126. Airgram A–709 From the Embassy in Brazil to the Department of State, December 9, 1969.1 2

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TO: Department of State
DATE: December 9, 1969

SUBJECT: Assessment of Character and Attitudes of Médici Government

This airgram addresses itself to the political change in Brazil since Costa e Silva’s stroke at the end of August. It analyzes certain apparent aspects of the Medici administration’s character and attitudes, based on early indications, and where appropriate draws certain comparisons with the situation which faced us previously under Costa e Silva.


President Medici has assembled a team of considerable technical competence, and has made several brief public statements of a general nature concerning his government’s viewpoint. However, program details are still unavailable. Although there are hints at this stage it is still impossible to judge with accuracy how the Medici government will perform in areas of special interest to the U.S. such as the “democratic opening” and the struggle to overcome the country’s basic economic and social problems. It would be incorrect to expect major course changes in the revolution, at least in Medici’s early days. The Medici administration has its base in the same sector, the military, and inherits some well established, policy lines and practices (e.g., use of institutional acts) from its revolutionary predecessors.

Perhaps the most prominent element of change since Costa’s last months lies in the strengthening of the Presidency, for whatever this development may prove to be worth to the Brazilians and the U.S. Medici enjoys broader support within the military than [Page 2] Costa did last August. In addition, the image he projects probably commands more public respect than did his predecessor’s. However, the best guess is that if polled the numerical majority of the country’s population would prove uninformed, fatalistic or indifferent on the subject. At least at this stage, it seems doubtful that Medici has regained much support for the regime among those members of the educated class who have become deeply alienated as a result of twists in the revolution during the past year or so, e.g., some of the university youth and professors, and certain liberal elements of the clergy. However, among the other politically-aware individuals with whom the Embassy maintains contact, a majority probably feels some relief that potentially destructive infighting with the military has been avoided. This same majority probably nourishes some hope, however slight, that a new man with a clean slate who owes few political debts can chart some fresh beginnings in desirable directions. Business circles have reacted favorably to Medici’s choice, and the (semi-controlled) press has been generally laudatory.

With regard to early indications of the Medici administration’s attitudes and policies, Medici has revealed publicly that he plans to assign top priority to progress in agriculture, education and health. A strong and publicly-advertised interest in tackling problems directly connected with living conditions in Brazil could help Medici’s image, although progress in these sectors will continue to came hard. With regard to a “democratic opening”, the President has said that he hopes to see democracy definitively established in Brazil before leaving office, but he has failed to spell out specific steps and obviously must be judged on the basis of performance and not words. Congress is open but the executive-legislative honeymoon is a fragile thing and the prospects of a real sharing of effective power at this stage are not good. Early indications do not warrant optimism concerning the abandonment of the practice of governing by institutional act.

Concerning the Medici administration’s attitude toward the U.S., there is every reason to expect a friendly and cooperative stance as well as more efficient functioning of those agencies of the government whose efforts are supposed to dovetail with U.S. aid efforts.

Character and Attitudes of Medici Government

1. General

Medici has assembled a team of considerable technical competence, but how he and his government will perform in certain areas of special interest to the United States cannot be judged with any accuracy at this early stage. In his speeches to date Medici has stressed, in ideological terms, his interest in establishing democracy. However, he has done this [Page 3] without pinning himself down to any specific further steps in a “democratic opening”. Similarly, his public statements have reflected an awareness of the need for fresh approaches to Brazil’s basic economic and social problems, looking ahead rather than back, but as yet few details on programs have emerged. His exact intentions, as well as his ability to carry his plans out, must remain questions at this stage.

It would be incorrect to expect major course changes in the revolution, at least in Medici’s early days. Elements of similarity between the Medici administration and its two predecessors far outweigh the differences. There was no civilian consultation in the process by which Medici was selected; he was chosen by, and has his power base in, the same military establishment as his revolutionary predecessors, and he inherits some well-established policy lines and practices from them.

2. Medici’s Position Today Stronger than Costa’s Was Last August

Speaking of the present, it can at least be said -- for whatever it may prove to be worth to the Brazilians and the U.S. -- that the Presidency is stronger now under Medici than it was in Costa’s final months. This is perhaps the most prominent element of change.

Greater Unity Within Military Establishment: By far the most important cause of this increased strength is the greater unity of the military establishment. For the present Medici is free of the open dissent which troubled his predecessor. Steps which Costa was contemplating at the time of his stroke, the opening of the Congress and the promulgating of a new Constitution, threatened to expand military dissent. The same steps were taken after Costa’s incapacitation in the name of the ruling triumvirate, as essential parts of the process of installing President Medici and bringing the military out of its leadership crisis. Under such circumstances they apparently came off without any significant expressions of dissent within the military.

Albuquerque Lima was forced by Costa’s illness to make his prematurely and failed to rally broad support. His group is quiet for the time being. The Castellistas are back in the fold. Medici has received personal promises of loyalty from each of the top military leaders. The selection process is finished, with no elections scheduled for another five years, and the man chosen is one who neither conduces nor brooks dissension within the ranks.

This unity in the military establishment is not necessarily durable, however, since some of the basic conditions which engendered dissatisfaction and dissent in Costa’s time persist today.

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Few Political Debts: Medici is in a somewhat stronger position to innovate, if he chooses, than Costa was last August. He begins his term as a man who did not campaign for the job and owes few political debts. He was tapped as the man who, on the basis of his personality and character as well as his record, was most likely to draw wide military support and hence pull the military establishment out of the emergency threat to its unity.

Somewhat Improved Capacity to Command: Some of Medici’s own personality and character traits are likely to be a source of greater strength for his administration. He is a hard worker and a man of consistency, not given to vacillation. His personality is less abrasive than that of his predecessor (although it is also more austere, less jovial). He is more capable of picking good men to work for him. He should thus be able to assemble a better team than Costa’s, and to operate it more efficiently. He has warned his Cabinet officers to renounce public ambitions, and has established for the present anyway an atmosphere of harmony within the government.

Public image Commands More Respect: As a possible further source of strength, Medici’s public image is considerably better than was that of his predecessor in his final months, at least as it projects in Brazil’s government-inhibited press, radio, and television. Editorials, for example, are almost uniformly favorable to him personally. He is usually portrayed as a man of character and integrity. With the exception of Transport Minister Andreazza (who has reportedly been retained on sufferance), none of Medici’s Cabinet officers have been seriously tainted with charges of corruption. Currently at least, the behavior of his immediate family does not engender the sort of public criticism which came to be levelled at certain members of Costa’s family. On these various grounds, there is reason to believe that the Medici administration would command somewhat greater respect among the public than did that of his predecessor.

Again, this is a situation which could deteriorate rapidly. Such interest and restraint as may have been engendered by the sheer novelty of the regime will eventually wear off. However, past cassations as well as the more stringent current ground rules are likely to render public criticism of Medici, in both press and Congress, generally tamer than was the case with his predecessors.

It seems likely that the numerical majority of the country’s population remains either uninformed or fatalistic and indifferent concerning the Presidency -- considering Medici another in the line of generals and unlikely to alter the revolution’s policies. The austereness and reticence of Medici’s personality will be a factor hampering progress in this area.

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As for the young students and professors and young clergy, Medici’s military predecessors had gradually alienated many of them because they regarded government policies on university campuses and elsewhere as increasingly repressive, and/or regarded economic and social policy as conservative and unimaginative in the light of the population’s impoverishment. While some Brazilians in this particular dissident category are probably withholding judgment of Medici, it seems likely that most remain highly suspicious if not actually hostile to the government.

On the other hand, among other politically aware individuals with whom the Embassy maintains contact a majority probably feels some relief that potentially destructive infighting within the military has been avoided. By and large these people are fairly high up on the success ladder, and they have an interest in the avoidance of political disorder with economic consequences. Probably a majority of them believe that some further political relaxation is in order, and nourish some hope -- however slight -- that a new man with a clean slate who owes few political debts can launch some beginnings in desirable directions.

The business community specifically was relieved, not only because the succession crisis was resolved fairly smoothly but also because the man selected seems likely to continue the economic policies of the previous government.

The round-up of suspected subversives including members of the clergy is adding significantly to existing tensions between the authorities and the Church. Both sides will probably go to considerable lengths to avoid a flat confrontation on a national scale. However, a continuing, crescendo of accusations and counter-accusations would inevitably widen the breach, with some consequent effect on Medici’s general standing in the country at large.

3. Some Early Observations on Medici Policies in Certain Areas of Interest to the U.S.

The United States is interested in seeing progress under the new administration toward solving basic economic and social problems which continue to impoverish large segments of the population. We would also like to see a “democratic opening”, involving a dispersal of authority, diminished recourse to government by institutional act, and an easing up of some of the restrictions on individual rights and freedoms.

With regard to the first of these two general desiderata, there are indications from his public statements and from other sources that Medici’s administration is likely to place more stress on education, [Page 6] agriculture, health, and other areas of direct popular concern than did his predecessor. Whatever other advantages, or disadvantages, such policies might have, they could make an important contribution to building Medici’s level of popularity. In the last analysis, demonstrable government interest -- if not progress -- in these sectors is perhaps more important as a factor in developing support than are steps toward a “democratic opening”. A widely-advertised interest in tackling problems directly connected with the standard of life in Brazil can help Medici’s image, but progress in these sectors will continue to come hard.

As for the second, President Medici has said that he hopes to see democracy definitively established in Brazil before he leaves office, but he has failed to spell out specific steps and obviously must be judged on the basis of performance and not words. His statements seem to suggest that his concept of democracy in its broader aspects focuses on educating the public to recognize and support future goals and priorities which are in the country’s best interests. Medici spokesmen have told the Embassy that he intends to place primary stress on reestablishing communications between the government and the people, with particular focus on university students and intellectuals. This, we are told, was the main reason for appointing Passarinho, a dynamic man with considerable charisma, as Minister of Education.

Congress is open and functioning, and this in itself is a positive development -- although Congress is operating after cassations and under the restrictive ground rules set forth in the new Constitution. The MDB opposition abstained in the Medici election, thereby maintaining its opposition to the manner in which the President was selected as well as to the severely retrogressive steps of the previous administration. However, by not taking a position of public opposition to Medici’s selection, the MDB avoided the early shattering of the prevailing “honeymoon” atmosphere, with the attendant risk of repressive repercussions. Although confrontation has been avoided so far, the impression borne out in speeches to date is that the opposition will continue to criticize government policies and actions, on general grounds of principle (for example, as undemocratic) as well as specifically.

Thus the present “honeymoon” is very fragile. A fresh phase of the military-civilian confrontation could come at any time, particularly if Medici’s handling of outspoken opposition in Congress becomes authoritarian and eventually leads to threats. A large-scale resumption of cassations would also have a disturbing effect on the political atmosphere. A basic lack of communication and a gulf of mistrust continue to separate the military and the civilian politicians. The opposition now has its sounding board in a reopened Congress, but this does not in itself signal the beginning of the sharing of the effective powers of government.

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Prospects for the abandonment of the practice of using institutional acts as a substitute for legislation do not appear good. In his inauguration speech shortly after the promulgation of the new Constitution -- which specifically provides for the continuation of institutional act powers -- Medici sought to justify the continuing existence of judicial order on the “institutional” plane as well as the constitutional, supposedly to preserve the gains of the revolution. Less than two weeks later he demonstrated his intention to use Institutional Act 5 powers in a routine manner by retiring two minor officials, thereby further diminishing any hopes there may have been that Medici would refrain from using his IA powers. The manner in which the existing Constitution was scrapped in favor of today’s more authoritarian document is another sign that Brazil is moving away from constitutionality, at least as we understand the term.

Finally, and perhaps most important, if Brazil under Medici is to enjoy a larger measure of democracy, Medici will have to loosen some of the restraints on individual freedoms which have gradually come into being as the revolution continued its course: intimidation of the press, restrictions on academic freedom, cassations, etc. While Brazil will never be entirely free of restrictions in these areas (indeed few countries are), progress in this direction rather than increasing invasions of individual liberty would be an obvious requirement if Medici is to make good his promise to restore democracy to Brazil during his term.

Medici’s first month in office has given no basis for reliable judgments on this latter score. Deep hostility toward the government will probably continue to characterize those elements of the intellectual class which seek revolutionary reform, or action substantially increasing academic and intellectual freedom. These conditions will probably keep the terrorist movement alive, and in the eyes of some in the security forces the situation will justify continuing restrictive measures rather than a let up.

The establishment of democracy will take firm and lasting conviction as well as leadership. In one limited sense, Costa e Silva’s departure from the scene represented a loss -- at least in his last few weeks he demonstrated a dogged determination to arrange the modest beginnings of a “democratic opening” in the face of some apparent opposition in the military establishment itself. Medici has not had similar occasion to demonstrate such determination. He is in fact largely an unknown quantity. We know him as a conservative man, and a man of strong character. However, in his career to date his quality of modesty has led him to shun the limelight. Since he did not project himself on the national scene, his convictions and his ideas for moving the country forward have not really come to light. Medici’s firm control of the situation within the military and the improved position which the Presidency enjoys generally throughout the country should render him reasonably [Page 8] confident of his ability to follow through on whatever programs he may wish to launch. However, Brazil will have to wait to learn whether he possesses the conviction to put the country on a new course, the imagination to innovate boldly, and the dedication and leadership qualities to beat down foot-dragging and outright opposition as they arise.

4. Medici Administration Attitude Toward U.S.

From the U.S. standpoint, Medici appears to offer some specific advantages over his predecessor. His own strong attachment and respect for the United States are well known. We can assume that he will be inclined to listen sympathetically to the suggestions of the new U.S. administration concerning U.S.-Brazil relationships. The Cabinet officers holding dawn positions of key importance from the standpoint of U.S. contacts (e.g., Gibson Barbosa, Passarinho and Delfim Neto) are men who have previously indicated an interest in and an ability for cooperating with the United States to mutual advantage. The Embassy’s early experience with the Medici Cabinet tends to confirm this view.

Early indications are that the new government’s policies, priorities, and techniques are more likely to facilitate effective U.S. assistance. Delfim Neto’s continuation in office suggests that the government will pursue the kind of sound financial policies which render U.S. aid most effective. The government’s expressed intention of focusing its efforts on progress in the fields of education, health, and agriculture should mean that Brazilian priorities dovetail more closely with U.S. aid objectives than was the case with the previous administration. Finally, Medici’s emphasis on teamwork has reportedly resulted in steps by the executive to ensure that responsibilities are clearly assigned, that priorities are firmly established and pursued, and that activities in such fields as economic planning and programming are well coordinated. At this early stage the information must be regarded as highly tentative. But if the effort succeeds, Brazil will become much easier to help.

Looking to the future, there is of course a possibility that some rising opposition element will pick up hostility to the U.S. and economic nationalism as useful cudgels with which to beat the Medici regime. Much will depend on Medici’s ability to disarm the opposition by bringing about an impressive rate of economic growth and tackling some of the economic and social problems most directly relevant to basic living standards here -- all within the framework of his non-inflationary economic policy. Although there is no evidence that nationalistic or anti-U.S. attitudes are important characteristics of any members of the government now, in the face of an opposition threat it is possible that the government might adopt certain aspects of economic nationalism as a [Page 9] defensive move. Even without such a threat, a lack of concrete progress in dealing with some of the thornier problems in U.S.-Brazilian economic relations (e.g., soluble coffee, shipping, trade barriers) could cool the Brazilian government’s attitude toward the U.S. fairly quickly. The afore-mentioned characteristics of the Medici regime, coupled with an active and forthcoming U.S. posture, should at least permit open and fruitful discussion of these problems.


  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 BRAZ. Confidential. Drafted on December 4 by Johnson; cleared in draft by Elbrick and the Country Team; and approved by Belton. Médici was nominated for president by the Brazilian military on October 6. (Telegram 8348 from Rio de Janeiro, October 7, ibid.; POL 15–1 BRAZ) He was elected by the Brazilian Congress on October 25, and inaugurated on October 30. (Memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger, October 27; ibid.)
  2. The Médici Government stated it planned to focus on improving education, health, and agriculture. Thus, Chargé Belton concluded that since Médici’s goals were more in line with the priorities of the U.S. Government than was the case with the Costa e Silva Government, U.S.-Brazilian relations would be closer under the new regime.