60 years since the military coup: Acre had its first governor deposed and resistance from rubber tappers | Acre

60 years since the military coup: Acre had its first governor deposed and resistance from rubber tappers | Acre
60 years since the military coup: Acre had its first governor deposed and resistance from rubber tappers | Acre
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1 of 4 José Augusto de Araújo, the first democratically elected governor, spent only one year in power — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum
José Augusto de Araújo, the first democratically elected governor, spent only one year in power — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum

In March 1964, Acre was the newest state in Brazil. After more than 50 years of autonomist struggle, the territory was elevated to the category of federative unit in 1962. O first democratically elected governor, José Augusto de Araújohad taken office exactly one year earlier, in March 1963. The military coup, however, buried all hopes created for the region’s development.

(SPECIAL “60 YEARS OF THE MILITARY COUP”: the resignation of President Jânio Quadros, in 1961, triggered a series of events that culminated in a coup d’état on March 31, 1964. His successor, João Goulart, was deposed by the military with support from sectors of society, who feared that he would carry out a leftist coup, something that his supporters deny to this day. The political environment became radicalized, because Jango promised to carry out the so-called basic reforms by “law or by force”, with the help of unions and members of the Armed Forces. The military promised to immediately hand over power to civilians, but the country experienced a dictatorship that lasted 21 years, ending in 1985).

Acrean from Feijó, Araújo was a hitherto unknown politician. Affiliated to the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), the same as President João Goulart, Araújo had won the election against a strong opponent. Senator José Guiomard Santos, author of the bill that created the state of Acre. Santos, a carioca who had a political career in the region, ended up being passed over by the Acreans.

The celebratory atmosphere, however, did not last long. With ideas considered revolutionary at the time and which were in line with what Goulart defended for Brazil, such as carrying out agrarian reform, Araújo ended up arousing the ire of opponents and even allies.

2 of 4 Governor of Acre, José Augusto de Araújo and President João Goulart defended agrarian reform — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum
Governor of Acre, José Augusto de Araújo and President João Goulart defended agrarian reform — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum

‘Subversive’ and ‘communist’

With the establishment of the dictatorship, Araújo’s opponents saw the perfect chance to get rid of him. The governor chosen by the people began to be denounced to the military as ‘subversive’ and ‘communist’.

The situation became unsustainable until on May 8, 1964, José Augusto was forced to resign by the commander of the 4th Military Company, Captain Edgar Pedreira de Cerqueira Filho, during the episode that became known as the ‘Siege of the Palace’.

Commanded by Cerqueira, the military surrounded the Rio Branco Palace and demanded that the governor resign or they would invade the place. Maria Lúcia says that the governor’s allies still tried to convince him to resist. However, fearing that there would be bloodshed, he retreated.

“At that time we had the territorial guard, there were few men and they could never confront army personnel with machine guns, when the state didn’t even have a weapon to fight back. Then, he said: ‘there will be blood, so why fight?’. Then he decided to resign,” recalls the widow. The governor, however, signed the document with just his initials, a way of making it clear that he was being forced to make that decision.

3 of 4 José Augusto de Araújo’s resignation letter was signed with just his initials — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum
José Augusto de Araújo’s resignation letter was signed with just his initials — Photo: Historical collection of the Ufac University Museum

In a quick ceremony, Acre’s state deputies immediately swore in Cerqueira as the state’s new governor. The decision, however, would have been taken without the Army’s high command being consulted.

Araújo’s widow says that two situations caught her attention as soon as she and her husband had to leave the state.

The first was upon arriving in Porto Velho (RO). “A colonel asked us what had happened, because communication was completely closed. He was coming to take over the government, but Cerqueira hurried and demanded that the deputies vote for him, according to what I was told. A coup within a coup”, he comments.

Already in Rio de Janeiro, where they would live in the following years, the couple was received by General Homem de Carvalho and at the request of General Humberto Castelo Branco, who held the Presidency, they had to make a report on the situation in Acre.

Historian Gerson Albuquerque also believes that Cerqueira acted independently. “The coup was his, in the plot to take power, he has a fundamental role, but he didn’t do it alone, but because he had a favorable situation”, he explains.

José Augusto and his wife took refuge in Rio de Janeiro. However, even then they did not have peace. The former governor had to respond to several lawsuits with accusations of corruption, subversive conduct and communism. “They said he was a communist because he wanted to carry out agrarian reform”, recalls Maria Lúcia.

In 1965, to respond to one of these processes, he had to return to Acre, now governed by Captain Cerqueira, and ended up being imprisoned for seven months. With his health weakened due to heart problems, he ended up serving his sentence at the Rio Branco Base Hospital.

“The hospital was a horrible thing, a hospital of destitution. When I had to travel, I had to step over dead bodies to get to the exit of the hospital. It was one of the worst phases of my life. What happened in My mind was that I had to fight to get out of that because it was an injustice, and without having any support because we were in the Dictatorship”, he says.

José Augusto achieved freedom through a habeas corpus in March 1966 and returned to Rio de Janeiro. In the same year, however, he had his political rights revoked for 10 years by the Military Regime.

All these adversities ended up leaving the governor increasingly weakened, until on April 3, 1971, he died at Pedro Ernesto Hospital, in Rio de Janeiro. “When I received the news I went to another world and came back because he was fine, talking”, he says.

4 of 4 Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, former dictator created the motto ‘Integrate to not deliver’ to justify occupation of the Amazon — Photo: Palácio do Planalto/Reproduction
Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, former dictator created the motto ‘Integrate to not deliver’ to justify occupation of the Amazon — Photo: Palácio do Planalto/Reproduction

If in the first years of the Military Dictatorship there was little resistance or even support among the political class in Acre, the situation began to change from the 1970s onwards. Oppressed by the occupation policies of the Amazon, rubber tappers and rural workers began to organize to resist the excesses of the dictatorship.

The motto ‘Integrate to not deliver’ came up with Marshal Castelo Branco, back in the 60s. The idea was to ‘colonize’ the Amazon region and thus prevent the region from being ‘invaded’ by foreigners and subversives. In July 1970, under the government of General Emílio Médici, the National Integration Plan (PIN) was launched.

The measure begins the migration of farmers from the South and Southeast of Brazil to Acre and consequently increases deforestation. It is in this context that resistance arises.

“In Acre, the great resistance to the Dictatorship’s project arises from the rubber tappers’ movement. The intervention policies in the Amazon, the reordering of traditional economic forms, the expropriation of communities that are in the forest and come to the city and the resistance to this economic project are what will provoke political resistance”, explains historian Gerson Albuquerque.

Unions begin to organize in the cities of Brasiléia and Sena Madureira and the expulsion of residents from rural areas to urban centers ends up stimulating the growth of other movements.

“So you will have, in this context of the 70s, people within Rio Branco, teachers and students starting to think and articulate the need to take a position in favor of these movements”, he highlights. Artists, base ecclesiastical communities and high school students begin to mobilize.

The historian says he is unaware of any cases of political disappearances in Acre, however, the psychological terror was constant. “Repression does not only occur in this model. Here in Acre there was very strong violence due to fear because it is a parochial society, everyone knows everyone and the torture tricks are more pronounced. Symbolic violence is as aggressive and impactful as physical violence”, he reflects.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: years military coup Acre governor deposed resistance rubber tappers Acre

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