Any three-volume biography of Getúlio Vargas deserves attention. Unhappily Affonso Henriques, sometime Brazilian journalist and amateur historian, has written 1483 exasperating pages. Fact, fiction, and fantasy are his sources, and they are treated with the same lack of criticism. Apparently the only criterion for selection of data was that it be uncomplimentary to Getúlio Vargas. Logic, evaluation of sources, and consistency play no role in Henriques’ approach to history. He has written a diatribe against his hated oppressor.
Henriques was the treasurer of the Aliança Nacional Libertadora, which staged an abortive revolt in 1935 under the leadership of Luís Carlos Prestes. Henriques went to jail and later exiled himself in the United States. In 1961 he published Vargas: O maquiavélico which covered the first seven years of the Vargas era. Ascensão e queda incorporates this work as Volume I. The second volume, Vargas e o Estado Nôvo, covers 1937 to 1950, while the final book, Vargas: Declínio e morte, carries the story to the 1954 suicide and beyond to a discussion of Brazil’s ills.
Unfortunately, the author constantly interrupts the time sequence to interject comments about recent activities and statements of various figures. For example, while discussing the 1935 revolt he tells us that when Plínio Salgado reentered politics in the early fifties, former Integralista leaders accused him of betraying the movement in 1938. Apparently Henriques’ material overwhelmed him, and he was unable to avoid introducing extraneous information.
Fantasy is accepted when other sources fail. He concludes his discussion of the 1935 revolt with the assertion that Vargas was behind the whole affair. Getúlio needed national unrest to justify creation of a dictatorship, so he infiltrated the ANL and caused it to revolt. While treasurer of the ANL, Henriques was not aware of the president’s role, but he reached this conclusion “after many years of mediation, research, and study” (I, 332). No one familiar with the internal workings of the Estado Nôvo will accept such a statement. If Vargas could not completely dominate Brazil while dictator, how could he perform the feats which Henriques attributed to him when he was a mere president?
While it is obvious that Henriques has collected a great deal of information, it is equally apparent that he made little effort to determine its validity. Newspaper accounts of congressional speeches given by Vargas’ enemies in 1947-1950 are quoted to describe scandals of the Estado Nôvo. In O Estado Nôvo (II, 288-293) he recounts Vargas’ secret talks with the German ambassador, Curt Max Prüfer, during the crucial summer of 1940. His only sources are German telegrams in Documents on German Foreign Policy (Series D, IX and X), which when taken alone appear to convict Vargas of willingness to betray Brazil to Hitler. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1940 (Vol. V) would have shown him that Vargas was also negotiating with Washington for such items as arms, a steel mill, and trade concessions.
While attempting to balance conflicting forces in his own government, Vargas was seeking to safeguard Brazilian independence by mollifying the contending great powers. He took advantage of the world situation to obtain aid from both sides in a fashion that would become commonplace in Cold War diplomacy. He kept both the Allies and the Axis off balance to insure the utmost benefit to Brazil.
Henriques would do well to study Vargas’ speeches more carefully. His quotation from the famous speech of June 11, 1940, which he uses to show Vargas’ Axis sympathies, does not include Getúlio’s concluding lines: “Happily in Brazil we have established a regime which is adequate for our needs without imitating or affiliating ourselves with any of the current doctrines and existing ideologies” (Getúlio Vargas, A nova política do Brasil [Rio de Janeiro, 1940], VII, 334).
Perhaps two other quotations would have helped the author to understand Getúlio’s attitude. On March 10, 1940, at Blumenau, the heart of Santa Catarina’s German colony, he warned: “Brazil is neither English nor German. It is a sovereign country that demands respect for its laws and defends its interests. Brazil is Brazilian”(ibid., 198). And later in Minas Gerais (May 13, 1940) he urged that “like cautious Ulysses, we should keep our eyes and ears turned away from the enchantments and lure of the sirens which roam our seas, in order that our thoughts may be free to concentrate . . . on Brazilian interests . . .” (ibid., 320).
Henriques has not had access to the private or public files of Vargas, members of his government, or its various agencies. He appears to be unfamiliar with the work of Brazilian and American historians and social scientists.
Ascensão e queda provides little else than the extreme opposition’s view of Getúlio Vargas. One small cause for appreciation: each volume has a detailed table of contents, and the third volume has an index of names.