“Eminent Brazilian Political Marketers”: Meet Col. Pereira da Costa

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Getúlio Vargas, “The Long Road Back.”
Revista Globo (Brazil), 1948.

Brazilian military propaganda tried to create the basis for a “correct reading”of Brazil, imposing an optimistic vision that was to be counterposed to another vision, of a pessimistic character, promoted by opponents of the military regime.

Propaganda sought to deny the goals that were in fact being pursued by the military men, but which if admitted publicly would make it obvious to society as a whole, and not just to the educated classes, that the dictatorship was indeed engaged in political propaganda.

I have been reading an interesting little paper lately on “eminent Brazilian political marketers.”

A bit like Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians.

In this case, a capsule history from an academic paper produced by a team an UMESP, the Methodist University of São Paulo. Partial cite (I am not even sure, exactly, what proper citation style is in Brazilian academia):

“De Quintino Bocaiúva a Duda Mendonça: breve história dos marqueteiros políticos no Brasil republicano.” Trabalho apresentado ao Núcleo de Publicidade e Propaganda do XXVIII Congresso Brasileiro de Ciência da Comunicação.

I still need to cite ethat properly. Forgive me. I will get around to it. But this is a blog. You get what you pay for.

The paper seems to have good footnotes (but was published leaving in some editorial instructions, such as “strike this comma.”) At any rate, one footnote leads to another and eventually you have read up reasonably well on a given subject.

In the last chapter, I introduced you to Lourival Fontes, employer of the great Jean Manzon — subject of an aestheric hagiography we recently saw on Globo here in Brazil. See

Now meet Col. Pereira da Costa.

Coronel Octávio Pereira da Costa: o mago da ditadura militar brasileira

Col. Octávio Pereira da Costa: The Wizard of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship

Octávio Pereira da Costa comandou a Assessoria Especial de Relações Públicas (Aerp) da presidência da República entre os anos de 1969 a 1973. Nascido em Maceió/AL, em 1920, formou-se pela Escola Militar do Realengo em 1942. Como tenente de infantaria, participou de campanha na Itália durante a II Guerra Mundial. Como general, comandou a 6a Região Militar em Salvador/BA, após deixar a chefia da Aerp. Foi professor e conferencista, bem como articulista de vários jornais, entre o quais destaca-se o Jornal do Brasil (colocar itálico) no qual assinava uma coluna às quartas-feiras. Defendia nesses artigos, a posição militar perante a necessidade do golpe de 1964.

Octávio Pereira da Costa commanded the Special Assistant for Public Relations (AERP) in the federal presidency from 1969 to 1973. Born in Maceió, Alagoas in 1920, he graduated fromthe Realengo military academy in 1942. As an infantry lieutenant, he took part in the Italian campaing during WWII. As a general, he commanded the 6th Military Region in Salvador, Bahia, after leaving AERP. He was a professor and conference speaker, as well as a columnist for various newspapers, among them the Jornal do Brasil, in which he had a bylined column every Wednesday. In these articles, he defended the military position that a coup was needed in 1964.

Octávio Costa não era um militar comum. Era bastante intelectualizado, conhecia literatura brasileira e admirava os fundamentos históricos-sociológicos de Gilberto Freyre.

Octávio Costa was no ordinary military man. He was quite intellectual, knew Brazilian literature, and admired the historical and sociological theories of Gilberto Freyre.

I have the complete works, with a foreword by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Sem dúvida, (inserir vírgula) o governo do presidente Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969-1974), (retirar vírgula) marcou o ciclo militar em que a propaganda política foi mais utilizada no Brasil. De acordo com Costa, no governo Costa e Silva a agência de propaganda possuía estrutura mínima. Por outro lado no governo Médici, “os homens do coronel Costa transformaram a Aerp, […] na operação de RP mais profissional que o Brasil já vira […]” (SKIDMORE, 2000, p. 221).

Without a doubt, the Medici government (1969-1974) was the period of the military cycle in which political propaganda was used most extensively. According to Costa, during the Costa e Silva governent, the propaganda agency had a minimum infrastructure. On the other, during the Medici government, “Col. Costa’s men transformed AERP into the most professsional public relations operation Brazil had ever seen.”

Citing Skidmore. Whom I have never been to get through much of. I figured I would read the local historians first, then give it try. When in Tupiland, do as the Tupi do. To start with, anyway.

Another writer — Heloiza Matos of the Cásper Líbero journalism school (PDF) — reports the attitude of the Colonel’s predecessor.

José Maria Toledo de Camargo, mais tarde escolhido chefe da Assessoria de Comunicação do governo federal, justifica a posição do presidente: “Castello tinha muitos traços do extinto udenismo. E os udenistas, quando pensavam em propaganda oficial, lembravam logo do DIP de Getúlio, o que lhes provocava até arrepios”

Toledo de Camargo, who would later be chosen as head of Communications of the federal government, justifies this position by [Costa e Silva’s predecessor, Castello Branco]: “Castello had many traces of the former UDN. And those people, when they thought of official propaganda, immediately recalled the DIP of the Vargas years, which gave them the shivers.”

Jean Manzon worked first for the DIP, then later for the 1964 coup, at the IPES, then later for the Médici “public relations” operation.

O coronel Octávio Costa, ao aceitar o convite do presidente Médici para chefiar a Aerp, teve neste instante, seu primeiro contato com o novo presidente. Anteriormente, não havia realizado nenhum curso de Jornalismo ou Relações Públicas (nomes dos cursos em caixa alta), embora a intensa vida intelectual lhe desse noções básicas de comunicação. Sem saber como era a personalidade de Médici, o novo chefe da Aerp, recebeu logo de cara (gíria, é melhor retirar, mesmo porque está redundante) a incumbência de redigir o discurso da posse.

When he accepted the post from president-general Medici, Costa was having his first contact with the new president. Previously, he had never taken a course in Journalism or Public Relations, although his intense intellectual life had given him basic notions of communications. Without knowing what Medici’s personality was like, he was given, right off the bat, the task of writing his inaugural address.

Did he ever get any military training in psychological operations? Why why he hired? His very effectiveness suggests it was not mere loyalty or cronyism.

Os principais objetivos das campanhas do órgão seriam “motivar a vontade coletiva para o esforço nacional de desenvolvimento”, “mobilizar a juventude”, “fortalecer o caráter nacional”, estimular o “amor à pátria”, a “coesão familiar”, a “dedicação ao trabalho”, a “confiança no governo” e a “vontade de participação. […] também pretendiam atenuar as divergências que sofre a imagem do país no exterior” (FICO, 2003, p. 196).

The principal objectives of the AERP would be to “motivate the collective will for the national development effort,” “mobilize the youth,” “fortify the national character,” to stimulate “love for the fatherland,” “family cohesion,” “dedication to work,” “confidence in the government.” He also intended to attenuate the problems the national image was encountering abroad.

A Aerp de acordo com as concepções de seu novo comandante “defendia” os brasileiros dos “ataques” à moral e aos bons costumes, proferidos pelos opositores do regime. O estilo de propaganda política criado por Octávio Costa foi singular. Ela alcançou excelente grau de aceitação, já que se apresentava de forma “despolitizada”, alicerçada em valores universais ou campanhas de interesse coletivo. De fato, no período mais truculento da ditadura militar brasileira entre os anos 1969-1974 sob o governo Médici, prevaleceram nos filmes da Aerp, que se dividiam em duas categorias (os de natureza educativa e os de caráter ético-moral), exaltações otimistas em relação ao Brasil. A propaganda militar brasileira tentava criar bases para uma “leitura correta” do País, imprimindo uma visão otimista, para se contrapor a outra visão, esta de caráter pessimista, idealizada pelos opositores do regime militar.

The AERP, in accordance with the ideas of its new commander, was “defending” Br.azilians from “attacks” on morals and good customs offered by the regime’s opponents. The style of political propaganda created by Octávio Costa was unique.

Was it? “Brazil: Love it or Leave It” was one of the more famous campaigns.

Gringos of a certain age will remember seeing campaign buttons with a very similar message around the same time.

His campaigns won wide acceptance, because they were presented in a “depoliticized” form, based on universal values or campaigns of collective interest. In fact, during the period of the greatest truculence by the regime during the Médici years, films produced by AERP were very widely distributed. These were divided into two types — Educational and moral-ethical — and carried optimistic messages exalting Brazil. Brazilian military propaganda tried to create the basis for a “correct reading”of Brazil, imposing an optimistic vision to be counterposed to another vision, of a pessimistic character, promoted by opponents of the military regime.

O trabalho dos profissionais da Aerp buscava associar o presidente Médici, (retirar vírgula) aos sucessos econômicos, políticos e esportivos (a seleção de futebol acabara de conquistar o tri-campeonato no México, em 1970) , (retirar vírgula) nos meios de comunicação de massa, especialmente na televisão. As peças publicitárias da ditadura militar, (retirar vírgula) também tentavam ensinar aos brasileiros, que os militares eram portadores de um patriotismo exemplar.

AERP professionals sought to associate President Medici with the economic, political and sporting triumphs (the national team won the World Cup in 1970 in Mexico) in the mass media, especially television. The advertising campaigns of the dictatorship also tried to teach Brazilians that the military men were the bearers of an exemplary patriotism.

Many no doubt were sincere patriots. But then again, there were Captain Guimarães and General Kruel.

O coronel Costa sabia, porém, que a propaganda política não atingiria alguns setores mais letrados da sociedade e que, portanto, não seria capaz de alterar posições radicais, oposicionistas e intelectualizadas. Diante dessa situação, foi preciso desenvolver uma estratégia retórica. As propagandas buscavam negar os propósitos que verdadeiramente eram perseguidos pelos militares, mas que se assumidos publicamente, evidenciariam para a sociedade em geral e não apenas para setores intelectualizados, que a ditadura fazia sim propaganda política.

Gen. Costa knew, however,that political propaganda would not reach better-educated sectors of society and that it would not, therefore, be capable of altering radical, oppositionist and intellectualized positions. Given this, a rhetorical strategy was required. Propaganda sought to deny the goals that were in fact being pursued by the military men, but which if admitted publicly would make it obvious to society as a whole, and not just to the educated classes, that the dictatorship was indeed engaged in political propaganda.

If someone has too many skeptical faculties to be readily baffled by your BS, just lie.

O estilo de propaganda adotado pelos militares fez tanto sucesso entre a população em geral, ao utilizar as técnicas operacionais mais apuradas para aquela época, que a iniciativa privada buscava ao máximo fazer suas propagandas semelhantes aos modelos usados pelo governo. Com o fim do governo Médici e o início do governo Geisel (1974-1979), a Aerp foi extinta. De acordo com o que se veiculava na imprensa, o novo presidente considerava a propaganda um gasto supérfluo e uma marca de governos totalitários.

The style of propaganda adopted by the regime was so successful among the general population,using the most advanced techniques available at the time, that private enterprise did its best to model its own advertisingon that of the regime. With the end of the Médici goverment and the beginning of the Geisel years (1974-1979), AERP was extinguished. According to what the press reported, the new president considered it a superfluous expense, and the mark of a totalitarian government.

The press was still censored at the time.

Paulo Liedtke (PDF) says that it was transformed, rather than extinguished. Rebranded as “social communications” rather than “public relations” — much as Bernays had rebranded “propaganda” as “public relations.

Propaganda is still used in contemporary Tupiguese to refer to “advertising,” without the negative connotations the word has acquired in English.

The sort of activities described here are actually still illegal in the United States — though apparently those laws are sometimes more honored in the breach than in the observance.

You can sometimes get around them by outsourcing, it seems.

The kind of “happy talk” campaign described here, for example, is a speciality of Ogilvy — which also coordinated the Pentagon’s Operation TOPOFF.

They hired live journalists to practice information warfare on. See

RESOLVED: Innovation journalism uses the marketing techniques of Latin Aerican generalissimos. Discuss.

Já, no governo Geisel, a AERP foi transformada em Assessoria de Imprensa e Relações Públicas. Com a suspensão da censura à imprensa em 1975, o governo deu ênfase ao aspecto jornalístico, não mais privilegiando o conceito de “vender imagem positiva”, como observa Rego (p. 17). Como vimos no capítulo dois, foi neste período que foi criada a Radiobrás (1975), quando o governo Geisel anunciou um plano para desenvolver uma rede própria de rádio e televisão. Segundo Mattos (1996, p.12), o objetivo da rede era fornecer serviços de transmissão em todas as regiões do país e ainda coordenar as emissoras educativas. A proposta de Geisel era criar emissoras em pontos estratégicos do território brasileiro, com o objetivo de facilitar a integração nacional. A rede começou com 54 emissoras de rádio e quatro de televisão.

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Em 1979, o governo Figueiredo criou a Secretaria de Comunicação Social, em nível de ministério. No mesmo ano foi criada a Empresa Brasileira de Notícias, substituindo a Agência Nacional.

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The end of our original story:

O ápice da propaganda oficial do governo militar brasileiro coincidiu com o desenvolvimento dos meios de comunicação de massa no País. A TV e o rádio foram maciçamente usados, mas da imprensa, raramente o governo se utilizou para divulgar suas campanhas. Vale ressaltar, que todas as TV’s e rádios veiculavam gratuitamente as propagandas do governo, em troca de auxílios financeiros para o desenvolvimento de cada veículo de informação. Eram dez minutos diários de veiculação das campanhas governamentais, conforme FICO (1997, p. 115).

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