The In-Depth Exploration of Political Factors on Governmental Changes from the 1980s to the Present day in Brazil and Chile Essay


Military rule can be a common place in Latin America and in this paper I will narrow down the study to an analysis of the military rule in Brazil and Chile. The paper will provide an in-depth exploration of the manner in which political factor led to the ultimate change in the governorship in Chile and Brazil.

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The paper will provide an in-depth exploration of the various attempts each country made at having a democratic system of government, how long the democracy lasted and set out the reasons why both countries eventually slipped into military rule.

The paper will also provide an exploration of what effects military rule affected had on the countries as a whole. It will also seek to establish what changes were made by the democratic governments that took over from the military dictators and what effect they had and whether the changes were positive or negative.

Political parties are considered as having the most influence in any country regardless of the type of government but his was not the case however in the two countries. The paper will seek establish what role was played by the political parties, if any, in pushing for and the eventual restoration of democracy in their particular countries.

 Outside governments are usually considered to provide the best hope for countries under military rule as they are able to impose the kind of pressure internal factors cannot. The paper will establish if outside countries played a role in either hindering or facilitating the return to democracy of the two countries and if so, to what extent.

Thesis Statements

Each of the two countries had made numerous attempts at establishing democratic government and though this was achieved it was turned out to be brief.

Both the military and democratic governments have had positive and negative effects.

Political parties did not play a major part in effecting governmental change for the most better part of the military rule. They only came alive after the military governments had operated for several years.

Popular movements are the institutions that played a very active part in pushing for democracy.

Outside governments had a huge impact on ensuring the return of democracy to the two countries under study.

Early Attempts at Democratic Rule


The first at democratization attempt in Brazil took place in 1889 when emperor Perdo II was deposed by a republican military coup which was led by General Deodoro da Fonseca and he briefly became the head of the provisional government and it was during this period that he called for the formation of constituent congress which was given the task to draft a new constitution for the United States of Brazil. He was later elected president in February 26, 1891 which was secured by a narrow plurality and his election had been further been made possible by the fact that congress had been pressured by the military. His style of leadership quickly fell out of favour with the populous as he allowed his ministers what was seen as most unlimited control of their ministries. This could not fully be considered a democracy as a very small percentage of the population was allowed to vote and also the election of General Fonseca in 1891 was highly possible due to the influence of the military.

It was not until after 1945 that Brazil can be said to have experienced a true democracy as during this period the participation of the citizens in the elections increased rapidly, there was enough freedom given to the press, there was also the coming up of national political parties which was a break from the partisan leadership experienced when the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais alternated the executive. It also a break from the dictatorship which was experienced when Getúlio Vargas, a military Junta took office through a coup.

However this period of democracy lasted until 1964 when the military took over the government through a coup which ushered in a dictatorship which lasted for over 18 years (De Carvalho, 2000).


The most evident period of democratic rule prior to 1980 was as from 1932 when Carlos Ibáñez del relinquished power to a democratically elected successor and this marked the beginning of a long period of democratic rule. This was initiated with the restoration of constitutional after stints of military dictatorship. The years that followed up to the year 1973 there was a period of sound democracy which was characterized by the coming into power of democratically elected governments.

            Chile was considered as the only country in Latin America to have sustained electoral democracy as during this period most of its neighbors were led by major Marxist parties. During this period it had a stable multiparty political system little resemblance to Latin American models.

The Effects of Military and Democratic Rule

Effects of Military Rule


            Between 1964 and 1985 Brazil was known as the military republic this was not withstanding the fact that though in the 1920’s Brazil had experienced a period of military rule it was not as vast as this. During the change of regime in Brazil political struggles started due to the increasing competition between the various political parties this unfortunately spread to the military and split it. In 1964 the political struggle boiled over as no single civilian politician was able to command the support of all the revolutionary factions and therefore the army chief of staff at the time, Marshal Humberto Castelo Branco, assumed the presidency with the intention of overseeing the reform of the political-economic system. Branco however found himself in a tight spot as the military hard-liners who had helped him secure power wanted him to purge the left-wing politicians a suggestion he declined to heed and they went on to accuse him for not going far enough as he had also refused to institutionalize military rule. On the other side he faced criticism from civilian politicians who opposed his reforms and claimed that he employed dictatorial methods in his leadership.

During the military rule of Castelo Branco there was an expansion of the powers of the president’s arbitrary powers and this was at the expense of the judiciary all of which was aimed at satisfying the military hard-liners who had put him in office. He also recessed and purged congress, he went on to remove state governors who did not support the government.

During the era of the military republic there were gross human rights violations as those who were found to have been against the ruling regime were punished, close to 5,000 people, and this done through arrest, torture and even executions. Political parties lost their mandate and freedom, workers union leaders were deprived pf their political rights while thousands of public employees lost their jobs most of which was due to the fact they did not support the regime. Military officers who were found not to have supported the take over by the military lost their jobs and this included 43 generals. The most common system of rule revolved around instilling fear on those opposed to the regime and this worked very well when politicians found that political prisoners disappeared once they were arrested. The regime also curtailed the freedom of the media as it was censured as to what it was allowed to report while other organizations which were viewed as posing a threat to the regime were either closed down or limited in the scope of their operation through being deprived of their influence.

The regime left congress open and operational but it purged its vocal elements and therefore however much congress would have wanted to stop the injustices going on, it did not have the power to do so.

The regime did not abolish the party system as elections were maintained but the position of the presidency and governor of state government were not subjected to the election as they were appointed by the military rulers. This therefore resulted in a political system in which the representation was there but it lacked the relevant substance.

There is however a twist in the plot as some positive thing came out of the military republic first being that during this period there was a rapid increase in the electoral participation as the figure went from 18% in 1960 to 47.5% in 1986. The dictatorship put in place economic policies which centered on capital investment in road construction, energy production which include nuclear energy, they also improved telecommunication and also facilitated industrialisation. In the 1970’s Brazil experienced a period of rapid economic growth which reached a high of 13% in 1973 which was referred to as the ‘Brazilian Miracle’ at the time. In the period from1960-1980 more 50million people were found to have migrated from the rural areas to the urban areas.

The ‘miracle’ turned out to be an illusion as the massive expansion of labour market the household income remained stable and there was a drastic drop in minimum salary and this led to a rapid increase in the inequality levels. This was further compounded by the oil crisis which took place in 1973 which led Brazil to massively rely on oil imports as its local production only amounted to 20% of the local consumption. The economic growth came to a screeching halt in 1979 when the second oil crisis hit and by 1983 there was -3% decline in the GDP and this ushered a long period of economic stagnation which was coupled with high inflation.

Corruption also set in as the ambition of military officers who were appointed to civilian positions became greed as their professional morale became corroded.

During the term of the last military president Joao Figueioredo the economic problems continued which included; a rise in the level of inflation, decline in industrial productivity, and a mounting foreign debt. The problems were further compounded by the IMF imposition of a painful austerity program on Brazil under which Brazil was required to hold down wages it paid to civil workers so as  to fight inflation.

The curtains came down on the military governance in 1985 after a series of street demonstration protesting military rule some of which gathered more than one million people. The military leadership under President Joao Figueiredo stepped down and transferred government to a civilian president elected by as special Electoral College” (De Carvalho, 2000, p. 81).


            Chile has had its fair share of military rule the most famous of which was the military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. The first years of Pinochet’s rule was characterized with gross human rights violations an example of which was the gruesome murder of 72 people by the so called “caravan of death” which was a Chilean Army death squad. During the first six months of Pinochet’s rule, the caravan of death executed more than a thousand people, while at least two thousand were killed during the next sixteen years of Pinochet’s rule.

            The first four years after Pinochet had assumed the presidency and the junta official took over the legislative power there were numerous human rights abuses. The first step towards this was the suspension of the constitution and the Congress, imposition of strict censorship and curfew, banning the left-wing parties and halting of all political activities. This was followed by a wave of violence which was waged on any person who was found to either be a supporter or a member of the Popular Unity party. The tactics employed included torture, arrests, jailing and murder. It was not until 1980 that a plebiscite was conducted and Pinochet and the junta further strengthened their grip on power by having the powers of the president increased (Barton, 2004).

            The opposition labor movements began to agitate for change in 1983 and this did not go down well with the government which retaliated violently first with the beheading of several of the individuals, professor José Manuel Parada, journalist Manuel Guerrero, and Santiago Nattino, by uniformed police. These were the individuals who were claimed to have been in the fore front of the demonstrations and this led to the resignation of a junta General as a sign of protest.

            During the reign of Pinochet more than 3,200 people were killed through a series of military operations, Rettig Report (1991), at least 80,000 were jailed without trial, Valech Report (2004), and another 20,000 were said to have gone into exile. During the same period the military commanders who had been appointed to head various government offices closed. “Congress censored the media, purged the universities, burned books, declared political parties outlawed if Marxist or in recess otherwise, and banned union activities” (Oppenheim, 2007, p. 124).

            The most notable effect of the dictatorship under the military in Chile was the conversion of Chile to a military state as all the political parties were banned and the members who remained vocal were silenced either by jailing or murder. Therefore members of the Popular Unity party went into exile in order to save their lives in the early years of the dictatorship. The communists on the other hand faced persecution but they still managed to preserve their organisation. The socialist party split badly it was at one point in the 1970’s considered to have disappeared. The Marxists were also repressed to the point of surrender as they could resist the injustice that was meted to them and other parties.

The road to new of democracy received a bit of a boost when Pinochet’s regime permitted a greater freedom of speech and this was extended to trade unions and political parties. There was also the pursuit of free market economic policies by the right-wing military government (Garretón, 2003). The regime also moved away from involvement in the market economy which resulted in a largely free market economy which resulted in an increase in domestic and foreign private investment, this not withstanding  the copper industry and other important mineral resources which had been nationalized were not returned to foreign ownership (Oppenheim, 2007).

            Even the judiciary crumbled under the military regime judges did not step up and stand for the rights of the population. This was evident in that those who were falsely arrested and arraigned in court were afraid to notify the judges of the fact that most of them had been tortured in order to extract a confession.

Effect of Democratic Rule


            In 1988 the new government proclaimed that “a new constitution through which it restored civil and public rights such as freedom of speech, independent Public Prosecutors, economic freedom, direct and free elections and universal health system which had been destroyed during the dictatorship. It also decentralized government, empowering local and state governments” (Hilbink, 2007, p.121).

The most visible benefits that have come out of the restoration of democracy have been; freedom of speech, freedom of organization, free elections, extended franchises, several political parties.

The restoration of democracy brought with it a form of excitement with the Brazilian legislature wrote a new constitution (based on the American Model) the government also embarked on an ambitious plan for major land reform which they intended to have completed by the year 2000.

With this change a new type of politics emerged whereby politicians were not at all afraid of the presidency as was demonstrated with the impeachment of President Collor de Mello after he was allegedly accused of receiving large sums of money as bribes which were deposited into secret bank accounts, though he was acquitted two year later. This was associated with the fact that Brazilian elections are considered to be among the most expensive in terms of the campaign that politicians have to run (Odennel, 1994). This is mainly because the electoral competition has become increasingly fierce since the country returned to a democratic system which has been characterized by the doubling of aspirants for most public offices (Nicolau, 1997). Most parties have also lacked the strength of organizational structure which is a huge way of drumming up support a part’s candidate and therefore the candidates result to providing access and distribution of clientele goods that is dishing out gifts and promising favors (Ames, 1995). Politicians result to sourcing of funds from business sources. This however comes at a price as one a candidate gets elected to office he or she is expected to reciprocate the result of which is corruption and this has been said to have reduced the scope of representation of the campaign promises and representation of voter interests.

The government of Collor sought to put in place economic policies which would curb soaring inflation while at the same time driving the country towards modernization.

The political landscape in Brazil has been shaped in a negative way due to the fact the racism is still evident. it has been as being easier for a light skin Brazilian to go up the social and or political scale than a dark skinned Brazilian this has resulted in the dark skin feeling of being left out in the democratic process as they feel that they are not able the same opportunities as those who are light skinned (Twine, 2000).


            Chile returned to democracy in 1989 when a  president Augosto Pinochet was defeated in a national referendum and he was forced to call for free congressional and presidential elections whereby Patrício Aylwin a candidate of the democratic opposition, won the presidential vote. This symbolized the end of a 16 year military dictatorship. From this point the nation’s tradition of democratic politics slowly reemerged which was a major step towards the restoration of total democracy (Barton, 2004).

            After the referendum of 1989 the political elite realised there was need to change the mechanisms used to resolve conflicts as the past event had been a clear lesson that consensus should be the way to incase political conflicts. This was said that “it culminated in the formation of a coalition government which based on a consensual program among center and moderate leftist parties”(Oppenheim, 2007, p.64).

The incoming regime found itself in a good place due to the fact that the Pinochet government had placed the country on a path of sound fiscal footing.

Role of Political Parties under Dictatorship


The Brazilian took over the government with the sole intention of overseeing the reform of political-economic system. This was because there were struggles in the new regime and these spread to the military which also split along these lines. In the therefore no civilian politician was acceptable to all revolutionary factions.


Political parties in Chile could not play even a miniamal role as machinery was put in place to ensure that their voices were muffled. The political parties therefore did not react to the human rights situation in an organized way but individually. The only organized reaction was that of the Radio Balmaceda a representative of the Christian Democratic Party in mid-1974 but the government reacted to this by censoring it. The party was not intimidated by this and went on to register a complaint before the Interior Ministry in which mentioned that “the human rights violations that were taking place in the country. In 1977 the situation got worse with the coming into effect of Decree Law No. 1697 ordered all parties not yet disbanded to be disbanded and this signified the end of political party participation” (Tulchin, 2007, p.119).

The opposition political party movement in Chile got its big break when Pinochet called for a second publiscite which was to be a forum for the inauguration of his successor. However something different happened as the Christian Democrats fielded a candidate who went on to win and become the president of the country. The political parties withstood a period of darkness as it was not until the last few years of Pinochet’s rule he signed a law that allowed for the return of political parties this was after more than 15 years of living in a country without a political institution that could raise a voice against the human right violations.

Role of Popular Movements on Governmental Reform


Soon after the military took over a powerful political movement emerged and this was driven by the support of the urbanized and industrialized South based on manufacturing workers and the middle class as the North supported the government.

Trade union leaders in Brazil were arrested by government officers for organizing a six-week strike by 140,000 metalworkers. In order to avoid any other form of rebellion against the government Inacio da Silva and Sao Bernardo, president of the metalworkers union were charged with “crimes against national security”. Inacio da Silva was later released after there was public outcry over his detention but the harassment of the union did not stop as military police arrested six more labor leaders so as to cripple the union.

As was the case in Chile the Catholic Church also spoke out against the military government. This resulted in the expulsion of foreign priests who together with the local priests had become the voices of societal change through the making of consistent demands for political and reform.


The human rights situation got even worse as the years went on to the point that the people could not even mention injustices in the courts, it was at this point that the Catholic Church came up to be the voice of the voiceless people whose voices had been taken away by the social injustices taking place.

The catholic church through employed a number of methods to voice anger at human rights violations that were taking place and these included statements by he most notable of these were the publication in the newspapers of certain statements by the secretary of the Chilean bishops council, Bishop Camus who spoke out against the injustices by the government. The church also provided asylum to politicians who being sought by the government for not supporting it. Though they were harassed and jailed they never gave up and it got better when other such organization began cropping up all over the country.

Another group was formed by victims in 1974 and it began recruiting members and by late 1975 it reached 323 members and it soon after that it began holding peaceful demonstrations to attract public attention at a time when no individual or group dared to talk against the regime.

In mid-1976 the sixth assembly of the Organization of American States was held in Chile and four lawyers presented a document before all participating foreign ministries which contained all the human rights violations which were being committed in the country and this resulted in the government expelling two them from the country.

The Role outside Governments have played in hindering and helping each Nation move towards Democracy.


Unlike Chile Brazil has not had much intervention by outside countries, the only country that intervened was the United States. The United States intervention was mean to ensure thart president Goulart was deposed from power. At the US was afraid that Brazil under the leadership of President João Goulart  would become a communist country and would end up joining forces with the Soviet Union (later on became Russia) which was its enemy . The US was quick to support the new military government that deposed João Goulart and it therefore because of this that the US can be considered a hindrance to the restoration of democracy.


            The United States was at first a hindrance to the “movement towards democracy as increased it aid provision to the Chilean government during the first three years of Pinochet’s regime, while presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford were in office” (Samuels, 2001, p.81). The stand of the US however changed when Jimmy Carter took office in 1976 as his campaign had been based on a promise for the vigorous pursuit of human rights which he had promised to make a major component of his foreign policy. It was also during Carter’s administration, in1978,  that Pinochet was forced to call for a national plebiscite after the US had claimed that his secret police had been responsible for the assassination of a former Chilean ambassador, Orlando Letelier who had server under Pinochet’s predecessor. “The plebiscite called for a yes or no vote on what he said was a defense of Chile’s sovereignty and it also sought for the institutionalization of his regime”(Bezerra, 1999, p. 27). Pinochet’s regime remained in power as the government had claimed that more than 75% of the voters endorsed Pinochet’s rule though the referendum had been tightly controlled. It was in response to this criticism especially from the US state department that the government dissolved the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) the Chilean secret police which was responsible for executions among other things.

In January 1975, Australia took a step at forcing Chile to improve the human right situation when it suspended wheat shipments to Chile.

Soon after Great Britain also joined in the fight as it demanded improvements in the human rights situation failure to which there would be no further renegotiation of Chile’s foreign debt.


Political factors have been found to have massive influence on what is the government of the day as has been seen in the exploration both military and democratic countries.

However bad military governments are set out to be in Chile, Pinochet’s government was characterized by gross human rights, it turned out t have had an upside as during his reign the economic situation improved an a way the Brazilian people did not expect. Political factors played a big role in the eventual removal of Pinochet and the junta from office and this came in the form of pressure from outside governments like Australia, Britain and the US.

In Brazil, the military government came into power as a result of political factors as the new regime could not come to an agreement and therefore the military took over to reform the political-economic system. In the end just like in Chile it was the political factors that led to the restoration of democracy.

Therefore though it was political factors that brought the military governments into power in both countries it was political factors, though in the Case of Chile they were of a different kind, that led to the to the eventual downfall of the military governments and the consequent return of democracy.


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