Getúlio’s Long Shadow

The plot against Getúlio Vargas is often considered to be a purely internal Brazilian affair. This was contradicted by his own suicide note, in which he refers specifically to an alliance of international capital and local elites, of roughly the same composition that would go on to support the Coups of 1964 and 2016. The suicide of Vargas had repercussions for Brazil that persist to this day.

Coming to power in the revolution of 1930, Getúlio Vargas went on to be the longest serving Brazilian President, including 8 years as dictator, during the Estado Novo period, from 1937-45 including a brief informal alliance with the far-right Integralist movement. Initially inspired by the corporatist regimes of Mussolini and Salazar, he also embraced developmentalism, working to industrialise Brazil, and reduce its economic dependence on agriculture. At the same time he introduced wide-ranging worker rights, many of which which survived in law until the fall of Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Although often depicted as aligned with the Fascist Axis during the 1930s, Vargas’ position was ambiguous and he refused an invitation to join the alliance. From 1940-45 Brazil moved closer to the Allied powers, declaring war on Italy and Germany in 1942, and ultimately sending an expeditionary force to the former in 1944.

After being forced into resignation in 1945, he returned to power democratically in 1951, following the failure of his United States aligned successor Eurico Dutra, who had sent the country’s growth and modernisation into reverse, with US corporate interests often favoured over Brazil’s own.

National mining company Vale was founded during his previous tenure, and a wave of other strategic state companies were created under Vargas, which along with his labour legislation left him popular despite his earlier authoritarian tendencies. Upon returning to the Presidency in 1951, Vargas oversaw the foundation of Petrobras, Brazil’s nationalised monopoly oil company, under the slogan “O petróleo é nosso” (The oil is ours) two years later in 1953.

The same year, the so called “Seven Sisters” oil cartel, otherwise known as “Consortium for Iran”, lead by AIOC (Now BP) would back a UK & US co-ordinated coup d’état to bring down democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, following his moves to nationalise the Iranian oil industry and expel foreign companies.

A year after the foundation of Petrobras, in August 1954, Getúlio Vargas committed suicide. This followed his head of personal security being accused of masterminding an attempt on the life of the President’s political adversary Carlos Lacerda, a journalist, anti-communist conspirator, future Congressman and Governor of Guanabara. Also involved in the plot against Getúlio was Lieutenant Alcides, grandfather of Michel Temer’s Secretary of Institutional Security, General Sérgio Etchegoyen.

Riots broke out in several Brazilian cities following Vargas’ death.

Carlos Lacerda was also a civil leader and State Department point-man in the build-up to the US-backed Coup of 1964 a decade later, which overthrew Vargas protégé, President João Goulart, and ushered in 21 years of military rule. Lacerda was tipped as a prospective post-coup President, but it was not to be. Militantly pro-US in the 1950’s and 1960’s, his views shifted following the Coup and in 1966 he said that the military Government that he had helped to install was ruling Brazil “by C.I.A. proxy and not even for the Department of State.”

Having wrongly believed that the military would continue with scheduled elections, Lacerda would go on to ally with former adversaries, Presidents Goulart and Vargas’ elected successor Juscelino Kubitschek, in an attempt to build a frente ampla (Broad Front) for the restoration of democracy. As a result Lacerda would be jailed and stripped of his political rights. On August 22 1976, Kubitschek would be killed in a car accident in Rio de Janeiro. Goulart would then die, of a heart attack, at his apartment in Mercedes, Argentina on December 6. Carlos Lacerda would also die of a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro on May 21, 1977.

Leonel Brizola, another Vargas protégé, veteran of the 1964 Goulart government, Presidential Candidate in 1989 and 2004,  and mentor to Dilma Rousseff, insisted that Goulart and Kubitschek were assassinated as part of the US-backed Operation Condor. The same suspicions persist about the sudden death of Lacerda. Three strong potential candidates, should democracy have returned a decade early to Brazil, died within nine months.

Two decades earlier, the following note was found by the bed of the dead President Vargas, who had apparently shot himself in the chest with a revolver.

By Getúlio Vargas.

“Once more the forces and interests that oppose the people have been organized and are unleashed upon me. Rather than 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 drown 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 by international economic and financial groups, I placed myself at the head of a revolution and won. I began the work of liberation and I restored a regime of social freedom. I had to resign. I returned to the Government on the shoulders of the people. The underground campaign of international groups allied with rebellious national groups that opposed the program of guaranteed employment. The extraordinary profits law was held up in Congress. Hatred was unleashed against the just revision of the minimum wage. The potentialization of our resources through Petrobrás would create national freedom; this had hardly begun to operate when the wave of agitation swelled. Eletrobrás was obstructed to the point of desperation. They do not want the worker to be free.

They do not want the people to be independent. I assumed the Government in the midst of an inflationary spiral which was destroying the value of work. Profits for foreign companies were reaching as much as 500 percent per year. In declaration of import values, evidence showed frauds of more than $100 million per year. With the coffee crisis, our main product increased in value. We tried to defend the price, and the response was violent pressure on our economy until we were obliged to yield.

I have fought month by month, day by day, hour by hour, in resistance to constant, incessant pressure, bearing everything in silence, forgetting everything, yielding myself in order to defend the people who, if I fail, are abandoned. 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 the holocaust.

I choose this way to be always with you. When they humiliate you, you will feel my soul suffering by your side. When hunger knocks at your door, you will feel in your breast the energy to fight for yourselves and for your children. When you are slandered, my memory will give you the strength to respond. My sacrifice will keep you united and my name will be your fighting flag. Each drop of my blood will be an immortal flame in your conscience and will maintain 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 people, and today I free myself for eternal life. But this people, to whom I was slave, will no longer be slave to anyone. My sacrifice will be forever in its soul and my blood will be the price of its ransom. I fought against the exploitation of Brazil. I fought against the exploitation of the people. I have fought with my whole heart. Hatred, infamy and slander have not conquered my spirit. I gave my life to you. Now I offer you my death. I fear nothing. Calmly I take the first step toward eternity and leave life to enter History.”