Toward the Democratic Opening in Latin America: The Case of Brazil

Article excerpt

Dictatorship, authoritarianism, corporatism, fascism, and repression characterize much of the past and present history of Latin America. Reinforcing these tendencies has been the hegemony of domestic ruling classes in league with U.S. policymakers and multinational corporations. Over the years the involvement of the United States in Latin American affairs has assumed several forms of intervention: overt, including hundreds of incidents of direct attack by military force--before Grenada most notably the invasion by 25,000 U.S. marines of the Dominican Republic in 1965; covert, including the CIA organization of the 1954 coup in Guatemala, in Chile during the early 1970s, and current destabilization activities along the Nicaraguan border; and corporate, including efforts by ITT to depose Salvador Allende in 1970 and thereafter the invisible blockade of Chilean copper exports by Kennecott. Popular forces and classes have opposed these tendencies and the old order through numerous movements of resistance, for example, abortive military uprisings in Brazil during the 1920s; electoral strategies, resulting in social democratic regimes; and revolutions in Cuba and Nicaragua.

During the 1950s and 1960s a wave of popular movements contributed to the fall of military dictatorship, including those of Batista in Cuba, Peron in Argentina, Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. With the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979, a second wave has appeared to challenge military rule elsewhere in Latin America. The struggle of Latin Americans is toward a democratic opening in the search for human rights, provision for basic needs of the people, and a rise in the material level of life. The upsurge of pressure in some countries and the revolutionary fervor elsewhere are evident, particularly in the Southern Cone of South America.

In Argentina, political exiles returned to participate in the elections of October 1983. Argentines succeeded in their demands to end military rule and repression and are seeking retribution for the thousands of cases of pesons tortured or missing, a process that has accelerated since the defeat over the Malvinas or Falkland Islands.

In chile the political party structure and a once powerful labor movement are intact, although weak, as popular forces rally around the opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship and the struggle to end military rule in effect since September 1973. A broad coalition of opposition parties, ranging from right to left, has appeared; while the Catholic Church, conciliatory in its relations with the military over the years, has gone on the offensive against the regime.

In Uruguay in a 1980 plebiscite voters rejected the proposition that the military should remain in power, and in late 1982 also expressed their opposition to a regime that since 1973 has brutally repressed the people. Both legal and illegal parties have aligned in opposition.

During November 1982, elections in Brazil signaled an effort on the part of the military to legitimize its rule and contend with the rising opposition, especially in the labor movement but also in a new party system.

What are the implications of these democratic openings? First, the period of severe repression and torture in these countries together with the legitimacy of strong, authoritarian governments are being seriously challenged. Second, with the demise of urban and rural guerrilla movements (the Tupamaros in Uruguay, Montoneros in Argentina, and diverse Communist and Marxist splinter groups in Brazil), the challenge is now taking a peaceful course. Finally, the challenge is rooted in a deteriorating economic situation. In Argentina and Brazil long-term foreign debt is well above $100 billion, and the international banking community has applied monetary and fiscal constraints, while in Chile the free market program of Milton Friedman and the "Chicago boys" has collapsed in the face of unemployment of about 25 percent, inflation of over 50 percent, a decline in GNP of 13 percent, and a foreign debt of $18 billion. …