Are military organizations immortal?1 Such immortality tends to be an unchallenged assumption in the political life of Latin America, and civil-military relations are deeply conditioned by it. Indeed, the rare occasions of mortality of military organizations in the region have by themselves defined some of its most profound political moments. Four events in Latin American political history-- the Mexican revolution, the Bolivian revolution of 1952, the Cuban revolution, and the Nicaraguan revolution--are referred to as revolutions in large measure because of the destruction in each case of the previously existing military organization. Only Costa Rica, with its qualified success in constitutionally abolishing its armed forces, was able to unravel the complex web of civil-military relations with limited social and political trauma. As articulate, focused, trained, and powerful institutions, military establishments tend to survive and prosper even when their missions are most tenuous; they aggressively seek out--and find--ways to support their expensive existence.
The Brazilian military has long struggled to balance its self-defined and often contradictory domestic political missions of fostering national development and guaranteeing national political stability, while suffering institutionally from what might be termed a conventional-mission deficiency: the traditionally faint need to defend the nation against enemies, "foreign or domestic."
Ever since a military coup toppled the Brazilian Empire in 1889, domestic politics have preoccupied the military officer corps. Bluntly put, military involvement in domestic politics has been the most likely forum for revealing the "emperor's new clothes," that is, the transparency of the Brazilian military mission. Hence, the numerous military interventions have always involved the frustration of military elites with specific policies of civilian governments. A political coup engineered by rebellious junior officers (tenentes) in 1930 brought an end to the "Old Republic" after a right-wing populist politician was denied electoral victory; that same politician was removed from office in 1945 after