Figueiredo, João Baptista de Oliveira (Brazil)
João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo was president of Brazil from 1979 to 1985, the last of five military officers to preside over the country’s government following the 1964 coup. Figueiredo liberalized Brazil’s military regime and slowly democratized the nation.
Born on 15 Jan. 1918 in Rio de Janeiro, Figueiredo entered military school at age 10 and spent part of his youth in Argentina where his father had been exiled after an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1932. After the 1964 coup Figueiredo was promoted to colonel in charge of the national intelligence service bureau in Rio de Janeiro.
During the presidency of Gen. Emílio Médici, who took office in 1969, Figueiredo was appointed head of the military staff. In 1974, he became head of the intelligence service under Ernesto Geisel. He was then chosen by Geisel to assume the presidency in March 1979.
Figueiredo continued Geisel’s policy of relaxing the military’s hold on power and looked to move Brazil towards full democracy. Confronted with hyperinflation, he restored collective-bargaining rights, devalued the currency, and imposed a freeze on interest rates. However, conditions for the majority of the population failed to improve.
Having granted an amnesty to political dissidents, loosened controls on the media and allowed new parties to enter the political scene, he was met with hostility by right-wingers while attempts to ban the newly-established Workers’ Party in the early 1980s led to widespread public discontent. By 1982, with the economy spiralling out of control and the country unable to meet its foreign debts, a series of bombings widely attributed to the right-wing military cemented popular opposition to the government.
In 1984 congress narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of the president. Figueiredo had opposed the amendment but the slender margin of victory indicated his weakening grip on power. In Jan. 1985 the electoral college approved the opposition candidate for the presidency and in the April, Figueiredo relinquished office, telling journalists to ‘Forget me,’ as he left.
Figueiredo died on 29 Dec. 1999.