the fake letters

Image: Ylanite Koppens.


The letters responsible for launching the armed forces, definitively, in the open and revolutionary fight for the overthrow of the republican regime

“The insulting letter to the pride of the military was the flame that reached the fuse... it is the new Military Question, which will unfold its process repeatedly until the final crisis in October 1930” (Hélio Silva, 1922: Blood on the Sand in Copacabana)

The narrative that follows was elaborated from what became known in Brazilian historiography as the episode of the “false letters”. If there is any story in history, it is small and minor for the national consequences that followed October 09, 1921. This was the date on which they were published, in the Correio da Manhã, the missives responsible for launching the armed forces, definitively, in the wild and revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the republican regime established on November 15, 1889.[I]

It was supposed to be a beautiful carnival...

The brothers Jacinto and Cândido Guimarães traveled from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro, on February 08, 1919, in charge of buying carnival items to embellish the parade of Club of "Planets". They followed by train, carrying a large amount of money, the result of the most diverse contributions, from merchants and good citizens of the city of Juiz de Fora.

Everyone excited about the return of Club, a few years ago away from the festivities to King Momo. The directors and partners of “Planetas” had been active since the beginning of that year to raise the money needed to leave the pageant in March. Of the sum of 1:000$000 (one conto de réis – something around R$120.000,00), about 700$000 (seven hundred thousand réis) were given to the two brothers. The problem was, it was February 20th and no news. Some board members of “Planetas” go to the boys' residence, being informed of the trip – with no date for their return. One of the Guimarães sisters added: “they traveled with enough suitcases for months to stay in Rio” and that until that moment, “there had been no news”.

A great chill ran down the spine of the president of the “Planets”. He had been warned of his imprudence: “Give money to Guimarães? – always tangled up in the law!” They made contacts with the stores where the items were to be purchased. No pins sold to miners. They went to the police, there was no way. The complaint should be forwarded to the Belo Horizonte police, responsible for interstate investigations.

They went to the first auxiliary delegate, Dr. Vieira Braga, who already knew the accused well. They had been arrested in 1915, for embezzlement and forgery of documents. There was also a recent complaint involving the purchase of land in Barbacena, in which the Guimarães brothers and another Borzetti appeared to be protesting. The victim of this scam reported that the buyers used counterfeit bills in the acquisition of the land. The Doctor. Vieira Braga consulted the archives and arrived at the complaint perpetrated by the attorney Dr. Senna Valle, from the region of Juiz de Fora, in August 1917, against a gang of banknote counterfeiters, composed, among others, of the aforementioned Fellippe Borzetti, his sister Maria Borzetti and Jacinto Guimarães. That inquiry was still open.

Faced with the complaint made by the directors of “Planetas” and the information from previous inquiries, Dr. Braga organized a diligence that knocked on Fellippe Borzetti's door. This one, astonished by the presence of the police, ended up putting his feet in their hands and handed over the whole plan forged by the miscreants. The Guimarães brothers traveled to Rio de Janeiro with a few suitcases full of counterfeit money, plus a good amount of “real” money, which he, Borzetti, declared he did not know where it came from. The plan was to mix real and fake money “to clear” betting on the Derby Clube in Rio de Janeiro.

On March 10, 1919, the Minas Gerais agents landed in Rio de Janeiro, beginning the investigations. With all the lyrics provided by Borzetti, it wasn't difficult to stop the brothers. On March 19, they embarked with the arrested perpetrators back to Minas Gerais. Those were bitter days for the Guimarães brothers. For two months, in the mining town of Palmira, Jacinto Guimarães was locked up in a filthy prison, where he suffered all sorts of threats and torture, including hunger and thirst. There he was insulted, insulted and, on a certain night, as he said, if he had not put up serious resistance and energy, they would have taken him into the woods and tortured him until he confessed to the crime that, according to him, he had not committed.

Through a habeas corpus, Jacinto Guimarães was released, remaining at the disposal of justice until the end of the investigations, which were favorable to him after the judgment that took place in September of that year. His brother, however, did not have the same fate and endured almost a year of chess. Jacinto maintained that his arrest was the result of the intrigue of the aforementioned criminal Borzetti and the complicity and perversity of the Minas Gerais police.

Returned a small part of the money to the Club of the “Planets”, nor twenty percent of the total given to him. He said he suffered a lot during that period of confinement. The family went hungry, according to him, in addition to humiliation, threats and damage, both moral and material. When he was released, he only had one idea in his head: revenge against the police authorities in Belo Horizonte, especially Dr. Braga, the military delegate Mello Franco and, mainly from the head of the government of Minas Gerais, the Hon. Mr. Dr. Artur Bernardes.

at the derby club

In his forays into the Derby Clube, Jacinto Guimarães established relationships with the distinguished Mr. Oldemar Lacerda, whose brother, João Maria Lacerda, was an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture. Oldemar frequented Rio de Janeiro's high society and interacted with important people in the political environment. He was drawing up plans for the realization of a large business project - a fishing company with steamboats. This is why, since the end of 1919, the government had started the project of “nationalization of fishing”, which had as its great architect the frigate captain Frederico Villar, commander of the cruiser José Bonifácio. A Mission of the cruiser José Bonifácio, under the custody of the Navy, traveled the entire coastline of Brazil between 1919 and 1923, organized the "fishermen's colonies" and opened up space for new commercial ventures in the "fishing industry" sector.[ii]

Oldemar had already received privileged information about the “nationalization”, even sharing it with the Guimarães brothers. The miners were invited to join the parade as partners, largely because of all the money they boasted at the Derby. The Guimarães prison slowed down the plans for the realization of the company a little. Oldemar tried other avenues, took out some loans, made a trip to England to sound out some ships he would buy for the fleet. In September 1920 he obtained, with much effort from his brother, an audience with the then Minister of the Navy, Mr. Raul Soares.

He intended, with the minister's endorsement, a triumphant entry into the “fishing industry”, and nothing better than a little help from a prominent member of the Republic. He knew that one of the goals of Mission of the cruiser José Bonifácio it was the construction of a merchant marine, mainly fishing, intertwined with the Navy of War, in the sense of helping in the patrolling of the Brazilian coasts. He gave this card to the minister, perhaps a little abused, and Raul Soares responded with a tremendous negative to poor Oldemar's intentions. Poor guy, he couldn't hold back the tears when telling his brother the debacle of his audience with the minister. João Maria even tried something with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Idelfonso Simões Lopes, but the thing did not go forward. Debt-ridden, frustrated, full of rancor in his heart, Oldemar Lacerda could only think of one thing: to take revenge on that scoundrel Raul Soares.

Another carnival...

Jacinto Guimarães and Oldemar Lacerda spent together, in Rio de Janeiro, the 1921 carnival.Although scheduled only for the beginning of March, the celebrations for King Momo began right at the beginning of the year. This is because the Spanish flu had finally disappeared and the festivities were such that, until today, that was considered the greatest carnival in our history, as shown by the writer Ruy Castro.[iii] The two companions enjoyed themselves through the streets of the metropolis, spent the early hours at the Clube dos Democráticos and were among the first revelers to participate in the Cordão do Bola Preta parade, founded precisely that year.

Between one hangover and another, they thought of a way to revive the fishing company project. Raul Soares was no longer at the Ministry of the Navy, which was taken over by another civilian, Mr. Veiga Miranda. They could try a rapprochement. Oldemar's brother, however, warned that things were not very good in the government, especially in the military ministries. There was enormous dissatisfaction with Epitácio. It would be better to wait a little longer, “who knows, Hermes might win another presidency”, said João Maria Lacerda. Oldemar's eyes sparkled with this premonition of his brother. In a conversation with Jacinto, he said that things would be all right if Hermes and the military came back, "to put an end to that demon Epitácio, and to boot Rolinha, who's been putting his little wings out".

Things were not easy for President Epitácio Pessoa, the first in that Republic to appoint civilians to military ministries. The appointment of Pandiá Calogeras to the Ministry of War and Raul Soares to the Navy caused a huge stir in the barracks. In addition to appointments, a series of conflicts marked relations between the government and the military at that time of great popular unrest. As the revelry radiated through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, the disturbances in the barracks became more and more intense. The government acted with an iron fist towards the conspirators. It was the “period of transfers”, in which many officers were sent to the most distant posts in the country, in an attempt to contain a little the insurgent machinations of the military.

From the Marshal’s banquet to Correio da Manhã…

In November 1920 Marshal Hermes da Fonseca landed in Rio de Janeiro, after a period of five years in Europe. His arrival was hailed as the return of the messiah. Military agitations were, to a large extent, channeled towards him, who had presided over the country between 1910 and 1914. The tributes paid to the former president show how much that figure was awaited. After the traditional reception banquet, another big demonstration for Hermes da Fonseca, with a strong popular presence, took place on May 12, 1921, on the occasion of his birthday, celebrated at Teatro São Pedro.

On the 2nd of June, Marshal Hermes organized a banquet in return for the manifestations received. This meeting further intensified tensions between the military and the President of the Republic, as it directly involved the armed classes of the nation. Approximately 600 guests — around 300 high-ranking military personnel — were present at the event, organized by the pro-Hermes committee (made up of generals, marshals, admirals and opposition politicians, especially deputy Mauricio de Lacerda).

The brodium took place at the imposing Palace Hotel and also served to announce the marshal's candidacy for the next presidential elections. Many inflammatory speeches were directed against the political class. The most exalted of them, uttered by the captain of the frigate Alencastro Graça, resulted in the arrest of the soldier, by direct order of the President of the Republic. The Hermes da Fonseca candidacy was gaining more and more solidity in military circles and among urban populations, including a certain portion of the working class, very close to Mauricio de Lacerda, an enthusiast of the military candidacy.

None other than Oldemar Lacerda and Jacinto Guimarães attended the banquet. Oldemar had gone headlong into the Hermes da Fonseca campaign. He attended the Candidacy Committee meetings and tried at all costs to get closer to the organization's heads. Soon after Jacinto returned to Rio, freed from the clutches of justice from Minas Gerais, he told his colleague about the hardships he had faced in the city of Palmira, the details of that filthy prison, the needs and humiliations he had gone through, the family’s hardship and, above all, his thirst for revenge.

Oldemar, in turn, also told the few and good things he suffered in the fateful meeting with the Minister of the Navy, Mr. Raul Soares, the feeling of humiliation that took him by storm, the frustration at seeing the grandiose project of the fishing company collapsing and, also, the unbridled desire to take revenge on that politician from Minas Gerais. The day after the big banquet at the Palace Hotel, the two were walking along the Passeio Público, when, suddenly, Oldemar had an idea that froze him for a few seconds. And, right there, standing still, he looked at his companion and said – Jacinto, you are an excellent calligrapher, aren't you? Upon confirming such skill, the miner received another interrogation–Did you realize that we have enemies in common? Jacinto did not understand what his friend was trying to get at: – a common enemy?

- Yes. That cretinous Artur Bernardes and the miserable Raul Soares.

– What is common between the two?

Jacinto was a young man obstinate in making money, but simple-minded in broader conjectures, not very attentive to his surroundings, mainly to the political world. They were going through the biggest institutional crisis of that Republic. The big oligarchies – São Paulo and Minas – wanted to placate Mr. Artur Bernardes in the presidency, in which they suffered great resistance from the intermediate oligarchies – Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco and Bahia.

In the middle of all this impasse, the military had already left the barracks and formed outposts in the political struggle, mainly with the enthusiasm declared to Marshal Hermes. They were reliving almost a second “Military Question”. The best of all worlds, said the “opposition”, would be a Nilo Peçanha–Hermes da Fonseca ticket, to face the Artur Bernardes–Urbano dos Santos formula, a ticket for the oligarchies, for the continuity of café-au-lait…

Oldemar looked ecstatic. He rubbed his hands together, gazed at the endless sea. – That's it, my dear Jacinto!

- This what?

– Let’s get down to work…

Oldemar knew many influential people in Rio. Devoted to the 'pro-Hermes campaign' he reconnected with mr. Eduardo da Fonseca Hermes, son of João Severiano da Fonseca Hermes, who was the brother of Hermes da Fonseca. Eduardo and Oldemar already knew each other from other carnivals. One day, they arranged a meeting at the famous Alvear ice cream parlor, to discuss matters pertaining to the presidential succession. Oldemar got straight to the point:

–So, our marshal has to go to Catete anyway. We need to act together and you can be of the utmost assistance.

- When it comes to helping my Uncle Hermes, I'll lend a helping hand. What should I do?

– I know that your father has a letter written by Artur Bernardes and addressed to João Luiz Alves, dealing with politics in Minas. I need you to take this letter and lend it to me for a few hours.

- And why don't you ask my father directly?

– Your father does not think the Hermes candidacy is viable and is very Bernardist; he won't give me the letter. You are the one to arrange it. What the hell! This does not commit you. I will return the letter you bring me. The old caboclo goes to the government and you don't be a muggle!

After much reluctance, Edward snatched the letter from his office and took it to Oldemar:

- Here it is.

- Very good! The Republic is saved! Your uncle will be the dictator!

From there, he went straight to Jacinto Guimarães' house, instructing him to “start training”. Two days later he returned the letter to Eduardo Fonseca Hermes, who, in turn, returned the document to its place of origin. In the following weeks, Oldemar looked for the lawyer Pedro Burlamaqui, with whom he maintained the most diverse relations. They scheduled a quick trip to Belo Horizonte, with the objective of acquiring a letterhead from the government of Minas Gerais. On a visit to the offices of the Official Press, Burlamaqui obtained some letterheads and handed them to Oldemar, when they returned, in separate trains, to Rio de Janeiro.

At the beginning of October 1921, Oldemar Lacerda sought out Mr. João Severiano Fonseca Hermes claiming to be the bearer of “some letters” compromising Mr. Artur Bernardes, very serious documents, to the point of making the candidacy of the governor of Minas Gerais unfeasible for the presidency. Mr. Fonseca Hermes, who had already been a federal deputy for two terms, found the story very strange and wanted to know the origins of such letters. Oldemar was not able to convince him, he was contradictory, uncertain, the story did not end well. Fonseca Hermes was irritated by the fact that Oldemar did not have the letters in his hands, since from there they could consult a notary to compare the signatures.

That first attempt having failed, Oldemar went, one Saturday afternoon, to the Derby Club. There he met Senator Irineu Machado, one of the fiercest defenders of the Hermes da Fonseca candidacy. They talked for a long time in the Derby lobby. We do not know the story that Oldemar told; what is certain is that the senator assured him that he had the right address to send the documents –the Morning mail.

Before delivering the letters to the publication, Irineu Machado sought out Mr. Serpa Pinto, former employee of Caixa Econômica Federal, from whom he awaited a verdict on the authenticity of the papers: yes… they were true, said Mr. Serpa, the lyrics are from the 'president' of Minas, and the signature too.

It was around two o'clock in the afternoon on October 08th, 1921 when on the telephone from the newsroom of the Correio da Manhã vibrated insistently. The newspaper's director, Edmundo Bittencourt, spent a few days off at a watering station in Lindóia, in the interior of São Paulo. In his place, the journalist Mário Rodrigues answered. On the other side of the line, Senator Irineu Machado informed “Mário, listen. A person who is here beside me has important documents that are of great interest to politics. That person, who is going to leave for Europe tomorrow, intended to give them to Edmundo. But in view of Edmundo's absence, he will entrust them to an editor at the Post Office. Come here, at home, to get them, as a matter of urgency”.[iv]

Mario Rodrigues took a taxi and in a short time arrived at the senator's house. There he also found a rather short, stocky fellow who went by the name Oldemar Lacerda. This one, pulled the 'documents' from a folder and handed it to the reporter. How do I know if these letters are real? Irineu Machado had in his possession a letter from Artur Bernardes addressed to deputy Ribeiro Junqueira, he handed it to Mario Rodrigues so that he could make the conference himself: The letters are identical...In addition to this, the senator narrated the details of the meeting with the expert Serpa Pinto, the guarantee given by the old employee of the Caixa Econômica, more than used to examinations of this nature. On the morning of October 09th, the bomb exploded, while Oldemar Lacerda sailed across the ocean aboard the Massilia, towards Europe.

Babylon in flames

The Hermes da Fonseca candidacy had not taken off. In its place, the name of Nilo Peçanha came up, who, together with the Bahian senator JJ Seabra, formed the ticket of the republican reaction, a name that brought together the state dissidences that opposed the candidacy of Artur Bernardes – Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia and Pernambuco. In August 1921 the name of Marshal Hermes da Fonseca hardly appeared in the newspapers and the campaign for the republican reaction started taking to the streets. With the support of the military, part of the working class and oligarchic sectors dissatisfied with the dominance of the Minas Gerais and São Paulo oligarchies, the dissidents were ready to carry out a major presidential campaign, “with a popular presence never seen in that Republic”.[v]

It was an American-style campaign, as some observers at the time said. In virtually all states, committees were created; the adhesion of the urban population of the big cities grew vertiginously; the military took part in organizing the political and electoral committees and activities. Rallies, events and publications in the press increasingly took on a civic-military meaning. The tour of republican reaction spread across the country. Nilo Peçanha's caravan and rallies in the capitals of the North and Northeast were reverberated in the press as great epic feats.

It was in this climate that it appeared, in the leaves of the Morning mail, news that would shake that presidential succession process. Under the title “Outrage to the Army” and a most diabolical feature article, things changed a level in that electoral dispute. The article said that: “A chance made us aware of the facts, which is, neither more nor less, the loss of compromising letters, written by Mr. Artur Bernardes to Senator Raul Soares. Today we publish one of them, which came to our hands, to highlight what this inferior politician is, who the bad luck of Minas has elevated to the highest expression of his government. More than that: this letter, sent by him to Mr. Raul, is an indignity and an affront thrown at the Army, represented in its officers, even the most senior ones, called venal and capable of being bought”.[vi]

Here is the content of the letter:

Belo Horizonte, 3–6–1921
Friend Raul Soares
Affectionate greetings.

I am aware of the ridiculous and outrageous banquet given by Hermes, that uncompromising sergeant, to his henchmen, and of everything that happened in that orgy. I hope you use it with full energy, in accordance with my last instructions, because that scoundrel needs a reprimand to enter discipline. See if Epitacio now shows his vaunted energy, severely punishing these daring ones, arresting those who deviated from discipline and removing these anarchist generals far away. If Epitácio, afraid, does not answer, use diplomacy and after my acknowledgment we will settle accounts. The situation does not allow compromises, those that are venal, which is almost the totality, buy them with all their embroideries and braids.

Hugs from Artur Bernardes.

An important detail — the date. The alleged letter had been written exactly one day after the banquet offered by Hermes da Fonseca to the armed classes, an event that resulted in the arrest of the frigate captain Alencastro Graça. In the following days, the country's newspapers reverberated the “outrageous letters” written by Artur Bernardes. From the press, the buzz moved to political agitation, in the streets and in Congress, and especially among the armed forces. On day 10, the Correio da Manhã he returned to the charge, in a half-page editorial, crying out against the danger, in case “this amoral man, and now probably a cretin, comes to obtain the presidency of the Republic”.[vii]

Marshal Hermes, who was in Petrópolis, as soon as he heard the news, sent a telegram summoning as many officers as possible to an extraordinary meeting at the Military Club, where they would deal with the matter. The days were full of debates over whether or not the letters were true. In Congress, Bernardist and Nilist deputies and some who claimed to represent the honor of the military held their rallies with an exemplary newspaper in their hands.

The first official manifestation of the Clube Militar was to declare itself for the falseness of the letters, position endorsed even by Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. That's because the names of two possible forgers were circulating – Jacinto Guimarães and Oldemar Lacerda – who, along with Artur Bernardes' vehement objections, brought the case into litigation; had begun "the fight that was to shake the country."[viii]

In the midst of this uproar, Mr. Artur Bernardes, on October 15, to participate in the traditional government platform presentation banquet. As much as tempers were raised, no one could imagine the proportions that the event would take. A crowd was already planted on Avenida Rio Branco, waiting for the entourage, which, as it passed, received a resounding boo. Along the entire length of the avenue, the people – civilians and military – chanted the song “Ai, Seu Mé”, which satirized the politician from Minas Gerais using his nicknames, 'Rolinha' and 'seu' Mé, transforming that Saturday afternoon into a mixture of civil war and carnival.[ix]

There was a general riot, several bandstands destroyed and set on fire, portraits of Artur Bernardes torn from shop windows and burned. The work of the Correio da Manhã. The following day, the newspaper gave an entire cover to the events, with clichés like “Rio de Janeiro received yesterday, as it deserved, the candidate of the infamous 'mé' convention….”. Or else: “Rolinha saw that the population of Rio de Janeiro, representing national public opinion, does not submit to the will of politicians”.

It was the consecration of the “letters”. The peak where no other newspaper had reached in that Republic. The defamatory campaign against the candidate from Minas gained a new dimension after the campaigns of the Mail. Soon after the tragic passage of Artur Bernardes through Rio, who only managed to read his government platform supported by a strong security scheme, the politicians of the republican reaction, consecrated by campaigns in the North and Northeast.

The succession of Epitácio Pessoa, at this point, had already become the most serious political crisis of the Republic. More and more, in demonstrations in support of Nilo Peçanha, a union between military and civilians is being characterized. The tensions all turn to the question of the authenticity of those documents stamped in the Morning mail. Of the internal divisions of the Military Club, the front that bet on tensioning the issue won. A commission was formed for a new expert examination of the letters.

In the Chamber, deputy Bueno Brandão, leader of the Minas Gerais group, defended Artur Bernardes and attacked the Correio da Manhã; in the Senate, so did Mr. Paul of Frontin. Deputy Otávio Rocha took the Army's pains and insisted on the issue of “offense to honor and military pride”. The climate was one of tension and expectation for the completion of the commission's work; “The Army and the people were divided into two irreducible factions, which admitted or denied falsehood.”[X]

Contrary to all the evidence that pointed to the falsehood of the letters, on December 28th, the Military Club met in an extraordinary assembly, chaired by Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, to decree the veracity of the documents and deliver the case for the judgment of the Nation! More than that he could not do. However, it was enough to ignite the campaign of the republican reaction. In the following months, until the date of the elections, which would take place on March 01, 1922, the climate in the capital of the Republic and in most of the country's capitals was one of a latent civil war.

Even so, as it could not be otherwise, the ruling ticket won the elections: Artur Bernardes obtained 1.575.735 votes and Nilo Peçanha 708.247. But the official results did not satisfy the opposition, proclaiming Nilo Peçanha the vice of the results and asking for the verification of the votes by a court of honor. The non-recognition of the results by Nilo Peçanha gained support from the Clube Militar and the government of Rio Grande do Sul, in addition to practically all those who were excited about the republican reaction. This maneuver added fuel to the fire. The lowly officers, which history would consecrate under the name of “tenentes”, took over once and for all the conspiratorial vanguard. With the mobilization of a triple flag – moralization of political customs, secret ballot and an end to electoral fraud – the “tenentes” increasingly prepared themselves for forceful action against the 'political clique'.

The country was on the verge of an institutional rupture when, in May 1922, Dr. César de Magalhães, a physician-surgeon, eminent and well connected with the leaders of the Republican Party of Minas Gerais, decided to act on his own. With diligence, dedication and effort, he would discover the miserable plot of the false letters attributed to Artur Bernardes. He managed to get in touch with Jacinto Guimarães, promising him the sum of fifty thousand réis in order to facilitate the boy's departure out of Brazil, if he wanted to reduce his confession to writing and produce material proof of his authorship in the forgery. of the aforementioned letters.

Jacinto accepted the doctor's offer. Cesar de Guimarães' intention, according to his own account, was not to publish the documents obtained that day. The idea was to produce a document that would be used exclusively in the highest political and military circles, with a view to avoiding a great national tragedy. With the confession in hand, Doctor Cesar de Magalhães did not fulfill part of the agreement and sent notes to the press, announcing the proceedings of that meeting and offering Jacinto Guimarães' statements. Once Jacinto Guimarães' confession had been obtained, it was time to do the same to Oldemar Lacerda. Doctor Cesar de Magalhães carried out the same steps that had already been successful. And on May 31, 1922, the confession of the intellectual architect of the “false letters” was drawn up, of which we can read an excerpt:

Faced with this distressing situation for the Fatherland and the Republic created by the case of the letters, it was that I decided to speak the whole truth about it, as I do at that moment, also proving that when I decided to write the aforementioned letters, I only had a political intention, which was elevating my eminent friend Marechal Hermes to the presidency of the Republic, destroying the candidacy of Arthur Bernardes with these letters, giving rise to a strong movement of the armed classes with their disclosure that would be oriented in favor of the candidacy of that illustrious friend of mine.

beginning of the end

On June 07, 1922, Mr. Artur Bernardes was recognized by the National Congress as elected President of the Republic. O court of honor called by the dissidents, to resolve the impasse of the elections through a new verification of the electoral minutes, was denied by the Federal Supreme Court. Everything indicated that there were no solutions “within legality” to prevent Artur Bernardes from taking office.

Closely following the development of things, it is easy to see that even before the period of “confessions”, the issue of the authenticity or falsehood of the insulting letters to the Army had lost its centrality in the debate. What set the tone in the streets were the disturbances in the barracks, the public apprehension and the feeling that something very serious was going to happen soon.

On November 15, 1922 Artur Bernardes took office as President of the Republic, with the country conflagrated and in a state of siege, decreed by Epitácio Pessoa, as a result of the events of July, especially the uprising at the Fort of Copacabana, which was justified by the defense of military “honor” and “brief”, severely offended by the usual politicians. The site was extended until the end of that year, so that no other surprises would interfere with the beginning of the new presidency.

The turmoil of yet another presidential succession ended, at the same time as a new political phase in the short history of the First Republic began. The breakdown of that oligarchic regime was due to its own structures. The political form that had precariously stabilized that era of profound transformations came into direct contradiction with its social and economic content. The successive crises were the expression of the crisis of that regime as a whole. The turbulent succession of Epitácio Pessoa was yet another chapter that denounced the weakness of the regime, whose most obvious manifestation was the functioning of the electoral process and the precariousness of the choice of representatives by popular vote. However, it is symptomatic that a fake news, as we say nowadays, served as a catalyst to set in motion all that autophagic gear and forceps delivery in modern Brazil. As Hélio Silva summarized well: “Were they true? Were they fake? for forty years, all of Brazil formulates these questions. All expert evidence has been exercised. Men like Rui Barbosa gave their opinion. Not even now, when death could have freed the last compromises, opening, paradoxically, the mouths it used to close, will a unanimous consensus opinion be possible. It was these fragile sheets of paper, flammable, easy to crumple and destroy, that unleashed the storm that the Republic dreamed of by Saldanha Marinho could not resist”.[xi]

PS: After the confessions, Jacinto Guimarães moved to Bahia, starting to live on a beautiful farm near the city of Valencia, which was said to belong to Mr. JJ Seabra's henchmen. In March 1924, the news reached the Rio de Janeiro newspapers that he had died unexpectedly and mysteriously due to a sudden illness. As for Oldemar Lacerda... well, let's leave some news from the Night Diary, on June 28, 1934: “Petrópolis, 28 (from Diário da Noite correspondent) – Oldemar Lacerda, the well-known forger, who made a name for himself there in Rio, has just been tried by the popular court of this city. Sitting, once more, in the dock, the famous forger was surrounded by a singular deference on the part of the soldiers who escorted him, until, by protest of the prosecutor, what the practice determines was established. Oldemar Lacerda was put on trial, accused of forging a lease deed for the Stadt Munchem building, in Praça Tiradentes, in Rio. The accused was acquitted for lack of evidence.”[xii]

*Alexandre Juliete Rosa Master in Literature from the Institute of Brazilian Studies at USP.


[I] For a complete version of the facts, written within academic parameters, based on primary sources and specialized bibliography, the reader can access the link:

[ii]A detailed analysis of the Mission of the cruiser José Bonifáciocan be found in the research: From north to south: the mission of the cruiser “José Bonifácio” and the incorporation of the fisherman to a project of nation (1900-1930), by Giovanni Roberto Filho. Available at the link:

[iii]Ruy Castro. War and Flu Carnival (Metropolis by the Sea – Prologue). São Paulo. Company of Letters: 2019.

[iv]Helio Silva. 1922: Blood on the sand of Copacabana. Porto Alegre. L&PM: 2004, p. 43.

[v]Anita Leocadia Prestes. The Military and the Republican Reaction. Petropolis. Voices: 1993, p. 57.

[vi]Outrage the Army. Morning mail, October 09, 1921, p. two.

[vii]The letter. Morning mail, October 10, 1921, p. two.

[viii]Nelson Werneck Sodré.History of the press in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro. MAUAD: 1999, p. 358.

[ix]The song can be heard from the link:

[X]Helio Silva. 1922: Blood on the sand of Copacabana. Porto Alegre. L&PM: 2004, p. 49.

[xi]Helio Silva. 1922: Blood on the sand of Copacabana. Porto Alegre. L&PM: 2004, p. 36.

[xii]Oldemar Lacerda once again in the dock. Evening Diary, June 28, 1934. Available at the link:

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