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Getúlio Vargas

In office
November 3, 1930 – October 29, 1945
January 31, 1951- August 24, 1954
Vice President None
João Café Filho
Preceded by Tasso Fragoso (1930)
Gaspar Dutra (1951)
Succeeded by José Linhares (1945)
João Café Filho (1954)

Born April 19, 1882(1882-04-19)
São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul
Died August 24, 1954 (aged 72)
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro
Nationality Brazilian
Spouse(s) Darci Vargas
Occupation Lawyer, politician

Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʒeˈtulju doɾˈnɛlis ˈvaɾɡɐs]; April 19, 1882–August 24, 1954) served as president of Brazil from 1930 to 1945 and from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 15 years, being the president with more years of office. Vargas also won the nickname "The father of the poor" because of his worker's policy.



Vargas was born in São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, on April 19, 1882, to Manuel do Nascimento Vargas and Cândida Dornelles Vargas. His father had origins in São Paulo, while his mother was descended from a wealthy family of Azorean Portuguese descent.[1]

The son of a traditional family of "gaúchos", he embarked on a military career at first, then turned to the study of law. Entering Republican politics, he was elected to the Rio Grande do Sul state legislature and later to the federal Chamber of Deputies, where he became the floor leader for his state's delegation in Congress. He served briefly as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington Luís from which post he resigned to enter the gubernatorial race in his home state. Once elected Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, he became a leading figure in the opposition, urging the end of electoral corruption through the adoption of the universal and secret ballot.

He and his wife Darcy Lima Sarmanho, whom he married in March 1911, had five children. According to the legend, the real Love of Vargas was not his wife but Aimee de Sa Sattomajor, later Aimee de Heeren, recognized by the International Fashion press as one of the World's most glamorous and beautiful woman.[2] The relation was kept as a Brazilian state secret, but Vargas mentioned her in his diary which was published after the death of his wife. Aimee de Herren, later living between France and the US and admired by other famous States People like the four Kennedy brothers, Joseph, JFK, Robert and Edward, never confirmed nor denied the rumor [3].

Vargas and the Revolution of 1930

Between the two World Wars, Brazil was a rapidly industrializing nation popularly regarded as "the sleeping giant of the Americas" and a potential world power. However, the oligarchic and decentralized confederation of the Old Republic, dominated by landed interests, in effect, showed little concern for promoting industrialization, urbanization, and other broad interests of the new middle class.

Bourgeois and military discontent, heightened by the Great Depression's impact on the Brazilian economy, led to a bloodless coup d'état on October 24, 1930 that ousted President Washington Luís and his heir-apparent Júlio Prestes. Júlio Prestes at this point was the newly elected president. Regional leaderships dissatisfied with the state of São Paulo's political dominance gathered around the states that formed the so called Liberal Alliance - Minas Gerais, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Sul - that had backed the defeated candidate Vargas. The whole process was questioned and denounced as fraudulent by both sides, as it usually was back in period known as the Old Republic (1889-1930). The military, traditionally active in Brazilian politics, deposed Washington Luís and installed the runner-up Vargas as "provisional president."

Vargas being squeezed in the hand of a giant bandeirante on a recruiting poster of the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution (the text reads "Down with the Dictatorship").

Vargas was a wealthy pro-industrial nationalist and anti-communist who favored capitalist development and liberal reforms. Opposition to him would later be radicalized in the 1932 movement that was initially aimed at the establishment of a new constitution, but was in truth an oligarchic attempt at façade democracy. Vargas's Liberal Alliance drew support from wide ranges of Brazil's burgeoning urban middle class and a group of tenentes, who had grown frustrated to some extent with the politics of coronelismo and café com leite.

The revolt was beaten, but a new constitution came out in 1934. After that, Vargas seized absolute power and controlled dissidents through press and mail censorship, stripping the country of the of most of the trappings through which it eventually might hope to become the democracy that he had purported to defend in 1930. His tenuous coalition also lacked a coherent program, being committed to a broad vision of modernization, but little more specific. Vargas' long career (including his eventual dictatorship, modelled, surprisingly considering the liberal roots of his regime, almost along the lines of European Fascism), may be explained by his balancing the conflicting ideological constituencies, regionalism and economic interests within the vast, diverse and socio-economically varied nation.

Interim Presidency

As a candidate in 1930 Vargas utilized populist rhetoric to promote bourgeois concerns, thus opposing the primacy — but not the legitimacy — of the Paulista coffee oligarchy and the landed elites, who had little interest in protecting and promoting industry and modernization. Vargas during this period sought to bring Brazil out of the Great Depression through orthodox policies, and was capable of doing that with relative ease.

Like Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S., his first steps focused on economic stimulus. A state interventionist policy utilizing tax breaks, lowered duties, and import quotas allowed Vargas to expand the domestic industrial base. Vargas linked his pro-industrial policies to nationalism, advocating heavy tariffs to "perfect our manufacturers to the point where it will become unpatriotic to feed or clothe ourselves with imported goods." In his early years, Vargas also relied on the support of the tenentes, junior military officers, who had long been active against the ruling coffee oligarchy, staging their own failed revolt in 1922. Vargas also quelled a Paulista female workers' strike by co-opting much of their platform and requiring their "factory commissions" to use government mediation in the future. Vargas, reflecting the influence of the tenentes, even advocated a program of social welfare and reform similar to the New Deal.

Constitution of 1934

The parallels between Vargas and the European police states began to appear by 1934, when a new constitution was enacted with some direct almost-fascist influences.

Brazil's 1934 constitution, passed on July 16, contained provisions that resembled Italian corporatism, which had the enthusiastic support of the pro-fascist wing of the disparate tenente movement and industrialists, who were attracted to Mussolini's co-optation of unions through state-run, sham syndicates. As in Italy, and later Spain and Germany, Fascist-style programs would serve two important aims, stimulating industrial growth and suppressing the communist influence in the country. Its stated purpose, however, was uniting all classes in mutual interests. The constitution established a new Chamber of Deputies that placed government authority over the private economy, which established a system of state-guided capitalism aimed at industrialization and reducing foreign dependency.

After 1934, the regime designated corporate representatives according to class and profession, but maintained private ownership of Brazilian-owned business. Based on increased labor rights and social investment, Brazilian corporatism, was actually a strategy to increase industrial output utilizing a strong nationalist appeal. Vargas, and later Juan Perón in neighboring Argentina, another quasi-fascist, kind of emulated some Mussolini's strategy of mediating class disputes and co-opting workers' demands under the banner of nationalism. Under the increase of workers' rights also, he greatly expanded labor regulations with the consent of industry, pacified by strong industrial growth. The new constitution, drafted by Vargas allies, expanded social programs and set a minimum wage but also placed stringent limits on union organizing and "unauthorized" strikes.

Beyond corporatism, the 1934 constitution also heightened efforts to reduce provincial autonomy in the traditionally devolved, sprawling nation. Centralization allowed Vargas to curb the oligarchic power of the landed paulista elites, who obstructed modernization through the regionalism, machine politics, and façade, corrupt democracy of the Old Republic.

Vargas, the Integralists and the suppression of the Left

Threatened by pro-Communist elements in labor critical of the rural latifundios, Vargas reined in his shaky alliance with labor and began formally co-opting the less intimidating fascist movement.

As he moved to the right after 1934, his ideological character and association with a global ideological orbit, however, remained ambiguous — reminiscent of the early phases of leftist leaders Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega. To fill this ideological void and promote his new rightist policies, Vargas began moving against the tenentes while encouraging the growth of fascist paramilitaries. "Integralism", founded and led by Plínio Salgado, who adopted Fascist and Nazi symbolism and salutes, offered Vargas a new political base. A green-shirted paramilitary organization directly financed by Mussolini and Hitler, Integralism's propaganda campaigns were borrowed directly from Nazi models — excoriations of Marxism, liberalism and Jews, that espoused fanatical nationalism and "Christian virtues".

Vargas tolerated this rise of anti-Semitism, even not being anti-semitic at all, and may have acted upon the Integralists’ popularization of anti-Semitism. One example is the deportation of the pregnant, German-born Jewish wife of Luís Carlos Prestes, Olga Benário Prestes, who was not only a spy working for the USSR and an illegal immigrant, but also tried to install a communist government in Brazil through the Intentona Comunista, to Nazi Germany, where she would die in a concentration camp.

Vargas forced Congress to respond to the growth of the Aliança Nacional Libertadora (ANL), a leftist coalition led by the Communist Party and Luís Carlos Prestes. A revolutionary forerunner of Che Guevara, Prestes led the legendary but futile "Long March" through the rural Brazilian interior following his participation in the failed 1922 tenente rebellion against the coffee oligarchs. This experience, however, left Prestes and some of his followers sceptical of armed conflict. Nonetheless, Congress branded all leftist opposition as "subversive" under a March 1935 National Security Act that allowed the President to ban the ANL, which was forced — reluctantly — to begin another armed insurrection in November. The authoritarian regime responded by violently crushing the Communist movement through state terror like that of the US.

Although "the father of the poor" expanded the electorate, granted women's suffrage, enacted social security reforms, legalized labor unions as a populist, Vargas also whittled down the autonomy of labor and crushed a series of "social banditry" violence revolts known as the cangaço.

The New State

Vargas utilized fears over communism to justify personal dictatorship. Although autoritarian, the "Estado Novo" dictatorship cannot be considered a fascist regime, for Vargas had no specific party, and also, Vargas dictatorship did not make use of the violent excess of European fascism.Vargas dictatorship finally materialized in 1937, when Vargas was forced to step down as president by January 1938 because his own 1934 constitution prohibited the president from succeeding himself. On 29 September 1937, Gen. Dutra, his rightist collaborator, presented "the Cohen Plan" that established a detailed plan for a Communist revolution. The Cohen Plan was a mere forgery concocted by the Integralists, but Dutra publicly demanded a state of siege. On November 10, Vargas, ruling by decree, then made a broadcast in which he stated his plans to assume dictatorial powers under a new constitution, thereby curtailing presidential elections (his ultimate objective) and dissolving congress.

Vargas, consolidated dictatorial powers by acting within the established political system, not in a single coup d'état or revolution.

Under the Estado Novo, Vargas abolished political parties, imposed censorship, established a centralized police force, and filled prisons with political dissidents, while evoking a sense of nationalism that transcended class and bound the masses to the state. He ended up repressing the "Integralism" as well, once the communists were already defeated, since the Integralists wished for a total Nazi-fascist dictatorship.

Vargas and the Axis Powers

Vargas intelligently used ambiguous policy towards Axis and Allied orbits.Brazil appeared to be entering the Axis orbit — even before the 1937 declaration of Estado Novo. Between 1933 and 1938 Germany became the principal market for Brazilian cotton, and its second largest importer of Brazilian coffee and cacao. The German Bank for South America even established three hundred branches in Vargas' Brazil. Using periodic overtures to the Axis Powers, along with rapid increase in civilian and military trade between Brazil and Nazi Germany gave US officials reason to wonder about Vargas' international alignment.

Then the US started to reach out to Brazilians, with the "Good Neighbor Policy". Carmen Miranda became a Hollywood star and even Donald Duck "visited" Brazil, to bring Brazil into the war. US also granted a huge amount of money to Vargas, which he would use in industrialization of the country.

Vargas eventually sided with the Allies, declared war on the Axis. The shrewd, low-key, and reasoned pragmatist sided with the antifascist Allies after a period of ambiguity for economic reasons, since the Allies were more viable trading partners and helped with money, and liberalized his regime because of complications arising from this alliance. In siding with the Allies, one agreement that Vargas made was to help the Allies with rubber production in order to receive loans and credit from the US.

This siding with the antifascist Allies created a paradox at home not unnoticed by Brazil's middle class (of a fascist-like regime joining the antifascist Allies) that Salazar and Franco avoided by maintaining nominal neutrality, allowing them to avoid both antifascist sentiment at home arising from siding with the Allies or annihilation by the Allies.

Vargas thus astutely responded to the newly liberal sentiments of a middle class that was no longer fearful of disorder and proletarian discontent by moving away from repression — promising "a new postwar era of liberty" that included amnesty for political prisoners, presidential elections, and the legalization of opposition parties — including the moderated and irreparably weakened Communist Party. Historian Benjamin Keen believes that such political liberalization contributed to the downfall of the Estado Novo, being substantial enough to provoke a 1945 military coup d'état led by Dutra and Monteiro, who were alarmed with Vargas' growing ties with labor and the working classes.

The Shortcomings of Labor Legislation

Despite the passage of many labor laws that significantly improved the lives of laborers (such as paid vacation, minimum wage, and maternity leave), there were still many shortcomings in the enforcement and implementation of labor legislation.[4] While it was impossible for the minimum wage laws to be evaded by large businesses or in large towns[5], the minimum rural salary of 1943 was, in many cases, simply not abided by employers.[6] In fact, many social policies never extended to rural areas.[7] While each state varied, social legislation was enforced less by the government and more by the good will of employers and officials in the remote regions of Brazil.[8] Vargas' legislation did more for the industrial workers than for the more numerous agricultural workers[9], despite the fact that a few industrial workers joined the unions that the government encouraged.[10] The state-run social security system was inefficient and the Institute for Retirement and Social Welfare produced few results.[11] The popular backlash due to these shortcomings was evidenced by the rising popularity of the National Liberation Alliance.[12]

Second Presidency

When he left Estado Novo's presidency, the economic surplus of Brazil was high and the industry was growing. After 4 years, however, pro-US Gaspar Dutra wasted huge quantities of money protecting foreign industry (mostly US) and stopping with the ideas of nationalism and modernization of the country. Vargas returned to politics in 1951 and through a free and secret ballot was re-elected President of the Republic. Hampered by the economic crisis created by pro-US Dutra,, Vargas pursued a nationalist policy; turning to the country's natural resources and away from foreign dependency. As part of this policy, he founded Petrobrás (Brazilian oil).

His political adversaries initiated a crisis which culminated in the "Rua Tonelero", where Major Rubens Vaz was killed during an attempt on the life of Vargas' main adversary, Carlos Lacerda. Lieutenant Gregório Fortunato, chief of Vargas' personal guard, was accused of masterminding the assassination attempt. This aroused a reaction in the military against Vargas and the generals demanded his resignation. In a last ditch effort Vargas called a special cabinet meeting on the eve of August 24, but rumors spread that the armed forces officers were implacable.

Feeling the situation beyond his control, Vargas shot himself in the chest on August 24, 1954 in the Catete Palace.[13] He wrote a letter to the Brazilian people known as his "carta testamento."

The famous last lines read, "Serenely, I take my first step on the road to eternity and I leave life to enter history."

On exhibit in the Palace is his nightshirt with a bullet hole in the breast. The popular commotion that his suicide caused was so huge, that it destroyed the ambitions of his enemies for many years, among them rightists anti-nationalists and pro-US.

Getúlio Dornelles Vargas is interred in his native São Borja, in Rio Grande do Sul.


The trademark chimarrão consumed by Getúlio Vargas was manufactured by Theodoro Manzorli and Company Ltd., of Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Getúlio Vargas bought this matte in bulk. The herb was selected with much care and burnt in a barbacuá. It was packed by thick, fine leaves so as not to block the sucking-tube. From there, it was taken directly to the president in São Borja by a mule of the Theodoro Manzorli Company and unloaded in the his hometown farm. He frequently gave his best friends packets of this herb.

Preceded by
Washington Luis
President of Brazil
Succeeded by
Eurico Gaspar Dutra
Preceded by
Eurico Gaspar Dutra
President of Brazil
Succeeded by
João Café Filho
Preceded by
Augusto Tasso Fragoso
Head of Government of Brazil
Succeeded by
José Linhares
Preceded by
Antônio Augusto Borges de Medeiros
Governor of Rio Grande do Sul
Succeeded by
Oswaldo Aranha as State's Secretary of Interior Affairs

The music "Dr.Getúlio", lyrics by Chico Buarque, describe the life of Getulio Vargas and his fight for poor people and against international interests in Brazil.

See also


  1. ^ KOIFMAN, Fábio. Presidentes Do Brasil: De Deodoro A Fhc.
  2. ^ International Best Dressed List
  3. ^ Aimee de Heeren
  4. ^ Loewenstein, Karl. Brazil Under Vargas. New York: Russell & Russell, 1973. Pg 348
  5. ^ Loewenstein, Karl. Brazil Under Vargas. New York: Russell & Russell, 1973. Pg 347
  6. ^ Bourne, Richard. Getulio Vargas of Brazil, 1883-1954 Sphinx of the Pampas. London: C. Knight, 1974. Pg 155
  7. ^ Levine, Robert M. Brazilian Legacies. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 1997. Pg 47
  8. ^ Loewenstein, Karl. Brazil Under Vargas. New York: Russell & Russell, 1973. Pg 351
  9. ^ Bourne, Richard. Getulio Vargas of Brazil, 1883-1954 Sphinx of the Pampas. London: C. Knight, 1974. Pg 198
  10. ^ Levine, Robert M. Father of the Poor?: Vargas and His Era. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. Pg 67
  11. ^ Levine, Robert M. Brazilian Legacies. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 1997. Pgs 186, 47
  12. ^ Bourne, Richard. Getulio Vargas of Brazil, 1883-1954 Sphinx of the Pampas. London: C. Knight, 1974. Pg 70
  13. ^ "1954: Brazilian president found dead". British Broadcasting Corporation. August 24, 1954. Retrieved 19 April 2009. 

External links


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