On coups and countercoups in the Brazilian tradition – II

Image: Suzy Hazelwood
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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

From 1930 to 1945, when Vargas took office, already under the threat of a new coup d'état

During the First Republic or Old Republic, the social question was a matter for the police, we know that. Raising the number of seditions, uprisings, revolts, electoral fraud, political banditry, etc., would not fit on this page.

I will recall only one familiar story, as an illustration of what I am saying. The first time my father went to vote, he went to the polling place, which was located in an old people's home near where he lived. After the entrance portal, there was a staircase. At the top, on the last step, stood a fully dressed gauchão, with a big mustache, a wide-brimmed hat and an enormous poncho that came down below his knee. Beside him, an open book. My father went up, addressed him and said he had come to vote. With great cordiality and a dirty fingernail, the emponchado pointed to a line in the ledger and said: “well, you sign here”. Once the book was signed, my father asked the big mustache: “And now, where do I vote?” “Thank you very much,” came the reply, “you have already voted; can go". Without further ado, my dad turned and walked down the stairs. Who knows what the guy had under his poncho.

Well, this happened in 1933, already after the Revolution of 30 and the promulgation of the Electoral Code by the Vargas government, in 1932. The practice of secret voting had just been adopted. So much so that my father never knew who he had voted for. The legacy of the times of the Old or First Republic was still valid. Things, it seems, only really started to improve after 1934. It was when my mother got her first voter registration, a relic that I still have.

Speaking of the 30 Revolution, it began with a highly popular armed uprising and ended – perhaps unsurprisingly – in a military coup. The uprising began on October 3, 1930, in several states across the country. The main theater of operations was Porto Alegre, where, at 17:30 pm, the rebels attacked the Army Headquarters on Rua dos Andradas, better known to this day as Rua da Praia, taking it afterwards. During the night other garrisons were attacked and taken; the following morning the rebels dominated the city. My mother told me that she, her six brothers and their parents, who lived close to one of the barracks, slept under the beds that night, such was the sound of gunfire.

In the days that followed, the movement was successful in the North (now Northeast) of the country and in Minas Gerais, receiving the support of federal or state military forces in other states, and also, in general, the civilian population.

A military column, under the command of General Góis Monteiro, left Porto Alegre towards Rio de Janeiro, soon taking control of the governments of Santa Catarina and Paraná. Threatened by the possibility of seeing the Armed Forces in tatters and defeated, military leaders in Rio de Janeiro took command of the city and deposed President Washington Luís on October 24, 24 days before the end of his term. They formed a Military Board that called itself the “Pacifier”: there were two generals – the Maranhão Augusto Tasso Fragoso, who was Chief of Staff of the Army, the Gaucho João de Deus Menna Barreto, who had been elected president of the Military Club in 1926 – and the Admiral from Rio de Janeiro José Isaías de Noronha.

The Military Junta handed over power to Getúlio Vargas on November 3.

After being arrested at Fort Copacabana, Washington Luís went into exile, first in the United States and then in Europe, from where he only returned to Brazil in 1947. My family history says that whoever piloted the plane that took him to the United States he was my father's political uncle, married to a sister of my paternal grandmother. Accompanying the former president in the United States, he became enchanted with the country and American cinema, to the point that, returning to Brazil and getting married, he named his only son Warner, in honor of Warner Bros. . I didn't confirm if he was in fact the pilot of the plane, but that he accompanied Washington Luís, accompanied him; the proof was “cousin Warner”, whom I met the first time I was in São Paulo, in 1965, returning from a scholarship in the United States.

Well, returning to the thread of our meada or labyrinth, the democratic promises of 1930 began to fade with the repression of the communist uprising of 1935 and disappeared once and for all in November 1937, when Vargas and the military commanders closed Congress in a new coup , establishing the Estado Novo, which lasted until October 1945. Vargas granted the country a new Constitution, known as “Polaca”. The Magna Carta had three votes in favor: Francisco Campos, Minister of Justice, who drafted it; Vargas and Eurico Gaspar Dutra, who was the Minister of War, as the head of the Army was called at the time: 3 x 0, a rout.

One of the reasons for the coup was a forged document, the Cohen plan, which detailed an alleged new attempt by the communists to seize power. Generals Góis Monteiro and Eurico Gaspar Dutra participated in the fraud. Góis attributed authorship of the document, detailing alleged activities sponsored by the Communist International (Comintern), such as strikes and street unrest, to Captain Olímpio Mourão Filho, secretary of the information service of the Brazilian Integralist Action at the time. The name “Cohen” is due to a typographical error. The first authorship of the fraudulent document was attributed to the Hungarian communist Bela Kun, who some Brazilian anti-communists called “Cohen”. Probably the typist on the plan was one of them. Kun was of Jewish descent: the "Cohen Plan" fraud combined with anti-Communism and prevailing anti-Semitism.

There was some resistance shortly after the coup, which was quickly quelled. The greatest resistance would come from the extreme right, through the two uprisings of the Ação Integralista Brasileira, in March and May 1938. Both failed due to the low participation of the military. In the most serious one, in May, there was even an armed struggle around the Guanabara Palace, where Getúlio and his family were. There were deaths on both sides of the confrontation, with reports that some of the integralist leaders were shot after being arrested.

Its top leader, Plínio Salgado, who had supported the November 1937 coup, ended up imprisoned and exiled to Portugal, from where he only returned after the fall of Vargas. The failure of the attempts is due to the lack of adherence by the Army forces, which the Integralists counted on. The AIB had come to oppose the government because it had banned all political parties and movements.

Getúlio Vargas only fell in 1945 through a new coup d'état, also controversial today. Civil opposition to the Estado Novo, liberal and left combined, had grown a lot; but to depose Vargas it was necessary for the tanks to parade through the streets of Rio de Janeiro again. I say that the coup was “controversial” because, if on the one hand, it is hailed as “restoring democracy”, on the other, there is a clear mark that Vargas was overthrown more by the right than by any shadow of the left or libertarian. His “labor movements”, which resulted in the 1943 CLT, displeased the business community, the liberals and also the left, who felt that Vargas “usurped the masses” from them.

The fact is that, deposed, Vargas retired to his ranch in São Borja, from where, in a way, he continued to command national politics, helping, for example, to defeat Brigadier Eduardo Gomes in the presidential election, for the support given to General Eurico Gaspar Dutra – one of those who deposed him in 45…

The 45 campaign, carried out in a hurry, was one of the most curious and tacky in history. One of the slogans of Eduardo Gomes' campaign was: “vote for Brigadeiro, who is handsome and single”. To finance his campaign, marriageable young women manufactured the famous chocolate candy that took on his campaign name – “brigadeiro” – throughout the country, except in Rio Grande do Sul, where it is still known as “negrinho”. He was the favorite and had the support of the conservative press.

However, at the end of the campaign, convinced by São Paulo businessman Hugo Borghi, who had led a movement for Getúlio to remain in power (the “Queremismo”, from the motto “We want Getúlio”), Getúlio Vargas gave his public support to General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, who he had led, with General Góis Monteiro, the coup that had overthrown him... The winds turned and Eurico Dutra won the election by a difference of more than a million votes, which at the time was enormous. Urban workers massively voted for him.

And Vargas would return to power in the 1950 election, this time as a popular leader of the new working class he now led. He once again defeated Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, this time directly.

Vargas took office, already under the threat of a new coup d'état, embodied in the famous phrase of Carlos Lacerda: “Mr. Getúlio should not run for president; if he is a candidate he should not be elected; if he is elected, he must not take office; if he takes office he cannot govern”. The UDN and its leader declared an all-out war against Vargas.

* 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/

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