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Civil-Military Relations, 1985-94 of Brazil

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Civil-Military Relations, 1985-94

Civil-Military Relations, 1985-94
Alfred C. Stepan has argued that although the Brazilian military ceded power to José Sarney (1985-90) in 1985, it retained significant prerogatives. President Sarney depended on the armed forces because of his weak political base. According to Professor Fleischer, Sarney was not well prepared to assume the presidency, so General Ivan Souza Mendes, the director of the National Intelligence Service (Serviço Nacional de Informações--SNI) "stepped in to fill the void" and helped him "organize his presidency." As a result of his dependence on the military, Sarney's administration made little progress in gaining greater control over the armed forces.

Congress, meeting as a Constituent Assembly (Assembléia Constituinte), redrafted the constitution from February 1987 until October 5, 1988, when it was promulgated. The 1988 constitution strengthened presidential control of the military by removing the clause that stated the military was only obedient to the executive "within the limits of the law." In late 1989, the first direct presidential election was held in almost three decades, and in March 1990 Fernando Collor de Mello took office.

Under President Collor de Mello, the prerogatives of the armed forces were reduced modestly, but erratically, in a "two steps forward, one step back" manner. Four examples of such reductions can be cited. First, Collor de Mello replaced the military-dominated SNI with the civilian-led Strategic Affairs Secretariat (Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos--SAE). Second, he cut defense spending to the lowest level in decades: approximately 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) in 1993, down from 0.9 percent in 1987. Third, he attempted to establish more effective control over Brazil's various nuclear and other strategic programs. And fourth, the government announced that the Brazilian Aeronautics Company (Empresa Brasileira da Aeronáutica--Embraer), which manufactures the Tucano trainer and the subsonic AMX fighter, would be privatized (Embraer was privatized in December 1994).

Furthermore, in 1990 Collor revealed publicly the secret atomic bomb project developed by the army. On September 5, 1991, Brazil and Argentina agreed to establish the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (Agência Brasileiro-Argentina de Contabilidade e Contrôle de Materiais Nucleares--ABACC). This agreement permits the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect nuclear installations in Argentina and Brazil. On that occasion, Brazil also signed, with Argentina and Chile, a treaty forbidding the development, manufacture, and use of chemical weapons. In December 1991, Collor participated in the signing of a comprehensive safeguards agreement among Brazil, Argentina, and the IAEA.

Collor created an interministerial group to formulate a more restrictive arms-control policy. He increased consultation with the United States on the conditions for gaining access to the technologies covered by the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime). He also announced that Brazil would create a space agency, under civilian control, to open up activities in this sector and to promote the commercial exploitation of the Alcântara rocket-launching base. That agency was established by his successor, Itamar Franco (president, 1992-94).

Under Collor civilian political institutions generally were strengthened. The government granted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Itamaraty) even greater autonomy on foreign policy issues, including some defense-related issues. Congress played a more assertive role, and in late 1990 conducted a major investigation into Brazil's nuclear program. The investigation, conducted by a Congressional Investigating Committee (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito--CPI), was extensive and included the testimony of former President João Figueiredo (1979-85).

Collor's political isolation after his first year as president led him to curry the support of the military. For example, Collor restored funding for Embraer's subsonic AMX fighter in mid-1991 after denying funding in 1990. In addition, the army announced that it would not allow a foreign firm to buy the nearly bankrupt Specialized Engineers, Inc. (Engenheiros Especializados S.A.--Engesa). Instead, Engesa, which had a debt of more than US$400 million and showed little hope for profitability, would be turned into a state-controlled enterprise.

President Franco established closer ties with the military. He named various retired officers to sensitive posts within the cabinet. On several occasions, he acquiesced to military requests for higher salaries. The government's relations with the military improved further after Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president on January 1, 1995.

Data as of April 1997



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