The 1988 Constitution marks the creation of a new Brazilian State. Known as the Citizen Constitution, the charter turned 30 in past October.
Arising from intense popular outcry after 21 years of military dictatorship, the 1988 Federal Constitution was the first in the country’s history to include amendments by ordinary citizens and representative entities, in addition to those of the 559 parliamentarians who worked intensely for 20 months in the National Constituent Assembly convened in 1985. All with the same goal: to sweep the remnants that reminded the country of its dictatorial period.
To encourage popular participation, a team coordinated by Mozart Vianna de Paiva, former secretary general of the Chamber of Deputies, collected suggestions and sub-mitted them to the members of the Assembly. There were 72,719 proposals from citizens throughout the country, in addition to another 12,000 suggestions from constituents and representative entities. Because of its mass participation, the text is also known as Citizen Constitution.
According to Vianna, the 1988 Constitution was the first built from scratch with popular initiatives in its content. “It was a wonderful moment of civic effervescence. There was a general outcry, an energy, a civic will of the people, of the cities, of constituent parliamentarians, and us public servants. We worked hard, but with great pleasure,” he said.
Under the military regime, Brazil had many demonstrations and marches with demands guided by the desire for change brought about by times of dictatorship. Among the appeals was the need to convene a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly, with the aim of adopting a new Constitution, which would mean changes in habits, customs and experiences. Another public clamour was the Diretas Já (“Direct Elections Now”) movement.
With the election of Tancredo Neves in January 1985 for the Presidency of the Republic, made under the promise that this would be the last indirect election in the country, the Brazilian population began to believe that it would be realized. With the death of Neves on 21 April of the same year, Vice President José Sarney assumed the presidential post and enabled the promises to be fulfilled.
“It was a moment of recovery of rights, above all. And this was possible, to a certain extent, because of the great mobilization of the population, especially from the more organized segments and categories,” said Jorge Hage, a constituent deputy and former chief of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Union.
The draft of the new Constitution began in July 1985. The first version was delivered in September of the follo-wing year, and although it was not officially forwarded to Congress, it was published and served as the basis for ma-ny of the constituencies that officially debated the new Constitution through the National Constituent Assembly in February 1987.
“Today, it may seem that it is too detailed, but those [working on it] at the time know that things happened under a regime of forces that we needed never to happen again in Brazil. They were violations of individual rights, imprisonment without court orders, torture, deaths. It was necessary to put a stop to those things, so they would never happen again. Nothing better than putting them in the Constitution,” he pondered.
Guarantee of Ample Defense
Antonio Rodrigo Machado, president of the Anti-Corruption and Compliance Legislation Commission at the Federal District chapter of the Brazilian Bar Association, who works in the constitutional and criminal area, explained that the 1988 Constitution was a historic milestone with great gains for citizens. One of the flagship initiatives was the general system for the defense of accused persons, which provided a guarantee of ample defense and the right to an adversarial proceeding, both warranties that did not exist during the military period.
“The constitutional system, unlike the dictatorial period, ensures that all citizens who are accused undergo a legitimate process, with the possibility of defense. This establishment of rights for the accused is a great milestone,” he said.
The Five Foundations of the Federative Republic of Brazil
• Sovereignty: In the national territory, there is no power above the power of the State;
• Citizenship: Includes all political rights and obligations, such as voting and being voted on;
• Dignity of the Human Person: Physical injury and rape are considered crimes against human dignity, according to the Brazilian Penal Code;
• Social Values of Work and Free Enterprise: the individual must have the right to grow, develop or enterprise through his/her work and free initiative;
• Political Pluralism: Admission of opposing ideas, in all situations.