03/19 – The March of the Family with God for Liberty

The coup in 1964. (Bloomberg)

On this day in 1964, roughly 500,000 Brazilians took to the streets of São Paulo on St. Joseph’s Day. The demonstrations, known as the March of the Family with God for Liberty, were in response to president João Goulart‘s planned governmental and economic reforms. According to the Catholic Women’s Campaign for Democracy (CAMDE, the main organizers of the march), the reforms – which included new tax laws and rent control – were simply too socialist. The march kicked off a wave of similar protests elsewhere in Brazil and precipitated the end of Goulart’s regime.

Goulart (L) meeting with American president John F. Kennedy (R) in 1962, one year before the CIA-backed coup rocked Brazil. (JFK Library)

Although Goulart’s Basic Reform Plan was popular amongst many Brazilians, the plan met with severe opposition from the Brazilian Armed Forces and Catholic groups. Perhaps the biggest opponent of Goulart’s reforms was the United States government, who feared Brazil “…becoming another China or Cuba”. Under the codename Operation Brother Sam, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) smuggled tons of ammunition and CS gas into Brazil to aid the impending military coup. On March 31st, Goulart was removed from power and a military dictatorship took his place. The ensuing 5th Brazilian Republic was a relatively oppressive dictatorship whose security forces, trained by French veterans of the Algerian War, used torture to keep dissidents in line. The regime – which collapsed in 1985 – was one of many South American states whose CIA-sponsored efforts to ward off socialism pushed them towards authoritarian nationalism.

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