Ernesto Geisel

This name uses Portuguese naming customs. The first or maternal family name is Beckmann and the second or paternal family name is Geisel.
Ernesto Geisel
29th President of Brazil
In office
15 March 1974  15 March 1979
Vice President Adalberto dos Santos
Preceded by Emílio Garrastazu Médici
Succeeded by João Figueiredo
13th President of Petrobras
In office
6 November 1969  6 July 1973
Appointed by Emílio Garrastazu Médici
Preceded by Waldemar Cardoso
Succeeded by Faria Lima
Minister of the Superior Military Court
In office
20 March 1967  27 October 1969
Appointed by Castelo Branco
Preceded by Floriano de Lima Brayner
Succeeded by Jurandyr de Bizarria Mamede
Chief Minister of the Military Cabinet
In office
15 April 1964  15 March 1967
President Castelo Branco
Preceded by André Fernandes de Sousa
Succeeded by Jaime Portela de Melo
In office
25 August 1961  8 September 1961
President Ranieri Mazzilli
Preceded by Pedro Geraldo de Almeida
Succeeded by Amaury Kruel
Personal details
Born Ernesto Beckmann Geisel
(1907-08-03)3 August 1907
Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Died 12 September 1996(1996-09-12) (aged 89)
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Resting place São João Batista Cemetery
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Political party ARENA
Spouse(s) Lucy Markus (m. 1939)
Children Amália
Religion Lutheranism
Military service
Allegiance Brazil Brazil
Service/branch Brazilian Army
Years of service 1927–1969
Rank Army General

Ernesto Beckmann Geisel (Portuguese pronunciation: [eɾˈnɛstu ˈbɛkmɐ̃ ˈɡajzew], German pronunciation: [ɛɐ̯ˈnesto ˈbɛkmɐn ˈɡaɪzl̩]) 3 August 1907 – 12 September 1996) was a Brazilian Army officer and politician, who was President of Brazil from 1974 to 1979, during the Brazilian military government.

Early life and family

Ernesto Geisel was born in Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul province. His father was Guilherme Augusto Geisel (born Wilhelm August Geisel), a German Brazilian teacher from Herborn who immigrated to the Empire of Brazil in 1883 at age 16. His mother was the homemaker Lydia Beckmann, born in Brazil in (Teutônia) colony to German parents from Osnabrück.[1]

In Bento Gonçalves, where Ernesto was raised, there were only two families of German origin - Geisels and Drehers - while the majority of the population was composed of Italian immigrants.[2] Remembering the contact with the local Italian immigrants during his childhood Geisel described the cultural contrasts between the strict and rigorous education that his German parents imposed compared to the freedom and more relaxed way of life that his Italian friends had, and whom he admired.[3]

Geisel was raised in a Lutheran family (they belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil; his grandfather was a priest) and he claimed to come from a relatively poor family of lower middle class. At home Geisel spoke German as well as Portuguese because his father, who spoke Portuguese so well that he became a teacher of this language, did not want his children to speak Portuguese with a foreign accent. As an adult, Geisel reported that he was able to understand the German language, but was not able to write it and had some difficulty speaking it.[4]

Ernesto Geisel married Lucy Markus, the daughter of an army colonel, in 1940. They had a daughter, Amália Lucy (later a university professor), and a son, Orlando, from whose 1957 death in a train accident Geisel never completely recovered. His widow died in an automobile accident in March 2000.[5]

Military career

Geisel with President Getúlio Vargas in 1940

Geisel along with his brother Orlando (1905–1979, who would be Minister of Army in Emílio Garrastazu Médici's government), entered the army in 1921 and in 1925 was the first of his class when he graduated from the Military High School of Porto Alegre. He acquired higher military education at Escola Militar do Realengo, and graduated it in 1928 as the first in his class and joined artillery unit as an Aspirante. Promoted to lieutenant in 1930.

Geisel witnessed and participated in the most prominent events of Brazilian history in the 20th century, such as the Revolution of 1930, the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship of Estado Novo and its overthrow in 1945. Geisel was military attache in Uruguay (1946–47).[6]

Promoted to brigadier-general in 1960, Geisel participated in the 1964 military coup d'état that overthrew the leftist President João Goulart. Geisel was an important figure during the coup and became Chief of the Military Staff of President Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco from 1964 until 1967.[7]

In 1964 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and in 1966 to the highest 4-star General de exército rank. In 1969 he was made president of the state-owned oil company Petrobras.[8]


Geisel during his inauguration ceremony in a joint session of the National Congress, 15 March 1974

In 1973 President Emílio Garrastazu Médici selected Geisel to be his successor as the President. There had been intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the hard-liners against him and by the more moderate supporters of Castelo Branco for him. Fortunately for Geisel, his older brother, Orlando Geisel was the Minister of Army, and his close ally General João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo the chief of Médici's military staff.

At that time the President of Brazil was chosen by the military and then approved by the Congress in order to give an impression of democratic elections. As the candidate of the National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) Geisel was elected by a vast majority and was inaugurated on March 15, 1974 for a five-year mandate.


During the Brazilian Miracle from 1968 to 1973 Brazilian economy had grown at a rate of more than 10% per year, the fastest in the world. But due to the oil shock crisis in 1974, development fell to 5–6% per year. Because much of the country's oil had to be imported, Brazil's foreign debt began to rise. This strategy was effective in promoting growth, but it also raised Brazil's import requirements markedly, increasing the already large current-account deficit. The current account was financed by running up the foreign debt. The expectation was that the combined effects of import substitution industrialization and export expansion eventually would bring about growing trade surpluses, allowing the service and repayment of the foreign debt.

President Geisel sought to maintain high economic growth rates, while dealing with the effects of the 1973 oil crisis. He maintained massive investments in infrastructure - highways, telecommunications, hydroelectric dams, mineral extraction, factories, and atomic energy. Fending off nationalist objections, he opened Brazil to oil prospecting by foreign firms for the first time since the early 1950s.

Relaxation of dictatorship

Geisel adopted a more moderate stance with regards to political opposition. Together with his Chief of Staff, Minister Golbery do Couto e Silva Geisel devised a plan of gradual, slow democratization that would eventually succeed despite all the threats and opposition from hard-liners. He replaced several regional commanders with trusted officers and labeled his political program abertura and distensão, meaning a gradual relaxation of authoritarian rule. It would be, in his words, "the maximum of development possible with the minimum of indispensable security.". In 1974 elections opposition won more votes than before. However, the torture of regime's left-wing and Communist opponents by DOI-CODI was still ongoing as demonstrated by the murder of Vladimir Herzog.

In 1977 and 1978 the Presidential succession issue caused further political confrontation with the hard-liners. Noting that Brazil was only a "relative democracy," Geisel attempted in April 1977 to restrain the growing strength of the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party by creating an electoral college that elect the next President. In October he dismissed the far-right Minister of Army, General Sylvio Couto Coelho da Frota who had tried to become candidate for the next President.[9]

In 1978 Geisel had to deal with the first labor strikes since 1964 and electoral victories of the opposition MDB. In late December 1978 he announced the end of the oppressive Institutional Act 5, allowed exiled citizens to return, restored habeas corpus and political rights to politicians, repealed the extraordinary powers of President, and managed election of General João Figueiredo (1979–85) as his successor in March 1979.

Foreign policy

Geisel with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter during a formal dinner at the Palácio da Alvorada, 29 March 1978

In his 5 years of government, Geisel adopted a more pragmatic foreign policy. Despite being a conservative and deeply anti-communist, Geisel made significant overtures towards the communist bloc. Brazil established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and socialist regimes of Angola and Mozambique, signaling a growing distance between Brasilia and Washington. Although both countries remained allies, Geisel was keen to seek new alliances and, more importantly, new economic opportunities in other parts of the world, especially Africa and Asia.

Brazil shifted its foreign policy to meet its economic needs. "Responsible pragmatism" replaced strict alignment with the United States and a worldview based on ideological frontiers and blocs of nations. Because Brazil was 80% dependent on imported oil, Geisel shifted the country from a critical support of Israel to a more neutral stance on Middle Eastern affairs. Brazil moved closer to Latin America, Europe, and Japan.

The 1975 agreement with West Germany to build nuclear reactors produced confrontation with the Carter administration, which also scolded the Geisel government for abusing human rights. Frustrated with what he saw as the highhandedness and lack of understanding of the Carter administration, Geisel renounced the military alliance with the United States in April 1977.

See also


  1. KOIFMAN, Fábio. Presidentes Do Brasil: De Deodoro A FHC.
  2. KOIFMAN, Fábio. Presidentes Do Brasil: De Deodoro A FHC.
  3. D'ARAUJO, Maria Celina. Ernesto Geisel.
  4. D'ARAUJO, Maria Celina. Ernesto Geisel.
  5. (Portuguese) Death notice
  6. Ernesto Beckmann Geisel
  7. "Ernesto Geisel." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.
  8. Ernesto Geisel Facts
  9. Get to Know a Brazilian – Ernesto Geisel
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Political offices
Preceded by
Emílio Garrastazu Médici
President of Brazil
Succeeded by
João Figueiredo
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