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Boris Fausto: "Never in [Brazil's] History Has There Been a Crisis So Large and So Dramatic"

Boris Fausto is a 1981 Wilson Center Fellow. A Brazilian historian, political scientist and writer with a six-decade, prolific career, he carried out studies on the political history of Brazil in the republican period, mass immigration to Brazil, crime and criminality in São Paulo and authoritarian thinking.[1] One of his main works is Revolução de 1930 - historiografia e história (The 1930 Revolution - historiography and history), first published in 1970, in which he confronts visions that defend the state of São Paulo during the 1930 revolution and the subsequent 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution. This article was originally published by BBC Brasil and has been translated by Michael Borger and Colton Wade. To read it in the original Portuguese, click here.

At 86 years old, historian and social scientist Boris Fausto has already lived through—and recounted—various political moments in Brazil: Getúlio Vargas’s dictatorship during the 1930s and 1940s, the 1964 military regime, Fernando Collor’s impeachment in 1992, and more recently, Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016.

However, none of these compare to the moment Brazil is living through right now, says Fausto. This is especially true after the revelations made by O Globo affirming that, according to recordings made by Joesley Batista, owner of multinational meat packing company JBS, Brazilian President Michel Temer paid hush money to keep imprisoned ex-Deputy Eduardo Cunha quiet. Temer, a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), denies these accusations.

“Never in this country’s history has there been a crisis so large and so dramatic,” Fausto described in an interview with BBC Brasil.

In his eyes, the situation worsened with Temer’s statement vehemently dismissing the accusations as well as the possibility of resigning. “In a way, I believe this worsens the situation because it prolongs it. But one might guess that he [Temer] wants to buy more time to see how this works out. It is an extremely delicate situation, a spectacle.”

The historian does not see a clear solution to mitigate the crisis that has plagued the country “for the past two, even three years.” Nonetheless, he identified a “dangerous” tendency to reject politics altogether that has surfaced due to the accusations that have come to light during the Lava Jato Operation.

“Society’s current problem is this idea that ‘no one is clean.’ This idea is very dangerous. It creates a dangerous path. People start to question: “So who will be good enough?”

“It is at this point that people begin to dream of saviors.”

Author of História do Brasil and winner of the 1995 Jabuti Prize, Boris Fausto does not see a direct historical correlation between the present and any other moment in Brazilian politics. However, the magnitude of the situation does remind him of the years prior to the military coup in 1964.

“This crisis is the most serious that we have lived through. I have not seen any other that compares to this one. But, a juncture as serious as this one was when we lived through the years prior to the military coup,” he stated.

Despite this, Fausto reiterated that he sees no chance of a new military dictatorship being instated at this moment, since the military does not exert the same influence today as it did in the past. However, he raised several potential scenarios that might exacerbate the political crisis, which could change the picture entirely.

“At least thus far, the speculation does not involve the military. There are no conversations between generals or anything that might indicate a military intervention. But I fear that we could get to a point that changes this, that pushes the military to get involved."

When asked what scenarios could produce this result, he stated, “A situation of social chaos, of complete misunderstanding, of street protests that go beyond [acceptable] limits. And polarization contributes to this. It would be very sad, but it could happen.”

Speaking about polarization, Fausto remembered that, in the period prior to the military coup, the population was also divided and this enabled the military to grow stronger. Fausto stressed, however, that this was during a period in which the Armed Forces played a much more decisive role in politics, unlike today.

“The division of opinions, extremely contrasting positions, and heightened social mobilization were the backdrop in that era. But the military also had a decisive role, very much unlike today. At the time, this led to a dictatorship. Today, the sequence of events is different due to various factors, but the situation is very dire.”


For Fausto, the least painful route to pacifying the country would be through an indirect election in Congress, which is a possibility listed in the Constitution. He believes that a “figurehead elected by reasonable consensus to carry out the current term” would be a viable solution at the moment.

“Congress could elect someone with reasonable consensus to end the current term and who can create the conditions for better understanding. But, it would have to be someone not under investigation. There is no room for those implicated by the Lava Jato.”

With the number of politicians’ names found in the corruption accusations in the Lava Jato operation, Fausto believes it would be “easier” to find a replacement from “society” or someone from the judiciary.

“It would be easier to search for a non-political replacement. Or someone from the judiciary could assume the presidency. But, in that case, we have a precedent that is not very exciting from back in 1945,” Fausto said.

“At the time, I believe José Linhares was the president of the Supreme Federal Court, and he was brought to power with widespread respect; after all, he was President of the Supreme Federal Court, and he was above all suspicion. He formed a government in a few months, but then began handing out posts, notary offices [to political allies], and he was a big disappointment.”

When asked about what could happen now due to the country’s political instability, Boris Fausto was unequivocal: “What do I know?” But, he admits it would be tempting to write a new section for his book, História do Brasil, solely about the events of the last three years—and he already has a name for the chapter: “Circus of Horrors.”

Image by Walter Craveiro

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