[1] W. “Institutional Acts of the Brazilian Government.” International

1 Breneman,
Tracy Ann. “Brazil’s Authoritarian Experience: 1964-1985; A Study of Conflict.”
Conflict Research Consortium, Sept. 1995. University of Colorado –
Boulder, Department of Sociology, www.colorado.edu/conflict/full_text_search/AllCRCDocs/95-1.htm


2 The Situation in
Brazil. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 Feb. 1969, www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000753959.pdf.

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3 Power,
Timothy J. “The Brazilian Military Regime, 1964–1985.” Oxford Research
Encyclopedia of Latin American History, Oct. 2017,


4 Langland,
Victoria. Speaking of flowers: student movements and the making and
remembering of 1968 in military Brazil. Duke Univ. Press, 2013


5 The Situation in
Brazil. Central Intelligence Agency, 13 Feb. 1969, www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000753959.pdf.


6 Skidmore,
Thomas E. The politics of military rule in Brazil: 1964-85. Oxford Univ.
Press, 1988.

7 Power,
Timothy J. “The Brazilian Military Regime, 1964–1985.” Oxford Research
Encyclopedia of Latin American History, Oct. 2017,

8 Guerchon,
C. W. “Institutional Acts of the Brazilian Government.” International
Journal of Politics, Taylor & Francis, Ltd., www.jstor.org/stable/27868708.


9 Benson,
Rodney. “Journalism: Normative Theories.” New York University,

10 Hochstetler,
Katheryn. “Democratizing Pressures from Below? Social Movements in New
Brazilian Democracy.” Latin American Studies Association, 17 Apr. 1997,
pp. 2–5., lasa.international.pitt.edu/LASA97/hochstetler.pdf.

11 Hochstetler,
Katheryn. “Democratizing Pressures from Below? Social Movements in New
Brazilian Democracy.” Latin American Studies Association, 17 Apr. 1997,
pp. 2–5., lasa.international.pitt.edu/LASA97/hochstetler.pdf.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

     Ultimately it can be seen
that Brazil as a country has constantly struggled with the balance of power
between the people and the political elite. The country had democratically
elected a new president in 1963, only to have him thrown out of power and taken
by the military. During this time period (from 1964-1985) Brazil embarked on a
dictatorship defined by the repression of dissidents and a monopoly on media
sources. The government was successful in repressing the people of Brazil for
over two decades through executive privilege and intimidation tactics, which
has left a mark on Brazilian culture and politics. However, the ultimate
democratization of Brazil can be largely attributed to the mobilization of the
national student union. Not only did the UNE act as a safeguard for democracy,
maintaining a support for democratic values in times of strict repression, but
they were also majorly effective in mobilizing the correct political and ideological
groups in order to gain political leverage over the government. The UNE acted
as the last line of defense against authoritarianism in Brazil, and although
they were successfully repressed for two decades, their perseverance and
organization culminated in the democratization of Brazil in 1985.

       The vast network of the
UNE was majorly beneficial to the opposition of the military regime, as the
institution had lines of communication that stretched across the country.
Another reason why the student movement was so integral to the democratization
of Brazil is that the movement was effective in using their national platform
to bring together the correct political factions in order to mobilize the
public to speak out and protest against the regime’s authoritarian tactics. The
Brazilian elite were able to remain in power for so long because of the fact
that they were effective in consolidating power through limiting the press and
outlawing protest within the country. Simply put, there was nobody that held
enough political power to collapse the regime, and if the government believed
that might happen, they went to great lengths to intimidate opposition groups
into submission. After the student movement was disbanded and their
organization was consistently repressed and outlawed, the student movement
quietly used the organization and network that had been developed in order to
slowly gain the support of other factions against the military. The UNE showed
massive resiliency to the pressures of the regime and rather than succumbing to
the influence of the military, the political group shifted their strategy. At
this point in time it was well known among the public and the administration
that the UNE was the organizing force behind the anti-government sentiment so
many people joined other opposition forces in order to “ventilate criticisms of
the military regime without incurring more repression.”10
This stratification of opposition groups actually strengthened the opposition
because it allowed more people to focus on a broader scope, eventually
protesting issues like indigenous rights, women’s rights, and ecosystem
protection. Social movements at this time were expanding across Brazil and
gathering more support as people saw the impacts of these political rallies.
This is why the UNE was so unique to the democratization of Brazil because of
the fact that it was able to communicate with and mobilize various groups that
may have disagreed about legislative issues. One of these groups was the
Catholic church, who supported a grassroots effort and to expose the weaknesses
of the regime11.
Once the student movement received the support of the catholic church it
changed the landscape of politics in Brazil because “no other institution
except for the military, enjoyed a nation-wide network of cadres, a system of
communications that functioned despite censorship and, unlike the military, a
world-wide organization on which it could draw for support and bank on for an
international hearing12.”
The student movement was essential in rallying these various social groups, and
their influence on history is significant because of the fact that they were
able to mobilize groups that had more influence and communication with the
public, which helped them to inform the public of the authoritarian regimes
tactics and policies. “All of these elite actors together made political space
for new actors by helping to shift the stamp of legitimacy from the military
regime to its opposition13


      After the UNE was disbanded in 1964, there
were still intellectuals that believed in democracy and although the government
had made it increasingly difficult to communicate with the national network,
there was enough communication and organization to maintain the institution
under the radar. The role of the student movement was essential for
democratization efforts because it provided a platform for an educated
discussion on domestic politics, ultimately upholding democratic values within
Brazil and pushing back against the government. The Brazilian government gave
significant effort and resources to limit the political freedoms of those
dissidents, often using violence or intimidation tactics to directed at slowly
degrading democratic institutions and rule of law, especially in regards to the
balance of power8. This
political direction was particularly important because democracy as a political
system takes a long time to develop and become instilled in a society, but also
can be destroyed extremely quickly. In Brazil, after Goulart stepped down, many
democratic institutions began to deteriorate paving the way for authoritarianism
under ­­­the new regime. It is important (in the eyes of the government) to
have political power to control media sources because of the fact that the
public’s perception of the government is very important in maintaining power
within the nation, and when the government has the ability to control the media
and control the information that reaches the public, it creates a significant
roadblock to democratic transition9.
The move by the government to try and limit the UNE’s powers was one of the
most anti-democratic decisions made by the regime because of the fact that
democracy relies on an educated and informed discussion of politics. That exact
same reason why an educated and informed constituency is necessary to uphold
democratic values is the same reason why the UNE was absolutely integral to the
democratic revolution in Brazil. The vast network of intellectuals was able to
remain committed to democratic values, and to utilize an organization that had
enough political power to push back against the authoritarian tactics of the
military regime.  


the Brazilian economy was much better (at first) than that of its neighbor
countries, and it was indicative of public opinion on Brazil at the time, where
the majority of Brazilians didn’t believe democracy was the most favorable form
of government7.
Due to the media control of the military, many people in Brazil didn’t even
realize there was an issue with political corruption because of the fact that
their country was flourishing economically, where wages were rising for all
income levels. The Brazilian government spent a disproportionate amount of
capital to attempt to suppress the student movement and did so for two decades.
While the regime ultimately couldn’t maintain control into the 1990s, it is
apparent that the most common tactic used to consolidate power was to control
the media and dissidents alike, and this occurred with moderate success. It is
difficult to discern how long the military regime would be in place if it
weren’t for the divisive and violent tactics of the government, and it is clear
that the tactics were successful preventing democratization from 1964 – 1985.

democratic outcome in Brazil didn’t always look feasible. The regimes of
Branco/Costa e Silva were successful in repressing the democratization of
Brazil for multiple decades, as well as leaving an authoritarian imprint on the
The National Union of Students (UNE) was a unique player in the authoritarian
period. The UNE was created in 1937 with the goal of representing higher
education, and bringing the entire country under one institution. The UNE was
seen as a way to empower students, and the students began to use this power to
attempt to influence the Brazilian government on social issues such as
inequality and war with relative success4.
The vast nationwide network of students gave the UNE at least some amount of
national recognition and political influence, and was subsequently the
immediate target of the Brazilian military regime, who attacked groups of
political opposition with institutional acts directed towards outlawing
protest, expelling students from their housing, and ultimately fracturing the
mobilized group, which mitigated mobilization and protest during the
authoritarian period5.
These acts were to keep the larger population blind to the repressive nature of
these laws to maintain public support, and to ensure the media mostly covered
the economic success of the country rather than the social and political issues6.
There was a clear intent by the military to suppress the student movement in
particular as the UNE was viewed as one of the most threatening opposition
groups to the regime. The Brazilian regime sent an extremely clear message that
the foundation of a free and informed public wasn’t a value that was going to
be upheld, and further foreshadowed the institutional acts aimed at repressing
the freedoms and civil liberties provided to the people of Brazil.

In order to completely understand the complex political
dynamic of Brazil, it’s important to evaluate the context of this conflict
through a historical lens. Joao Goulart was
democratically elected in 1963 to a country that had many social issues, and
was fairly divided politically. After being elected, Goulart nationalized
private oil refineries, which was perceived as a move towards communism by
countries like the United States during a period when the region was
particularly volatile to communist influence. This new political direction
greatly concerned the Brazilian military as they believed this leftward move
would significantly damage foreign relations with democratic allies, especially
the United States1.
In the following year, the military established a coup against Goulart, who
gave up his post with little resistance to limit the impending violence if he
were to refuse to concede the presidency. After the coup, Brazil embarked on a
repressive dictatorship led by Castello Branco, and followed by Artur Costa e
Silva in 1968 that was focused on limiting free speech and political
opposition, while establishing a narrative of anti-communism and nationalism
within the regime. Similar to other repressive regimes around the world, the
government of Brazil all but censored the media, and intimidated groups that
spoke out against injustices committed by the government, which limited the
ability for any political dissident of the regime to voice any formal opinion. Brazil
enacted many institutional acts that were focused on political purges,
persecution of subversives, limiting elections, outlawing political parties,
suspension of congress, and expanded presidential powers2.


has a unique history in regards to the balance of power between the population
and the government. The military regime in Brazil spent a significant amount of
resources to repress opposition movements in Brazil, and it was largely
successful, maintaining control over the media and installing a multitude of
laws meant to retain power, which has left a mark on Brazilian culture and
politics into the modern day. However, the União Nacional dos Estudantes
(National Union of Students or UNE) had
a significant role in aiding Brazil’s slow transition to democracy. Firstly,
the UNE acted as a safeguard for democracy and free speech, slowly growing and
maintaining a support of democracy within the Brazilian population. The UNE
helped to provide levels of transparency within a country whose press was
completely monopolized by a repressive regime. Furthermore, the UNE was largely
responsible for mobilizing the population and various political groups and
intellectuals that catalyzed the democratization of Brazil. Ultimately, while it is valid to assert
that Brazilian tactics to repress the population and media were largely
successful in suppressing the democratization of the country for over two
decades, the student movement in Brazil served as a stronghold of democracy in
times of great repression, and eventually mobilized a plethora of different
social and political groups within Brazil, to the point where the regime
couldn’t repress them further.