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José Sarney de Araújo Costa (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʒuˈzɛ saʁˈnej dʒi aɾaˈuʒu ˈkɔstɐ]; born José Ribamar Ferreira de Araújo Costa; 24 April 1930) is a Brazilian politician, lawyer, and writer who served as 31st President of Brazil from 21 April 1985 to 14 March 1990. At age 89, he is the oldest living former Brazilian president, and, as of the death of João Figueiredo in 1999, the only living former president not elected by direct vote.
|31st President of Brazil|
21 April 1985 – 14 March 1990
Acting: 15 March 1985 – 21 April 1985
|Preceded by||João Figueiredo|
|Succeeded by||Fernando Collor de Mello|
|20th Vice President of Brazil|
15 March 1985 – 21 April 1985
|President||Tancredo Neves (elect)|
|Preceded by||Aureliano Chaves|
|Succeeded by||Itamar Franco|
|President of the Federal Senate|
2 February 2009 – 1 February 2013
|Preceded by||Garibaldi Alves Filho|
|Succeeded by||Renan Calheiros|
1 February 2003 – 14 February 2005
|Preceded by||Ramez Tebet|
|Succeeded by||Renan Calheiros|
2 February 1995 – 4 February 1997
|Preceded by||Humberto Lucena|
|Succeeded by||Antônio Carlos Magalhães|
|Senator for Amapá|
1 February 1991 – 1 February 2015
|Senator for Maranhão|
1 February 1971 – 15 March 1985
|48th Governor of Maranhão|
31 January 1966 – 14 May 1970
|Vice Governor||Antônio Dino|
|Preceded by||Newton Bello|
|Succeeded by||Antônio Dino|
|Federal Deputy for Maranhão|
6 June 1955 – 31 January 1966
José Ribamar Ferreira de Araújo Costa
24 April 1930
Pinheiro, Maranhão, Brazil
|Political party||UDN (1955–1965)|
Marly Macieira (m. 1952)
|Children||Roseana Sarney (b. 1953) |
Fernando Sarney (b. 1955)
José Sarney Filho (b. 1957)
|Alma mater||Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA)|
Sarney ascended in the politics of his home state of Maranhão as part of the "Bossa Nova Generation" of UDN politicians in the 1950s, young idealists seeking to reorganize public administration and rid the government of corruption and old deleterious practices. During the Brazilian military dictatorship, which imposed a two-party system, Sarney affiliated himself with the government party, ARENA, becoming the president of the party in 1979. As the regime fell, however, ARENA split over the appointment of Paulo Maluf as its presidential candidate. Sarney joined the dissenters, and was instrumental in the creation of the Liberal Front Party. He agreed to run for Vice-President on the ticket of Tancredo Neves of PMDB, formerly the opposition party to the military government. Neves won the presidential election, but fell ill and died before taking office, and Sarney became President. He started out his term with great popularity, but public opinion shifted with the Brazilian debt crisis and the failure of Plano Cruzado to abate chronic inflation. His government is seen today as disastrous and clientelism was widespread having longlasting consequences for the Brazilian Republic post military dictatorship.
Over time, Sarney and his family acquired enormous clout over Maranhão's public life, and he is today regarded as the foremost of Brazil's oligarchs. Sarney owns the most important newspapers and TV stations in Maranhão, and remains influential there. Sarney has also faced multiple allegations of nepotism and corruption in his career. In 2009, the British weekly The Economist called his election as President of the Senate "a victory for semi-feudalism" and "a throwback to an era of semi-feudal politics that still prevails in corners of Brazil and holds the rest of it back." Veja columnist Roberto Pompeu de Toledo deemed him "the perfect oligarch".
Sarney is also an accomplished writer, and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
Born in Pinheiro, Maranhão, as José Ribamar Ferreira de Araújo Costa, he was the son of Sarney de Araújo Costa, a wealthy land-owner and sugarcane producer, and Kiola Ferreira. In 1965 he legally adopted the name José Sarney de Araújo Costa, usually shortened to José Sarney ([ʒʊˈzɛ saɦˈnej]), for electoral purposes, since he was known as "Zé do Sarney", as in "José, son of Sarney".
Sarney started his political career as a federal deputy in 1955. He was a member of the centre-right National Democratic Union (União Democrática Nacional—UDN), aligned with the progressive wing of the party. He strongly supported so-called "Revolution of 1964", a military coup that overthrew leftist President João Goulart in 1964. After the military coup, Sarney followed most of the UDN into the National Renewal Alliance (ARENA), the political party of the military government. He was elected governor of the state of Maranhão in 1966, serving until 1971. He was then elected to the Brazilian Senate and became ARENA's president.
Despite his support for the government's heavy-handed measures against dissent, Sarney had never been quite accepted by the military establishment, which tried to block his career. In 1979 ARENA reorganized as the Democratic Social Party (PDS), and Sarney remained the party's president. In 1984, the junta was under pressure due to popular protests to reinstate direct elections for president (Diretas Já movement). PDS was divided but launched Paulo Maluf as its candidate for the presidency in indirect elections. Sarney disagreed with this decision and left PDS to form the Liberal Front Party, which then allied with the PMDB. As part of the deal, Sarney became Tancredo Neves' running mate on the opposition ticket. Neves won the election of 15 January 1985, but became gravely ill the night before his inauguration. Sarney assumed office as vice-president and acting president until Neves died on 21 April, and he formally became the first civilian president in 21 years.
His succession raised some question because as Neves could not attend the inauguration ceremony on 15 March, several politicians contended at the time that Sarney should not have been inaugurated as vice-president and allowed to become acting president. They believed that Sarney had been elected vice-president only by virtue of the election of his running mate as president. Each member of the Electoral College cast one vote, for president, and the choice of president carried with it the automatic selection of the ticket's running mate as vice-president, Sarney could take office only as vice-president together with Neves, they said. They argued that in the event of the head of the presidential ticket not being able to assume office, the presidential powers and duties should pass to the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Ulysses Guimarães. There was some partisanship in this line of thought since both Neves and Guimarães were members of the same party, and Sarney was not; he had been a supporter of the military, and only recently had joined the coalition to defeat the military's candidate in the electoral college. The challenge to Sarney's inauguration was short-lived, however, because in the early hours of inauguration day, Guimarães himself stated that he believed that Sarney had the right to be inaugurated even without Neves, as the role of the vice-president was precisely that of replacing the president when needed.
Sarney and the president of Argentina, Raúl Alfonsín, started the process of creating a common market between the two nations in 1985. As first steps, they agreed to subsidize regional trade with a special currency for the purpose (the Gaucho). The agreement led to the formation of the Mercosur in 1991. He also oversaw constitutional amendments that purged the remaining vestiges of authoritarianism from the 1967/1969 Constitution.
He faced many problems: enormous foreign debt, rampant inflation and corruption as well as the transition to democracy. Sarney launched an economic plan to stabilize the economy, called "Plano Cruzado", successful at first. But the inflation became got worse than ever after a year. A new, fully democratic constitution was promulgated in 1988, and in the following year, the first direct elections since 1960 were held. Sarney was barred from running for president in his own right in that election. In Brazil, when a vice president serves part of a president's term —including when the president is abroad— it counts as a full term. At the time, the Constitution barred a president from immediate reelection.
He supported Fernando Henrique Cardoso as presidential candidate in 1994 and 1998 and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2002. He returned to the Senate after his presidency, this time representing Amapá, and served as President of the Senate from 1995 to 1997, 2003 to 2005, 2009 to 2011, and 2011 to 2013. He retired in 2015, having served in elected office for all but a few months since of his life since 1955. When he retired, he was the longest-serving member of the Brazilian Congress.
Sérgio Machado, former president of Transpetro, said in his plea agreement within the Operation Car Wash that José Sarney received R$18.5 million of the bribe money from a Petrobras subsidiary, in the PMDB account during the period in which he directed the company (2003-2015).
As a writer, his best known work is the poetry book Os Marimbondos de Fogo ("The Fire Wasps"). Sarney was elected to a chair in the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1980.
- Brooke, James (13 March 1990). "In Brazil, Scathing Criticism For the Departing President". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
- "Where dinosaurs still roam", The Economist, 5 February 2009.
- Veja – O oligarca perfeito Archived 15 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- Presidentes do Senado Federal - Nova República 22 January 2013
- "Sérgio Machado relata repasse de R$ 18,5 milhões a Sarney" (in Portuguese). Revista Exame. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
| Governor of Maranhão
| Vice President of Brazil
Title next held byItamar Franco
| President of Brazil
21 April 1985 – 14 March 1990
Acting: 15 March – 21 April 1985
| President of the Federal Senate
Antônio Carlos Magalhães
Garibaldi Alves Filho
José Américo de Almeida
| 6th Academic of the 38th chair of the
Brazilian Academy of Letters
6 November 1980–present