Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lincoln Gordon Dead

Lincoln Gordon, former U.S. ambassador to Brazil, has died at 96. Gordon is one of the early "villains" in the rise of Brazil's military dictatorship. Gordon had made clear throughout the 1963-1964 period that the U.S. was strongly opposed to leftist Joao Goulart, and that it would support a return to "democracy," even if that meant an overthrow of Goulart. When the military began moving against Goulart (whose rise to the presidency was complex), Gordon immediately made clear his support of the movement, and was in communication with the generals who led the initial coup and those who established control after the coup. Fearing popular resistance to the military, Gordon had even convinced Lyndon Johnson to begin sending U.S. ships towards Brazil to support the government. Unfortunately for Brazil, the military set up power with popular support so quickly (and Goulart's administration and support collapsed so rapidly) that the ships never even made it to Brazil; before they were even halfway to Brazil, they were able to turn around, as the military had already established a control that it would not relinquish for 21 years, during which hundreds and even thousands were tortured, and hundreds more "disappeared."

While the U.S. was not directly involved in the Brazilian coup in the way it would be in Chile in 1973 and in Argentina in the late-1970s, its rapid support for the military hinted at the policies that would overlook democracy in the name of anti-Communism in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, and Lincoln Gordon was at the epicenter of these policies in Brazil. Gordon himself openly admitted his role in quickly supporting the generals in 1964 (see here, with thanks to Greg). As a result, while you cannot blame the U.S. for its role in overthrowing a democratic government in Brazil to the same extent that you can in other places, Gordon did play the key role among U.S. actors in supporting that process, and is definitely one of the more villainous characters in the opening act of Brazil's dictatorship.