Starting in 1974, the new president E. Geisel found himself faced with a picture that was totally different from that inherited from General E. Garrastazu Medici. It was politically – with the failure of the ruling party (Aliança Renovadora Nacional, ARENA) and with the first ferment of civil society after the years of terror – and it was economically, with still sustained growth but inflation of 38%, a worsening of the balance of payments and a consequent recourse to foreign capital, especially in the form of loans, which caused the debt to double between 1975 and 1978.
The most significant aspect of the five-year period was represented by the surfacing of the protest. Various voices took shape: the movements in defense of human rights, strengthened by the positions taken in this field by the Carter presidency in the United States; the press, which could not stand censorship; the students, who began to mobilize again starting in 1977; the bar association, which pushed for a return to the rule of law; the movement against the cost of living, which arose in 1973; the first union ferments within the official structures. The front of criticism then spread to the middle classes – affected in income and standard of living – and even to entrepreneurs, who took sides against the growing presence of the state in the economy. But the real strengths were the forms of resistance from below both of a secular nature (society of neighborhood friends and community associations) and linked to the Church (basic ecclesiastical communities), which had already sided with the poor and distinguished as opposition force, involving the high hierarchies with the National Conference of Bishops. The base communities, which numbered 40,000 in 1974, rose to 80,000 in 1981.
The resistance of society and the progressive worsening of the crisis shook the determination of the Armed Forces to manage power. The choices in favor of liberalization – presented as a donation from above – were therefore not autonomous. The decision caused, however, bitter conflicts within the military and until 1977 the political scene recorded the alternation of conciliatory measures and rigid closures. The intimidation and violence continued, right-wing terrorism developed and state terrorism resumed, with deaths in barracks under torture. It was a warning to Geisel, who managed to defeat the hard line only in 1977, with the removal of the army minister, General S. Frota.
However, the road to liberalization did not have to mean a quick re-establishment of democratic rules. Concerned about the possible success of the MDB (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro) in the 1978 elections, Geisel resorted to Institutional Act 5 (AI-5), closing Parliament from 1 to 15 April 1977 and enacting new electoral legislation that provided for the indirect election of the governors of the states and of 1 / 3 of the senators, through constituencies controlled by the ARENA. The results of the consultations showed that the concerns were well founded: the MDB had results slightly lower than those of the ARENA in the House and obtained 4.3 million more votes in the Senate. At the end of 1978, before leaving office to his successor – General JB Figueiredo – Geisel demolished the foundations of the authoritarian structure, revoking the AI-5, abolishing the death penalty and censorship on radio and television, restoring the habeas corpus for those accused of political crimes, allowing the return of some exiles.
The policy of openness continued – albeit opposed by the right with terrorist acts – under Figueiredo, until it resulted in the return to democracy with the advent of the New Republic. The structures of resistance of civil society still had a particular weight in this process, to which was added the impetus of the new trade unionism, which by now tried to break the submission to the state inherited from the Thirties and expressed itself with leaders that had sprung up from the factory, with a widespread degree of militancy and greater links with the base. The wave of illegal strikes of 1979-80 gave a section of the working class the awareness that they could act as an actor on the political scene, while the social movements pushed the population to organizational forms of democratic participation.
As early as 1979 Figueiredo promulgated an amnesty for political crimes (accompanied by a preventive amnesty for those responsible for repression) and a law on the reorganization of parties, designed to divide the opposition and weaken it in anticipation of the 1982 elections. the regime concentrated almost exclusively on the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro), while the PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista), PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) and the PTB (Party Trabalhista Brasileiro) settled on 5% of the preferences. The defeat of the ARENA heir – the PDS (Partido Democrático Social) – even if for the electoral mechanisms the opposition, while obtaining almost 8 million more votes, had a majority of only 8 seats in the Chamber, remaining a minority in the Electoral College, charged with indicating Figueiredo’s successor.
Close to the 1982 elections, Brazil was shaken by a vast anti-regime campaign which also drew inspiration from the economic crisis, inflation and agreements with the International Monetary Fund. The protest culminated in the massive movement of diretas já (“immediate direct” elections) aimed at reclaiming the right to choose the president through free elections.
To achieve this, the Constitution had to be amended, with a two-thirds majority of Parliament. In April 1984 an amendment to this effect was defeated but by only 22 votes, receiving the support of 55 PDS deputies. The mobilization capacity of the campaign had undermined the unity of the PDS and some of its exponents hastened to distance themselves from the military regime. Furthermore, the choice of the civilian candidate for the presidency – the controversial P. Maluf – which the military themselves viewed with skepticism, caused such disruptions in the party to lead to the creation of a dissident faction, the FL (Frente Liberal). These circumstances allowed, in January 1985, the victory of an element of the PMDB, T. Neves. In the constituency, the Democratic Alliance (PMDB-FL) gained the support of half the PDS. Neves’ past and his political views calmed the military and conservatives. In the space of a few months, the company’s driving force was thus exhausted in this old-fashioned agreement. Neves died in April 1985, before taking office, which automatically passed to the vice president, conservative J. Sarney.
The first measures seemed, in truth, to be marked by some progress: direct presidential elections, voting for the illiterate, an end to all restrictions on parties (with the consequent legalization of communists), promises of social policy. However, there were many aspects of continuity with respect to the past regime, from administrative dishonesty to the absence of measures that would allow Parliament to recover lost powers, to the abuse of presidential decrees. The municipal elections of 1985 registered a widespread malaise: the PMDB lost 4 important state capitals and the victory of J. Quadros in Sao Paulo made the specter of populism reappear on the horizon, previously embodied by L. Brizola, elected governor in 1982 in Rio de Janeiro. Stimulated by the economic recovery, Sarney launched, without consulting the parties,
The Cruzado Plan of February 1986 provided for the creation of a strong currency and the freezing of prices, rents and wages. In issuing the provision, the president addressed the population inviting them to check and report any undue increase. The public response was immediate and the bodies in charge were overwhelmed by phone calls. The Plan and Sarney enjoyed overwhelming success. The drastic fall in inflation (which fell to 3% per month) led to a strong consumption capacity. In July, the first problems began, due to bottlenecks in supply and the boycott of producers.