On coups and counter-coups in the Brazilian tradition – III



In the August 1954 crisis, the military ministers gave President Getúlio Vargas an ultimatum: either he resigned or he would be deposed

I was seven years and three months old. Eight-thirty in the morning, August 24, 1954 There was a knock at the front door. As usual, I went to open it. The neighbor on the right side of our house, Dona Wanda, came in without even greeting me, screaming and crying: “Dona Elsa (my mother), turn on the radio, Doctor Getúlio killed himself!”

My mother lit the said whose radio. In the time of valves, we would turn on the radio, something that is still done in Rio Grande do Sul today, both with radio and television. Once the valves had been warmed up, she listened to a piece of the Letter of the Testament, with that dramatic, tragic and epic ending at the same time: “I gave you my life. Now I offer you my death. I fear nothing. Serenely I take the first step on the path of eternity and leave life to enter history.” The date and signature followed: “Rio de Janeiro, August 23, 1954 – Getúlio Vargas”.

A kind of stupor, a heavy silence fell over the house, only broken by Dona Wanda's sobs, who continued to cry incessantly.

After some time, the announcer (we still said speaker), after breaking the news of the suicide, resumed reading: “Once again the forces and interests against the people have coordinated and are unleashed on me. They don't accuse me; insult; they don't fight me, they slander me, and they don't give me the right to defend myself. They need to stifle my voice and prevent my action, so that I do not continue to defend, as I have always defended, the people and especially the humble”… Following elements that the “international groups”, allied to “national groups angry with work guarantee regime”, needed to be destroyed included the valuation of the minimum wage and, of course, Petrobras and Eletrobrás. Like today.

It was as if the clocks had stopped. I had lessons to do, I had classes in the afternoon. But it soon became clear that I wasn't going to school, classes had been suspended. My older brother, who attended high school in the morning, reappeared, the school was closed and the students dismissed. My mother was a drawing and geometry teacher at the gymnasium and taught in the afternoon: she would not go to work. Later on, my father would arrive: the office of the company where he was an accountant had also closed. As the day disorganized and reorganized itself, the radio continued hammering the Testament Charter.

Dona Wanda left with her tears still streaming down her face. Around noon, another neighbor entered the house, desperate. She told my mother that her husband had come home from work, had put the revolver in his belt and gone out into the street. Over the radio came amazing news: a gigantic riot was spreading across the city. we tune in to Radio Farroupilha. Screaming, the speaker narrated that a crowd invaded the building of the anti-Getulist station, of the Associated Diaries of Assis Chateaubriand, setting it on fire. The radio station was on the corner of Rua Duque de Caxias and Viaduto Otávio Rocha, which crossed Avenida Borges de Medeiros at the top. It was a townhouse, and on the second floor there was a Radio Difusora. With the fire, which ended up destroying the building, one of the journalists diffuser threw himself from the second floor and fractured his spine.

More than forty buildings, belonging to the press and conservative parties, were attacked by the angry mob. Some were set on fire. They attacked the headquarters of one of the anti-GETUL parties, in front of the Hospital do Pronto Socorro. The Military Brigade, the Military Police of Rio Grande do Sul, repressed the bullet attack. Three of the protesters died instantly. A quarter would die months later from their injuries.

The news kept coming over the radio: the riot was also running wild in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to the newspapers Associated Diaries, the angry crowd also attacked newspaper vans The Globefrom the Marino family.

In short, August 24, 1954 was consumed in fire. The military coup to overthrow Vargas, which had been armed by the insidious campaign of the conservative press, was postponed indefinitely. After this relief, the next day, tempers began to calm down, transforming fury into mourning. The funeral ceremonies, with a parade through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, was one of the biggest demonstrations that took place in Brazil. Soon after the plane with the former president's body took off for Rio Grande do Sul, there were new demonstrations near Santos Dumont airport: Air Force soldiers opened fire on the crowd. In São Borja, on the border with Argentina, the birthplace of the Vargas family, there was a new gigantic procession for the size of the city, with thousands of people accompanying it.

Shortly after the suicide, the version began to circulate that “upon hearing the reading of the Testament Charter, the crowd, which took to the streets to celebrate the fall of Getúlio, turned against his opponents”. Today I am aware that this version was sponsored by the right and also by some sectors of the left. A few years ago I heard from a friend, a veteran militant of the former Brazilian Socialist Party, that she and some companions were actually preparing to commemorate the fall of “the dictator” in the interior of São Paulo. They wilted and gave up when they heard the Charter read.

It is also true that there was no lack of people who celebrated the programmed fall of Vargas, overthrown, once again, by a military coup, in addition to the reactionary business community and sectors of the middle class engulfed by the campaign of Lacerda, the UDN and other coup leaders against the “sea”. of mud” of “Getulist corruption”. However, I am convinced that both in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, and also in other cities in the country, there were no “crowds taking to the streets” to celebrate the coup and the fall. Crowds, mainly workers, took to the streets enraged, that is, because of the reading of the Letter of the Testament and the death of their idolized leader. Because, without a doubt, Getúlio Vargas was the greatest popular leader this country has ever seen, until the arrival, decades later, of a certain Luís Inácio da Silva, renamed Lula.

We're not going to celebrate your authoritarianism or the mistakes you've made. But you can't cover it with a sieve. Luís Carlos Prestes was also hugely popular. In the Old Republic, he was certainly the greatest, as the Column's Knight of Hope was named after him. After the end of the Estado Novo, he was elected senator for the Federal District, with 157 votes. He was also elected federal deputy for the Federal District, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Sul, since the legislation at the time allowed the same person to run for several positions simultaneously.

Without campaigning, in “exile” from his border resort, in the same election Getúlio was elected senator for the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which he founded, in Rio Grande do Sul, and for the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), which he also founded, by Sao Paulo. He was also elected federal deputy for Rio Grande do Sul, São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais, Bahia, the state of Rio de Janeiro and the Federal District. He received in total 1 million and 300 thousand votes. Both Prestes and Getúlio opted for senatorial terms. After that, Prestes' popularity fluctuated a lot, with his mandate being withdrawn, the Communist Party banned and his return to clandestinity. Getúlio's increased even more.

I remember the fiery speeches of my father, a PTB supporter, at the table, at lunchtime: “Getúlio was the only one in this country who did something for the working class”. He and my mother hated Carlos Lacerda, the UDN, and the other conservative politicians. They also disliked the communists, whom they saw as opponents of Getúlio Vargas. In a side street of my parents' house, there was that of a traditional family of Porto Alegre communists. In the early hours of November 7, they woke up the neighborhood with a firework commemorating the 1917 Revolution, using the Gregorian Calendar, which the Soviet government had adopted after its rise to power, replacing the Julian one. In one of these early mornings, distressed by the noise, I asked my mother what was going on. “It's the neighbors celebrating Luís Carlos Prestes' birthday”, was the reply, with a muxoxo.

Seeing (and hearing in the ears of memory) all of this now, almost seventy years away, I am struck by the leading role played by Air Force officers in the campaign against Vargas, transformed into a kind of militia guard for the idol of the right, Carlos Lacerda. After the attack on Rua Tonelero and the death of Major Rubens Vaz in the incident, which remains unreported to this day, leaving behind a trail of questions, the officers of the weapon created the infamous “República do Galeão”, transforming the air base next to the airport at the epicenter of the Police-Military Inquiry investigating the attack, with accusations of resorting to physical and psychological torture.

Lacerda was not lacking in the refinement of having a false edition printed (fake news…) from the newspaper Press Tribune, reporting the flight of Benjamim Vargas, the president's brother, abroad, so that it could be read by Gregório Fortunato, head of the president's personal guard and accused of planning the crime. It was the famous edition of a single copy of the newspaper, now missing, as well as Lacerda's gun, which was not examined, although it was used during the shooting on Rua Toneleros. Benjamim was seen as a protector of the “Black Angel”, Gregório’s nickname.

Air Force officers saw themselves as a kind of “elite corps” of the Armed Forces, whose officers, since the end of World War II, had been leaning more and more towards the “Americanophile” side, as they said then, within the map of the Cold War and the anti-communist campaign led by the United States. This campaign also aimed at nationalist movements in Latin America and in other latitudes and longitudes of the planet, such as in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, transforming itself into a policy of encouragement and support, on the part of Washington, of bloody coups and dictatorships. .

In 1952 there was a decisive election in the Military Club, in which the nationalist ticket, defender of the creation of Petrobras and the state monopoly of oil exploration, led by General Newton Estillac Leal, was defeated by the ticket of the newly created "Democratic Crusade", led by General Alcides Etchegoyen, who defended the partnership with the North Americans and had their support. The election marked the progressive distancing of many military commanders from Vargas, a key factor in the 1954 crisis.

In the August crisis, the military ministers gave the president an ultimatum: either he resigned or he would be deposed. They would not even accept his simple temporary removal, while the investigation into Major Vaz's death lasted. On the night of August 23, Vargas gathered at the Catete Palace what remained of his support in his ministry and a few other supporters, including Oswaldo Aranha. The latter offered to side with Getúlio and resist the bullet, just the two of them, “like in the old days”. At dawn, Getúlio Vargas ordered everyone to leave, including Aranha, saying something like “go to sleep, Osvaldo, I've thought of everything”. He withstood the bullet, with a single shot, which stopped the coup in motion.

I think that, spurred on by the campaign against Getúlio Vargas in the press, the military and civilian supporters did not expect the popular reaction that followed. It was decisive in provoking the withdrawal of the coup.

Retreat? It depends. Upon assuming the presidency, Vice Café Filho removed the Getulist ministers and appointed another bunch of ministers linked to Carlos Lacerda's UDN. Thus Café Filho carried forward the plans and claims of those who engineered the overthrow of Vargas. But the new president made a mistake that proved fatal to his purposes. Thinking of calming down the barracks, he appointed as Minister of War (as the current Minister of the Army was then called) a general of great prestige in the military environment, not connected to the nationalist movements, who had even been sympathetic to the removal of Vargas, under the sign of a "pacification" of minds. It turns out that the new minister had always been a staunch legalist: General Henrique Batista Duffles Teixeira Lott.

Finally, I remember that Gregório Fortunato was murdered in 1962, in prison where he was serving a 25-year sentence for the death of Vaz. He had a notebook that disappeared, which raised the suspicion of file burning.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

To access the first article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contragolpes-na-tradicao-brasileira/

To access the second article in the series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/de-golpes-e-contragolpes-na-tradicao-brasileira-ii/

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