Are the Military a Threat to Brazilian Democracy Today?


Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:20pm

For a recording of this event, please click here.

Speakers: Maud Chirio, Associate Professor of History, Université Gustave Eiffel; João Roberto Martins Filho, Full Professor, Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar); and Natalia Viana, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Agência Pública; Nieman Fellow ´22
Moderated by: Sidney Chalhoub, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies

Political life in Brazil has not always been under the shadow of the military. The generation of politicians pertaining to the period of Independence, still under the impact of the Napoleonic Wars and somewhat suspicious of the authoritarian tendencies of the first emperor, did not provide for the creation of a powerful army while building national institutions. The situation began to change during the Paraguayan War and the crisis of the monarchical regime, culminating in the military coup d’Etat that brought about the Republic in 1889. It followed more than a century in which military intervention was either a possibility or a reality in political life. The end of the military dictatorship (1964-85), followed by the enactment of the Constitution of 1988, seemed to have brought this plight to an end. However, since the impeachment crisis of 2016, and especially after the election of a right-wing extremist as president in 2018, the country seems again under the threat of the upending of politics by the military. Is this threat real? Are the institutions of Brazilian democracy likely to prevail under this challenge?

Maud Chirio is a historian, lecturer at the Université Gustave Eiffel since 2010, member of the ACP laboratory (EA 3350) and associate member of Mondes Américains. A former student of ENS (Paris), in 2009 she defended her doctorate in history, carried out under the supervision of Annick Lempérière, on the theme "Military policy. Revolts and mobilizations of officers under the Brazilian dictatorship (1961-1978)” (University Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne).

João Roberto Martins Filho is a Senior Full Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of São Carlos. He holds a BA in Social Sciences from Unicamp (1976), where he also completed a Masters in Political Science (1986) and a Doctorate in Social Sciences (1993). From 1996 to 2016, he coordinated the UFSCar's Ana Lagoa Military Policy Archive. He is the author of “Student Movement and Military Dictatorship” (1987), “The Palace and the Barracks” (1995, 2nd Edition 2019), “The Brazilian Navy in the Age of the Battleships, 1895-1910” (2010) and “Secrets of State: the British Government and Torture in the Brazil” (2018, 2nd edition 2020). He was president of the Brazilian Association for Defense Studies (2006-2008). Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (1997), at the Center for Brazilian Studies, University of Oxford (October 2006 to March 2007), at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand (February-March 2007). 2009) and at the University of Oxford's Latin American Center (January-February 2013). He held the Rio Branco Chair in International Relations, sponsored by Capes and Itamaraty, at King's College, London (2014) and twice the Rui Barbosa Chair in Brazilian Studies at Leiden University, Netherlands (2015 and 2018).

Natalia Viana is the co-founder and executive director of Agência Pública, Brazil’s first nonprofit investigative journalism outlet. She leads long-term investigations and multimedia projects about human rights violations and the abuse of power. Viana has reported from Paraguay, Colombia, Bolivia, Angola, India, Mexico and Venezuela. She also is the author or co-author of six books about political violence and social issues in Latin America. Her latest, “Dano Colateral” (“Collateral Damage”), looks at how the military regained prominence in Brazilian politics during the last decade. Viana is president of the Brazilian Association of Digital Journalism (Ajor), a member of the Ashoka network of social entrepreneurs and a board member of the Gabo Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting better journalism and the stimulation of creativity. She is studying the erosion of democracy in Brazil and Latin America and the rise of far-right movements, with a focus on media manipulation and disinformation campaigns.

Sidney Chalhoub is Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He taught at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil, for thirty years before coming to Harvard in the fall of 2015. His research and writing focus mainly on the social history of Brazil in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with emphasis on the history of slavery, race, public health, and the literature of Machado de Assis, a writer of African descent widely regarded as the most important Brazilian novelist of all times. He published five individual books, three of them on the social history of Rio de Janeiro: Trabalho, lar e botequim (1986), on working-class culture in the early twentieth century; Visões da liberdade (1990), on the last decades of slavery in the city; and Cidade febril (1996), on tenements and epidemics in the second half of the nineteenth century. He also published Machado de Assis, historiador (2003), about the literature and political ideas of Machado de Assis. His most recent book is A força da escravidão: ilegalidade e costume no Brasil oitocentista (2012), on illegal enslavement and the precariousness of freedom in nineteenth-century Brazil. Chalhoub has also co-edited five other volumes on the social history of Brazil. At Harvard, he teaches courses on slavery, race, literature, and theories and methodologies of history, besides a lecture course on the History of Brazil, from Independence (1822) to the Present.