Brazil in 1985 was changing—beginning to emerge from a twenty-one year struggle to restore democracy from a repressive military dictatorship that spread instability, betrayal, and despair throughout a country already subject to chronic inequality and poverty. During the military government period, Brazil was run almost exclusively in line with the interests of its white elite. In 1974, ten years after the 1964 coup d’état, an economist called Edmar Bacha coined the name “Belíndia” to describe his country’s socio-economic reality: a small, wealthy Belgium surrounded by a massive and destitute India.
While thousands of artists, writers, musicians, trade union leaders and student organizers were forced into exile by the military government, many in the struggle who remained were imprisoned and tortured (including recently deposed President Dilma Rousseff). After a campaign of massive street demonstrations called Direitas Já! (Direct Elections Now!) in 1985 Brazil elected (albeit indirectly) the first non-military president since 1964, Tancredo Neves, only for him to die hours before taking office, and be substituted by another former dictatorship figure, José Sarney.
Against this uncertain backdrop, the mid-1980s also saw a surge in availability and demand for new technologies in Brazil, with some urban centers reaching relative parity with Europe in terms of access. Trade restrictions prohibited the sale of computers from overseas manufacturers, spurring a range of affordable, locally produced clone systems to appear. A Brazilian company called Unitron, which had previously sold machines based on the Apple II, even developed a Macintosh clone. Ultimately, under pressure from the US government, and with a local media campaign conducted by Apple warning of a “trade war” between the countries, the project failed. The legal repercussions affected Apple’s operations in Brazil for decades.
One of the technologies which did succeed was a Brazilian variant of the French Minitel system, in which a remote terminal was used to access pages interactively through fixed phone lines. It was a precursor to today’s internet and functioned similarly, with “sites” containing information on a range of subjects, and features such as home banking and home shopping. It also also featured a messaging facility analogous to email.