Getulio Dornelles Vargas was the most expressive character of the Brazilian Republic.
He was born in the city of São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, on April 19th 1883. He attended military schools as a youth, but majored in Laws in 1907. His meteoric political career started in 1909, when he was elected State Deputy; in 1922, he was elected Federal Deputy; in 1926, he was Ministry of Finances; in 1928, he was elected governor of Rio Grande do Sul.
His terms on the Presidency can be divided in four different periods: Provisory Government (1930 - 1934); Constitutional government (1934 - 1937); the New State (Estado Novo - 1937 - 1945); President elected (1951 - 1954).
The Revolution of 1930. The end of the Old Republic.
Brazil became a Republic in 1889. Until 1930, the political scenery was dominated by the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais (which were the largest producers of coffee and also benefited from their incipient industries); from 1900 to 1930, there was an alternance between paulistas and mineiros in the Presidency (with a short break during the government of Hermes da Fonseca, 1910 - 1914). The period became known as Old Republic (Republica Velha), or period of oligarchies, or epoch of the coffee-and-milk (Minas is the largest producer of milk in Brazil).
The New York crash of 1929 had a severe impact on Brazilian economy (the price of coffee fell from $200,000 the bushel in 1929 to $21,000 in 1930); the Brazilian government had a historic of over protecting the coffee producers (by an agreement signed in 1906, known as Treaty of Taubate, governors decided to buy - and destroy - the excessive production, so as to regulate prices); most States were dissatisfied with the privileges. In the elections of 1930, President Washington Luiz, from São Paulo, announced his support to another paulista, Júlio Prestes; Minas Gerais became opposition. Also, the emerging new classes - other farmers, workers in the industries, militaries, etc - were claiming for more democracy; the "tenants" (generic designation of low and middle ranked official militaries), who had been organizing movementes since the 1920s, were the most ostensive vocals of these new social classes.
The states of Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Paraíba create the Aliança Liberal, and launch Getulio Vargas as oppositionist candidate to the 1930 elections, with João Pessoa, from Paraíba, as his vice. The official candidate, Júlio Prestes, wins, but accusations of fraud appear all over the country (in the states ruled by the Aliança Liberal, the elected Deputies and Senators were not even officialy recognized).
On July 26h, João Pessoa is killed in Recife (he was murdered by personal motivation, but the case had political exploration).
On October 3rd, the revolution eclodes in Rio Grande do Sul, by initiative of the tenants; shortly after, Paraíba and Minas also rebel. There was spontaneous solidarity from militaries and population from several States. On October 24th, President Washington Luiz is deposed, and on November 3rd, Getulio Vargas takes office.
The assumption of Vargas marks the end of the Old Republic.
The Constitutional Government.
There were some focus of rebelion against the coup all across the country, but in São Paulo the movement reached proportions of a civil war (read more about the
Revolucao Constitucionalista). São Paulo surrendered after thousands died, but Getúlio had to make concessions, the most significant of which was to call for a Constituent Assembly, to propose a new Constitution.
The Constitution of 1934 was liberal and ecletic, reflex of the transition period that the country was going through. The old parties were struggling to recover ground; new parties were allowed, including right and left extremists. The clash of ideas kept the government under permanent pressure; even so, during this period Vargas instituted the first Social Security systems in Brazil.
That same year, Getulio was elected for the term 1934 - 1938.
The New State. Vargas becomes a dictator.
In 1937, the world was worried about the expansion of nazists and communists; alleging the necessity to combat extremists, Vargas gets from Congress the approval of state of siege, which restrained several political rights.
In the campaign to the 1938 elections, the most important candidates are either representatives of the former oligarchies, or from extremist parties.
In 1937, a communist plan which would intend to murder several politicians is "discovered" by official sources (there are evidences that the plan was manipulated by the government). Known as Plano Cohen, the episode was the excuse used by Vargas to (with ample support from the militaries, who feared communism) shut down the Congress and throw Brazil into dictatorship. A new Constitution, based on fascist ideas, was outorgated.
The period was characterized by a large intervention of the State; Vargas used his nearly unlimited powers to implement deep changes in Brazil.
Vargas created the DASP - Administrative Department of Public Service, to adapt the civil service to the new times; before DASP, a job in government depended on political indications (with deletery consequences to the quality of services provided); DASP was the beginning of professionalization of civil servants in Brazil
Noticing that the industrialization was changing the labor relationships in the country, Vargas instituted the
minimum wage in Brazil
and passed a
which is enforced until today. Because of these acts, which benefited a mass of urban workers, Vargas is often referred to as Father of the Poor (Pai dos Pobres)
he declared war to German, Italy and Japan, driven not so much by principles, but by financial reasons (see below). Brazilians with German, Italian and Japanese ascendency were sent to concentration camps.
taking advantage of the fact that US and United Kingdom wanted to have Brazil as ally during the World War II, Vargas negotiated funds for the instalation of heavy industries in Brazil, such as the first steel mill of Brazil; Vargas also laid the basis for the creation of future petroleum and electricity national companies.
According to the Constitution of 1937, Vargas was due to promote elections in 1943, but, alleging uncertainties brought by the war, he decided to stay until 1944; in 1944, again he refused to leave. With the end of the war, in 1945, the democratic ideas gained force in Brazil (why fighting dictators in Europe and allowing them at home?); seeing the growing dissatisfaction among his supporters (militaries warned Vargas that a bloody rebelion was imminent), Vargas peacefully left, on October 10th 1945.
The election of Vargas
In 1946, general Eurico Gaspar Dutra was elected to Presidency; a new Constitution was promulgated.
In 1946, Getulio Vargas was elected to Senate; in 1950, Vargas, by popular votation, was reconducted to the Presidency of Republic.
Having to deal with his political supporters, Vargas´ democratic term was not so tranquil. The previous President had left huge deficities, and the foreign capital wasn´t flowing so much; the same unions that Vargas had helped growing now were complaining about the tough economy; militaries were unsatisfied with some ministries (particulary Ministry of Labor, João Goulart, of supposed leftist ideology).
On May 1st. 1954, Vargas announces an increase of 100% to the minimum wage; the opposition called the increase as an act of demagogy, and required the impeachment. On August 5th, journalist Carlos Lacerda, one of the fiercest oppositionist, was victim of murder attempt; the investigations showed that one member of the personal guard of Vargas was involved (Vargas wasn´t aware).
On August 23rd, in a meeting at the Palace of Catete (residence of the President), the Command of Armed Forces demands Vargas to resign; Vargas proposes to leave while investigations were in progress, but the militaries refused. Left alone, Vargas commits suicide on August 24th 1954, shooting himself in the heart. He left a letter of will which became historic; the letter finishes with "...I leave life to enter History" (which he indeed did). Read more about
the letter of will of Getulio Vargas.
Notice: Getúlio Vargas is also the name of a foundation known as the best learning center of Business Administration in Brazil: the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, or simply FGV.
FGV was founded in 1954, shortly after Getúlio Vargas´s death. The name is a tribute to the ex-President, but FGV is a private foundation, neither founded nor funded by the State.
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