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Brazil from 1945 to the Overthrow of Goulart in 1964

Getulio Vargas, who had been president of Brazil since 1930, was deposed in a bloodless coup in October 1945 by the military which had previously supported him. He did not give up politics and was elected to Brazil's senate in 1946. The new president, General Gaspar Dutra, tried to control inflation. President Dutra advanced highway construction, and he advanced hydroelectric power. He denied foreign oil companies permission to develop Brazil's oil resources, and he outlawed Brazil's Communist Party.

Vargas returned to the presidency in 1951. He had plans for industrializing Brazil and spent a lot of money on government projects. Inflation increased along with the prices for food. On the international market, Brazil was asking too much for its coffee, which almost ended purchases in the United States.

Vargas increased dislike for himself among conservatives by granting a minimum wage for unskilled workers. In August 1954, an Air Force officer was killed in an attempted assassination of a newspaper editor hostile to Vargas. This was followed by military officers asking Vargas to resign, and, hours later, Vargas, at the age of seventy-one, committed suicide.

An election for the presidency was held in October 1955, and the man who took office in January 1956 was a former province governor, Juscelino Kubitschek. Kubitschek, like Vargas, pushed for industrialization, and he supported programs meant to benefit common people. In 1958 he joined other Latin Americans in another appeal to the US for something like a Marshall Plan for Latin America – appeals received with some sympathy by the Eisenhower administration.

Kubitschek expropriated some property owned by US citizens, but apparently done without much offense to the US. He presented himself as a strong ally of the United States. He had an ambitious five-year economic development plan, and he acquired loans from the US Export-Import Bank for the development of a new capital in the interior, to be called Brasilia. Kubitschek launched public works programs and borrowed money to construct buildings, highways and hydroelectric projects. World coffee prices were falling in the mid to late fifties, and Kubitschek's deficit spending was creating an inflationary spiral, with the national debt reaching almost $4 billion. But under Kubitschek's presidency, industrial production doubled.

On Apr. 21, 1960, Brasilia became the nation's official capita. The move was a sign of commitment to more development of Brazil's interior. Kubitschek was not allowed to succeed himself. He was to be thought of as the father of modern Brazil. He was succeeded by Jânio Quadros, was elected president by the greatest popular margin in Brazil's history.

Quadros believed that if the United States could trade with the Soviet Union, so could Brazil. He began negotiations with Communist bloc nations. This displeased the United States. Wealthy Brazilian businessmen were unhappy with Quadros' tax plan. Profits from newly created industries or from industries of special benefit to the public were to be taxed at 10 percent. Other companies would be taxed at 30 percent or taxed 50 percent on profits from money invested abroad. Quadros angered conservatives also by greeting Cuba's Minister of Industry, Che Guevara, and giving him a medal while Guevara was passing through Brazil on his way home to Cuba.

After only eight months as president, the military forced Quadros from office. Later, Quadros was to blame various foreigners for their participation in opposition against his presidency, including the US ambassador to Brazil, John Moors Cabot and the US Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon.

Following Quadros as president was Brazil's vice-president, João Goulart – a millionaire landowner. Goulart advocated mild land reform and mild restrictions on the amount of profit that could be taken out of the country. He extended the vote to illiterates, and he extended to Brazil's communists the right to participate in the political life of their nation.

President Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, Robert MacNamara, complained of Brazil's neutrality in the Cold War. American officials complained about some members in Goulart's cabinet, and Attorney-General Robert Kennedy met with Goulart and spoke of his uneasiness about Goulart allowing Communists to hold positions in government agencies. The United States was pursuing what it called the Alliance for Progress, which was supposed to support reform as well as economic advance, but the US was holding back on loans to Brazil.

Wealthy Brazilian landowners and industrialists were also unhappy with Goulart, and in 1964, with some sympathy from President Lyndon Johnson, Brazil's military overthrew Goulart. Goulart fled to Uruguay. Then the US gave to the new military regime in Brazil all the aid that it had denied to Goulart's government.

The new regime in Brazil curbed civil liberties and suppressed opposition. Former President Kubitschek was denied political rights. The military regime adopted more moderate versions of some of the moderate reforms sought by Goulart. It fought inflation with wage controls and improved tax collecting and other measures. And the new regime laid the ground for future elections for the country's president and vice president. They were to be elected not by by popular vote but by Congress.

Brazil, meanwhile, had more than doubled its population since 1930, which reached 70 million in 1960. Since 1940 it had doubled its number of industrial workers, to more than 25 percent of its population. Its urban areas were growing, but not without slums. Inflation continued unabated, fed in part by the need for imports for factories, imports for transportation and the need to pay off foreign loans.

But Brazil was growing most of its own food – beans, cassava and maize – and was advancing agriculturally. Brazil was the world's fifth largest producer of cotton – its second largest export, after coffee. It was also exporting cacao beans – from which chocolate is made. And its cattle industry was thriving. Brazil was Latin America's largest nation. It still had a frontier, and it was becoming an economic power.


Latin America: the Development of its Civilization, Third Edition, Chapter 20, by Helen Miller Bailey and Abraham P Nasatir, 1973

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