Brazil heads back to democracy

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Twenty-one years of military rule have given Brazil a massive economic infrastructure, catapulting this third-world nation out of backwardness and deep into the 20th century. Now it is up to the civilians to bring the nation's political and social structures abreast with the economic structure.

It is a formidable task.

It falls heavily on the shoulders of Tancredo de Almeida Neves, who becomes president tomorrow as the military heads back to the barracks.

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The first civilian in the post in a generation, he has the ``somewhat unenviable task of launching Brazil on a new, uncharted course afloat with land mines promising to explode at virtually every juncture,'' to quote Carlos Castello Branco, Brazil's leading political analyst.

Can Brazil institute a strong democratic government in a society that for a generation has known the military as virtually the only the party?

``The answer is an unqualified yes,'' according to Mr. Castello Branco. He thinks political development along this line is already far advanced.

Roberto de Oliveira Campos, the military's first economic czar, who helped launch Brazil's economic revolution of 1960s and '70s, says the Jan. 15 presidential election, albeit by indirect vote, and ``the expected `civilizing' nature of the future Tancredo regime are extremely auspicious events.''

But Dr. Campos warns that if Mr. Neves is not successful in paving the way toward full democracy, ``We are in for a repeat of an old scenario: the populism of 1961, followed by the anarchism of 1963 and by the militarism of 1964, the tragic cycle in which Latin America so often finds itself.''

All Latin American leaders are keeping close tabs on Brazil's shift. The giant on the continent has been slower to return to civilian rule than many of its neighbors, and voters are unlikely to get a chance to directly elect their president until at least 1988. But Brazil's size and economic weight give it superpower-style influence in South America. What happens in Brazil can set a tone for the region. (Soon after the Army came to power in Brazil in 1964, most of the rest of Latin America toppled to military governments.)

Brazilians hope their march to democracy also will bring changes in civilian politics -- fewer parties, more responsibility on the part of politicians, and more public involvement in the political process.

Such reform, say most analysts, is long overdue.

``We have never really known participatory democracy,'' says Alexandre Demathey Camacho, a political scientist in Rio de Janeiro.

He and others note that over the past 50 years, political decisions have usually been made by small groups of politicians, businessmen, and officers.

Moreover, Brazil's overabundance of political parties during those years -- 229 recognizable parties and another 215 political movements -- made the development of viable political movements virtually impossible.

``Brazilian politics has long been known for its rhetoric, grandstanding, and opportunism,'' says H'elio Garcia, governor of Minas Gerais State.

But Brazilians say they are pleased with Neves.

Dr. Tancredo, as he is widely known, seems to be the most popular man in Brazil, even though, at age 74, he is triple the age of most Brazilians.

``A conciliator'' and ``one of Brazil's most decent figures,'' are descriptions Brazilians often applied to him.

Two powerful groups Neves must reckon with are labor and the Roman Catholic Church. Labor is agitating for better pay and better working conditions, and the church supports labor's demands. Both want better deals for workers and more social welfare for the poor.

Neves has not yet been able to work out any deals with labor's top leader, Lu'is Ign'acio da Silva, better known as Lula.

Lula, head of the Workers' Party, is more likely to join Rio de Janeiro Gov. Leonel Brizola in a left-wing alliance that could cause trouble for Neves. Governor Brizola, who early on had sought the presidency, talks of forming a new socialist party in Brazil -- composed of his Democratic Labor Party, Lula's Workers' Party, and the left wing of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, which largely back Neves. So far, the fiery governor has not had much success.

Lula has some troubles stemming from far-leftist elements within the Workers' Party who are trying to wrest control of it from the trade union leader.

These divisions within the left wing of Brazilian politics will probably work to Neves's advantage in the early days of his administration. But in the long run, some new leftist coalition is likely to emerge, analysts say.

The church itself is wary. In recent years, Catholic bishops here have become increasingly radicalized in their calls for social and political change.

Much may depend on how fast social change comes to Brazil under Neves. The problems he faces -- the foreign debt, 223 percent inflation, and widespread poverty -- are staggering.

Finding a way to close the rich-poor gap may well be Dr. Tancredo's biggest challenge.

Meanwhile, there remains some question on the future role of the generals, now that they are headed back to the barracks.

They are likely to stay out of politics for the immediate future. Top military leadership seems determined to do just that.

Gen. Walter Pires, the Army minister, saw that those generals opposed to the redemocratization process were retired before the election took place. That effectively snuffed out any movement to derail the process and probably gives Neves a fairly free rein as far as the military is concerned for several years at least.

It is unlikely that there will be serious recriminations against the military, although there were plenty of human rights violations in the '70s. Many leading Brazilian statesmen and politicians were stripped of their political rights, a number of Brazilians lost their lives, and some 400 others simply disappeared.

But Neves, like most Brazilians, has promised to let bygones be bygones. This does not mean he condones what happened in the years of military rule. But he sees no purpose in dragging up the past as the delicate process of redemocratization takes shape.

``It is better to move ahead,'' he said in a post-election statement. ``We have much to do. Let us not get tangled up with recriminations.''

``Brazilian Eisenhower'' is how one analyst describes Tancredo Neves, Brazil's first civilian president in 21 years. The short, quick-moving, balding figure, who takes office tomorrow, is a respected political moderate. He is a conciliator. And at age 74, he is a survivor of a good many political wars.

Dr. Tancredo, as he is popularly known, started his political career 50 years ago as a prosecuting attorney in his home town of Sao Joao del Rey, a small mountain community in Minas Gerais State, some 400 miles from Rio de Janeiro.

Mineiros are known for being conciliatory and tight-lipped, traits Neves has shown throughout his career. These qualities are widely viewed as helping him to come from behind in this past year's presidential race -- and eventually to win the support of the business community and even large sectors of the military.

He served as justice minister to populist President Get'ulio Vargas in the 1950s, and as prime minister to Joao Goulart, whom the military ousted in 1964. Since then, he has been a strong critic of the country's five military leaders. In 1982, in the first nationwide elections in two decades, he was elected governor of Minas Gerais.

Neves describes himself as politically left of center. But he was spared the blackballing meted out to left-leaners who surrounded Goulart at the time of the '64 coup. Many analysts view him as a conservative on economic issues, but a liberal on social justice.

``He is extremely honest and perhaps the embodiment of the country's hopes and concerns,'' says Ulysses Guimaraes, a longtime Brazilian politician, who is also something of a political sage here. ``He represents the people who have rejected extremism of both the left and the right. . . .''

Elected for a six-year term, he is already talking about a constitutional amendment that would cut presidential service -- including his own term of office -- to four years.

Neves has always been an activist, and aides say he is planning a whirlwind 100 days of political change much like that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But Brazil's President-elect is being careful not to step on any toes. He has made it clear that he does not plan any Argentine-style legal action or retribution against the military for human-rights offenses committed in office. He is tapping people from a broad array of political views to join his Cabinet; both leftists and many conservatives supported his candidacy. But there are signs that staff selection is proving to be a sticky process.

POVERTY:Some 60 million of Brazil's 131 million people live in dire poverty. In '84, food prises often rose faster than inflation, creating increasing conditions of improper diet and malnutrition. UNEMPLOYMENT:Officially the jobless rate is cited as 18 percent, but most analysts agree the combined unemployment and underemployment rate is closer to 40 percent. In the big cities, where the records are kept, is unemployment is estimated at 20 million. INFLATION:Soared to 223 percent in 1984 and projected to jump to 250 percent in '85. The International Monetary Fund has suggested that Brazil lower inflation to 120 percent this year -- a rate President-elect Neves calls ``unrealistic.'' FOREIGN DEBT:Largest in the world. $100.2 billion in '84 and expected to hit almost $105 in '85. The debt figure amounts to almost half of the gross national product. POPULATION:Birth rate is almost 3 percent a year, with half of the 134 million Brazilians under the age of 15. INFANT MORTALITY:Approximately 250 per thousand births. There are also nearly 10 million orphaned children.

Brazil has never really had a participatory democracy, some analysts say. The civilian who takes charge tomorrow, as the military retreats to the barracks, was selected indirectly. An Electoral College tapped Tancredo Neves after a corps of military and business leaders had rallied around the veteran conciliatory politician.

Such nods of approval traditionally are needed to win Brazil's presidency. There have been some 225 political parties in the past 50 years, none of them strong. The military banned the 13 in existence after the 1964 coup, then allowed two parties, one pro- and one anti-government, to form. In 1979, new laws provided for a limited multiparty system.

But most Brazilians seem unconcerned about their nation's leaders. Popular complaints about military rule never reached the angry pitch heard in neighboring Argentina and Uruguay.

Brazil may be more tolerant of military rule because its generals were not so repressive as those of its neighbors, and the military was responsible for tremendous economic growth in the 1960s and '70s.

Cultural roots are another factor: Brazil was settled largely by Portuguese, a people much less mercurial than their Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Neves says he will initiate political reforms allowing for stronger, grass-roots parties. But at present analysts see few fresh faces on the political horizon. Most key politicians made their marks decades ago.

Neves sees himself as a transitional leader. Presidential elections by direct popular vote are planned for 1988.

Jan. 25: Thousands demonstrate in Sao Paulo for end to military rule. Opinion polls show 9 of 10 Brazilians prefer direct over indirect election of president. March 31: President Figueiredo rules out direct election in nationwide address. April 10-11: Crowds estimated at more than 500,000 demonstrate in Rio in favor of diretas ja -- direct elections now. April 18: Nearly a million Brazilians demonstrate for direct elections in several cities. April 19: Government issues 60-day ban on public gatherings. April 20: Government initiates state of emergency to block demonstations in Bras'ilia and other cities. April 24: 1,000 protesters occupy Congress. April 25: Congress turns down proposed amendment to speed up direct elections. April 26: Opposition says it is determined to continue protest. June 1: 10,000 rally in Bras'ilia in demonstration sponsored by opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). June 15: Ruling Democratic Social Party (PDS) grows more divided as Paulo Salim Maluf begins sewing up presidential nomination. July 3-4: Vice-President Ant^onio Aureliano Chaves and others walk out of ruling party to join opposition. Maluf detractors accuse him of trying to buy election. Aug. 11: PDS nominates Maluf for president. Aug. 12: PMDB nominates Neves for president. Sept. 8: Army and Air Force chiefs verbally lash out at Neves supporters. Nov.-Dec.: Military acknowledges it would accept opposition candidate as president. Late Dec.: Military unsuccessfully mounts last-minute attempt to change election rules in its favor. Jan. 15: Neves wins presidency with 480 electoral votes to 180 for Maluf.

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