9232507409_6d29877436_zAfter 21 years of dictatorship, Brazil restored democracy in 1985.

BRASÍLIA – On January 15 1985, Tancredo Neves was elected the first civil President of Brazil after 21 years of military dictatorship. The citizens, who had taken to the streets in 1983 in a national movement known as “Diretas Já” (Direct Elections Now), did not vote. Mr. Neves was chosen by an Electoral College composed of deputies and senators. In spite of that, he was celebrated around the country as the leader responsible for restoring democracy.

In his first speech as elected president, Tancredo Neves stated that the Brazilians were “proud of being people who do not fall in, who know how to put fear away and do not shelter hatred”. It was a signal of his conciliatory approach to the process, widely seen as ideal for the moment. Military officials should be separate from politics, and not punished for the long period of civil rights suppression and authority abuses. This point of view endures until nowadays, and constitutes one of the open sores in recent Brazilian history.

Unlike other South American countries that went through military dictatorship, such as Argentina and Chile, Brazil did not punish murders and other crimes committed during the period, opting for forgiveness. In 2011, the government created the Comissão da Verdade (Truth Comission),  in order to bring to light all the human rights violations perpetrated in Brazil between September 18, 1946 and October 5, 1988, but without the power to judge these violations. On the other hand, according to Human Rights Watch, until September 2013, Argentina had already convicted 416 people, military officials and civilians, for this kind of crime, including the former president Jorge Rafael Videla.

Despite his historical victory, Mr. Neves never made it to office. He died three months after his election due to complications from intestinal surgery, and he was replaced by his vice-president, Jose Sarney. Even with the decease of its symbolic leader, democracy prevailed in Brazil. The Constitution published in 1988, the seventh in the nation’s history, remains valid, devoting special attention to rights that were usually disrespected during the military rule. The first president elected directly by the popular vote, Fernando Collor de Mello, was impeached for corruption, in a landmark moment for the newly established political settlement.

Internationally perceived as a young yet solid democracy, Brazil still holds some traces of a covert authoritarian culture. In 2013, thousands gathered for protests throughout the country in a display of civil engagement. The movement initially began as a reaction against the rise of prices in public transportation, but soon it embraced a vast range of issues, including high costs of living and the public money spent to build stadiums for the Fifa World Cup. Unable to deal with this sort of demonstration, the Brazilian police, which remains a military organization, reacted harshly, beating up people and inspiring the protesters even more.

The election that re-elected president Dilma Rousseff for a second term with 51.64% of votes, the narrowest margin since the return to democracy, also stirred up hints of that endearment towards tyranny. Days after the results, there were minor protests in the largest cities, with people demanding military intervention and evoking the “order” and “integrity” of the government run by marshals and generals, in contrast to the current administration, weakened by a Petrobras corruption scandal. Such demonstrations were condemned even by Aécio Neves, the defeated candidate in the race for presidency.

At the United Nations World Summit, held in New York in 2005, representatives from governments from all around the world reaffirmed that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives”. In the political aspect, Brazilians do not determine their system so freely; voting is compulsory for people aged between 18 and 70, and those who do not go to the ballots have to justify their absence or pay a bill. This is not the case in the 10 wealthiest countries in the world, where voting is optional. Nevertheless, Brazil is a pioneer of electronic voting, which was introduced in 1996. The system is considerably secure, and presents the voter with a simple interface.

In fact, if there is one point which is unanimously seen as weak in Brazilian democracy, it would be the political system. After the strong wave of protests in 2013, Mrs. Rousseff proposed a plebiscite in order to authorise the development of a Constituent Process with the intent of implementing a political reform. This has not been achieved yet, and is one of the main topics in the national agenda for 2015.

Tiago Nicacio, Correspondent (Politics)

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