Obituary: General Joao Baptista Figueiredo

JOAO BAPTISTA FIGUEIREDO was the last of a succession of military presidents that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, when the country returned to representative democracy.

Although he was no democrat himself, and hated politicians, Figueiredo was shrewd enough to realise that, after more than 20 years of uninterrupted military government, Brazil needed to move towards institutional stability. So this notoriously short-tempered and imperious man made it his business to speed up the gradual political "opening" initiated by his predecessor, General Ernesto Geisel. The process culminated in presidential elections in 1985, when a civilian once again occupied the Planalto palace in Brasilia. Figueiredo's main contribution was an amnesty that allowed hundreds of exiled opposition leaders to return from abroad and resume their political activities.

Like Geisel, Figueiredo had made his career in military intelligence. He had enjoyed a brilliant career. He was head of the national security service, SNI, in Rio during the early years of military rule, under Marshal Humberto Castello Branco, and later became the senior military aide to President Emilio Garrastazu Medici. He was appointed chief of the SNI by President Geisel in 1974, and remained there until he succeeded him as President of the Republic in 1979, chosen by a hand-picked electoral college. In his inaugural speech Figueiredo promised to make Brazil a democracy once again.

He was as good as his word, though he did not always appear to be in control of events, or to relish very much the reality of democratic politics. The vigorous man of action selected by Geisel to complete his work changed dramatically after he suffered a severe heart attack in 1981 and underwent bypass surgery two years later. He began to lose his grip, and his strategy of ensuring that pro-government politicians always won carefully controlled elections came apart. In 1982, opposition figures won several state governorships in the first direct elections, and a national campaign for direct presidential elections became unstoppable.

The economy, which had grown rapidly during his military predecessors' terms, also began to unravel, with spiralling inflation (223 per cent by the end of 1984) and a permanent balance of payments crisis.

Figueiredo tried his hand at becoming a man of the people, going on walkabouts and urging people to call him Joao, but things invariably went wrong. On one occasion, he had to be physically restrained from attacking students demonstrating against him during a visit to the town of Florianopolis. He confided, in an unguarded moment, that he preferred the smell of horses to that of "the people".

His jaundiced view of politicians was confirmed by the behaviour of the man who succeeded him in 1985: Jose Sarney had been a leading member of the pro-government party, but had gone over to the opposition in 1984. Figueiredo was so incensed by this opportunism that he refused to hand the presidential sash to Sarney during his inauguration ceremony.

When he finally stepped down in 1985, Figueiredo said that the best thing Brazilians could do was to forget about him. They did so, and he died an isolated and embittered figure, short of money (the last of his beloved horses was sold in 1993) and his eyesight failing, in his seafront apartment in the elegant Rio suburb of Sao Conrado.

Joao Baptista Figueiredo, soldier and politician: born Rio de Janeiro 15 January 1918; President of Brazil 1979-85; married 1942 Dulce Maria Guimaraes de Castro (two sons); died Rio de Janeiro 24 December 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own