A protégé of populists, João Belchior Marques Goulart, or “Jango” as he was called, was destined to be the last in line. The son of a wealthy ranchera, Goulart rose through ministerial ranks of Brazilian politics, making a name for himself within labor’s circles. Elected vice president in 1960, he assumed the office of the president after the resignation of President Jânio Quadros. Goulart was strongly opposed by the military, which was growing in strength with the support of the Cold War era United States, an ally he increasingly irritated by strengthening Brazil’s ties with communist countries. Though Goulart was never what one would deem to be a far-left wing radical, the reforms he pursued carried a similar effect as he limited foreign companies’ exports of profits, endeavored to redistribute land and aimed to aid the working classes.
In June 1963, Goulart appointed General Jair Dantas Ribeiro as Minister of War. The two men could not have been cut from more different cloths. Born in 1900, Ribeiro was 42 when he was appointed secretary-general of Brazilian Youth, an organization inspired by Italian fascism to compete with the National Union of Students. When he entered office, the economy was near ruin — wracked by general strikes and imperiled by inflation that was running at a rate of 94%. With opposition to the government growing, Ribeiro and his allies from the White House to Brazil’s military leadership to the Catholic Church seized opportunity.
A March 13, 1964 rally, at which Ribeiro stood by his president’s side, planted the seeds of an impending “communist threat” posed by mass-marching union workers demanding reforms. On the 28th of that month, Ribeiro, who was temporarily hospitalized but had full international backing, heard on the radio that a joint revolt on the part of mobilized students and the Metalworkers Union had not been quashed. Faced with an ultimatum to extinguish the uprising, license was given to depose the beleaguered leader by way of a U.S.-backed coup d’état.
Goulart would be the last left-wing president to lead Brazil until Lula da Silva took office in 2003. As for the Fifth Brazilian Republic, the authoritarian military dictatorship which lasted for nearly 21 years, it became the model for other murderous Latin American regimes that followed. Brazil’s 1967 Constitution stripped freedom of speech and political opposition. Nationalism replaced any whiff of communism.