development. Brazil presents a case study of such a transition that began with the military coup of 1964 to the reintroduction of democracy in the direct elections of 1989 and the resurgence of economic growth making Brazil by the end of 1990s, the 10th largest economy in the world (Gordon Kerr 2014).

How did it happen? The 1964 military coup had been designed to restore order and return the country to civilian rule within 18 months after a swift ending of corruption, chaos and communism by getting rid of political leaders considered responsible for these troubles in Brazil. To their dismay, the generals under the leadership of President-General Castelo Branco ran into problems they did not anticipate while planning the coup. Brazilians did not accept a military government, the challenges of modernizing, integrating and disciplining the economy and society were more daunting and the law that had been signed to effect land reform in favour of poor peasants was resisted by the landlords and their collaborators in government, judiciary, police and the militia (Jan Knippers Black 1991).

Consequently, the hard-liners in the military reasoned that Brazilian democracy had been corrupted by self-seeking and subversive politicians and the country needed a long period of recuperation under a tough government through purging legislators, repressing direct elections, firing civil servants and resorting to repressive measures to implement the economic development plan. Thus, from 1964 to 1985, Brazil was governed by a succession of authoritarian regimes headed by generals. Brazilians objected and fought back. Beginning in 1968, there was a wave of industrial strikes and in 1969 political violence erupted through a network of guerrilla groups operating mostly in the cities that threatened the regime for four years.

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