Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing an Authoritarian Regime

Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing an Authoritarian Regime

Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing an Authoritarian Regime

Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing an Authoritarian Regime


"Highly original. Skillfully employs and interprets a variety of important sources including oral history interviews, documents from the military regime, photographs, and especially films."--Kenneth P. Serbin, author of Needs of the Heart: A Social and Cultural History of Brazil's Clergy and Seminaries

"An outstanding contribution to our understanding of recent Brazilian politics and history. A thorough, much-needed, and relevant study of political propaganda."--Ollie Andrew Johnson III, author of Brazilian Party Politics and the Coup of 1964

Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985) launched seemingly apolitical official campaigns that were aesthetically appealing and ostensibly aimed to "enlighten" and "civilize." Some were produced as civilian-military collaborations and others were conducted by privately owned media, but undergirding them all was the theme of a country aspiring to become a developed nation.

In Brazilian Propaganda, Nina Schneider examines the various modes of both official and unendorsed propaganda used by an authoritarian regime. Focusing primarily on visual media, she demonstrates how many short films of the period portrayed a society free from class and racial conflicts. These films espoused civic-mindedness while attempting to distract from atrocities perpetuated by the regime.

Mining a rich trove of materials from the National Archives in Rio and conducting interviews with key propagandists, Schneider demonstrates the ambiguities of twentieth-century Brazilian propaganda. She also challenges the notion of a homogeneous military regime in Brazil, highlighting its fractures and competing forces. By analyzing the strategies, production mechanisms, and meanings of these films and reconstructing their effects, she provides an alternative interpretation of the propagandists' intentions and a new framework for understanding this era in Brazil's history.


The Brazilian Regime

During the 1960s and 1970s, in the midst of the Cold War, authoritarian regimes seized power throughout most of Latin America. While the case of the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who narrowly escaped prosecution, is legendary, by contrast few people are familiar with the military regime in Brazil. The authoritarian government in Brazil ruled between 1964 and 1985, making it one of the longest-lasting military regimes in the southern cone. While the process of transitioning to democracy was “negotiated,” as in most Latin American countries (except in Argentina, where the regime collapsed), the unique aspect of the Brazilian transition was its lengthy and gradual process of political opening, initiated by military president Ernesto Geisel (1974–1979). Geisel instigated the so-called distensão (literally “depressurization”), which led to a marked reduction in human-rights crimes prior to the regime’s demise. The Brazilian people played a crucial part in the transition process, because large sectors of the population mobilized in support of a return to democracy from 1975 onward. While much of the literature continues to assert that this novel military policy was primarily driven “from above,” other scholars have claimed that it was largely demanded “from below,” as the regime’s popularity declined in the 1970s. As summarized by Alfred P. Montero, the transition entailed a mixture of government-initiated gradual opening and control and popular mobilization in the form of the so-called Brazilian amnesty movement.

Arguably the most important distinguishing characteristic of the authoritarian regime in Brazil was its fundamentally ambiguous character, which fluctuated between authoritarian principles and democratic pretense. Although the regime was not democratic, it made a great effort to create the appearance of a democracy and to avoid comparisons with a dictatorship. Democratic institutions and procedures were maintained but in a distorted form. The traditional . . .

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