In the early eighties the Brazilian economy was beginning to dip into one of the worst economic tragedies the world got to know in the 20’th century. The causes were three: a gigantic internal debt inherited by the construction of Brasilia in the fifties, the retraction of the world economy that had begun in the mid seventies and the ineptness of the military government in dealing with bad times.
To try to divert the attention to these issues and to the lack of democracy, the military resorted to the policy of abertura (opening) which had similarities with the soviet Glasnost, that was happening at the same time. They hoped that the opposition would be appeased by allowing exiles back into the country, by freeing political prisoners, by allowing new parties to appear and by giving more freedom to the press. One of the main channels of this new political openness was a program called “Canal Livre” where popular left-wing journalists gathered to interview all sorts of personalities, including important politicians returning from their exile.
Some interviews were memorable, and even shocking for the amount of freedom that was aired. In one of these programs, the iconic Senator Teotonio Vilela launched the idea of a pacific movement in favor of direct elections for president. This was a long awaited change; since the coup in 1964, the country’s rulers had been chosen by the congress where a large percentage of its members were indicated by the military.
With the ever worsening of the economy, the movement grew like fire on dry straw and was soon embraced by all the opposition forces in the country from illegal trade unions to a large amount of mainstream politicians. From relatively small demonstrations, they grew into gigantic rallies in all major cities of the country with crowds always around the million mark. The speakers ranged from celebrity artists, actors, union leaders and politicians, many of whom would become governors, senators and presidents such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luis Ignacio da Silva, or Lula,
Initially branded as “subversive” by the president, General Joao Baptista Figueiredo, the sheer scale of the protests made their voice impossible to go unnoticed. There was violence and there were people sent to jail but the dynamics of the movement were unstoppable and culminated in the Dante de Oliveira constitutional amendment. Although it only guaranteed free and general elections for president eight years later, it nailed the coffin for the worst period recorded in Brazilian political history, and was the founding stone of modern Brazil.
Read a personal account of this historic moment in Lost Samba.
Thanks to http://insiderbrazil.wordpress.com/ for pointing to the following video: