ON OCTOBER 3, 1950, Getulio Vargas, former dictator of Brazil, was returned to the Presidency by a landslide vote of over 3,667,000 as against about 2,226,000 for Major General Eduardo Gomes and less than 1,666,000 for Cristiano Machado, his two nearest competitors. The election was an acid test of the functioning of representative government in the country which is our most important ally among the Latin republics of America.

A more confusing situation has seldom confronted an electorate. The voters of Brazil not only had to choose the president and vice-president of the republic, but the entire federal Chamber of Deputies, one-third of the Senate, the state governors and legislators, and even municipal mayors and aldermen. And although there were only three important candidates for the national presidency, at least ten parties were of sufficient consequence to warrant serious attention by the daily newspaper press.

While many Brazilians conceded the possibility of Vargas' election, his large majority over his two principal opponents came as a surprise. It has been accounted for in various ways: by difficult living conditions due to inflation which made the voters ready for a change; by Vargas' personal popularity; by the fact that the Social Democratic Party, supposed to be the official government party, had more Vargas men in it than those dedicated to Cristiano Machado; and that evidently many of the politicians who supported Dutra in 1945, naturally loath to surrender their political advantages, were ready to shift to Vargas or to any other combination that promised victory. A contributing factor was the way in which the Governor of São Paulo, Ademar de Barros, placed funds and organization behind the former dictator.

But the fact remains that this was a free election, pledged by the government of President Dutra, administered by impartial judicial tribunals, and supervised at the polls by the armed forces. Apparently about three-fourths of the registered voters turned out, and in general the voting was quiet and orderly. What little violence occurred stemmed from bitter local feuds. The fact that the government candidate, Machado, came out a poor third is sufficient evidence that the voting was free. In the Federal District, Machado polled only about 5 percent of the votes cast. The electorate in the interior of the country, formerly conservative and largely influenced by the landowners, the clergy and other local dignitaries, used the secret ballot to display an unexpected independence. Exposed as never before to the impact of the radio, the voters showed that they knew they could vote against the powers that be. Considering the complexities of the electoral campaign, it may be said that representative government stood the initial test well.


Brazil has long suffered from the handicap of lacking genuine national parties. It is true that during the Braganza empire before 1899, under a pseudo-parliamentary régime, there was a two-party system. But the Brazilian nation was then 80 percent illiterate and there was no firm basis of support for parliamentary institutions. This was abundantly illustrated after 1899, under the federal republic. The conservative monarchists withdrew from politics, and government remained in the hands of the republicans, who became really another oligarchy organized as a group of political machines in the principal states (the so-called Republican Party). These closely-knit state organizations, chiefly in São Paulo and Minas Gerais, dominated national politics until the revolution of 1930. Nomination of a "national" candidate for the presidency of the republic was generally a deal between São Paulo and Minas Gerais; the other states, unable to unite in any effective opposition, usually found it to their interest to acquiesce.

The 1930 revolution, and the beginning of the dictatorship of President Getulio Vargas, was in part a protest against this situation. But except for the short interval between July 1934 and November 1937, Brazil remained until near the close of 1945 a presidential dictatorship, without a congress and without parties. Although Vargas was accused of Fascist leanings, his régime was not based, as in Italy and Germany, upon the tyranny of a single, monolithic party. No political party was permitted, not even the Integralista or Brazilian Fascist Party. President Vargas ruled alone, by clever manipulation of checks and balances among the politicians and generals who collaborated with him. During these years, without national or state elections, a new generation was growing up, deprived of opportunity for gaining political experience. If Vargas destroyed the power of the oligarchy, he also permitted no room for the development of truly national parties to take its place. After the enforced retirement of President Vargas in October 1945, there were two principal candidates in the ensuing election, Brigadier General Eduardo Gomes and General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, Vargas' Minister of War, but their party organizations were improvised and had no roots in the past.

A somewhat similar situation existed in 1949-1950, before the national elections of last October. President Dutra during his five years' administration had done little to create a strong national political organization. Two principal parties, however, took shape, in part a survival of the presidential campaign of 1945: the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Demócrata, or P.S.D.) and the National Democratic Union (União Demócrata Nacional, or U.D.N.). A convention of the U.D.N. in May formally nominated Eduardo Gomes again for the presidency; a month later the P.S.D. put forward the candidacy of Cristiano Machado. Side by side with them was a host of smaller parties representing state political organizations or the personal ascendancy of some dynamic local leader. Most of these minor parties, or their political chieftains, engaged in the most involved trading manœuvres with major parties, seeking a place on their electoral slates as the price of local support. These intrigues had to do especially with the candidates for vice-president, a matter in which the major parties reached no decision until well into the month of August. But the uncertainties extended all the way down the line to candidates for state governorships, the federal Congress, and even municipal prefects and councillors. In a sense, local issues were really paramount.

Given the immature development of the party system, and the conflict of state and personal rivalries and ambitions, the possible combinations and permutations were infinite. The confusion may in part have reflected the absence of experience with the democratic process. However, more than this was responsible for the bewilderment of the voters. Many of the older políticos survived from the days before 1930, and their intrigues and jockeying for position represented merely a survival of the bad old days, and a confirmation of the fact that in Brazil, as in most other Latin American countries, personalism in politics still prevails over principle.

The confusion during the months preceding October 3 was accentuated by the requirement under the Constitution of 1946 that all elections, national and local, take place on the same day. The provision was designed to dispose of all the agitations and distractions attending elections in as short a space of time as possible. But in practice it raised political heat to a dangerously high temperature. It also had the effect of bringing virtually all legislative activity to a standstill, both in the federal Congress and in such state legislatures as were in session. The electoral business was more important than parliamentary debates. This year, apart from senators and deputies seeking reëlection, and candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency (most of whom were members of Congress), an unusual number of congressmen--ten deputies and and six senators--were seeking election to the governorship of their respective states. Consequently, during a large part of the year the two houses of Congress were without a quorum.[i] Even the electoral code, governing the attributes and functions of the national and regional judicial tribunals that control the electoral process, was not finally sanctioned by Congress until the middle of July, less than three months before the election day. Experience since the collapse of the dictatorship had demonstrated the need of new legislation to correct errors or contradictions or fill lacunae in the code issued by President Vargas. But the bill after passing the Senate was frozen in the Chamber of Deputies for more than a year, and not until the ordinary session of 1950 did Congress awake from its procrastination and show signs of responsibility. Six months at least should have been allowed to insure normal and orderly execution of the laws governing the registry of voters and of candidates and the regulation of political parties and their propaganda.


In the presidential campaign the candidates made large promises to the nation. Yet all the parties offered much the same program: industrialization, mechanizing of agriculture, expanded transportation facilities, free enterprise, fair treatment for foreign capital, the preservation of democratic government.

Eduardo Gomes, commonly referred to as the Brigadeiro, the candidate of the U.D.N., first came into public notice as a young army officer in July 1922 at the time of the revolt of the Copacabana fort against what was said to be the fraudulent election of Arturo Bernardes to the presidency. The revolt failed of outside support, but Gomes and 17 others, refusing to surrender, fought a whole regiment on the Copacabana beach until all 18 were dead or badly wounded. The Brigadeiro is today the sole living survivor. As a top-ranking aviation officer during World War II, he was in close touch with Brazilian air defenses, and as inspector general of airways he came into close contact with United States Army officers. He visited Germany after the war as the guest of General Lucius D. Clay, and came to the United States as a guest of the United States Air Force. In 1945 he was the presidential candidate of the liberal opposition forces, but was defeated by General Eurico Dutra, Vargas' former Minister of War. He has a high reputation for honesty, patriotism and hard work.

Cristiano Machado was chosen candidate of the P.S.D., the party of President Dutra, after long uncertainty and much political manœuvring. His reputation for honesty and political rectitude is as high as that of the Brigadeiro, but he has never been a prominent figure in national politics. When he was nominated in June 1950, many Brazilians asked themselves, "Who is Machado?" He is a native of Minas Gerais, and most of his public career has been confined to his own state, as Secretary of Education in the years 1937-1942, and more recently as a federal deputy.

The most disturbing element in the political scene appeared to be the candidacy of the former dictator, Getulio Vargas. It aggravated the prevailing mood of insecurity, and seemed a threat to the stability of a constitutional régime. The return of Vargas to the presidency implied at least a vindication of his former policies, and of the schemes for legalizing the dictatorship that caused his downfall. In the face of this apparent danger, it seemed difficult to understand the inaction of the liberal forces of the country, and still less the willingness of some political groups to play ball with the ex-dictator in return for his support of their own local interests.

The possibility that Vargas would not become a candidate, that he would ultimately withdraw in favor of Gomes or of Machado, was entertained by many observers. As far back as April Vargas had declared that he did not want the presidency, and that he would retire from the race "to avoid political friction," if the two major parties would unite in support of a single "national" candidate. Several attempts apparently were made, Dr. Oswaldo Aranha's name being prominently mentioned in this connection. But the efforts to achieve a coalition for one reason or another failed; and after the other parties in May and June had nominated their candidates, Vargas himself entered the ring. Meantime it appeared that the former President and Governor Ademar de Barros of São Paulo were working together; and this was confirmed when the Governor announced that his party, the Social Progressive Party (Partido Social Progresista, or P.S.P.) would support the Vargas ticket. The P.S.P. was the strongest and best organized political machine in Brazil, controlling one of the major political centers of the country. It contributed a formidable voting force, and made the inability of the so-called liberal groups to achieve a coalition appear all the more culpable. On the other hand, Vargas failed to attend the convention of his own Brazilian Labor Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro, or P.T.B.) which nominated him in June, and he delayed long-heralded public appearances in Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro until the early part of August--all of which, added together, produced a second crop of rumors in certain political quarters that he would retire from the contest.

There could be little doubt of the ex-President's desire to stage a comeback, a personal vindication after his unceremonious expulsion from the presidency in 1945. But he also possessed a large following among the working classes, especially in the cities, because of the labor legislation decreed during the early years of the dictatorship, for which he claims full personal credit. Vargas had also introduced the secret ballot and extended the vote to women, by executive decree. However, the only opportunity vouchsafed to Brazilians while he was in power to enjoy these reforms was in the elections of 1933 and 1934; and it is a question whether the dictator really approved of them, or was driven to accept them by pressure from the young liberals (the tenentes, so-called) who were his early political collaborators, and by the revolt of the state of São Paulo in 1932.

A question mark in the minds of many concerned the Communists, who in 1945 had cast over 550,000 votes. As the Party had been outlawed in 1947, it could not present a presidential candidate of its own. It could expect no concessions in return for support from the party of Eduardo Gomes with its strong Catholic following; and even less from the party of the Administration which had outlawed it. But it could accept Vargas, who in his stratagems in 1945 had freed its leader, Luiz Carlos Prestes, and angled for its support, especially as his election would be interpreted in some quarters as a setback for democracy.

What really happened in the case of the Communist vote is obscure. A fortnight before the election the Communist press was actually attacking Vargas. And in Rio de Janeiro the Communists, under the name of the Republican Labor Party, managed legally to set up several candidates of their own. But in some of the other states they tried to secure election to one office or another by insinuating themselves into the good graces, and the electoral slates, of the legal parties--evidence of the general lack of party discipline and organization, and of the willingness of local leaders to make deals with the Communists to secure their support. In most cases, the parties involved appealed to the electoral tribunals to strike such camouflaged individuals from their lists.


In the electoral campaign Vargas seized the occasion to criticize the shortcomings of the outgoing administration, an advantage not possessed by the other two parties, both of which had coöperated with the Dutra Government in devising a new constitution and keeping the third republic afloat. Some of the economic problems were an inheritance of the Vargas era. The charges of irregularities in the public services were not unfounded, however, although the irregularities were perhaps no greater than in the past; and Dutra bore down heavily upon them whenever they came to his attention.

President Dutra, 66 years of age and by profession a military man, is not a dramatic figure, and his administration has not been a spectacular one. Qualities of loyalty, honesty and patriotism had carried him steadily from the lowest officer ranks to the Ministry of War under Vargas. And the Army's confidence in him helped to persuade the generals to oust Vargas by a coup d'état when the latter gave every evidence of double-crossing Dutra, his announced candidate, and conspiring to continue the dictatorship by suspending or rigging the approaching election. There is no love lost, therefore, between President Dutra and President-elect Getulio Vargas.

Dutra's patriotism and loyalty to the Constitution have been reflected in his refusal to assent to the extension of his term to September 18, 1951, the anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution of 1946. This was proposed on the ground that when he took office the constitution under which he has governed was not yet in existence, and that hence his term should be reckoned as beginning on the day it became effective. Dutra, however, divorced himself publicly from any such subterfuge, and has insisted that he will vacate office on January 31, 1951. His administration, in fact, has received less credit than it deserves for its accomplishments in the areas of social assistance, primary education and communications. It is conceivable that in years to come his presidency will be looked upon as the time when the third republic was firmly consolidated by his quiet but wise and steadfast direction of affairs.


The October elections, of course, marked the beginning not the end of a crucial period for representative institutions in Brazil. In former times Vargas always disparaged Congress as a drag on national progress. In the recent campaign he insisted that he is loyal to parliamentary processes, but it remains to be seen how genuine this recent conversion is. The attempt of the Perón régime in Argentina to associate itself with the Vargas interests has been a cause of some misgivings. In the middle of August the Peronista press in Buenos Aires suddenly launched a bitter attack upon the administration of President Dutra. At the same time in Brazil it was charged that Vargas was receiving funds from Argentine sources. Baptista Luzardo, Vargas' Ambassador to Argentina in 1945 and known to have represented Peronista interests in Brazil ever since, labored on Vargas' behalf. In fact, in the middle of October, on Luzardo's ranch in Rio Grande do Sul, the Vice President of Argentina paid a visit to Vargas, at the same time, it seems, that the President-elect received a visit from a general of the Brazilian Army. In Buenos Aires the government propaganda organs declared roundly that the victory of Vargas was a Peronista victory.

This association with Perón would seem to argue some maladroitness on the part of Vargas, who is generally credited with unusual political astuteness, and of stupidity on the part of Perón. Doubtless the latter acted under the impression that Vargas will revive the Estado Novo as another edition of Perón's social and economic policies, and probably as another center of resistance to the influence of the United States. It looked much like a transparent attempt at intervention in the domestic concerns of another American nation, such as that for which the Argentines have so vociferously denounced the United States in times past. It could only cause resentment in Brazil, and suspicion of the designs of the President-elect.

As someone has said, in discussions about the homo politicus, "all suppositions are possible and all conclusions probable;" and Vargas himself is well known to be an inveterate opportunist. Yet the best observers in Brazil do not seem to be greatly worried by the possibility of another dictatorship. Nor do they believe that the new Government will deviate from the policy of Brazilian-American friendship and coöperation pursued by President Dutra. As has often been remarked, the Brazil of today is not the Brazil of 1930 or of 1945. The political climate is a different one, "after five years of free speech, thousands of candidates, and twenty-five million dollars spent on an election." Whatever the reasons for Vargas' comeback, they do not seem to spell a popular desire for a return to neo-Fascism. An attempt to dispense with Congress would entail the opposition of the vast majority of the nation. And even if the military leaders are today somewhat more divided in their political affiliations than in 1945--when in the coup d'état of that year they represented the nation at large, turning the government over immediately into civilian hands--it is doubtful if in 1951 or later they would act counter to the national will. Without army support an aspiring dictator would be helpless.

Vargas has claimed a victory for his partisans also in the congressional elections, but here the results are more doubtful. The new President will probably be forced to govern by coalition among the numerous parties, both in Congress and in the political administration. He announces that he will give his new régime a labor orientation, after the pattern of England and the Scandinavian countries. It is to be hoped that he will live up to his promise to make it a "government of evolution, not revolution."

[i] When Congress met after the election, on October 10, 1950, after a "recess" of almost two months, it was reported to have voted in less than an hour 29 projects out of about 100 pending, including the national budget.

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  • C. H. HARING, Professor of Latin American History and Economics in Harvard University; frequent lecturer at various universities in South America; author of "South American Progress," "The Spanish Empire in America" and other works.
  • More By Clarence H. Haring