Contradictions, dilemmas, and actors in Brazil’s Abertura, 1979–1985

Wayne A. Selcher, Elizabethtown College


Political parties in Brazil have been weak historically in performing the classic functions of interest aggregation and translating voter preferences into public policy. Brazil’s international credit flagged, and it was no longer possible after 1980 to stave off recession through foreign borrowing. During 1980 and into 1981, however, Joao Figueiredo’s initially strong popularity was challenged by less inhibited political activity, the death of imaginative Minister of Justice Petronio Portela, anti-abertura violence from the right, the restrictive effects of the foreign debt, and mounting economic recession. A constant sense of impending major shifts and growing complexity dampened the national spirit of self-confidence, raised the political stakes, soured the president’s mood, and accentuated the inherent problematical contradictions and dilemmas of abertura that plagued the rest of Figueiredo’s administration. Few expected major recriminations at the conclusion of abertura, but there was no certainty regarding what investigations and enforcement policies the next government might undertake, spurred by public opinion and a critical press.