[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]


Volume 59 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: BRAZIL


TIMOTHY J. POWER, Associate Professor of Political Science, Florida International University


AS BRAZIL CROSSED THE THRESHOLD into the 21st century, its political system continued to attract intense scholarly attention. Although riddled with major shortcomings in terms of quality and performance, the democratic regime inaugurated in 1985 continued firmly in place, and seemed almost certain to exceed in longevity Brazil's earlier experiment with democracy, from 1946–64. Analysts who had earlier evinced pessimism about democratic survival now had to confront, in the revealing phrase of Kurt Weyland of the University of Texas, "the growing sustainability of Brazil's low-quality democracy." As the new century began, scholars of Brazilian politics also confronted the ongoing reformulation of Brazil's development model that began in the early 1990s under the disgraced former president, Fernando Collor de Mello. The 1994 election of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was firmly committed to reviving Collor de Mello's market-oriented reforms, was a major turning point in Brazil's political economy. Cardoso's unprecedented re-election in 1998 ensured continuity of the reform process, though a painful devaluation and subsequent recession in 1999 meant that Cardoso had to press forward with diminished speed and support. Although Cardoso's second term in office was viewed as less successful than the first, the cumulative effect of eight years of state and market reforms could hardly be overstated. Future political and economic historians will view the Cardoso experiment as a watershed.

As was the case with other Latin American countries undergoing similar processes of structural adjustment, scholars of Brazilian politics engaged in fierce debates over the extent, significance, and desirability of neoliberalism and globalization. These debates seemed to turn more on predictable ideological cleavages—and occasionally on the occupations and interests of the protagonists—than on sober empirical analysis of the new reality. While a number of contributions in this vein are reviewed here, a more useful way to explore the burgeoning scholarship on Brazilian politics and government is to identify discrete avenues of inquiry in which new knowledge is being generated or in which older debates are being more profitably recast.

One promising development is the emerging literature on citizenship, human rights, and the rule of law in Brazil. After a long period in which scholars conceptualized democratic transition and consolidation in overly general terms, in the second half of the 1990s there was a tendency to disaggregate the concept of consolidation in order to focus on specific areas of democratic quality and performance. In this way, scholars have come to recognize the incompleteness of democratic citizenship in Brazil, with particular emphasis on human rights violations, state violence (especially at the subnational level), weak guarantees of civil and political rights, and mounting pressures on the beleaguered legal system. General overviews of the human rights situation in Brazil appear in the report of the 1995 visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (item #bi 99000273#) and in the investigative report by journalist Gilberto Dimenstein (item #bi 99004594#). Also included here are more detailed analyses of specific problems of racial discrimination (item #bi 99000216#) and police brutality (item #bi 99004591#). In addition, Zaverucha's contribution is a pointed statement of how the militarization of police forces is inimical to democratic consolidation (item #bi 00007635#).

Entries for HLAS 59 are unusually heavy in the areas of political biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. This increase is a mixed blessing in that many of these contributions are not written by academic specialists, and they vary from ad hominem indictments to soporific hagiographies. However, when viewed in context, they can serve as useful primary source material for the political researcher. Some prominent examples include an interview (item #bi 99000211#) and a critical biography (item #bi2001007717#) of the Bahian oligarch, Antônio Carlos Magalhães; a biography of his late son, Luís Eduardo Magalhães (item #bi2001007741#); and a similar study of former communications minister Sérgio Motta, the principal architect of Cardoso's political career (item #bi2001007726#). Studying these three individuals' careers provides useful insight into the reform process of the 1990s, and it is now clear that the deaths of the latter two men in April 1998 left a major void in the Cardoso coalition. Another important contribution is Goertzel's political and intellectual study of Cardoso himself, a work in which the biographer unabashedly identifies with his subject and with the president's reform agenda (item #bi2001007732#).

An increasing number of Brazilian historians specializing in oral history deserve special recognition for their contribution to additional primary source material. Owed to the dynamic Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), a unit of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, some sterling contributions on the political history of the 1964–85 military regime appear here. The most important set of works is the trilogy by D'Araujo, Castro, and Soares in which the authors interviewed leaders of the armed forces about the coup of 1964, the repression of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the political opening after 1974, respectively (items #bi2001007750#, #bi 99000181#, and #bi 99004596#). The trilogy is complemented by the massive interview given to D'Araujo and Castro by the influential former president (1974–79), Gen. Ernesto Geisel, with the provision that it be published only after his death in 1996 (item #bi 99000505#). Together, these four books generate unprecedented insights into military views of the defunct authoritarian regime. Other important new works relying on oral history techniques are Nader's study of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) under military rule (item #bi2001007721#); and the three-volume Histórias do Poder, an invaluable set of interviews with 52 prominent political activists of the 20th century (item #bi2001007713#).

Two new streams of literature deserve mention as they provide innovative examinations of Brazilian politics. One stream addresses the rise of political consultants in Brazil and the massive expansion of the industry that Brazilians call marketing político; a representative contribution in this vein is the collection of essays by Figueiredo et al. (item #bi 99000161#). The second new stream of literature derives from an intriguing development in Brazilian anthropological circles: increased attention to micropolitical analysis. Kuschnir's work on the "home style" of city councillors in Rio de Janeiro (item #bi2001007736#) and Bezerra's pathbreaking study of clientelism in the National Congress (item #bi2001007728#) are illustrative of the fascinating new subdiscipline of political anthropology.

A final trend in the literature is the recasting of older debates about Brazilian political institutions. Previous essays in HLAS drew attention to a consensus that the main national political institutions (parties, Congress, the electoral system, executive-legislative relations) were poorly designed, dysfunctional, and therefore precarious. This continues to be the dominant view outside Brazil, and indeed, two of the finest new contributions on Brazilian politics are by prominent US scholars, Scott Mainwaring (item #bi2001007733#) and Barry Ames (item #bi2001007739#), both of which adhere to different versions of the weak-institutions thesis. These works exhibit a level of methodological sophistication never before achieved in the study of Brazil, but their main arguments are no longer uncontested. In the past few years, the institutional-design debate has shifted substantially with the rise of a revisionist position holding that Brazilian political institutions are characterized by reasonable levels of coherence, effectiveness, and predictability. The strongest version of this argument, focusing primarily on the party and legislative arenas, is exhibited in the hotly debated work of Figueiredo and Limongi (item #bi2001007744#). Contributions from related revisionist perspectives include André Singer's important study of the left-right dimension in the electorate (item #bi2001007718#), Meneguello's study of cabinet stability and presidential support (item #bi2001007738#), and Reich's reassessment of the 1988 Constitution (item #bi 00002753#), all of which suggest that Brazilian democracy has achieved a higher level of political institutionalization than previously imagined. The availability of new datasets (particularly in the areas of electoral behavior and legislative voting) and the innovation of new theoretical perspectives (especially rational choice) have enriched the debate on political institutions, and it is thus no surprise that a new generation of Brazilian political scientists has chosen institutional design as a preferred line of inquiry.

As Brazilian democracy completes its second decade and confronts new challenges, there is no doubt that the scholarly production on politics and government will continue to grow considerably. Established literatures on democratization, political institutions, and neoliberal reform will certainly thrive, and newer work will likely address the political economy of globalization and its effects upon Brazil. As Brazil becomes increasingly enveloped in subregional (via Mercosur), hemispheric (via FTAA), and global integration, scholars will have to come to terms with these transnational influences and attempt to isolate and analyze their myriad effects on the Brazilian polity.


Go to the:


Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]


Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (11/01/11)