President Getúlio Vargas’s suicide on August 24, 1954, has long been recognized as the pivotal moment of Brazil’s Populist Republic—the tumultuous two decades between the fall of the Estado Novo dictatorship in 1945 and the military coup in 1964. His suicide—clearly as much grand political gesture as personal tragedy—passed almost immediately from current event to popular myth, interpreted in various ways according to fundamentally opposed visions of Brazil and its future. Vargas’s supporters saw the suicide as the martyrdom of a prince, and they saw the famous cartatestamento—Vargas’s disputed suicide note, typed several days in advance of the act—as a call to arms, urging the vigorous defense of Vargas’s legacy. Opponents, on the other hand, saw this as the last, cowardly act of a despicable traitor, a curse guaranteed to further muddy the waters of Brazilian politics for decades to come. The suicide and its fallout have generated extensive...

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