The largest South American country has an often surprising and overlooked history. In this unit, students see Brazil as a unique, dynamic country with an important history, diverse culture, and its own path of development.
For the past year, the Choices Program has been working on a complete revision of its curriculum resources on Brazil. The project is a collaboration with the Brazil Initiative at the Watson Institute at Brown University and incorporates fantastic scholarship, new lessons, and videos. We hope to publish the new materials in the coming weeks.
The new (and as you’ll see, aptly named) curriculum, Brazil: A History of Change, gives students an overview of Brazil’s history and traces its legacies through the present. Considerable attention is giving to the era of the military dictatorship, which came to power in a coup in 1964. A role play activity recreates the massive social movement in late 1984 against the dictatorship known as “Diretas Já!” [direct elections now!] The movement called for restoration of direct elections for the presidency of Brazil, which ultimately resumed in 1989.
A final section of readings and lessons in the new curriculum explores the ongoing process of how Brazilians have reclaimed their democracy since the end of the dictatorship. We finished writing this final chapter a few weeks ago and began the final editing and review process. But Brazilians are writing another chapter in their own history right now.
The lower house’s decision vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff means that Choices will need to make changes to the content we just thought we finished.
There’s a lot at stake for Brazilians, as the video from the BBC shows.Today, political groups are also invoking the history of the dictatorship. Some of those opposed to impeachment see efforts to get rid of President Rousseff as an echo of the military coup of 1964. Proponents of impeachment have many motives, but some have evoked the language of opposition to the dictatorship, calling for “Impeachment Já!” [Impeachment Now!].
How these events unfold over the coming days will be important for Brazilians. As we revisit the conclusion in the curriculum, one of the challenges for the Choices Program will be to decide the relevance and what weight to give these invocations of history by various groups. Is President’s Rousseff’s likely impeachment some kind of coup, or is it a popular blow for democracy?
I have included below the concluding paragraphs from the still unpublished Brazil: A History of Change as they stand on April 18, 2016. They remain relevant, but I wonder how much they will need to change as Brazil works through its current political crisis.
Excerpt from the conclusion of Brazil: A History of Change
What Kind of a Democracy?
The end of the military dictatorship in Brazil came about because of widespread opposition from all of Brazilian society. People with different concerns and ideas came together to demand a more representative and responsive government. Brazilians challenged how their country was organized politically, but also began to question other aspects of their society. Brazilians have had a continuous vibrant conversation about what kind of democracy and society they want.
For example, Afro-Brazilians have continued to challenge the belief that Brazil is a racial democracy and argue that policies, practices, and ideas create racial inequalities. Women have challenged the widespread expectations about their roles and pushed for equal treatment and opportunity. LGBTQ groups emerged at the end of dictatorship calling for equal rights and contesting social discrimination. In 2013 Brazil’s Supreme Court acknowledged their concerns and legalized same-sex marriage.
With the end of military rule, Brazil’s democratic government began to respond to more of its citizens. Today, it is clear that the government serves more than the powerful or connected. Through the Bolsa Familia and other social programs, the government has brought forty million Brazilians out of extreme poverty. Cases of patronage and corruption persist, but the media and other watchdog groups have kept these in the public eye.
While Brazil is changing, the legacies of the past linger: racial, social, and economic inequalities persist. However, the people remain just as consistent in their calls for change and shaping the future of their country. In the coming years, they will continue to debate political questions by actively participating in the democracy that they reclaimed in the 1980s.
- What should be the priorities of the government?
- How much of its resources should Brazil devote to continuing to make progress in reducing poverty?
- How important is it to continue to reduce racial and social inequalities?
- How can Brazil’s government become more responsive and accountable?
- Should Brazil play an increasing role in international relations?
- How can Brazil protect the Amazon and combat climate change while taking into account the economic needs of people in the region?
What the future holds remains to be seen.