Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (; 19 April 1882–24 August 1954) was a Brazilian lawyer and politician who served as president of Brazil
during two periods: the first was from 1930 to 1945, when he served as interim president from 1930 to 1934, constitutional president from 1934 to 1937, and dictator from 1937 to 1945. After resigning in 1945, Vargas returned to power as the democratically elected president in 1951, serving until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the longest of any president, and second in Brazilian history only to Emperor Pedro II
among heads of state. He favoured nationalism
, social welfare
– for the latter, Vargas won the nickname, "the father of the poor".
Vargas is one of a number of populists who arose during the 1930s in Latin America
, including Lázaro Cárdenas
and Juan Perón
, who promoted nationalism and pursued social reform. He was a proponent of workers' rights as well as a staunch anti-communist
Born to a military father and Azorean
mother, Vargas enlisted in the military, but left soon after he was mobilised to pursue Law at Porto Alegre
in Rio Grande do Sul
, where he familiarised himself with Republican politics. He officially entered politics in Rio Grande do Sul and became a member of the Chamber of Deputies
in 1923 before becoming the Minister of Finance
for the Washington Luís
administration. Vargas soon resigned from the position to become President (Governor) of Rio Grande do Sul
. In 1929, Vargas was chosen by the "Liberal Alliance" (''Aliança Liberal
'') as an opposition candidate in the 1930 Brazilian general election
for the presidency. Though he lost, a popular armed revolution
installed Vargas as provisional president of Brazil, ending the First Brazilian Republic
and beginning the 15-year long Vargas Era
Vargas began his presidency by dissolving the National Congress
, replacing state governors with his own "intervenors", and declaring an emergency regime. He sought to transform the Brazilian economy into an industrial powerhouse, creating state monopolies and introducing massive economic reforms, though most were being bypassed long after their implementation. Vargas also expanded the electorate and introduced laws to protect the "secret ballot", hosting elections in May 1933. A Constituent Assembly was elected and produced a 1934 Constitution
, and Vargas was elected
(via the Chamber of Deputies
) to another four years as a constitutional president. Throughout his provisional and constitutional tenure, he quelled a 1932 constituionalist revolution
and a 1935 communist uprising
, negociating soft peace terms in the former and suspending civil rights in the latter.
Vargas prematurely ended his constitutional presidency when he executed a self-coup
in 1937 after the revelation of "the Cohen Plan" (''Plano Cohen
''), beginning the ''Estado Nôvo
''. Vargas became a dictator for eight years, leading Brazil into World War II
on the side of the Allies
in 1942. He was forced to step down in 1945 with the global rise of democracy, but he became a popular figure in Brazilian politics. Vargas was elected a presidential term in 1951, but a growing political crisis led to his suicide in 1954. He was the first president in the country to draw widespread support from the masses
and is regarded as the most influential Brazilian politician of the twentieth century. He had also been a lawyer and landowner who occupied the 37º chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
from 1943 until his death.
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas was the third of five sons born to Manuel do Nascimento Vargas and Cândida Dornelles Vargas in São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, on 19 April 1882.
His father had origins in Azores and São Paulo; being a descendant of early São Paulo families (''paulistas''), specifically a descendant of Amador Bueno, a noted paulista from the colonial Brazilian era. Vargas's father had also been an honoured military general for his service in the Paraguayan War and a local RPP leader. His mother was descended from a wealthy family of Azorean Portuguese descent.
Military career and education
Similar to his father, Vargas embarked on a military career. He enlisted as a private in the 6º Infantry Battalion for one year and was promoted to second sergeant. He also joined the military college at Rio Pardo and studied there until 1901. After briefly studying at the Ouro Prêto Preparatory School in Minas Gerais, he joined the 25º Infantry Battalion in Pôrto Alegre and simultaneously enrolled in the local Law Faculty.
While not expecting to be mobilised, Vargas was soon sent to Mato Grosso as a sergeant after a border crisis between Bolivia and Brazil. Vargas did not have to fight as the dispute was settled before he arrived, instead, he returned to law school, graduating in 1907.
Marriage and family
Vargas married fifteen-year-old Darci Lima Sarmanho in March 1911. They had five children together: Lutero, Alzira, Jandira, Manuel and Getulinho. According to legend, Vargas' real love was not his wife, but Aimée de Soto-Maior, later Aimée de Heeren, recognized by the international fashion press as one of the world's most glamorous and beautiful women. The relationship was a Brazilian state secret, although Vargas did mention her in a diary published after the death of his wife. Later living between France and the United States and admired by other famous statesmen such as the Kennedys, Heeren never confirmed nor denied the rumour.
Entering politics in the Castilhos' Republican Party, Vargas had two options after graduating from law school. He could either accept an instructorship position in the school he had just graduated from, or he could become the state attorney. Vargas chose the latter, and was named the Rio Grande do Sul State Attorney General by his party. Vargas would gain invaluable experience, and, after building himself a reputation for loyalty and brightness, would be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Rio Grande do Sul in 1909. Vargas went on to become the leader of his party in the assembly and later ascend to the federal Chamber of Deputies in 1922.
National politics and President of Rio Grande do Sul
After serving in the federal Chamber of Deputies, Vargas went on to serve as Minister of Finance from 1926 to 1927 under newly-elected President Washington Luís (1926—1930). While the economy was prosperous from 1926 to 1928, Brazil's economy was entirely dependent on a single crop – coffee. Although Vargas only served two years as Finance Secretary before returning to Rio Grande do Sul to become the State President (Governor) in 1928, he gained valuable recognition and experience on a national level.
Once elected, he became a leading figure in the national opposition, urging the end of electoral corruption through the adoption of the universal and secret ballot. Vargas distinguished himself throughout his presidency, reorganizing the agricultural system, establishing a state mortgage and agricultural bank, and creating the department of agriculture. He also worked hard to improve schools and infrastructure during his term.
Election of 1930
Background and the Old Republic
Throughout the First (or Old) Republic (1889–1930), Brazilian politics were consolidated in an oligarchic alliance known as coffee with milk politics (also referred to as coffee and cream). This alliance joined the dominant states of São Paulo, known for its coffee production, and Minas Gerais, known for its dairy (or cream) products. Essentially, the presidency was interchanged between the two powerful and growing states; one president would be nominated from São Paulo while the next would be from Minas Gerais.
This alliance was opposed by the ''tenentes'' (lieutenants) – junior military officers who were discontent with coffee and milk politics. Several revolts were staged throughout the 1920s, notably a short-lived one at Fort Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro and another in São Paulo, the latter of which cost the lives of 1,000 residents and led to the temporary evacuation of 300,000 people.
The 1917 general strike where 20,000 workers were on strike in São Paulo, lack of suffrage for 64% of Brazilians due to illiteracy, mass disease, and the ''tenente'' revolts made clear the rising unrest within the Republic. World coffee prices crashed in October 1929 and, with it, the Brazilian economy. In the midst of unrest and the collapse of the economy, President Luís broke the coffee and milk agreement, declaring Júlio Prestes (a politician from São Paulo) his successor instead of a person from Minas Gerais, violating the four-decade old oligarchy.
Nomination and the Revolution of 1930
The ensuing political crisis of Luís choosing a ''paulista'' to succeed him led to the formation of the Liberal Alliance (consisting of Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraíba), forming an opposition to Prestes and nominating Vargas, who led a broad coalition of middle-class industrialists, planters from outside São Paulo, and the ''tenentes'' for the presidency. Support for Vargas was especially strong in the states of the alliance.
[ During the campaign, Vargas had also been careful not to offend planter landowners, though he did advocate moderate social reform and economic nationalism. The Liberal Alliance, amongst other social issues, pushed for agricultural schools, industrial training centres, sanitation to the countryside, establishing workers' vacations and a minimum wage, political reforms, individuals' freedom, and consumer co-operatives, the majority of which Vargas would go on to install in the Brazilian economy.
Much to the distaste of the opposition, Julio Prestes was declared winner of the 1930 election. This, however, did not go without many claims of electoral fraud, though fraud was committed on both sides. Electoral machines produced votes in all Brazilian states, including Rio Grande do Sul, where Vargas won 298,627 votes to 982. Although many in the opposition considered orchestrating a coup following the results, Vargas claimed that they did not have enough power to successfully dispute the election. Eventually, it seemed the planned coup would not be executed. However, in the wake of the assassination of João Pessoa, Vargas's running mate, for romantic reasons, the opposition decided it was ultimately time to take up arms, and Vargas agreed.
Although the president was elected in March, he wasn't to be sworn-in until November, leaving time for Luís to transition power to the president-elect, Prestes. Alongside his co-conspirators, Vargas planned to overthrow the federal government in an armed revolution. This revolution, known as the Brazilian Revolution of 1930, began on 3 October 1930. Railway workers went on strike. The capital of Pernambuco, Recife, was overtook by its own citizens who invaded government buildings, an arsenal, and wrecked a telephone station. Revolutionaries quickly took control of the Northeast, and it was all building up to a large military confrontation in São Paulo. This, however, never happened, as Luís resigned on 24 October 1930, at the urging of both the military and Cardinal Dom Sebastião Leme, paving the way for a provisional government junta, comprised of Brazil's military leaders, to take charge of the government.
Revolutionary leaders, surprised at the ousting of the President, were concerned as it had been done without previous notice to the revolutionaries. Vargas would go by train to São Paulo and continue toward Rio de Janeiro (the nation's capital at the time) and telegraphed to the junta on 24 October 1930:
Vargas arrived in Rio de Janeiro in a uniform and wide-brimmed pampa hat, with 3,000 soldiers in the city in preparation of his arrival. The junta withdrew from power and installed Vargas as "interim president" on 3 November 1930.
Provisional presidency (1930—1934)
thumb|300px|Vargas and his cabinet in 1931.
Vargas's provisional presidency began on 3 November 1930, when he assumed power from the provisional government in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1930, and ended when a new Constitution was enacted on 16 July 1934.
Beginning his regime by dissolving Congress and declaring an emergency regime which was made official by decree on 11 November 1930, Vargas assumed all policymaking power. He first began by addressing the crisis in the coffee industry, which was suffering from low prices due to the Great Depression, which began in the U.S. on 29 October 1929. The Great Depression led to a lack of markets for Brazil's agricultural production. Planters found financial ruin, unemployment in cities grew, foreign revenue declined, and convertible money was no longer in circulation.
Vargas implemented the traditional solution of valorisation, in which the state bought up excess coffee supplies. He promoted the diversification of agriculture, especially with cotton.
Moreover, Vargas, starting in his provisional presidency and ending in his second term, implemented a series of economic reforms, including retirement pensions, regulations for workers' vacations, the regulation of commercial establishments, conditions for the employment of minors, disability insurance, benefits for pregnant women, night work for minors regulated, minimum wage, professional licensing and the regulation of working time. These regulations, however, were still being circumvented as late as 1941. While it was impossible for the minimum wage laws to be evaded by large businesses or in large towns, the minimum rural salary of 1943 was, in many cases, simply not abided by employers. In fact, many social policies never extended to rural areas. 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.
Like Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S., Vargas employed 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 "protect our manufacturers to the point where it will become unpatriotic to feed or clothe ourselves with imported goods." Vargas quelled a female workers' strike in São Paulo by co-opting much of their platform but requiring their "factory commissions" to use government mediation in the future.
Vargas's legislation did more for the industrial workers than for the more numerous agricultural workers, despite the fact that only relatively few industrial workers joined the unions that the government encouraged. The state-run social security system was inefficient and the Institute for Retirement and Social Welfare produced few results. The popular backlash due to these shortcomings was evidenced by the rising popularity of the National Liberation Alliance.
Brazil had had a close cooperation between the church and state by the time Vargas assumed power. The collaboration began mostly in the 1920s under the administration of Arthur Bernardes. Vargas now made the relationship much closer, evident in the unveiling of the statue of Christ the Redeemer on 12 October 1931. Vargas and his ministers were present at the unveiling, and Cardinal Leme, who was influential in the ousting of President Luís (see Nomination and Revolution of 1930), declared Brazil as "the most holy heart of Jesus, whom it recognized as its King and Lord."
Vargas's government took special measures in favor of the church, and the church received support for the new government from the majority of Brazil's Catholics. In April 1931, a decree allowed religion to be taught in public schools. This was all despite the fact that Vargas was firmly agnostic, going as far as to name his first son Lutero, an un-Catholic name.
His purpose for the union between the church and state was to build popular support for his government through the channeling of religious feelings toward the state, though.
Centralization and Constitutionalist Revolution (1932)
Vargas, ensuring his support, named federal "intervenors" to administer the Brazilian states and replace Presidents (Governors), with the only exception being Minas Gerais, where the governor was allowed to remain.
However, despite the reform Vargas implemented, the adjustment from the Old Republic to a new regime was painful.
This is most evident in the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution, a three-month long civil war in Brazil (9 July–2 October 1932) which pitted São Paulo, who now suffered as their interests and pride were lost, against the federal government. Furthermore, the state of São Paulo was distressed with Vargas's implementation of intervenors to replace state governors. São Paulo's intervenor, João Alberto Lins de Barros, was extremely unpopular in the state, becoming the subject of hostility by politicians and the press despite his best efforts to appease them.
Although federal forces defeated the revolutionaries, a new constitution would be enacted two years later in the aftermath. [ Vargas, meanwhile, enforced soft peace terms, ordered the federal government to pay half of the rebels' debt, and refused to bomb or invade the city. Vargas, especially during his early years, was always in danger of being ousted by one or more of the groups in his coalition, including the anti-São Paulo planters, the bourgeoisie, and the military.
Prior to the São Paulo revolt, Vargas made a promise to hold elections. He fulfilled this promise when, in May 1933, elections for a Constituent Assembly were held. Under Vargas's regime, the federal government maintained a responsibility for protecting the secret vote, and many voting reforms were introduced, including the establishment of Electoral Justice (''Justiça Eleitoral''), votes for women, and a lowering of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
Constitutional presidency (1934—1937)
Vargas's constitutional presidency began on 16 July 1934, when a new Constitution was established.
The Constituent Assembly, elected under Vargas's provisional presidency, convened from 1933 until 1934. They initiated a new Constitution of Brazil, the third one in its history, which guaranteed an impartial judiciary, government responsibility for the economy and general welfare. Elections were held for the presidency (although the presidency was then elected by the Chamber of Deputies, a successor to the Constituent Assembly) and for state legislatures; Vargas won a four-year term to continue his presidency, now constitutionally.
Communist uprising (1935)
Vargas had originally offered Prestes the position as head of the military, but Prestes refused, opting instead to lead the Brazilian Communist Party. In November 1935, a communist uprising, led by Prestes himself, was effectively suppressed, and Vargas subsequently suspended civil rights, jailed trade unionists and the opposition, and bolstered police powers.
In general, Vargas advocated for and implemented better public health, more schools, a minimum wage law and improved education. However, a rumour of a communist uprising in 1937 allowed Vargas to establish a dictatorship with himself at its centre.
Dictatorship and ''Estado Nôvo'' (1937—1945)
Vargas faced having to step down as president in 1938 because his own 1934 Constitution prohibited the president from succeeding himself. On 29 September 1937, General Dutra, his rightist collaborator, revealed "the Cohen Plan" (''Plano Cohen''), detailing proposals for a Communist revolution. He publicly demanded that the government declare a state of siege. On 29 November 1937, Vargas announced in a nationwide radio address that he was seizing emergency powers. He also dissolved Congress and cancelled the elections due for January 1938. On the same night, the constitution was recast into a severely authoritarian document that concentrated virtually all power in Vargas' hands. The regime created by this document is known as the ''Estado Nôvo'' ("New State"). The short interval strongly suggesting the self-coup had been planned well in advance.
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 his erstwhile supporters, the "Integralists", as well, once the communists were already defeated. The Integralists wished for a total fascist dictatorship, which was more than he desired.
He made major changes to the Brazilian economy for the betterment of Brazil. But also with help and pressure from the United States, after Pearl Harbour had triggered U.S. involvement in World War II. Vargas began to prioritise the middle class and provided for higher education and better job opportunities. Vargas also began to focus on industrialisation; this led to the creation of the first steel mill in Brazil at Volta Redonda. To help further modernise and industrialise Brazil Vargas nationalised oil production and refinement. To improve the life of the labourer, Vargas implemented the forty hour work week, a minimum wage, and other regulations to protect middle class and poorer workers.
The 1937 Constitution provided for elections to a new Congress, as well as a referendum to confirm Vargas' actions. However, neither were held – ostensibly due to the dangerous international situation. Instead, under an article of the Constitution that was supposed to be transitional pending new elections, Vargas assumed legislative as well as executive powers. Also, under the 1937 Constitution Vargas should have remained president for only six more years (until November 1943), but instead stayed in office until 1945. For all intents and purposes, Vargas ruled for eight years under what amounted to martial law.
Vargas and World War II
Relations with the Axis Powers
The repressions that followed the communist coup attempt in Brazil in November 1935 increased the co-operation between Brazil and Germany. After Brazil deported the revolutionary Jewish German Olga Benário Prestes, wife of Luís Carlos Prestes to Germany in 1937, Brazil was invited to be part of the Axis Powers at the side of Japan, Italy and Germany. However, when Brazil refused this invitation at the advent of the ''Estado Nôvo'' at the end of that same year, the relations between Brazil and the countries of the Axis started to chill.
Vargas sent Aimée de Heeren to Paris as a secret agent to investigate the situation in Europe. Under cover as a "wealthy fashionista", de Heeren connected with a range of society figures, not only French but also German, Italian and British. Through Helmuth James von Moltke she obtained secret information about Hitler's plans, prompting her to urge Vargas to withdraw from Germany. De Heeren had a strong personal influence on the president.
This estrangement also occurred in part due to the German-Italian-Japanese powers becoming frustrated in regards to what they believed the ''Estado Nôvo'' should represent. The policy of forced assimilation and nationalization imposed by Vargas and the military over every immigrant community, including German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, as well as the prohibition of any political activities that were not directly endorsed by the central power in Rio de Janeiro, which included the Nazi Party in Brazil and its allies, the Brazilian Integralists, motivated Italian-Spanish-German support of the Integralists' ''coup d'état'' attempt in May 1938. The failure of that action and the British naval blockade on Atlantic trade with Germany, Italy and Spain, especially from 1940 onwards, led to a sharp deterioration of relations between Brazil and the Axis powers.
World War II and the fall of the regime
From 1940, the U.S. started to reach out to Brazilians with its "Good Neighbor Policy". The U.S. also granted large loans to Brazil, which Vargas used to industrialise the country. Vargas, always a shrewd, low-key and reasoned pragmatist, sided with the Allies for economic reasons after a period of ambiguity, since the Allies were more viable trading partners and more beneficial for the economy. However, he and the military were slowly forced to liberalise the 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 exchange for the loans and credit from the U.S.. As reprisals for breaking off diplomatic relations in January 1942, and assigning air bases to Americans in the north of Brazil, Hitler ordered the extension of the Axis naval offensive over the South Atlantic. After Brazil's merchant ships were sunk by German and Italian submarines, at the cost of hundreds of civilian deaths, Brazil sided with the Allies, declared war on Germany and Italy on 22 August 1942 and eventually sent an expeditionary force to fight in the Italian Front in the second half of 1944.
This siding with the Allies created a paradox at home not unnoticed by Brazil's middle class – an authoritarian regime, still with some fascistic overtones, joining forces with the Allies. This increased the anti-dictatorship sentiment at home even more. Vargas 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. He promised "a new post-war era of liberty" that included amnesty for political prisoners, presidential elections, and the legalisation of opposition parties, including the moderated and irreparably weakened Communist Party. The forces released by this political liberalisation severely weakened the ''Estado Nôvo'', so much so as to warrant the War Ministry forcing Vargas' resignation on 29 October 1945. Democracy returned a few months later with the 1945 presidential election.
Time away from power and Federal Senate
Second presidency (1951–1954)
When he left the ''Estado Nôvo'' presidency, the economic surplus of Brazil was high and the industry was growing. After four years, however, pro-U.S. President Dutra wasted huge quantities of money protecting foreign investments, mostly north American, and distanced himself from the ideas of nationalism and the country's modernisation championed by Vargas. 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 largely engendered by Dutra's policies, Vargas pursued a nationalist policy, turning to the country's own natural resources and away from foreign dependency. As part of this policy, he founded Petrobrás (Brazilian Petroleum), a multinational petroleum consortium, with the Government of Brazil as its majority stakeholder.
Vargas' political adversaries initiated a crisis which culminated in the murder of an Air Force officer, Major Rubens Vaz, killed during an assassination attempt in the street outside 180 Rua Tonelero, the home of Vargas' main adversary, publishing executive and politician, Carlos Lacerda. Lieutenant Gregório Fortunato, chief of Vargas' personal guard, also called "Black Angel", was implicated in the crime. This aroused anger in the military against Vargas, following which the generals demanded his resignation. In a last-ditch effort Vargas called a special cabinet meeting on the eve of 24 August, but rumours spread that the armed forces officers were implacable.
On 24 August 1954 at the Catete Palace, Vargas, unable to manage the situation, shot himself in the chest with a pistol.
His suicide note was found and read out on radio within two hours of his son discovering the body. The famous last lines read, "Serenely, I take my first step on the road to eternity. I leave life to enter History." [ Vargas' suicide has been interpreted in various ways. "His death by suicide simultaneously traded on the image of a valiant warrior selflessly fighting for the protection of national interests, alongside the image of a crafty and calculating statesman, whose political machinations reeked of demagoguery and self-interest." The same day, riots broke out in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre.
The Vargas family refused a state funeral, but his successor, João Café Filho, declared official days of mourning. Vargas' body was on public view in a glass-topped coffin. The route of the cortege carrying the body from the Presidential Palace to the airport was lined with tens of thousands of Brazilians. The burial and memorial service were in his hometown of São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul.
The Museu Histórico Nacional (MHN) was given the furnishings of the bedroom where Vargas committed suicide, and a museum gallery recreates the scene and is a site of remembrance. On exhibit in the Palace is his nightshirt with a bullet hole in the chest. The popular outrage caused by his suicide had supposedly been strong enough to thwart the ambitions of his enemies, among the rightists, anti-nationalists, pro-U.S. elements and even the pro-Prestes Brazilian Communist Party, for several years.
* History of Brazil (1930–1945)
* History of Brazil (1945–1964)
* Fundação Getúlio Vargas
* Brazilian Integralism
* Francisco Franco
* ''Rua Tonelero''
* Vargas diamond
* (Brazilian edition, by EdiPUCRS, in 2016)
BBC Radio 4: The Invention of Brazil… Getulio Vargas and the U.S.
Category:Brazilian people of Azorean descent
Category:Critics of the Catholic Church
Category:People from Rio Grande do Sul
Category:Governors of Rio Grande do Sul
Category:Members of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
Category:Members of the Chamber of Deputies (Brazil) from Rio Grande do Sul
Category:Presidents of Brazil
Category:Suicides by firearm in Brazil
Category:World War II political leaders
Category:Brazilian politicians who committed suicide
Category:Heads of state who committed suicide
Category:Finance Ministers of Brazil
Category:Government ministers of Brazil
Category:Leaders who took power by coup
Category:Male critics of feminism
Category:Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul alumni
Category:Members of the Legislative Assembly of Rio Grande do Sul
Category:Grand Crosses Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
Category:Brazilian Labour Party (historical) politicians
Category:Republican Party of Rio Grande do Sul politicians