Humberto Castelo Branco (1900-1967) was a Brazilian career soldier and president who became his country's first military dictator in 70 years.
Humberto Castelo Branco was born in Cearáon Sept. 20, 1900. He graduated from the Brazilian military academy and entered the army in January 1921. He did not participate in any of the military insurrections of the 1920s, and by 1943 he had risen to lieutenant colonel. He went overseas as chief of operations of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force which fought with the Allied armies in the Italian campaign of World War II. During the postwar years Castelo Branco rose to general of the army by 1962 and to chief of the general staff of the army in the last months of the Goulart administration.
Gen. Castelo Branco's support of those conspiring against the government of João Goulart, made known secretly to other high military commanders in late March 1964, was one of the decisive factors in bringing about its fall. With the overthrow of Goulart on April 1, the three military ministers, who constituted a revolutionary junta, decided that they would, for the first time in 70 years, alter the normal constitutional succession to the presidency.
Support for a military candidate for the presidency did not come only from the armed forces but also from powerful state governors. Their choice was ratified by the military leaders, and Castelo Branco, promoted to marshal, was formally elected president by Congress and was inaugurated on April 15, 1964.
The Castelo Branco regime was a modified military dictatorship. The President seemed to want to prepare for the return to a fully democratic regime. He insisted on municipal elections being held as scheduled in March 1965 and on holding state elections scheduled in October. However, his modification of the constitution deprived a sizable number of citizens of their civil rights, including former president Juscelino Kubitschek and Goiás governor Mauro Borges. The President also used the authority provided by a new electoral law to ban a number of potential candidates in the 1965 gubernatorial elections.
The Castelo Branco government sought to come to grips with a number of the country's economic and social problems. Economist Roberto Campos was given virtually dictatorial powers as minister of economy. He developed a program for social changes and economic stabilization and development. The part of the program which was most effectively applied was that dealing with the inflation. Price rises were brought down from a rate of over 80 percent in 1964 to 25 percent in 1966, but at the cost of a considerable fall in the level of living of the workers and the bankruptcy of a sizable number of firms.
The Castelo Branco government's ardor for social and political reforms was not as great as its support of economic stabilization. It did not press for passage of a law allowing illiterates to vote in municipal elections, which would have reduced the power of rural landlords; and the agrarian reform law passed under government pressure was exceedingly mild and did not, in fact, bring about agrarian reform.
When the October 1965 state elections went against the regime, the "hard-line" military men forced President Castelo Branco to modify the constitution once again. The changes dissolved all existing political parties; provided for election of the president by Congress instead of by the people; reinstated the right of the president to remove key government officials and to cancel citizens' civil rights; and provided for packing the Supreme Court. A new constitution was enacted in March 1967, shortly before Castelo Branco left office, incorporating most of the dictatorial measures which had been adopted since the military coup.
President Castelo Branco turned his office over to Marshal Arthur da Costa e Silva on March 15, 1967, but although officially retired, he remained an important element in national politics until his accidental death in an airplane crash on July 18, 1967.
Since Castelo Branco only recently became known outside his country, there is no adequate work in English on his life or influence. José Mario Bello, A History of Modern Brazil, 1889-1964 (1966), contains a brief outline of his life and his role in the Brazilian revolution of 1964. For the economic, social, and political background of recent years see Irving L. Horowitz, Revolution in Brazil (1964).
Dulles, John W. F., Castello Branco: the making of a Brazilian president, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978.
Dulles, John W. F., President Castello Branco, Brazilian reformer, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980. □