The ruler of Brazil for almost 20 years, Getulio Vargas virtually
destroyed the constitutional government of the country, leaving
behind a legacy of greed and corruption that Brazilians would struggle
to overcome for decades. Governing as a provisional president and
dictator from 1930-1934, Getulio Vargas was then officially elected
by President by Congress for a term that would span 1934 –
1937. In 1937, Getulio Vargas once more assumed a dictatorship and
controlled the highest office in Brazil with the help of a revolutionary
group until he was literally forced from the residence in 1945.
Once more elected to the office by a popular vote in 1951, Getulio
Vargas returned to the Presidential Residence, where he stayed until
he committed suicide in 1954. All in all, Vargas managed to manipulate
the political state of Brazil to maintain his place as president
for almost two decades. Once the hero of the people of Brazil, Vargas’
ideal of a corporatist government eventually gave way to a socialist
one, however, it wasn’t until his suicide that the social
programs he instituted during his presidency were actually celebrated.
Although Vargas dreamt of modernizing the country and forming alliances
with many other foreign governments, his dream never materialized.
Getulio Vargas was actually born in 1883 in Rio Grande do Sul,
to a fairly wealthy family. It was the family’s political
connections that gave him his start in the State Assembly. He went
on to become a congressman in the Legislature in Rio de Janeiro.
Returning a political favour, President Washington Pereira appointed
Vargas as the Finance Minister of Brazil when he was elected in
1926. Getulio Vargas served in this office for several years but
eventually returned home where in 1928, he was elected governor.
Two years later, Vargas was chosen to represent the Alianca Liberal,
also known as the Liberal Alliance, in the upcoming presidential
election in Brasil. It was in this election, however, that Pereira,
the current president, ignored what was known as the “Golden
Rule of Brazilian politics”. The rule required that the office
of president alternated between candidates from the Sao Paulo State
and the Minas State. Pereira, however, ignored the precedent and
put the government’s support behind a man by the name of Julio
Prestes, also from Sao Paulo when it should have gone to someone
from the Minas State instigating a rebellion from those in Southern
Brazil. Although Vargas declared publicly to have accepted the election
results, he secretly plotted to overthrown the Prestes administration.
The coup lasted three weeks and in the end, Getulio Vargas emerged
as the Provisional President of Brazil.
Vargas was a political corporatist whose ideals eventually drifted
into the realm of socialism. His greatest focus during his presidency
was to strengthen the powers of the federal government over local
and state governments. Also, during his first term he introduced
a new constitution.
Getulio Vargas’ original term was due to end in 1937, however,
at the last minute he staged a another coup and put in place a new
economic system he named the “Estado Novo” (the New
State). The Estado Novo was a corporatist state based on the same
principles use by Antonio Salazar in Portugal. This new state allowed
for Vargas to become President again, beginning in 1937. Legally,
his second term was set to end in 1943. However, as 1943 came around
he stated that, due to the crisis situation of World War II, he
would remain in office and that a new election would be held as
soon as possible. He made a similar announcement in 1944. Then,
when the war ended it seemed he had no option but to allow for elections
to continue. Brazilian election laws of the time required any government
official to resign one year prior to elections if they wished to
be eligible for the following elections. But when the time came
Vargas did not resign. Nor did he show any intention of doing so
in the near future. During this period of time Vargas actually ruled
as a dictator of Brazil.
Believing he would attempt to postpone the election once again,
a delegation representing a group of military figures met with him
in 1945 and told him that he must resign and would not be eligible
for re-election. Vargas responded saying he would not leave without
a fight and that he would remain in the Presidential residence until
they physically removed him in battle. He claimed that his removal
would involve a “blazing gun battle.” The delegation
was not so inclined and simply told Vargas that they would turn
off the water and electricity to the palace until he left. At this
- Vargas reconsidered: “I would prefer you all attack me and
that my death remain as a protest against violence. But as this
is to be a bloodless coup d’etat, I shall not be a cause of
disturbance.” With that said, he left the presidential residence.
In the years that followed, Getulios Vargas was nominated for senate
and congress in several districts. He was also elected as a Senator
for the state of Rio Grande do Sul and although he accepted the
office and attended meetings, in all reality, he had seemingly retired
from political life. This self-imposed “retirement”
actually lasted for about four years.
Getulio Vargas resurfaced as a member of the Brazilian Labor Party
and was again elected for the Presidential office in 1950. By this
time, however, democracy was the battle cry in Brazil and Vargas
was able to control the government as he had in the past. The Brazilian
state was in a severe downward spiral. Inflation was a continuing
problem as pay failed to keep up with the rising cost of living.
At this point, the legislature had developed their own course of
action leaving Vargas virtually powerless in the face of their agenda.
While fighting a fierce personal battle with declining health,
insomnia, and depression, Vargas was also facing and increasingly
volatile political climate as the United States became less concerned
about retaining Brazil as an ally and was not going to fulfil the
promise of economic aide.
After the head of his bodyguard was implicated in the attempted
assassination of one of Vargas’ most adamant critics, information
surfaced that suggested high levels of corruption in the Getulio
Vargas administration. Military leaders once again called for Vargas’
On August 24, 1954 crowds surrounded the presidential palace shouting
for the resignation of Getulio Vargas. Upon receiving an ultimatum
from the military heads, Vargas sat down wrote a note and then went
to his bedroom where he shot himself. His note read:
“Once more the forces and interests which work against the
people have organized themselves anew and breakout against me. They
do not accuse me, they insult me; they do not fight me, they vilify
me and do not allow me the right to defend myself. They must silence
my voice and impede my actions so that I shall not continue to defend
the people as I always have, especially the humble. I follow my
destiny. After decades of domination and plunder on the part of
international economic and financial groups, I placed myself at
the head of a revolution and won. I began the work of liberation
and I installed a regime of social freedom. I once had to resign
but I returned to the Government on the shoulders of the people.
The underground campaign of international groups joined that of
national groups which were working against the policy of full employment.
The excess profits law was held up in Congress. Hatreds were unleashed
against the just revision of minimum wages. I wished to bring national
freedom in the use of our resources by means of Petrobas; this had
hardly begun to operate when the wave of agitation swelled. Electrobas
was obstructed to the point of despair. They do not want the worker
to be free. They do not want the Brazilian people to be independent.
I assumed the Government in the midst of an inflationary spiral
which was destroying the rewards of work. Profits for foreign companies
were reaching as much as 500 percent per year. In declaration of
import values, frauds of more than $100 million per year were proved.
With the coffee crisis the value of our main product rose. We tried
to protect its price and the response was such violent pressure
on our economy that we were forced to give in. I have fought month
after month, day after day, hour after hour, resisting constant
pressure, suffering everything in silence, forgetting everything,
giving of myself in order to defend the Brazilian people who are
now left deserted. There is nothing more I can give you except my
blood. If the birds of prey want someone's blood, if they want to
go on draining the Brazilian people, I offer my life as a holocaust.
I choose this means of being always with you. When they humiliate
you, you will feel my soul suffering at your side. When hunger knocks
at your door, you will feel in your breast the energy to struggle
for yourselves and your children. When you are scorned, my memory
will give you the strength to react. My sacrifice will keep you
united and my name will be your battle standard.
Each drop of my blood will be an immortal flame in your conscience
and will uphold the sacred will to resist. To hatred I reply with
pardon, and to those who think they have defeated me, I reply with
my victory. I was a slave to the Brazilian people, and today I am
freeing myself for eternal life. But this people, whose slave I
was, will no longer be slave to anyone. My sacrifice will remain
forever in their souls and my blood will be the price of their ransom.
I fought against the exploitation of Brazil. I fought against the
exploitation of her people. I have fought with my whole heart. Hatred,
infamy and slander have not conquered my spirit. I have given you
my life. Now I offer you my death. I fear nothing. Serenely I take
my first step towards eternity and leave life to enter history.”
Surprisingly enough, the note, when read aloud on radio and television,
seemed to incite the crowd once more and instead of the calls for
his resignation, they began chanting for his return. Getulio Vargas
definitely left his mark on the country of Brazil. Whether that
was a positive or negative is debatable among many. Getulio Vargas
did revitalize the military. He did stimulate the economy and for
a time, he had also improved many relationships with foreign countries.
It would seem, however, that despite the cheering throes, his impact
was felt more on a national level than a local level. He was however,
also the first official to allow women to vote and even hired many
to serve on his staff.
Known to many as the “Father of the Poor,” because
he recognized his constituents, Vargas was also an egomaniacal dictator.
While many agreed that he truly believed in his dream of transforming
the country, none really ever saw the transformation he envisioned
evolve. Getulio Vargas was corrupt and manipulative. He sent to
prison those who were against him and literally trampled on the
ideal of free speech but for some reason, the people loved him.