- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0068
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0068
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (b. 1882–d. 1954) was perhaps the single most dominant figure in 20th-century Brazilian politics. Vargas was a product of the machine politics of the Republican Party of his home state, Rio Grande do Sul, where he served as governor from 1928 to 1930. He had previously served in the state legislature and federal chamber of deputies. He also served as the federal minister of finance, 1926–1928, during the presidency of Washington Luís (1926–1930), who had been the governor of São Paulo before becoming president. Vargas ran for the presidency of Brazil in 1930 against Washington Luís’s political protégé, the governor of the state of São Paulo, Júlio Prestes. Although Prestes won the vote, leaders from other states were dissatisfied with the domination of São Paulo in national politics and backed Vargas in the Revolution of 1930. Vargas gained power on 24 October 1930 and served as the provisional president of Brazil. He promised to hold national elections and proceeded to rule while Brazil wrote a new constitution in 1934 that granted women the right to vote, provided for a national minimum wage, and guaranteed certain protections for working people, as well as other social and political changes. Vargas created a new Ministry of Labor, Industry, and Commerce to regulate industrial relations and promote industrial development. Rather than hold elections, however, Vargas declared himself the nation’s dictator and established the New State (Estado Novo) regime on 10 November 1937. The Estado Novo had certain fascist features. Vargas developed a close alliance with the United States at this time and even committed troops to fight under Allied command in Europe. Although the military had long supported him, the most-senior generals in the army removed Vargas from power on 29 October 1945, in a bloodless coup. In the congressional elections of 1946, Vargas was elected a senator from both the state of Rio de Janeiro and from Rio Grande do Sul. He served from his home state and again ran for president in 1950. He easily won but faced a number of intractable challenges and committed suicide in his bedroom in the presidential palace on 24 August 1954. Vargas’s political heirs dominated politics until the 1964 military coup.
Given his central place in 20th-century Brazilian history, it is surprising that there are not more biographies of Vargas. Dulles 1967 is an encyclopedic work that provides a great deal of detail, but little advanced analysis. Mathias and Cony 1983 is more hagiography than academic biography, but it provides a great deal of important detail for understanding Vargas’s appeal. Peixoto 1960 is a memoir by a daughter and so is highly biased, but it is well drawn and conscious of its own limits. Bourne 1974, Fausto 2006, and Silva and Carneiro 1983 provide more political, economic, and social context and are first-rate political biographies. Araújo 1985 and Jorge 1994 focus as much on the personal as the political and complement the standard texts well. There is a perceptible shift in evaluations of Vargas from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Throughout the 1964–1985 military dictatorship, Vargas was read as an authoritarian, but during the post-1985 era of democratic rule, Vargas has been reconsidered as a leader whose policies reflected contemporary politics, rather than shaping those politics. Silva 2004, although fictionalized, reflects that move.
Araújo, Rubens Vidal. Os Vargas. Porto Alegre, Brazil: Editora Globo, 1985.
This journalistic account of the Vargas years is based on interviews with family and friends and rounds out the more-academic studies of the man and his era.
Bourne, Richard. Getulio Vargas of Brazil, 1883–1954: Sphinx of the Pampas. London: C. Knight, 1974.
A classic political biography that pays close attention to the shifting political, economic, and social contexts of the various periods of Vargas’s life.
Dulles, John W. F. Vargas of Brazil: A Political Biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.
A closely researched narrative account of Vargas’s life and politics. Although it does not include a strong argument, it remains a valuable resource on the man and his era.
Fausto, Boris. Getúlio Vargas. Perfis Brasileiros. São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 2006.
An extended essay that flirts with psychohistory to understand the charisma of Vargas and to place him in the context of his times. The book sees Vargas’s policies not only as a reflection of the man, but also as his responses to the needs of various periods in Brazilian history.
Jorge, Fernando. Getúlio Vargas e o seu tempo: Um retrato com luz e sombra. 2 vols. Coleção Coroa Vermelha. São Paulo, Brazil: T. A. Queiroz, 1994.
An extremely detailed biography of Vargas’s life, with an emphasis on the personal. It is particularly strong on his youth.
Mathias, Herculano Gomes, and Carlos Heitor Cony. Getúlio Vargas: Os grandes personagens e a história. Grandes Personagens e a História. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Grupo Coquetel, 1983.
A classic hagiography that helps readers understand Vargas’s appeal.
Peixoto, Alzira Vargas do Amaral. Getúlio Vargas, meu pai. Coleção Catavento 25. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editóra Globo, 1960.
Written by Vargas’s daughter, this account concentrates on the period from the 1920s to the establishment of the Estado Novo in 1937. It is highly sympathetic to Vargas, but valuable nonetheless.
Silva, Hélio, and Maria Cecília Ribas Carneiro. Getúlio Vargas, 15o. presidente do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Grupo de Comunicação Três, 1983.
A textbook account of the Vargas years that is worthwhile for its presentation of the standard view of Vargas as a strong, centralizing figure.
Silva, Juremir Machado da. Getúlio: Romance. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Record, 2004.
A semifictional account filled with many factual anecdotes, this work is one of the fullest traditional biographies of Vargas available.
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