José Sarney

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José Sarney
Official portrait, 1985
President of Brazil
In office
21 April 1985 – 14 March 1990
Acting: 15 March 1985 – 21 April 1985
Vice PresidentNone
Preceded byJoão Figueiredo
Succeeded byFernando Collor de Mello
Vice President of Brazil
In office
15 March 1985 – 21 April 1985
PresidentTancredo Neves[a]
Preceded byAureliano Chaves
Succeeded byItamar Franco
President of the Federal Senate
In office
2 February 2009 – 1 February 2013
Preceded byGaribaldi Alves Filho
Succeeded byRenan Calheiros
In office
1 February 2003 – 14 February 2005
Preceded byRamez Tebet
Succeeded byRenan Calheiros
In office
2 February 1995 – 4 February 1997
Preceded byHumberto Lucena
Succeeded byAntônio Carlos Magalhães
Senator for Amapá
In office
1 February 1991 – 1 February 2015
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byDavi Alcolumbre
Senator for Maranhão
In office
1 February 1971 – 15 March 1985
Preceded byVitorino de Brito Freire
Succeeded byAmérico de Souza
Governor of Maranhão
In office
31 January 1966 – 14 May 1970
Vice GovernorAntônio Dino
Preceded byNewton Bello
Succeeded byAntônio Dino
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
In office
6 June 1955 – 31 January 1966
Personal details
José Ribamar Ferreira de Araújo Costa

(1930-04-24) 24 April 1930 (age 93)
Pinheiro, Maranhão, Brazil
Political partyPMDB (1985–present)
Other political
Other parties
(m. 1952)
ChildrenRoseana, Fernando, José
Alma materFederal University of Maranhão (UFMA)

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 1985 to 1990.[2] He briefly served as the 20th vice president of Brazil for a month between April and May 1985.

Sarney was a member of the Chamber of Deputies from 1955 until 1966 and of the Senate from 1971 until 1985. He was also the Governor of Maranhão from 1966 until 1970. During the Brazilian military dictatorship, Sarney affiliated himself with the government party, ARENA, becoming the president of the party in 1979. Sarney joined the dissenters, and was instrumental in the creation of the Liberal Front Party.

Sarney ran 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.[3]

Following his presidency, Sarney resumed his senate career elected again in 1991 and serving until 2015. He also held the position of President of the Federal Senate three times following his presidency. At age 93, he is the oldest living former Brazilian president, and at the time of his retirement in 2015, had one of the longest congressional careers in Brazilian history.[4]

Early life[edit]

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.[5] His family has origins in Viseu in Portugal.[6] He attended Colégio Marista and the Licéu Maranhense before attending the Federal University of Maranhão.[7] In 1953, he graduated from the federal university receiving his bachelor's degree in law.[7] After his graduation, he launched a postmodernist literary journal titled A Ilha.[7]

In 1965 he legally adopted the name José Sarney de Araújo Costa, usually shortened to José Sarney, for electoral purposes.[8][7] He was known as "Zé do Sarney", as in "José, son of Sarney".[8][7] Sarney's father acquired the name after being born on a land owned by an Englishman named "Sir Ney".[7]

Political career[edit]

Early activities[edit]

Sarney started his political career in the 1950s after becoming a replacement deputy and later as a federal deputy in 1955.[7][9] He was a member of the centre-right National Democratic Union (União Democrática Nacional—UDN), aligned with the progressive wing of the party.[9] He strongly supported so-called "Revolution of 1964", a military coup that overthrew leftist President João Goulart in 1964.[9][7] After the military coup, Sarney followed most of the UDN into the National Renewal Alliance (ARENA), the political party of the military government.[10] He was elected governor of the state of Maranhão in 1966, serving until 1971.[10] He was then elected to the Brazilian Senate and became ARENA's president.[10]

Vice presidency[edit]

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.[11] In 1979 ARENA reorganized as the Democratic Social Party (PDS), and Sarney remained the party's president.[12] In 1984, the junta was under pressure due to popular protests to reinstate direct elections for president (Diretas Já movement).[12] PDS was divided but launched Paulo Maluf as its candidate for the presidency in indirect elections.[13]

Sarney disagreed with this decision and left PDS to form the Liberal Front Party, which then allied with the PMDB.[14] As part of the deal, Sarney became Tancredo Neves' running mate on the opposition ticket.[1] Neves won the election of 15 January 1985, but became gravely ill the night before his inauguration.[1] 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.[1][15]


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.[1] They believed that Sarney had been elected vice-president only by virtue of the election of his running mate as president.[1][16] 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.[1][16] Some critics 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.[9][16]

Sarney takes the oath of office as Vice President of Brazil on 15 March 1985, immediately becoming Acting President
President Sarney with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Pelé during a state dinner at the White House, 1986

There was some partisanship in this line of thought since both Neves and Guimarães were members of the same party, and Sarney was not.[9] 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.[9] 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.[16]

Sarney and the president of Argentina, Raúl Alfonsín, started the process of creating a common market between the two nations in 1985.[17] As first steps, they agreed to subsidize regional trade with a special currency for the purpose (the Gaucho).[18] The agreement led to the formation of the Mercosur in 1991.[19] He also oversaw constitutional amendments that purged the remaining vestiges of authoritarianism from the 1967/1969 Constitution.[3]

Sarney faced many problems: enormous foreign debt, rampant inflation and corruption as well as the transition to democracy.[3][7] During his presidency, the country had a 934% inflation rate and was overshadowed with union strikes and corruption scandals.[7] Sarney launched an economic plan to stabilize the economy, called "Plano Cruzado", successful at first.[20] The inflation worsened however under Sarney's Plano Cruzado.[20] A new, fully democratic constitution was promulgated in 1988, and in the following year, the first direct elections since 1960 were held.[3][7] Sarney was barred from running for president in his own right in that election.[3]


Sarney in March 2020

Sarney supported Fernando Henrique Cardoso as presidential candidate in 1994 and 1998 and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2002.[21][22] 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.[23] He retired in 2015 from politics and was the longest-serving member of the Brazilian Congress at the time of his retirement.[4] His retirement was noted by The New York Times as a "decline of a political dynasty" which would cause a political shift in the country.[4] All told, he spent all but two years out of office from 1955 to 2015.

Sarney is regarded as the foremost of Brazil's oligarchs.[4] Sarney owns the most important newspapers and television stations in Maranhão.[24] Sarney has also faced multiple allegations of nepotism and corruption in his career.[25] 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."[26] Veja columnist Roberto Pompeu de Toledo deemed him "the perfect oligarch".[27]

Sérgio Machado, former president of Transpetro, said in his plea agreement within the Operation Car Wash that 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).[28]

Personal life[edit]

Sarney with his wife Marly Macieira

In 1952, Sarney married Marly Macieira.[29] Their children are Congressman José Sarney Filho, Governor Roseana Sarney, and the businessman Fernando Sarney.[29]

As a writer, his best known work is the poetry book Os Marimbondos de Fogo ("The Fire Wasps").[30] Sarney was elected to a chair in the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1980.[31]

In April 2012, Sarney was hospitalized and underwent an angioplasty.[32] In July 2021, he was hospitalized for pleural effusion and had a procedure to remove fluid from his lungs.[33]

In July 2023, Sarney was hospitalized after a fall and was diagnosed with cerebral ischemia. [34]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Below is a selected list of awards Sarney has received:[35]

National honours[edit]

Ribbon bar Honour Date
Grand Cross of the Order of the Southern Cross 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit 1995 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the Order of Naval Merit 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the Order of Aeronautical Merit 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the Order of Military Judicial Merit 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office
Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit 1985 – automatic upon taking presidential office

Foreign honours[edit]

Ribbon bar Country Honour
 France Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Sacro Militare Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio  Italy Medal of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George
Den kongelige norske fortjenstorden storkors stripe  Norway Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit
PER Order of the Sun of Peru - Grand Cross BAR  Peru Grand Cross with diamonds of the Order of the Sun of Peru
PRT Order of Saint James of the Sword - Grand Collar BAR  Portugal Collar of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword
 Portugal Grand Cross of the Order of Christ
 Portugal Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry
 Romania Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neves fell ill the day before he was to take office as president and died before he could be sworn in, therefore never assumed the presidency[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g De Onis, Juan (10 May 1985). "President by Chance, Sarney of Brazil is Agitator Who Makes Things Happen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  2. ^ Brooke, James (13 March 1990). "In Brazil, Scathing Criticism For the Departing President". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e Graham, Bradley (17 March 1987). "SARNEY'S TENURE EMBROILS BRAZILIAN POLITICS". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Romero, Simon (25 December 2014). "Decline of a Political Family Opens the Way for a Shift in Brazil". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Dona Kiola, mãe de Sarney, 94 anos" (PDF) (in Portuguese). Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  6. ^ "Os laços de Jader com o escândalo da fazenda fantasma" (in Portuguese). Politica. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crocitti, John J.; Vallance, Monique (2012). Brazil Today: A-Z. ISBN 9780313346729. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  8. ^ a b "JOSE RIBAMAR FERREIRA DE ARAUJO COSTA" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "President Jose Sarney - 1985-1990". Global Security. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "Sarney's Presidency, 1985-90". Country Side. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  11. ^ "DEMOCRACY IN BRAZIL: ORIGINS, PROBLEMS, PROSPECTS" (PDF). Kellogg. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  12. ^ a b Zirker, Daniel (1993). "The Military Ministers and Political Change in Post-Authoritarian Brazil". Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Latino-Américaines et Caraïbes. Jstor. 18 (35): 87–110. doi:10.1080/08263663.1993.10816691. JSTOR 41799827. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Veteran Brazilian politician jailed for corruption". France24. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  14. ^ "Sarney Seeking New Political Allies in Brazil". The Los Angeles Times. 9 October 1987. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  15. ^ "Jose Sarney was sworn in as Brazil's first civilian president". UPI. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d "José Sarney, Hyperinflation and The Cruzado Plan in Brazil in the Late 1980s". SJSU. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  17. ^ "El día que Raúl Alfonsín y José Sarney intentaron romper la rivalidad entre Argentina y Brasil y plantaron la semilla del Mercosur". Infobae. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  18. ^ Barbosa, Luiz C. (1993). "The World-System and the Destruction of the Brazilian Amazon Rain Forest". Review (Fernand Braudel Center). JSTOR. 16 (2): 215–240. JSTOR 40241255. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  19. ^ "In-depth: 30 years ago, Mercosur's creation put an end to the historic tensions between Brazil and Argentina". Rio Times Online. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  20. ^ a b "PLANO CRUZADO". FGV. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  21. ^ "Governo Fernando Henrique Cardoso". Brasilescola. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  22. ^ "Lula tem encontro com Sarney após Bolsonaro tentar se aproximar de emedebista" (in Portuguese). Folha. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  23. ^ "Presidentes do Senado Federal - Nova República". 22 January 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  24. ^ "How Brazil's Poorest State Minted One Of The Country's Richest -- And Most Controversial -- Political Clans". Forbes. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  25. ^ "Ph.D. Thesis Uncovers Widespread Nepotism in Brazil's Congress". AP. 15 March 1989. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  26. ^ "Where dinosaurs still roam". The Economist. 5 February 2009. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  27. ^ "O oligarca perfeito". Veja. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  28. ^ "Sérgio Machado relata repasse de R$ 18,5 milhões a Sarney" (in Portuguese). Revista Exame. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  29. ^ a b Queiroz, Adolpho (2006). Na arena do marketing político: ideologia e propaganda nas campanhas (in Portuguese). ISBN 9788532302168. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  30. ^ "Livro: Os Maribondos de Fogo". Estantevirtual. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  31. ^ "BRAZILIAN ACADEMY OF LETTERS". Glli-us. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  32. ^ "Brazil's former president Jose Sarney has heart surgery". BBC. 16 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  33. ^ "José Sarney é internado em hospital em Brasília" (in Portuguese). Oimparcial. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  34. ^ "José Sarney é diagnosticado com isquemia cerebral e recebe alta em São Luís". G1. 17 July 2023. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  35. ^ "Presidentes da Câmara dos Deputados – República – Michel Temer". Portal da Câmara. Retrieved 7 November 2017.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Newton Bello
Governor of Maranhão
Succeeded by
Antônio Dino
Preceded by Vice President of Brazil
Title next held by
Itamar Franco
Preceded by President of Brazil
21 April 1985 – 15 March 1990
Acting: 15 March – 21 April 1985
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Humberto Lucena
President of the Federal Senate
Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
Preceded by
Academic offices
Preceded by 6th Academic of the 38th chair of the
Brazilian Academy of Letters

6 November 1980–present