From giant factory farm for Europeans to modern BRIC economy, the story of Brazil’s transformation is captured in an excellent BBC Radio 4 programme centering on the life of Getulio Vargas – moderniser, dictator, and finally democratically elected president. In the final part of the Invention of Brazil, Misha Glenny explores the life of Vargas, the man who changed Brazil.
Vargas came to power in 1930 and proved an expert at keeping himself in power. Initially he styled himself on Mussolini – the story of why he took Brazil into the Second World War on the side of the Allies is central here. As also are the events leading up to his suicide while still in power. With contributions from anthropologist Lilia Schwarz, Professor David Brookshaw, Peter Fry, and author Ana Maria Machado whose father was arrested by Vargas several times.
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, 19 April 1882 – 24 August 1954) served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the most for any President, and second in Brazilian history only to Emperor Pedro II among heads of government. He favored nationalism, industrialization, centralization, social welfare and populism – for the latter, Vargas won the nickname “O Pai dos Pobres” (Portuguese for “The Father of the Poor”). He was both a proponent of workers’ rights and a staunch anti-communist.
Getúlio Vargas appointed his ministers on November 3, 1930, after being brought to power by political outsiders and the rank and file of the Armed Forces in the Revolution of 1930, a reaction to his loss in elections earlier that year. His ascent marked the end of the Brazilian oligarchic Old Republic and states’ dominated café com leite (“coffee with milk”) politics. He successfully influenced the outcome of the Brazilian presidential election of 1934, and instituted an authoritarian corporatist regime in 1937 known as the Estado Novo (“New State”), prolonging his hold onto power. Vargas went on to appease and eventually dominate his supporters, and pushed his political agenda as he built a propaganda machine around his figure.
With the global rise of democracy in the aftermath of World War II, Vargas agreed to cede power in free elections, thus ending the Vargas Era. His popularity earned him a late presidential term, but mounting pressure and political strife over his methods led him to suicide. 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 was also a lawyer and landowner and occupied the 37th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1943 until his death in 1954.
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