The first general entered the Planalto Palace in 1964, and the last (the fifth) left through a side door in 1985.
Told like this, the dictatorship lasted 21 years, but it differed from other Latin American, communist, African, and even some European ones.
The rotation of the Presidency was its greatest difference. While dictators around the world only left power dead or deposed, in Brazil, everyone had mandates. The regime was called "revolution."
As a result, the government of Marshal Castello Branco (1964-1967) has little resemblance to that of Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-1969).
The EmÃlio Garrastazu MÃ©dici's presidency (1969-1974) had little resemblance to that of Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979). MÃ©dici chose Geisel to succeed him, and years later, he would say that "if regret killed, I would have already died."
None of the four looked like JoÃ£o Baptista Figueiredo (1979-1985). When he left through the Palace's side door, he was away from Geisel; the country was broken, and the regime had lost its credibility.
The opposition's party conciliation ushered in stability, thanks to the genius of Tancredo Neves. (He was to be elected indirectly, but died without taking office.)
The two decades of dictatorship produced progress and full employment, bankruptcy and recession, public order, censorship and torture, morality and corruption (on a centesimal scale).
Colonel-Deputy Costa Cavalcanti, who built the Itaipu hydroelectric plant, died with an irrelevant legacy.
To this day, widows of the dictatorship pretend that the ruins did not happen, and their opponents are reluctant to admit that some things have worked out.
Fulanizando: General Augusto Heleno said in 2018 that "Colombia was 50 years in the civil war because they did not do what we did in Araguaia."
And what did they do in Araguaia? Between October 1973 and the second half of 1974, the Army troops fought a guerrilla faction from the Communist Party of Brazil in the Araguaia region.
It killed about 40 fighters, including those who responded to invitations to surrender.
Arrested, they were interrogated and then murdered. A guerrilla found under a bare tree was arrested, fed, heard, and executed.
The dictatorship had periods of relative freedom of the press and severe censorship. Political repression was exacerbated in 1968 and declined after 1977. Practiced in the name of combating a terrorist outbreak that was stopped in 1971, political repression led to an undisciplined military force.
Officials placed the bomb that exploded at the home of journalist Roberto Marinho in 1976. Military personnel stationed at DOI-Codi were the captain and sergeant who, in 1981, took another bomb to the Riocentro parking lot the night a musical show was being held. (The sergeant died when it exploded in his lap.)
As the five presidents were generals, a selective memory of the period pretends that military discipline gave order to the regime. False.
In 35 years of democratic rule, Brazil has not yet had a single significant episode of military anarchy. During the dictatorship, at least five relevant episodes were recorded (in 1965, 1968, 1969, 1977, and 1981).
Castello Branco was an intellectual military person who had studied for two years at France's High School of War. He refused to suspend the political rights of journalist Carlos Heitor Cony and wrote:
"I see no reason to cancel his mandate [Cony had no mandate, it would be a case of taking away his political rights]. He is sometimes insolent, and almost always a liar. He has attacked the minister of war unabashedly and enunciates ideas that disrespect the armed forces. Against me, he insults: the president is a 'stick-man' in the hand of his subordinates. Instead of taking away his political rights, which would greatly value him, I prefer to leave him with his articles. The revolution will win".
Army minister Costa e Silva moved in on general Castello. Elected president in 1967, the marshal self-walled in 1968 and issued Institutional Act No. 5, closing Congress, emasculating the Judiciary and creating the procedural mechanism that facilitated the torture of prisoners.
To this end, it suspended the habeas corpus institute for crimes against national security and guaranteed prisoners' incommunicability for ten days.
In 1969, Costa e Silva suffered cerebral ischemia that left him speechless and semi-paralytic.
His deputy was a civilian deputy Pedro Aleixo, who was promptly prevented from taking over a military junta. Censorship prohibited the use of this expression, but the three military ministers were called "The Three Stooges" by General Ernesto Geisel (in private conversations) and by the president of the MDB, Ulysses GuimarÃ£es (later, in a public statement).
Costa e Silva's ischemia was followed by weeks of military anarchy while a conclave of generals chose the new president. General MÃ©dici "was elected," but no one knows how. Days later, the choice was ratified by the reopened Congress.
The myth of the order of the dictatorship can be evaluated in two episodes. During the Costa e Silva government, General Ernesto Geisel, who had headed the Casa Militar de Castello Branco and opposed his choice, was at the Superior Military Court.
When someone called him to discuss politics, even though he was a person who usually did not use bad words, he made the following preamble:
"Watch out, there are some motherfuckers out there who are perched in public offices there who want to hear my conversation. So they go to shit."
At that time, Antonio Delfim Netto (who did not tap telephones), ran the economy. He was the most powerful finance minister in republican history.
Years later, Geisel was in the Presidency and prevented him from being governor of SÃ£o Paulo. As he preferred to have him in the administration, as long as he stayed away, in June 1974, Delfim discreetly arrived in Brasilia for a conversation with General Golbery do Couto e Silva, head of the Civil House of Geisel.
He entered the Granja do IpÃª room, and the host indicated the place where he should sit.
There were two hidden microphones, and it should be connected under a kitchen cabinet. "I suspected when he pointed to the chair," said Delfim later.
Military anarchy reached its culmination in the second half of 1977, when the Minister of the Army, General Sylvio Frota, flagged himself to succeed Geisel.
An opponent of the president's "slow, safe and gradual" opening policy, in his memoirs Frota would come to attribute "socialist tendencies" 11 times. On October 12, 1977, Geisel fired him.
The minister went to the hearing at which he was dismissed, thinking that he would fire Geisel, with the authority that would have been conferred on him by members of the Army High Command, something like the Board of Directors of a company changing its executive.
He was wrong, and when he prevailed, Geisel restored the Presidency's supremacy over the Armed Forces.
The opening initiated by Geisel was conducted and completed by Figueiredo, a cardiac cavalryman, who cultivated a folklore of vulgarity. He lacked luck. Three bombs exploded in your lap.
In 1981, the Riocentro attack took place. Months later, his coronaries clogged, and the following year the foreign debt brought the country into bankruptcy.
His government was pernicious, but, except for his bad personal habits, he was not the one who caused the misfortunes. The ruins were of the regime.
If the dictatorship indeed started in 1964, it is not easy to say when it ended. AI-5 ended on December 31, 1978.
Figueiredo signed the Amnesty Law in August 1979, and in 1982 direct elections were held for state governments. Leonel Brizola, exiled and watched since 1964, returned to Brazil and was elected governor of Rio de Janeiro.
Castello Branco said it was easy to enter a dictatorship, but it was difficult to get out of it. Hence the difficulty to say when the 1964 "revolution" ended.
It ended little by little and in bumps. Brazil owed Tancredo Neves the seam of the final acts of this process. He helped build something that even today many people think has not happened: a compromise from the opposition.