Adapting to Democratic Politics: The Military in Post

“Adapting to Democratic Politics: The Military in Post-Transition
(Preliminary Version)
Recife, June 18-22, 2000
1. Introduction
The literature on democratization frequently relates different modes of transition to
different perspectives for democratic consolidation. Brazil represents a paradigmatic case,
experiencing what has been called a process of transition by transaction or negotiation. This
kind of transition, initiated and controlled by the incumbent elites, has contradictory
consequences as far as the perspectives for democratic consolidation is concerned. In fact, on
one hand, it allows for a relatively peaceful process of democratic transition, usually including
military, political pacts and, more rarely, social pacts. Those pacts lead to a politics of
compromise and conflict negotiation and a higher probability of democratic consolidation. On
the other hand, however, transition by negotiation offers less opportunities to break with the
authoritarian legacies. This is because, being in control of the situation, the authoritarian
elites are able to include in the transition pacts the maintenance of their old privileges.
Among the authoritarian legacies that most affect the quality of democracy is the military
prerogatives, especially meaningful in Latin America. The civilian control over the military is
considered a necessary and crucial condition for the consolidation of democracy. 1 The basic
reference is still Huntington2 and, with regard to Latin America, the works of Stepan 3.
According to this civilian control model, Brazil is considered the least promising Latin
American case of successful civilianization. In fact, the first civilian government, that of
This paper contains excerpts from Diamint, Rut and Maria Helena de Castro Santos, “Authoritarian Legacies
and the Military in Brazil and Argentina”, presented to the conference Confronting Non-Democratic Legacies
during Democratic Deepening: Latin America and southern Europe in Comparative Perspective, Universidad
Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, 27-29 August, 1998.
Terry Karl (“Dilemmas of Demcoratization in Latin America”, Comparative Politics, nº 27, October 1990) first
suggested the inclusion of the civilian control over the military in Dahl’s procedural minimum definition of
Huntington, Samuel, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations.
Cambridge: Harvard Un. Press, 1957. For Huntington, the new democracies face the challenge to approach the
“objective civilian control”, which characterize the civil-military relations in industrial democracies. This
pattern involves: (1) a high level of military professionalism ; (2) the effective subordination of the military to
the civilian political leaders who make the basis decisions on foreign and military policy; (3) the recognition
and acceptance of that civilian ledaderchip of an area of competence and autonomy for the military; and (4) as a
consequence, one should expect the minimization of military intervention in politics and of political intervention
in the military. Those characteristics are reproduced in another work of the author, “”Reforming the CivilMilitary Relations” in Diamond Larry and Marc F. Plattner, Civil-Military Relations and Democracy. Baltimore
and London: The Jonhs Hopkins University Press, 1996.
See Stepan, Alfred, The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil. Princenton: the Princenton
University Press, 1971, Rethinking Military in Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone. Princenton: Princenton
Un. Press, 1988 and Os Militares: da Abertura à Nova República. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Paz e Terra, 1986
President José Sarney, did little to challenge the prerogatives of the Brazilian military. Those
remained high even after the enactment of the democratic constitution of 1988.4
After 15 years of civilian rule, however, the military power has eroded more than it was
anticipated by schholars adepts of the Huntington-Stepan model of civil-military relations.5 In
fact, notwithstanding periods of military unrest, Brazil, in a series of back and forth
movements, has taken important steps toward the civilinization of the polity. Demilitarization
is unmistakably in progress, although through a long and slow process. It did not came to halt
as expected, and scholars of the Huntington-Stepan tradition now seek answers to this puzzle.6
I will suggest, at this point, that to grasp the whole picture and solve the puzzle, it is
important to analyze possible changes in the civil-military relations of the new democracies
from the perspective of both the civilians and the military. That is to say, in addition to the
important question about the civilian control over the military in the Huntington-Stepan vein,
researchers must also inquiry about the military process of adaptation to the democratic polity
as well as their new role in the post-cold war world.
Looking through the eyes of the military, they face the multiple challenges of adapting
their behavior to t he domestic democratizing milieu, of enduring their loss of power and
prestige, of accepting and operating under severe budgetary cuts on account of market
oriented reforms adopted by the civilian governments and, with the end of the cold war, of
redefining their institutional role. Concerning this last point, not only the military previous
mission as guardians against communism in the internal front has to be revised, but also,
especially after the Malvinas war, no external enemies or frontier wars are likely to be faced
by the Latin American countries, with a few exceptions, like Peru-Ecuador long-running
border dispute or Argentina-Chile recent contention over the Beagle Channel . The
Cf., for instance, Aguero, Felipe, “The Military and the Limits to Democratization” in Mainwaring, Scott,
Guillermo O’Donnell and J. Samuel Valenzuela (eds.), Issues in Democratic Consolidation: The New South
Americann Democracies in Comparative Perspective. Notre Dame: Un. of Notre Dame Press, 1992
See, for example, the first works of Felipe Aguero, op. cit, and “Toward Civilian Supremacy in South
America” in Diamond, Larry, Marc Plattner, Yun-han Chu and Hung-mao Tien, Consolidating the Third Wave
Democracies: Themes and Perspectives. Baltimore; The Jonhas Hopkins Un. Press, 1997. But cf. Hunter,
Wendy, Eroding Military Influence in Brazil: Politicians against Soldiers. Chapel Hill and London: The Un. of
North Caroline Press, 1997
In recent work, Aguero resorts to legal-institutional factors (characteristics of the authoritarian constitution with
which the military entered the transition) to explain the unexpected erosion of military prerogatives in Brazil.
See Aguero, Felipe, “Legacies of Transitions: Institutionalization, the Military, and New Democracies in South
America”. Paper delivered at the conference Confronting Non-Democratic Legacies during Democratic
Deepening: Latin America and Southern Europe in Comparative Perspective. Buenos Aires, Universidad
Torcuato Di Tella, 27-29 August, 1998.
redefinition of their role in the context of a democratic polity and a new international order is
at the core of what some authors have called the institutional identity crisis of the military.
Therefore, searching from the military perspective, important research questions must
be added. Do the military abide to democratic procedures? To which extent ? Do they accept
to engage in a police role, combating drug trafficking, guarding the coast and eventually
controlling urban riots ? Do they accept abolish conscription, downsize the Armed Forces
and join UN-sponsored peace-keeping missions when so requested ?
With a broader picture of the civil-military relations in the post-authoritarian period in
mind, the researcher is better prepared to assess the patterns of civil-military relations in the
countries of interest and their relation with the prospects for democratic consolidation. Is there
still a coup d’état
threat in the countries under analysis ? Do the remaining military
prerogatives affect the improvement of democratic institutions ? To which degree the
institutional identity crisis of the military affects the perspectives of democratic consolidation
in Latin America ? Can we blame the military for the difficulties in the process of democratic
consolidation in the countries of the region ?
Those are the questions to be addressed in this paper, having Brazil as the empirical
reference. To answer them I will exam the relations established between the Armed Forces
and the actors of the democratic regime, the military prerogatives sustained in the new regime,
their modes of insertion in the democratic politics, their strategies of negotiation to retain
power or defend their interests in the Executive, in the bureaucracies in general and in the
Legislative, the policy areas under their control or over which they exert some degree of
influence, the military issues, their demands and complaints.
The analysis here provided covers the period from 1985 to 2000, corresponding to the
four post-transition civilian governments in Brazil:
the José Sarney (1985-1989), the
Fernando Collor de Melo (1990 - Sept. 1991), the Itamar Franco (Sept. 1992- 1993) and the
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-1998 and 1999- 2000) administrations.
The work is divided into two parts. The first one, following the Huntington-Stepan
civilian control model, deals with the demilitarization process along the four civilian
governments. The second part brings into inquiry the perspective of the military, focusing on
their effort to adapt to the domestic democratizing environment and to their new role as
dictated by the new international order.
1. The Demilitarization Process
The implicit assumption of the civilian control model is that the military will try to
maintain their authoritarian prerogatives the most possible. They are expected, therefore, to
resist the civilians' efforts to exert control over their actions and curtail their influence in the
governmental agenda. Having those premises in mind, it follows a brief account of the
Sarney, Collor, Franco and both Cardoso administrations is provided in this section.
High military prerogatives: the Sarney administration
The administration of Sarney, the first civilian President after the demise of the
military regime, has been thoroughly revised by the literature. 7 Sarney came to power in a
rather weak position, indirectly elected Vice-President of the country by an Electoral College
(Colégio Eleitoral)8.
Tancredo Neves, the indirectly elected President, died before his
inauguration. The transition agenda has been controlled by the military and negotiated by
Tancredo Neves, with no participation whatsoever of the future Vice-President.
Sarney had previously been an important leader of the party (PDS) created by the
military to support the authoritarian regime. During his administration, he did not do much to
strength his position vis-à-vis the military elite. In fact, his cabinet, continued to have six
active-duty generals as in the athoritarian period: the chief of the Military Cabinet (also the
Secretary-General of the National Security Council), the Minister of the Army, the Minister
of the Navy, the Minister of the Air force, the chief of the Armed Forces General Staff
(EMFA) and the chief of the National Intelligence Service (SNI) . The SNI, the institutional
symbol of repression and torture, was left untouched. Many high-ranking positions were
fulfilled by the military, there including ministers and heads of state enterprises. As the
transition pact included the amnesty law of 1979, the human-right offenders were not
rendered accountable for their crimes, and many of them continued to hold positions in the
state apparatus. The Minister of the Army, General Leônidas Pires Gonçalves and the other
Cf. Stepan, Alfred, op. cit, 1986 and 1988; Hunter, Wendy, 1997; Aguero, Felipe, op. cit,1992.; Oliveira,
Eliezer Rizzo de, De Geisel a Collor: Forças Armadas, Transição e Democracia. São Paulo, Paipirus Ed.,
1994; Miguel, Luiz Felipe, “A Sombra dos Generais”, master thesis, Dep. of Political Science, Un. de Brasilia,
The Electoral College was constituted of all members of Congress plus six representatives from each state
legislative. The military President appointed one third of the senators.
five military Ministers dutifully advocated their positions on major issues of the government
agenda. Congress had little influence in the “military affairs” and so did the Judiciary, which
included a especial branch for dealing with military crimes9 (Justiça Militar).
The National Constituent Assembly (ACN) called by Sarney to craft a new democratic
constitution, did not do much to revise the defense structure or to enhance the civilian control
over the military. Most decisions concerning military affairs were favorable to the interests of
the corporation, although in some important issues the military were not completely happy. 10
The major issue at stake was the constitutional definition of the role of the Armed
Forces. Their internal task of defending law and order was maintained, but with an
important qualification. The military can now only take action now on the initiative of the
constitutional powers.11 Another important point was that in previous
constitutions the
military were placed under the supreme authority of the President, but only “within the limits
o law”. This meant that the military were entitled to judge the legality of the presidential
acts and they pressed to maintain this privilege. The article no. 147 of the new constitution,
however, eliminated this clause. Thus, a middle-of-road solution was achieved: the tutelage
role was maintained with, however, important restrictions imposed by the civilian members
of the National Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly abolished the National Security Council (CSN), but
President Sarney created the Advisory Secretariat of National Defense (SADEN), with
attributions nearly identical to the CSN. The creation of the Council of the Republic (an
exclusively civilian advisory body) and the National Defense Council (composed of six highechelons civilian bureaucrats and the armed forces ministries), however, opened up space for
civilian participation in matters of security and defense. The SNI survived, but allowance was
made for habeas data, which permits citizens access to their personal files held by the secret
See footnote 12.
For an account of the outcomes of the ANC concerning the military interests, see Costa, Artur. T.M., “O
Lobby Militar: Um Estudo das Relações Civis-Militares, 1985-1990” (Master thesis, Dep. of Political Science,
Un. Brasília, 1998), Miguel, Luis Felipe, op.cit, 1992), Oliveira, Eliezer,, op.cit., 1994 and Hunter, Wendy,
op.cit., 1997.
In 1991, 3 years after the enactment of the constitution, a bill was approved to regulate the organization,
training and the use of the Armed forces in internal affairs (PLA 181-A/1989). The law determined that was the
President prerogative to decide upon the use of the Armed Forces even if the initiative was taken by one of the
others constitutional powers. This correction, proposed by the leftist representative José Genoino (PT-SP) - a
former member of the guerilla movement in the 70’s -, was welcomed by the military to avoid incidents like the
one in Volta Redonda, a Steel Company in Rio de Janeiro. Called by a local Judge to put an end to the
occupation of the plant by workers on strike, the Army performed their constitutional role at the expense of
three dead workers.
service. This access, however, is still restricted. All in all, the intelligence system was kept
almost unaltered.
Moreover, the Ministry of Defense was not created, conscription was not abolished
and the Military Justice, a court whose members are military judges, continued entitled to hear
and try either the military or civilians by military crimes defined in the law. 12
Altogether, however, although military prerogatives remained high, analysts of the
participation of the military in the ACN assess their accomplishments as a mixed success.13
So, even if by the civilian-control model Sarney's government is rated very poorly, the
fact that the Armed Forces were not fully pleased with the outcomes in the National Assembly
indicates that they had to bargain and negotiate the issues of their interest. In fact, the military
faced the need to get organized in order to press for their demands. As Oliveira points out,
they did it very efficiently, establishing two combined fronts: while the Ministers were in
charge of making strong public statements in defense of the tutelary role, they managed to
organize what was known as the "military lobby" to defend their institutional interests in the
National Constituent Assembly.
The military participation in the National Constituent Assembly was the beginning of
the Armed Forces institutional activities in this democratic arena. There, they efficiently
pursued their interests following the same civilian procedures, a theme to be dealt in detail in
the third section of this paper.
Drastic civilianization: the Collor administration
President Collor, the first president directly elected in the recent democratic period,
took a very different stand on the military issue. Based on popular mandate, and without the
support of any major political party,14 Collor adopted a bonapartist style in politics. The
sweeping economic measures taken at the very first hour of his administration did not let any
doubts about his intentions of establishing his autonomy and strong authority over society.
Those military crimes included, during the authoritarian regime, the crimes against “national security”.
Thousands of civilians that opposed the military regime were tried and prosecuted by the Military Justice
under the accusation of crimes against the national security.
CL. Oliveira. op. cit., Hunter. op. cit.
Collor was affiliated to a small party, the PRN, created by himself to run for presidential elections.
The military were no exception. In fact, he combined frequent statements stressing his
role of supreme chief of the Armed Forces with radical measures to reduce the military
influence in politics.
In the same day of his inauguration, among the impact measures announced, was the
extinction by decree of SNI and SADEN (Medida Provisória no. 150), immediately ratified by
Congress. To replace these agencies Collor created the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs (SAE),
in charge of carrying out intelligence as well as strategic planning and analysis. SAE,
differently from the SNI, was not granted a ministerial status. A civilian was appointed as the
head of the new organ. Many military officers, retired or on active duty, previously employed
by the SNI and SADEN lost their jobs or were forced back to their branches. Notwithstanding,
some military enclaves persisted within the new agency. The attack to the so-called "security
community" included also the dismantling of the Divisions of Information and Security
(DSI's), incrusted in all civilian ministries for information-gathering functions. However,
Collor's attempt to give SAE the monopoly over intelligence functions, thus terminating the
information services within the military ministries, as well as his intention to enhance
congressional control over defense subjects did not come into being.15
In addition to SAE, the Armed Forces General Staff (EMFA) and the Military Cabinet
were also striped from the ministerial status, thus reducing to the three Ministries of the
Armed Forces the number of military positions in his cabinet.
The selection of the military ministers was an important part of Collor's plan to
demilitarize the government. The ministers are the Supreme Chiefs of their Forces and it is up
to them to control military unrest. Collor picked up officers that had not been connected either
with intelligence or repression and unrestrictedly abided to the constitutional rules. Despite
the growing and pervasive dissatisfaction with the government policies and actions within the
Armed Forces, the military ministers under Collor were able to prevent the Armed Forces
fracture and avoid coup attempts.
The main sources of military unrest were the attack to the security apparatus and the
severe budgetary cuts that hurt badly the wage levels and the operational capacity of the
Armed forces.
In fact, the reaction
from the security community came strongly, following
immediately the dismantling of the SNI. The chief of the important Military Command of the
Southeast Region and two retired generals led the reaction. The retired officers also criticized
Cf. Hunter, op. cit., pp.64-65, on this respect
the new government, invoking the historical participation of the Armed Forces in
governmental decisions to justify the legitimacy of their statements. They reminded the
society, at this occasion, that was "better to speak out than to resort to guns". Collor, calling
upon his position of Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces managed to have the Minister of the
Army punish the two retired officers, although the Minister resisted to do the same with the
commander of the southeast region.16. Shortly after that episode, Collor, adopting a stick-andcarrot style, paid visits to important units of the Army, Navy and Air Force, wearing military
The drastic cuts in the military budget, which hindered the military power and social
prestige, was a consequence of market-oriented reforms. In this sense, the military and the
civilian personnel, as well as the military and the civilian ministries were equally treated. The
equality of treatment dispensed to the military and civilians constitutes the novelty of the
situation. The severe overall budgetary restrictions on items other than personnel were, for
sure, a policy choice of the government, which decided not to privilege the military. The
application of the same wage policy to both civilians and the military was a constitutional
requirement (art. no. 31), which, however, has been bypassed in the Sarney administration. As
part of Collor economic policy, the wage decreased in real terms,18 equally hitting the
military and civilians.
The negative impact of the stabilization policies in the operational capacity of the
Armed Forces was an issue carried out by the high ranking officers, especially those
occupying the highest positions in the military hierarchy or in the high echelons of the
government. Important projects of the three Forces had to be abandoned. 19 The high-ranking
officers of the three Forces complained that their equipment in general were second-hand
items dated from the second world war. They argued that the Brazilian defense budget was
already among the lowest in the world, less than 1% of GDP20, and that additional cuts would
Cf. "General defende militares que atuam no setor de informações, Folha deSão Paulo, 5/05/90, "Protesto de
general irrita presidente", Jornal do Brasil, 8/05/90, "Collor manda prender Newton Cruz e advertir Euciydes'-,
Jornal do Brasil, 12/05/90, -General diz para Collor dar tiro na cabeça-, Estado de São Paulo, 12/05/90.
Cf. "Militares apoiam, com críticas isoladas", Correio Braziliense, 17/06/90.
There were nominal wage increases along the Collor administration, with inflation rates reaching,7% per
month at the best and between 20% and 30% per month in its worst phases.
Among them are the Army's Project FT-2000 (Força Terrestre 2000), for the full modernization of the Force
equipment, the Navy's construction of a nuclear submarine and the Air Force space program.
There is a great number of statistical sources for military expenditure. They varied greatly in terms of their
definition of military expenditure and they use different formulas for inflation adjustment. Stepan, at Rethinking
Military in Politics, examined 5 different sources of data, concluding that contrary to what has occurred in other
military regimes, the Brazilian military expenditures decreased in absolute terms during the 70's. Comparing the
not let them perform their constitutional role of defending the territory, the frontiers and the
constitutional powers.
In fact, along the Collor and Itamar Franco years the discontinuity of major projects
was the least of the troubles. The Army had no bullets to train the conscripts. The Air Force
was in shortage of fuel, and as a consequence, the senior officers could not fly the airplanes
so that the younger officers could get trained. The only carrier, dated from the world war
II, had no planes to carry. The senior officers frequently reported situations like those to the
press. Most of the time they resorted to non-political, technical and legal arguments.
The military ministers and the retired officers together took issue on wage increase.
The Military Disciplinary Code establishes that retired officers, differently from active-duty
officers, may freely express their opinion about political matters as well as their
"philosophical and ideological thoughts". They cannot, however, criticize acts from a
hierarchical superior officer, especially the President, who is the Supreme Chief of the Armed
Forces. It was then up to the retired officers, with the occasional help of the wives of the
active-duty officers, to take the banner of wage increase. Voicing the demands of the military
as a whole, they pressed the government really hard. A traditional channel of their expression
was the Clube Militar, a retired Army officers association that has participated intensively in
the debate over important national issues before the 1964 military coup. The retired officers
also get organized in innumerous informal associations spread all over country. These
associations (which approached 10 in number during the Itamar Franco administration),
substantially differed in the way their demands were carried out. Some of them acted in a
clandestine way and even advocated a coup d'etat. Most or them, however, abided to the
Military Disciplinary Code.
The major task of the military ministers was to control unrest within the Forces. They
did so by voicing they themselves the Forces demand for better wages as well as applying
punishments to those officers who, breaking the Military
Code, expressed
political opinions or criticized the government. The Military Ministers pressed along the
years for wages equal to those of the Legislative and the Judiciary, much higher than the
wages paid by the Executive to its personnel. This is a constitutional provision that,
nevertheless, has never been fulfilled.
Brazilian military expenditures as a percentage of GDP with those of other countries (SIPRI data, 1976-1984), he
concludes that Brazil is the "democracy"' with the lowest level of military expenditures as a percentage of GDP
in the world, and the nation with the second-lowest level of all major nations in the world”. The Military Balance
(the International Institute for Strategic Studies), cited in Oliveira, op. cit., indicates that the Brazilian defense
expenditures was 0.41% of the GDP in 1989. This was the most common rate cited by the military during the
The impeachment of President Collor was a crucial test for the process of'
demilitarization. The military passed the test with honor. Not only they did not interfere in the
whole congressional process, but also they repeatedly assured the obedience to the
Constitution. Vice-President Itamar Franco took office with no difficulties whatsoever.
Summing up, during the Collor administration, despite the hard economic situation as
well as the military loss of social prestige and power, the Armed Forces Ministers managed to
control unrest among the military. They proclaimed the strict compliance with the
Constitution and acted accordingly, a fact in itself extraordinarily relevant for the new
Caretaking Government: the Franco administration
In his administration, Franco did not deepen the demilitarization process, backsliding
on some of the measures taken by Collor to reduce military prerogatives. In fact, the number
of retired officers occupying high-echelon positions in the bureaucracy substantially
increased,21 what was justified by the President as an effective way to prevent corruption. The
combat to corruption was also the excuse used by the President to recreate the DSI's within
the civilian ministries, branches of the intelligence service. Contrary to Collor, he chose a
military to head SAE, the ex-Minister of the Navy in the Collor administration, Admiral
Mario Flores, who displays a modern and more democratic conception of intelligence. Franco
also created, as a branch of SAE, the SubSecretariat of Intelligence (SSI). These facts indicate
that Franco did not want to sweep away neither intelligence activities nor the military
personnel from SAE, as Collor intended to do. Even more important, Franco gave back by
decree the status of Minister to the head of EMFA, the Military Cabinet and SAE, by which
the government was to have again six active-duty generals in the cabinet.
Despite those pro military measures, military unrest greatly intensified during the
Franco administration. The increasing number of public statements by high-ranking officers
and the informal groups of retired military officers agreed in two basic demands: wage
increases and the modernization of the military equipment. The economic crisis reached its
peak. General Geisel, a former President during the military dictatorship and still a leader
among the military, reported that low-ranking officers were living in slums. The Armed
Franco administration. The ACDA data, however, indicates for this same year, 1.5% of GDP.
Forces was facing increasing difficulty to recruit youngsters from the middle class.22 The
series of corruption scandals in Congress combined with critical economic circumstances to
settle a growing feeling among the military that the civilians were not able to run the country.
Some of the independent groups advocated the "fujimorization" of' Brazil, a reference to the
recent authoritarian movement of President Fujimori.
Those groups started to meet
occasionally and they even attended a national meeting in the Clube Militar, in Rio de Janeiro.
Some groups of entrepreneurs reportedly, as they have done so many times before in the
Brazilian history, started contacting the military, calling for their interference in the country’s
political life. The military signaled that, although quietly, they were watching the civilian
mess. A high-ranking officer warned against the "fury of the legions" (fúria das legiões).23
The climate was typical of the pre-coup periods.
The military ministers, led by the Minister of the Army, however, were capable of
controlling the pervasive unrest. The retired officers and their associations were not able to
put up a concerted militarized action and the active-duty officers that publicly complained
against the government were punished. Again, the commitment of the military ministers to the
constitutional rules was essential to guarantee this outcome of the events.
Rescuing the military: the Cardoso administrations
Fernando Henrique Cardoso is now serving his second term in office. In both terms he
took office enjoying a stronger political position as compared with his predecessors. In fact,
supported by an alliance of center-rightist parties, he won elections in the first round with
54% and 53% of the votes for the first and second terms, respectively. Both his victories
were, for the most part, due to his capacity to lead a successful stabilization program, the
Plano Real, during the time he served as the Minister of Finance of the Franco administration,
and to his ability to sustain it along his two administrations. This was true despite several
CF "Itamar e os militares", Jornal do Brasil, 14/01/94.
Less than 1% of the young people that joined the Forces came from households with average income higher
than 30 minimum wages per month (aproximately 1,200 dollars per year).
“Manifesto conquista apoio de oficiais”, O Estado de São Paulo,5/113/93; “Tensão nas forças Armadas”,O
Estado de São Paulo,5/15/93;”Militares pedem à Itamar medidas contra crise”, Jornal de Brasília,5/18/93;
“Relatórios mantêm Itamar avisado sobre rebeldia nas Forças Armadas”, Jornal de Brasília,5/25/93; “Cerqueira:
críticas de militares são patrióticas”,O Globo,6/11/93; “Ruído de Sabres”,Folha de São Paulo, 21/11/93; “Os
militares inquietos”, Jornal do Brasil,12/8/93;”Poder militar (da reserva) paralelo”,O Estado de São Paulo,
12/14/93;”Guararapes, o golpe que não houve”, Jornal do Brasil, 3/27/94; “Militares reagem à redução de
aposentadoria”, Correio Braziliense, 2/13/94.
international financial crises that severely hit the country during his first term24 and a major
currency devaluation at the very beginning of his second term, in January of 1999. As a
consequence of these facts, wages erosion decreased significantl, although the sense of
economic crisis persisted along the Cardoso years.
As for the military, since the beginning of his first administration, President Cardoso
has shown a clear intention to improve civil-military relations. He did not follow the hardstick approach of Collor, whose administration ranked well from the perspective of the
civilian-control model. Instead, Cardoso took the military as a strategic actor whose interests
and needs should be taken seriously into consideration. To show their appreciation for the
military, in the beginning of his first term in office, the President paid visits to important units
of the Armed Forces.
This approach to the military, however, did not prevent the President to engage in a
firm demilitarization process. It follows a brief account of this process.
The military were able to revise budgetary cuts proposed by the economic staff for the
fiscal year of 1995 (first year of Cardoso administration) and were pleased with their share in
the budgetary proposal for the 5 years to come (Plano Plurianual). However, the expected
steadily improvement in the military budget did not materialize, as severe cuts in the
government expenditure followed the sequence of the international financial crises. The
critical budgetary situation of the Forces, therefore, did not altered much as compared to the
previous civilian governments. Today, their share of the federal budget barely covers the
costs of personnel and operational activities. Resources for investment, especially in
technology and modern equipment, come almost exclusively from external credit operations.25
Those external resources made possible to reactivate or accelerate some of the military pet
projects as well as purchase much needed equipment.
Budget is then considered the crucial issue. Notwithstanding the scarcity of resources,
the military got a reasonable wage increase during the first Cardoso term. What is more
important, Congress voted an amendment to the Constitution separating their status as public
The crises faced by Cardoso were the so-called Mexican, Asian and Russian crises, respectively in the
beginning of his first term, in January of 1995, in September and October of 1997, and in October of 1998.
In the Army, for example, the total investment resources coming from external loans mounted to aproximately
1 billion dollars, since 1993, or an average value of 286 million dollars per year. To give an idea of the
importance of these external loans, it is sufficient to say that operational costs and investment covered by the
federal budget was around 333 million dollars per year in 1999 and in 2000. Investmment alone coming from
federal budget in 1999 reached less than 34 million dollars. The Army could purchase with those external
resources modern combat cars, artillery equipment in general and helicopters (interview with officer of the
servants from those of the civil servants, thus allowing the government to treat them
separately from civilians as far as wage increases and welfare are concerned. This indicates
that the military argument about the especial characteristics of their profession has been
accepted by both the Executive and the Legislative26.
On the other hand, Cardoso has been able to put forward some civilianization projects
that have been resisted or rejected altogether by the military. Thus, in the name of increasing
integration between the military and society, by the end of his first term, the President was
rather active in reinforcing the transition pact of mutual amnesty (perdão mútuo). The Missing
People Commission (Comissão dos Desaparecidos) was created within the Ministry of Justice
jurisdiction. Despite expressed military uneasiness with this issue, the State recognized its
responsibility upon the missing or killed people during the years of repression and finally
their families have been receiving financial compensations (recall that the amnesty law was
enacted in 1979).27 The Ministry of Justice has now turned to compensate both civilian and
military personnel that had been laid off or forcibly retired by acts of the authoritarian
Even more important, Cardoso reorganized and civilianized the defense structure, a
process that started at the very beginning of his first term and culminated with the creation of
the Brazilian System of Intelligence, and its central organ, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency
(ABIN) (law nº 9.883, 12/07/99).
The building of the institutional framework of defense activities was made by steps.
First, Cardoso transferred the remaining intelligence activities, SNI-like, from SAE to the
Military Cabinet. The personnel employed in this area decreased substantially, as did the
surveillance activities. SAE's Center for Personnel Training (CEFAR) started training
strategic analysts with a new intelligence perspective. Cardoso called a senior diplomat to
head SAE. The Secretariat was significantly civilianized, not only as far as personnel is
Congress Liaison for the Army).
Interesting enough, the leader of the most radical communist party (PC do B) emphatically recognizes the
especial characteristics of the military profession (see O Globo, 5/11/99).
For a detailed account of the military position on this issue see the interview to Veja, May 27, 1998, of the
chief of EMFA, general Benedito Onofre Bezerra Leonel, "Machucou, sim (Yes, it hurts)
The Minister of Justice reportedly said that “We’ve taken care of the dead people and now we turn to the alive
ones”. There are presently 3 projetcs under consideration in the Legislative that deal with the acts of repression
during the authoritarian regime: a project to ammend the constitution that deals with the punishment acts applied
to the military personnel (PEC nº 188/94); a bill that deals with pensions to be paid to the parents of civil
servants killed by repression during the military dictatorship (PL 2004/96); and a Senate bill that regulates the
use of “habeas data”, a data basis of the authoritarian secret service with information about opposers to the
military regime (PLS 268/99).
concerned but also regarding its administrative procedures, profoundly militarized in the past.
In Cardoso’s first administration, it served as an advisory organ with regard to strategic issues
and took part in the formulation process of the defense policy. When Cardoso’s second term
was inaugurated a further step was taken. SAE was abolished, and their intelligence functions
were all absorbed by the old Military Cabinet, now the Intitutional Defense Cabinet until the
bill that created ABIN was passed in Congress.
As an advisory agency which directly reports to the President, ABIN is to gather and
analyze information strategically needed to the governmental decision-making process in
defense of the democratic State, the rule of law, the society in general and the national
sovereignty. As put by the Chief of the Institutional Defense Cabinet (former Military
Cabinet), General Alberto Cardoso, intelligence activities are to be performed rigorously
within the limits of law and strictly respecting individual rights. Emphasis is now put on
strategic analysis of sensitive issues, like agrarian reform and social movements in general, or
the occupation of the Amazon region. ABIN is to be accountable to the Legislative, through
an organ composed by the majority and minority leaders and the Presidents of the External
Affairs and National Defense Committees of both the Chambers of Deputy and the Senate, so
is defined by an Act of the Congress. The Intelligence Agency is in charge of the
implementation of the National Plan of Intelligence, defined by the President and supervised
by the External Affairs and National Defense Committee.
The approval of the bill that created ABIN was commemorated by the government as a
landmark of democracy. General Cardoso said to the President: “We followed your
orientation. You wanted a State and not a government intelligence organ; you wanted a nonpartisan, non-ideological organ committed to democracy; you wanted information to be an
activity accountable to the Legislative.”29 The opposition leaders, however, fearing that the
new agency could turn into a parallel power, as did in the past the authoritarian Intelligence
Service Organ, the SNI, wanted “a more effective participation” of the Legislative in all the
activities of the Agency. They complained, as well, that the project of the intelligence agency,
initiated by Executive Decree (MP 813,1/011/95), followed a track too fast when finally
submitted as a bill to Congress (PL 3651,9/22/97). In fact, they say, little more than two years
is a short period of time to discuss such an important issue. They fear, as well, that the SNI
methodscould prevail in the new organ.30
Cf. Jornal do Brasil, “Marcos da Democracia”, Rosângela Bittar, 12/08/99.
Cf. Correio Braziliense, “Serviço Secreto às Claras”, 11/20/99; Correio Braziliense, Comissão aprova Projeto
In May 5, 2000, as a further step to constitute the institutional framework of the
defense activities, the Subsystem of Intelligence and Public Defense, as part of the Brazilian
System of Intelligence was created (decree nº 3.448). Its objective is to integrate and
coordinate all the intelligence and public defense activities of the country, including the
intelligence organs of the Armed Forces and of the Federal Police, through the Especial
Council for the Subsystem of Intelligence and Public Defense, directly linked to the
Institutional Defense Cabinet. It remains to be seen how well this intelligence system is going
to work. Will it in fact be able to coordinate and control the Forces intelligence services ? Will
its degree of civilianization really improve ?
As for the National Defense Policy its process of formulation got started in the second
year of President Cardoso’s first term.
In 1996, a journalist wrote that "...they [the military] are shocked with the attempt of
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to create a national defense policy for the three Forces,
to be formulated according to the interests of society and the constitutional definition that war
is justified only to respond to external aggressions".31 Less than two years later, in the
beginning of 1998, the Brazilian National Defense Policy, a major accomplishment in terms
of the civil-military relations, was presented to the nation. For the first time in the history of
the country the defense policy was formulated at the Presidential level, with the participation
of both military and civilians advisers. Prior to that, the military ministries separately defined
their own policy.
The defense policy formulated by the Cardoso administration had two main goals: to
abolish the "national security" approach on the grounds that the "internal enemy" does not
exist anymore and to improve the civil-military relations.32 The National Defense Policy is,
therefore, aimed at threats coming from abroad and based in the principle of peaceful
resolution of disputes.
The defensive nature of the National Defense Policy "rests both on the high value
given to diplomatic actions as the first tool to resolve disputes and also on the existence of a
sound military structure that is capable of being effectively deterrent". 33 Diplomats and the
de Criação da ABIN”, 11/21/99; Jornal do Brasil, “Marcos da Democracia”, Rosângela Bittar, 12/08/99; Jornal
do Brasil, “ABIN Será Alvo de controle Externo”, 12/08/99.
"Militares em confronto", Vanda Celia, Correio Braziliense, 9/09/96.
Interview with Minister Edmundo Fujita, diplomat, Under Secretary for Analysis and Evaluation, SAE,
Brasilia, 8/07/98. See also Rizzo, op. cit, for a thorough account of the defense policy and their changing
principles under the Cardoso administration.
Brazilian Defense Policy, Presidência da República, Brasilia, 1998, p. 10
military must, then, go hand in hand in the implementation of the defense policy. It is
expected, moreover, the involvement of the industrial, university, scientific and technological
sectors in the discussion and implementation of the policy. Some progress in this respect
could be detected still in Cardoso’s first term. In fact, the military have participated in
meetings called by civilians linked to those sectors. Also, despite the fact that the National
Defense Policy does not assign any specific attribution to Congress, its Commission for
External Relations and National Defense has promoted seminars to discuss the defense policy,
with the active participation of the military. Today the National Defense Policy is being
discussed in more detail. The President has asked the recently created Ministry of Defense to
lead the process and forums of debates have been scheduled. This is an issue that has been
significantly discussed by scholars, politicians, journalists, retired and active-duty highranking officers in the newspapers and specialized journals. It seems that at this point, if there
is disagreement as far as specific issues are concerned, there is one major consensus: that
society should define what is the role and the new mission of the Armed Forces.
As defined by the constitution, the Armed Forces have the duty of defending the
nation, its territorial integrity and sovereignty. To accomplish this task "it is essential to
persevere in continuously improving the integration of the Armed Forces, in both their
preparedness and employment, as well as in the rationalization of the related activities".34 This
“strategic guidance" of the National Defense Policy clearly calls for the creation of the
Ministry of Defense.
The creation of the Ministry of Defense was a clear Cardoso's objective. Even prior to
the inauguration of his government, his appointed military ministers started to discuss the
issue. Under the coordination of the chief of EMFA, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force
got organized in discussion groups to present the President a joint proposal. The Navy and the
Air Force resisted the idea, fearing the dominance of the Army in the future Ministry. The
chief of EMFA, general Benedito Leonel, the same officer who has referred to the "fury of
legions” during the Franco administration, received from the President the mission to end
opposition to the creation of the Ministry of Defense. The government agreed with the
military upon taking this issue through a discussion process within each Force and among
them, but General’s Leonel’s task was not easy. The Ministry of Defense was created in May
1999, following the Brazilian pattern of long transitions. However, if the whole process has
taken more than 4 years to be completed at the Executive level, it took only 5 months to be
Brazilian Defense Policy, p. 10.
processed in the Legislative. The opposition criticized, as it did in the case of ABIN, this fast
track in Congress, given the crucial importance of the issue. The government basically faced
two different proposals. The EMFA’s wanted to prevent political appointments to the
positions of the Ministry and, therefore, saved many of the highest positions to the military.
It also gave a prominent role to the Superior War College (Escola Superior de Guerra), which
was to be in charge of training civil personnel in the military affairs. The other proposal came
from the leftist opposition to the government, which wanted to limit the role of the Armed
forces in internal defense and to increase the powers of the Ministry of Defense vis-à-vis the
Forces’. None of these proposals were incorporated in the Executive project.
The approval of the Ministry of Defense met with significant resistance from part of
the military, who resented the downgrading of the Commanders of the Forces as well as
having a civilian as their superior. But what they resented most was the fact that the first
Minister of Defense appointed, Senator Élcio Alvarez, not only was a civilian, but also a
politician who could not get reelected . The post of Minister was a compensation won by a
looser in the electoral competition, part of the political game that ruled the building and
maintenance of the support coalition of the government.
The military resentment broke up in an episode where the Commander of the Air force
voiced a wide spread criticism against a female senior adviser of Alvarez, who used to
coordinate meetings with the generals Commanders in the new Ministry of Defense. This fact
put the military at uneasy because according to the military hierarchy, generals should sit only
with their equals, i.e., the Minister himself. The Air Force, moreover, is the force that lost
more power and prestige with the creation of the Ministry of Defense because of the
consequential privatization of the civil airports and the creation of a regulatory agency to
control commercial airlines. All the airports of the country and the operation of commercial
airlines were historically controlled or regulated by the Air Force, through its branches
INFRAERO and DAC, respectively. The Air Force Commander strongly opposed as well the
sell-off of 20% of the shares of EMBRAER35 to a french company. This episode ended up
with the dismissal of both the Ministry of Defense and the Commander of the Air force. The
dismissal of the Commander, however, provoked significant military unrest, with a series of
protests of retired as well as active-duty officers of the Air Force, which went beyond the
narrow limits of the episode. It didn’t last long, however, as the new Air force Commander
EMBRAER was the Air Force enterprise that builds middle-range aircrafts and that has been privatized.. The
Air Force grievance was less related to the privatization of the enterprise in itself than to what was interpreted as
its denationalizaiton.
was able to control his subordinates. The military in general were also more pleased with the
choice of a non-politician as the new Minister of Defense, Geraldo Quintão, the former
Attorney General.
All in all, this episode maybe interpreted as part of the process of adaptation of both
civilians and the military to the new pattern of civil-military relations.
It seems that Cardoso is in the right track. By recognizing the military as an strategic
actor of undeniable importance and the special nature of their profession, by dealing with the
formulation of the defense policy on an incremental basis and by carefully building the
institutional framework for intelligence activities he has been able to introduce significant
changes in the civil-military relations. He has, as well, opened up space to bring the civilians
to participate in the discussion of the national defense policy. The civilians, however, have so
far shown very little interest in military and defense affairs.
Altogether, despite some backsliding movements, there is an undeniable process of
demilitarization in Brazil, beginning with the first directly elected President, Fernando Collor
de Mello. Up to here, the analysis was performed from the civilian-control perspective. In the
next sections the arrow turns to the other direction, the inquiry proceeding from the military
perspective. How did they adapt to democracy?
3. Democratizing the Military
It is briefly examined in this section the so-called institutional identity crisis that the
military have been through, expressed in their anguished search for a new mission in the
domestic democratizing polity
and the post-cold war world. It also analyzes how did the
military adapt their procedures and behavior to the new democratic environment.
The identity crisis: in search of a mission
During the cold war, the Armed Forces in Latin America developed and adopted the
so-called “national-security doctrine”(doutrina de segurança nacional). The underlying
principle of this doctrine was a global confrontation between the east and the west. Under the
ideological guidance of the United States, a sort of a military division of labor was established
between the Americas. North America was to defend the hemisphere against the external
aggression of the Soviet bloc, while Latin America was in charge of blocking the ideological
dissemination of communism among its nationals as well as combating
“revolutionary wars” within its territory. The military interference in all aspects of national
life was justified on the grounds that national security concerned not only the military, but
also the social, economic and political domains.36
With the fall of the communist world, Latin American Armed Forces were left with
no “internal enemy” to fight against. In the external front, the Malvinas war made clear that
Latin American countries have no chances to engage in regular warfare. Moreover, both the
deep economic crisis of the last decade and the adjustment policies that followed reinforced
the new conception of the Armed Forces in developing countries. The Forces should now
comprise modernly equipped, small specialized professional units. With great mobility, those
units should be capable of fast dislocations throughout the national territory. Conscription
should be, therefore, abolished. But with what objectives should those small units be put into
use? What is now the mission of the military in Latin America?
The United States, as the only leading military power of the post-cold war world,
indicate the new role of the Armed Forces in developing countries. In the external front, the
small, highly trained, special units referred above should join the UN Peace-keeping Forces,
whenever necessary. In the internal front, the Armed forces should be prepared to engage in a
policing role, combating the drug trafficking and controlling urban riots. The Navy should be
prepared to perform a coast-guard role. Moreover, the military should submit to civilian
authority, abandoning their tutelage role, useful only during the cold-war times.
The Brazilian military resist to what they interpret as the Armed Forces downgrading.
“The peril now comes from the north”, they say. 37 There is a revival of nationalism. They
vigorously oppose the police role, arguing that they are not prepared to do this job.38 They are
as well against the abolishment of conscription, arguing the importance of their “social role”.
Recall the expression “within the law” in the Brazilian constitutions.
A retired officer interviewed referred to the United States as being ungrateful. “The revolution of 64 was of
their interest”, said the officer referring to the 1964 coup d’état.
Their claim is that their weapons and training are geared to kill the enemy and not to control riots or combat
drug trafficking. The episode of Volta Redonda, referred above, seems to give them reason on this issue. The
military were called also by the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro to invade the slums in the hills of the city,
where major drug headquarters are located. Although they could not find any drug dealer, it was an impressive
The Brazilian Armed Forces are very proud of what they call the “complementary
activities” of the Forces.39 In a country with one of the worst income distribution levels of
the world, the Armed Forces bring food, health care, social protection and even religious
guidance to the underprivileged in the farthest regions of the country. Sometimes the military
is the only link these populations have with the modern world. The conscripts are essential to
the performance of those “complementary activities” of the Armed forces. The military argue,
moreover that conscription is a very important channel of social mobility for the lower
Those “complementary activities” are especially important in the Amazon. In this
region, the military combine their social role with their role as guardians of the frontiers and
of the territorial integrity. In fact, they see the region under permanent international attack:
foreign governments and NGO’s concerned with the environment or the protection of the
Indian population, drug dealers that cross the borders, guerilla movements from neighbor
countries, some minor frontier disputes. It is their understanding that the region should be
occupied by nationals and kept under close surveillance from external threats. No wonder that
the two major projects of the Armed Forces are geared to the Amazon: the Calha Norte
project, toward the military and economic occupation of the frontier land (6,500 km) and the
Integrated System for the Amazon Surveillance (SIVAM), the biggest radar integrated system
in the world. Lately, the perception of international threat to the region has increasingly
reached non-military social segments. An important indicator of this widespread perception is
the fact that the Calha Norte project, to which increasingly meager budgetary resources had
been allocated along the last decade, had its budget almost 8,5 times multiplied this year. 40 It
is in the defense of the Amazon that the Brazilian military seem to find a surrogate mission.41
The military, therefore, are anxiously searching for a new mission. In this search the
most difficult step is to relinquish their tutelage role. In fact, the Brazilian military seem to
think they are entitled to this role by historical and political traditions. From the civilianmilitary operation that lasted more than 5 months.
This is clear from the interviews with the officers of the Congress Liaisons for the military ministries. See also
the cited interview of general Leonel, chief of EMFA, to Veja.
The budgetary bill for the year 2000 arrived at Congress with a proposed provision of 1,7 million dollars for
the Calha Norte project. Due to an active participation of congressmen from the Amazonas state and members
of the External Affairs and National Defense Committee, Congress approved a provision of 14,4 million dollars
for the project. This is most extraordinary , as the rule is to have budgetary cuts in almos evey proposed project
during the negotiation process in the Budgetary Committee (interview with members of Congressional Liaisons
for the Air force and Army Commands, Braília, June 9, 2000).
For a careful analysis of the military identity crisis and the significance of the Amazon on this respect, see
Oliveira, op. cit.
control point of view, this is a crucial obstacle to democratization. But aren’t the military
progressing toward democracy in other fronts?
The military in politics.42
The military are a strategic privileged political actor. Their privileged position comes,
in addition to the nature of their power resource - the use of force -, from the position they
hold in the Executive branch of the government. There they are represented through the heads
of the three military Ministries as well as the Military Cabinet and the Armed General Staff
(EMFA), the latter two stripped from the ministerial status since the Collor administration.
Active-duty officers hold the five positions. Thus, differently from other strategic actors
(entrepreneurs, workers), the military enjoy direct institutional channels of communication
with the Presidency. Like other strategic actors, however, they build up informal relations
with civilian Ministries that are in charge of policies that affect them. Even if informally, the
military always interact as an institutional actor. Eventually those relations get formalized.
They participate in politics, therefore, as an “institutional interest group.” This means, among
other things that the military never press for individual interests, something that they are very
proud of.44
If it is true that the military holds privileged access to policy formulation at the
Executive level, within Congress they participate in decision making very much like the
civilians. There they learn about democratic politics.
From the point of view of the civilian-control model, it matters how Congress
monitors and controls the military and the defense policies. In this respect one should note
that two Commissions of the House of Representatives usually call the military: the
Committee for Environmental Issues and the Committee for International Relations and
National Defense. Occasionally the Senate also calls them. The Committee for International
Relations and National Defense was previously dominated by the PFL, a conservative party
The sources of information of this section are, unless explicitly indicated, the interviews with high-ranking
officers from the staff of the Congressional Liaisons for EMFA and the Ministry of the Army, Brasília, July 1998
and June 2000.
When the issues are complex, like those of the administrative reform or reform of the welfare system, the
military typically make preliminary contacts with the Ministry in charge of the policy . Eventually they form a
working group, thus opening up a channel of communication and an arena of negotiation.
“We never ask for a job for our relatives. We are strictly forbidden to do that” (cited interviews).
among whose members are the civilian leaders who have supported the military regime, as
well as a representative of the PDT, a leftist party, Neiva Moreira. 45 This Committee is meant
to be a forum of debate on military issues and defense policy. It promotes debates on military
issues under Congress consideration (e.g. the military welfare rules and their status as public
servant) and occasionally calls the military ministers, now commanders, for hearings. The
chief of EMFA was invited to present to the Committee the Armed Forces project for the
creation of the Ministry of Defense. It also sponsors seminars to discuss the national defense
policy with the intense participation of the military. The Committee has also served as a
channel through which the military on their own initiative makes their actions accountable to
society.46 Despite those positive signs, however, Congress does not monitor issues affecting
force structure or new weapons initiatives.
The guiding question of the civilian control model is the extent of control exerted by
the legislature upon the military issues. According to this model, therefore, Brazil ranks
poorly in the item “role of legislature”.47 The model, however, misses an important aspect of
the civil-military relations when it neglects other questions, like: how does the military
represent their interests in Congress? How does the military influence Congress and press for
their interests? How do their modes of interest representation compare with those of the
Even before the coup d’état in 1964, the military created Congressional Liaisons
(Assessorias Parlamentares) for the Forces. It was, however, during the National Constituent
Assembly that those Liaisons received a great boost, being completely restructured. Very
actively and efficiently, by all accounts, the Assessorias Parlamentares pursued the Armed
Forces interests. Donning civilian attire, they were seen in the corridors, in the Commissions
and in the floor of Congress dutifully persuading legislators to support their interests on
constitutional issues deemed to affect the Forces.
They organized four Congressional Liaisons, one for each Force and one for EMFA.
Like the civilian ministries they have offices in the Congress building. Retired and/or active-
Dep Neiva Moreira, who had been put in prison and outstripped of his political rights during the military
dictatorship, living in exile for 15 years, was invited by the Assessorias Parlamentares to visit the military
ministers and the chief of EMFA. He reported that he had the opportunity to discuss most important issues with
the ministers in a most cordial environment. Neiva Moreira says, “we have to have in the Committees deep
discussions on national defense and national sovereignty issues” (cf. “Ex-cassado preside comissão”, Jornal do
Following an explosion in the marines headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, the Minister of the Navy on his own
initiative came to both the committees on environmental issues and on defense matters to explain what has
happened and why there was no longer danger of further incidents.
duty officers, depending on the service branch at stake, staff those Congressional Liaisons.
The Liaison for the Army seems to be better structured and organized. There, all the members
are active-duty officers. They work with four coordinated groups: one that follows the bills for
constitutional amendments (PEC), two others that monitor the legislative process in the House
and in the Senate and the fourth, located at the Army headquarters, that gives support to the
other groups.48 The Army has also regional offices to follow military issues in state
The military career does not prepare for this kind of job. The members of the
Assessorias Parlamentares attended courses offered by the University of Brasilia for
legislative assistants. They eventually attended as well graduate courses in the social sciences
area. But, as they say, “it is here, in Congress, that we really learn”. So, they basically get
trained to the new job in practice, with the civilians - politicians and other legislative
assistants-, in the day to day activities of the legislative process.
Since the days of the National Constituent Assembly they have been perfecting their
working procedures. Until the recent creation of the Ministry of Defense, the four
Congressional Liaisons for EMFA and the three service branches follow basically the same
modus operandi. The military legislative officers identify among the bills submitted to
Congress those that interfere with the Armed Forces interests. They send them to the
evaluation of the corresponding Ministry (or EMFA). After a short while they receive a
technical and juridical assessment and an indication to work for getting the bills approved,
rejected, amended, or simply monitored along the legislative process. With this clear
indication from the superior ranks the members of the Assessorias Parlamentares set up a
“strategy of action”, somewhat different for each case, but pursuing the same basic
They follow up all the steps of the legislative process, from Committee to Committee
until the bill reach the floor of Congress. They get to know the greatest number possible of
congressmen, no matter their party affiliation or ideology, and build the most cordial relations
with them. They try to persuade the legislators to support their interests out of technical (never
political) arguments.49 “We have nothing to exchange”, they say, “we can only offer the
credibility of our institution”. Many times they hand the legislator a written report, which “is a
See table of military prerogatives in Stepan, 1988, op. cit.
For a detailed account of the Congressional Liaison for the Army see Costa, op. cit.
This is the so-called corpo a corpo procedure, very much used by civilian lobbies
very efficient way to influence the process”. They argue that their profession entails some
especial features50 and therefore they should be treated differently in some issues, like welfare
and public servant status. They distribute booklets explaining those especial characteristics or
their preferences on other issues at stake, like conscription. They bring the representatives to
a visit to their minister or to a technical department of the Ministry so that all the information
on the issue is provided.
These procedures are followed for each bill submitted to Congress that affects the
Armed Forces interests. Sometimes only a small part of the bills affect the military. But all of
them are monitored.51
The big issue is budget. Here the work of the Assessorias
Parlamentares is to avoid by all means cuts in the budgetary items already negotiated at the
Executive level. Aside from that they follow bills on sensitive issues - like indemnification for
the family of opponents of the military regime who disappeared, nuclear and chemical
weapons, conscription, use of the Armed forces in the combat to drug trafficking - as well on
minor issues like the free entrance of religious sects in hospitals or the interference of the
Regional Councils of Medicine in the military hospitals.
Thus, discipline, high sprit de corps, prompt technical and juridical back up,
coordinated actions that follow one clear directive, planned follow-up of the legislative
process, the promotion of institutional (never individual) interests are typical characteristics of
the military lobby. Altogether those characteristics make the military lobby more efficient
than their civilians counterparts. Aside from that, the Assessorias Parlamentares of the Armed
Forces enjoy greater flexibility of action vis-à-vis those of the civilian ministries. Because the
military ministers do not belong to any political party, the members of the military lobby can
freely negotiate with congressmen of the whole ideological spectrum.52 Moreover, the staff of
the Assessorias Parlamentares has managed to built up a bridge between the political and the
military worlds, until then two completely separated domains. Working inside Congress, the
For instance, the military work full time, with no payment for extra hours or the chance to take a
complementary job. Because they move several times along their carrier from one region to the other, their wives
cannot pursue a carrier of their own. Those facts are used to justify separate rules for welfare and for wage
The Congress Liaison for EMFA was, at the time of the interview, July 1998, 160 bills, while the Liaison for
the Army was following up about 300 bills.
When interviewed, the military legislative assistants stress this point, emphasizing how well they relate with
the parties of the radical left: “it doesn’t matter if we think differently from them, we try to make our point with
purely technical arguments”.They like to particularly stress their good relations with the communist party (PC do
B) and with Dep. José Genoíno (PDT), ex-member of the guerilla movement against the military regime.
Genoíno is one of the few representatives that show great interest in discussing the Armed forces role and the
national defense policy.
military learn about democratic politics and try hard to teach the civilians about the barracks.53
All this points to an important change in the civil-military relations.
What did change with the creation of the Ministry of Defense ? EMFA disappeared,
and the coordination work is now provided by the Congressional Liaison of the Ministry of
Defense. The procedures didn’t change much, but it seems that now the Congressional
Liaisons of the Forces work in a more coordinated manner. The modus operandi is the
following. Every month each Force identify the bills, constitutional amendments proposals
and decrees of their interest, ranking them according to their priority. Almost every 15 days
representatives of the Congressional Liaisons of the Forces meet in a technical committee
chaired by the chief of the Congressional Liaison of the Ministry of Defense. There they
discuss, negotiate and define the priority projects of the Ministry of Defense. Presently, 44
projects were selected to be followed and acted upon, out of around 600 to 800 bills of
interest. The bills are selected according to the degree of conflict they raise in Congress,
within the Forces or at the national level. The most important bills to be followed are still, not
surprisingly, those referring to the annual budget and the external credit operations. Other
bills relate to the role of the Armed forces in the Amazon, amnesty and indemnification to the
victims of repression, conscription, welfare and health policies. The Congressional Liaisons
of the Forces enjoy complete liberty to act as they choose to press for their interests. Although
the interviewed representatives of the four Liaisons stress that they are going through a period
of transition and adaptation, it seems that the creation of the Ministry of Defense did not
affect the basic operational procedures of the so-called military lobby in Congress.54
It is worth stressing a final point. By the civilian control model, the lobby of the
military in Congress is seen as a negative point. The military would be exerting unduely
pressure upon the Legislative. I would like to call the attention, however, to the fact that they
are playing exactly the same game as the civilian lobbies are. They abide to procedures. Their
tanks are not surrounding Congress or parading in the streets every time a bill of their interest
Interviewed military members of the Assessorias Parlamentares call the attention to that important part of
their job. “The military don’t know anything about the way the congressmen think and behave. So, we come
here, learn about it and “translate” it to our colleagues”. Conversely, they think that bringing legislators to visit
military units and talk to the military officers helps them to understand the military life and professional
Interviews with members of the Assessorias Parlamentares of the Army, Air Force and Navy (Brasília, June
10, 2000) and with the Chief of the Congressional Liaison of the Ministry of Defense and his assistant (Brasília,
June 5, 2000).
is under consideration. Looking through their eyes, this signals an impressive adaptation to
the democratic polity, with no parallel that I know of in any other Latin American country. 55
4. Conclusions
It is fair to say that the military in Brazil predominantly think of themselves as a
tutelary power. Their intervention in politics is justified on the basis of political, historical and
cultural tradition. With the democratization of the domestic political environment and the
changing international order, they go through an identity crisis and anxiously search for a new
mission. The defense of the Amazon, seen as under permanent international attack, provide a
surrogate mission.
A clear process of demilitarization has been in progress since the Collor
administration, the second civilian government. A major indicator is the decrease of the
number of active–duty general officers in the Cabinet from six, in the first civilian
government to one, in the present second term of President Cardoso. Moreover, the military
commanders and ministries of the post-authoritarian administrations have strictly abided to
the constitutional rules, fact that proved crucial to control unrest during the first civilian
governments. They have as well passed with honor the test put up by the impeachment of
President Collor and endured the worst times of the economic crisis. Notwithstanding, the
military are still a privileged actor with privileged access to decision–making. They are now
adapting (and resisting) the change in the pattern of civil-military relations brought about by
the creation of the Ministry of Defense, and ABIN, the intelligence service meant to be a nonpartisan, non-idelological, non-military organ committed to democracy and accountable to
Congress. By the civilian-control model Brazil still scores poorly.
However, their insertion in the congressional politics is surprising. There they learned
about democracy and press for their interests in the same way civilians do. They play the
game that has been played and abide to procedures. This is completely new in the Brazilian
In fact, this point deserves more attention in future communications. In old democracies, and this is certainly
the case of the United States, the military pressure for their interests in Congress through non-formalized,
indirect means, like pushing former military congressmen or members of the Defense Committee that have a
significant number of military in their district. The general question to be put to the democratic theory is then:
how can civilians best control the pressure of the military in Congress ¿ Doesn’t the intititutional military lobby
history and signals to a deep change in the civilian military relations. Rather than a negative
indicator as interpreted by the civilian control model, I argue that, on the contrary, the military
behavior in Congress is a positive sign toward democratization and an impressive adaptation
to the democratic politics.
Paradoxically, a further improvement of the civil-military relations is hindered by the
lack of civilian interest in the defense and military affairs. This is particularly true at the
congressional realm.. An important opportunity is opened up now, with the ongoing
discussion on the national defense policy.
All in all, it is fair to say that if there is no homogeneous commitment to the
democratic values among the Brazilian military, they indeed abide to democratic procedures, a
fact extraordinarily important in itself 56. There is no threat of coup d’état. There are important
signs of change in the civil-military relations. Their remaining prerogatives should not hinder
the improvement of democratic institutions. Problems of democratic consolidation should not
be put , therefore, on their account.
C:\My Documents\Maria Helena\paper BRASA military Brazil.doc
in the Brazilian way provide better ground for the civilian control over the military ¿
Aguero makes a similar argument. “(…) transitions have succeeded without the military becoming committed
to democratic values overnight” (Aguero, Felipe, “Toward Civilian Supremacy in Latin America” in Diamond,
Larry et alli (eds.),Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies, Themes and Perspectives, Baltimore and
London: the Jonhs Hopkins Un. Press, 1997,p.201, ft no.6).
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