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Volume 55 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: BRAZIL


TIMOTHY J. POWER, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University.


THE CURRENT LITERATURE ON BRAZILIAN POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT reflects the perception that Brazil is a country in permanent crisis. When 21 years of military-authoritarian rule ended in 1985, many scholars and political practitioners were optimistic about the prospects for democratization and development. In retrospect, this optimism may have been justified in light of the heroic struggle against the military dictatorship, which coincided with a rebirth of Brazilian civil society in which social scientists themselves played no small part. But in recent years, Brazilians have had little to celebrate. Repeated bouts with hyperinflation, the impeachment and subsequent resignation of President Fernando Collor de Mello on corruption charges in 1992, and most importantly, the persistence and even aggravation of scandalous social inequalities have robbed the post-1985 democracy of its promise. Whereas in the early 1980s both Brazilians and Brazilianists wrote glowingly about the abertura in the "country of the future," a decade later they were more likely to meet at cheerless conferences and lament the economic crisis, the dysfunctional political system, and the generalized sense of ungovernability.

If what is bad for society is often good for social science, then perhaps it is no surprise that the crisis has had the positive effect of sharpening the analytical rigor of Brazilian and Brazilianist political science. The sense of urgency has made the literature more diagnostic and politically relevant than ever before, as evinced by the burgeoning research on democratic institutions. This trend has coincided with generational change in the scholarly community, both North and South. The laboratory and the frame of reference for younger, emerging researchers is not the military regime of 1964-85, but rather the democratic New Republic. In Brazil, the generation of political scientists trained abroad in the 1970s and who returned to build prestigious research institutions (such as IUPERJ, CEBRAP, IDESP, and CEDEC) has now shaped a new cohort of productive young PhDs. On the US side, a similar phenomenon is occurring. In the works reviewed here, those senior North American scholars who were first tagged as "Brazilianists" in the 1960s and 1970s are virtually absent. Rather, one notes the strong presence of their doctoral students. Many dissertations on Brazilian politics were completed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a stream of related books and articles has followed. Illustrating this trend, political science was prominent at the founding meetings of the new Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) in March 1994.

Because of the widespread perception that the consolidation of Brazilian democracy is incomplete, general appraisals of the New Republic continue to appear. The ills of democracy are discussed in Jaguaribe (item bi 94001848) and Silva (item bi 94000677). Houaiss provides a sobering report on the failure of the Brazilian model of development (item bi 94000637), while Almeida addresses the question of why a social democratic solution did not succeed in the early years of democracy (item bi 93002575). Sosnovskii (item bi 94000693) and Jerez (item bi 93021946) offer general treatments of the New Republic written for Russian and Spanish audiences, respectively, with the latter serving as a useful literature review on the new democracy. The symposium edited by Reis Velloso is a serious overview of public policy issues facing the nation in the 1990s (item bi 94000625), while Kinzo's edited volume is a rare collection of Brazilian analyses published in English (item bi 95008073).

The multiparty system of the New Republic continues to be fertile ground for studies of parties and elections. An excellent starting point is the bibliographic essay by Lima Jr. et al. which provides comprehensive coverage of Brazilian works published between 1978-92 (item bi 93024532). A compendium of basic information on parties is provided by Monteiro and Oliveira (item bi 94000694). General works on the party system include those by Lamounier (item bi 94000633) and Souza (item bi 94001844), both stressing the weakness of parties. The best contribution on party underdevelopment is by Mainwaring (item bi 93016503), who in a related paper stresses the infelicitous combination of presidentialism and party fragmentation (item bi 94001264). Balbachevsky offers an unconventional contribution to the study of party identification in Brazil (item bi 93002584). Topical studies on voting include the dense essay by Reis and Castro on region and class (item bi 93002580) and the short paper by Berquo and Alencastro on race (item bi 93024508). All of these works concern the post-1985 democracy, but the multiparty system of 1946-1964 is revisited in the works by Neves (item bi 94000663) and D'Araujo (item bi 93005693).

The study of electoral law, formerly considered esoteric, has flourished recently due to a growing dissatisfaction with Brazil's unique variant of proportional representation (PR). Mainwaring's highly original paper on politicians' shaping of electoral rules has been widely read and cited in Brazil, and is the best introduction to the debate (item bi 93006328). Two other competent studies of Brazilian PR are those by Silva (item bi 94000696) and Marconi (item bi 93024513). The essays in Pedone's edited volume place the Brazilian electoral system in comparative perspective (item bi 95010095).

The presidential election of 1989, the first direct popular election of a chief executive since 1960, has understandably provoked a flurry of books and articles. Campaign memoirs were written by Pomar (item bi 94000636) and Figueiredo (item bi 94000685), advisers to the two finalists in the presidential runoff, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party (PT) and the eventual winner, Fernando Collor de Mello. Sophisticated studies of voting in the 1989 election are provided by Ames (item bi 95007997) and Kinzo (item bi 94001249). José Alvaro Moisés used the occasion of the election to conduct some fascinating surveys on Brazilian political culture (item bi 95009446). Likewise, Silva (item bi 94002001) and Straubhaar et al. (item bi 94000200) seized the moment to produce the first empirically-grounded studies of the role of television on voting.

Another election - the plebiscite of April 21, 1993, in which Brazilians rejected a proposed change to parliamentary rule and chose instead to maintain the current presidential system of government - was responsible for another wave of studies, many of which showed political scientists in their advocacy role. Lamounier was the most visible proponent of the parliamentary option (item bi 93024567). In this he was joined by Almeida (item bi 94001370), whose essay earned a presidentialist rejoinder from Alencastro (item bi 94001371). The ongoing debate on constitutional reform led the union lobby DIAP to conduct a valuable survey of federal legislators (item bi 95008074).

The corruption scandal of 1992, in which Fernando Collor lost his bid to become only the second civilian in Brazilian history to be democratically elected and serve a full term as president, inspired several works, including those by Flynn (item bi 94001252), Silva (item bi 93021991), and Sives (item bi 94000054). To date, the most sophisticated analysis of Collor's Administration and eventual impeachment is that of Weyland (item bi 94003759). A reminder that corruption was not unique to the Collor government is provided by Castello (item bi 94000680).

Studies of the working class and especially the Workers' Party (PT) remain numerous, in part reflecting the left's dominance in Brazilian academia. Union politics are discussed in Duarte (item bi 94000658), Silva (item bi 93024516), and Delgado (item bi 93005703). Werneck Vianna (item bi 94000626) and Abramo and Karepovs (item bi 94000672) study the former Communist Party (PCB). Rodrigues' collection of essays is a sometimes provocative look at the relationship between trade unions and party politics (item bi 94000691). The PT is examined in many works, reflecting not only its anomalous status as a truly ideological and cohesive party, but also its growing electoral strength. The most useful of these are the compendium by Gadotti (item bi 94002053) and the book-length analysis of the PT's early years by Meneguello (item bi 94000687). The party's capture of the S˜ao Paulo city government in 1988 led to two analyses of the administration of Mayor Luiza Erundia (items bi 94002368 and item bi 94001429). Bolaffi analyzes why the party was thrown out of city hall in 1992 (item bi 93001433), and Novaes warns against the increasing bureaucratization of the PT (item bi 94001430).

The growing influence of neoliberalism in Brazil has focused new attention on conservative groups. Nylen's article (item bi 94001247) and Payne's book (item bi 94000846) are useful studies of business elites in the democratic transition. Pierucci (item bi 94001372) and Mariano and Pierucci (item bi 93012898) examine right-wing electoral strategies. This new focus on civilians is complemented by the enduring tradition of research on the most important rightist actor, the armed forces. Hunter provides an excellent dicussion of the military's changing mission in democratic Brazil (item bi 95008852). Conca provides a competent study of military involvement in the defense and high-technology industries (item bi 93001619), while Wood and Schmink (item bi 93025213) and Mendonça Barreto (item bi 93019970) examine military influence in the Amazon region. Revisiting the authoritarian regime of 1964-85, Baffa's exposé on the intelligence community in the 1970s is a chilling reminder of the ongoing importance of civil-military relations (item bi 94000642). Pinheiro's contributions on extra-legal police violence is timely in light of recent tragedies in Brazil (item bi 94002414). Without a doubt, the political role of police forces merits further research in Brazil and in Latin America as a whole.

Among other prominent political actors, the Catholic Church is the subject of five contributions, two of which point to internal divisions within the institution (items bi 93021387 and bi 95007969). State elites are examined in Hochman's paper on the early social security administration (item bi 93016816), while Raichelis studies the foot soldiers of social policy in the 1980s (item bi 94000654). Other miscellaneous contributions worthy of mention are a study of the crisis of municipal governments (item bi 93005687), an entertaining journalistic account of Brazil's computer industry in the 1980s (item bi 94000682) and a new biography of Juscelino Kubitschek (item bi 94000623).

Summarizing the foregoing, if there is an underlying theme linking most of the works on the New Republic, it is the issue of governability. Brazilians and Brazilianists are seeking to discover how the promise of democratization might be reclaimed by effecting social, economic, and political reforms. The quality of many of the works here illustrate the breadth and methodological rigor of Brazil's social-science community, which is arguably the best in the Third World. If Brazil's political practitioners showed the same sophistication and dedication as its political analysts, the crisis of the New Republic would have solved itself long ago.


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