Tenente Rebellion (1924)

Tenente Rebellion (1924)
Tenente Rebellion (1924)

The Tenente rebellion took place in Brazil in 1924 and had the aim of overthrowing the oligarchy that was ruling the country at that time. The revolt rose out of "Tenentismo" politics—the name coming from lieutenants in the Brazilian army who wanted the country to have new leadership.

These lieutenants and some others of higher rank took their inspiration from the overthrow of the Brazilian emperor in 1889 and the subsequent establishment of the republic.

They viewed the Brazilian armed forces as needing to take on the social function of defending the constitution. To some extent, their beliefs resembled those of the Young Turks and other army reform movements of the 20th century.

During World War I the inability of European countries to supply Brazil with imported goods had led to the enlargement of many factories in Brazil catering to the home market. This led in turn to a large-scale increase in the industrial urban working class and a rise in trade union activism.

At the end of the war, the increasingly powerful labor movement was anxious for social changes, and in 1919 a mass walkout by 150,000 textile workers led to rising tensions throughout the country.

Three years later soldiers in the Copacabana barracks on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro openly rebelled under Antonio Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes. Although this rebellion was quickly suppressed, the junior officer corps was becoming increasingly sympathetic to the demands of the trade unions.

In July 1924 there was a mutiny among soldiers in São Paulo, Brazil's second city, instigated by Major Miguel Costa, the commander of the São Paulo state militia. The soldiers declared that they were acting to save the country from corrupt politicians.

The actions rapidly turned into a rebellion and drew support from many army officers, including General Isidoro Dias Lopes and junior officers in São Paulo at the time, including Joaquim and Juarez Tavora, Cordeiro de Farias, João Alberto, and Eduardo Gomes. For a month these soldiers were able to hold São Paulo while forces loyal to the government surrounded the city.

The government, desperate for a way to break the revolt, used the newly created Brazilian air force to bomb parts of São Paulo. The resulting casualties led to an increase in sympathy for the rebels. A second revolt then broke out at Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil.

There rebel soldiers under Captain Luís Carlos Prestes declared themselves in support of the soldiers in São Paulo. Again, the area sympathetic to the rebellion was surrounded by government troops.

Luís Carlos Prestes
Luís Carlos Prestes

Both the Costa forces in São Paulo and the Prestes forces from Rio Grande do Sul managed to break through the government lines, and they were able to join forces near Iguasu Falls, where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina have a common border.

At a meeting there, the two forces were formally merged, Costa became the commander in chief, and Prestes was elected chief of the general staff. Soon the force had shrunk to only a few hundred men, with Prestes the acknowledged leader.

The surviving rebels soon became known as the Prestes Column, and these men fought their way through Brazil for the next three years in a feat that would be compared to the later Long March of the Communists in China.

Not only were the members of the Prestes Column trying to evade their opponents, they were also eager to gain recruits and mobilize the people against the government. A few town militia groups were formed, but these were no match for the government.

The Prestes Column was never able to attack a major city. The Tenente rebellion was a failure, and as the number of rebels dwindled, it began to be seen overseas as a romantic episode in Brazilian history.

Prestes himself was to be important in Brazilian politics for years to come. Juarez Távora became governor of northeastern Brazil, and João Alberto went on to become chief of the federal police. Eduardo Gomes subsequently took over the Brazilian air force and contested the presidency in 1945 and again in 1950.