Ernesto Geisel

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His Excellency
Ernesto Geisel
Ernesto Geisel.jpg
29th President of Brazil
In office
15 March 1974 – 15 March 1979
Vice President Adalberto dos Santos
Preceded by Emílio Médici
Succeeded by João Figueiredo
13th President of Petrobras
In office
6 November 1969 – 6 July 1973
Appointed by Emílio 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 Costa e Silva
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
Nationality Brazilian
Political party ARENA
Spouse(s) Lucy Markus
Religion Lutheranism
Military service
Allegiance Brazil Brazil
Service/branch Coat of arms of the Brazilian Army.svg Brazilian Army
Years of service 1927–1969
Rank Army General

Ernesto Beckmann Geisel (Portuguese pronunciation: [eɾˈnɛstu ˈbɛkmɐ̃ ˈɡajzew], German pronunciation: [ɛɐ̯ˈnesto ˈbɛkmɐn ˈɡaɪzəl]) 3 August 1907 – 12 September 1996) was a Brazilian military leader 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. His father was Guilherme Augusto Geisel (born Wilhelm August Geisel), a German teacher from Herborn. He immigrated to Brazil in 1883, at 16. His mother was the homemaker Lydia Beckmann, born in Brazil (Teutônia) to German parents from Osnabrück.[1] In Bento Gonçalves, where he was raised, there were only two families of German origin- the Geisel and the Dreher- while the majority of the population was composed of Italian immigrants.[2] About 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, whom he admired.[3] Geisel was raised in a Lutheran family (the grandfather was a priest) and he claimed to be part of a lower middle class, relatively poor family. 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]

Geisel with President Getúlio Vargas in 1940

Geisel along with his brother, Orlando (1905–1979, who would be later Minister of Army in the Médici's government), entered the army early and was the first of his class when he graduated from the Military High School of Porto Alegre in 1925. He acquired a better military knowledge as he attended the Escola Militar do Realengo, graduated, in 1928, as first in his class and could take part in the artillery as an Aspirante. 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 and the 1964 military coup d'état that overthrew the leftist President João Goulart. In this military intervention, Geisel was an important figure and he became Military chief of Staff of President Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco.[5]

Also in 1964 he became Lieutenant-General and in 1966 a 4 star-General. In 1969 he was made president of Petrobras, the state-owned oil company of Brazil.

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.[6]


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

In 1973 Geisel was appointed by President Emílio Garrastazu Médici and other military leaders to be the candidate of the National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) for the presidency. 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 free elections. Geisel was elected by a vast majority and was inaugurated on March 15, 1974 for a five-year mandate.

From 1968 to 1973, the Brazilian economy grew at a rate of much 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 oil had to be imported, Brazil's foreign debt began to rise.

In the early 1970s, the radical leftists were tortured or even murdered in what resembled a civil war, while the press was censored. By 1974 signals of guerrilla activities were silenced.

Having the aforesaid activities been stopped, Geisel and his Chief of Staff, Minister Golbery do Couto e Silva devised a plan of gradual, slow democratization that would succeed, in spite of all attempts and threats of the opposition offered by radical sectors of the military hierarchy and some terrorist movements the leftists would still try against the government.[citation needed]

The military regime's main censorship tool, the Fifth Institutional Act, which had given the government dictatorial powers, was renounced by President Geisel in the end of 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.[which?]

During Geisel's term of office, Brazil established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and Angola, signaling a growing distance between Brasilia and Washington. Although both countries remained allies, Geisel was keen to seek alliances and, more importantly, economic opportunities in other parts of the Globe, especially Africa and Asia.

In 1978 Geisel appointed General João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo as his successor. He left office on March 15, 1979.

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. "Ernesto Geisel." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.
  6. (Portuguese) Death notice

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Emílio Garrastazu Médici
President of Brazil
Succeeded by
João Figueiredo