After the suicide of President Vargas on August 24, 1954, two different farewell documents were found.

One of these was a handwritten note which began: “I leave to the wrath of my enemies the legacy of my death.” This had been hanging around for some time. It seems that an aide to Getulio Vargas had shown this to the President’s daughter, Alzira Vargas do Amaral Peixoto, on August 17, and she had discussed it with her father on the 18th.1

This handwritten note, seen again by Alzira some time after the suicide, was a longer message than the two simple sentences which have sometimes been reported. After the well-known first sentence it went on to say (in part): “I carry with me the sorrow of not having been able to do for this good and generous Brazilian people and principally for the most needy, all the good that I desired. Falsehood, slander, the most shameful fabrications were created by the spite of rancorous and gratuitous enemies, in a publicity.…”2

The longer typewritten document is known as the carta-testamento. There is strong evidence to show that it, too, must be regarded as authentic. Four copies are reported to have been found, three of them signed.

Alzira Vargas do Amaral Peixoto wrote, in the October 5, 1963, issue of Fatos & Fotos a chapter of the life of her father which is called A verdade sobre a Carta-testamento. In this she stated:

I put everything I found in the safe into a briefcase and took it home. Two copies of the Carta-Testamento had already been found. One, in the possession of João Goulart, to whom Vargas had handed it personally without explaining what it was about. Jango thought at first that it might be instructions for a journey he was going to make that morning to Rio Grande do Sul and, as he had to wake up early, he decided to read the paper during the trip. The second copy, signed a little before the ministerial meeting and which my husband had supposed to be a declaration which was to be made during the meeting, was on the bedside table on Vargas’ left, in full view. This is what he [Vargas] had put away in the safe when he warned us not to fail to open it—and this is what he had looked for hurriedly in the morning, afraid that we would not find it.

It was only a week after our return from São Borja that I had the courage to open the briefcase containing papers. Among them there were three letters: a third copy of the so-called Carta-Testamento, unsigned. Another, signed, with the same text as the first, but full of typing mistakes. The third, written in a nervous handwriting—the exact continuation of the words found by the aide: ‘I leave to the wrath of my enemies the legacy of my death.’ This last does not correspond with the one which was published.3

Regarding the longer (typewritten) letter, Alzira further stated in the above-mentioned article: “That he authenticated it with his signature is beyond doubt.” Her account is accompanied by a photograph of one copy bearing Vargas’ signature at the end of the second (last) sheet.

Some background about the typewritten carta-testamento can be found in F. Zenha Machado’s Os últimos dias do govêrno de Vargas, a detailed story based on the testimony of numerous participants. From this we learn that on August 22 Vargas told Marshal Mascarenhas de Morais: “I shall issue a manifesto and die struggling.”4 We also learn that Vargas spoke to Lourival Fontes, head of his Casa Civil, saying: “Let us think of some sort of a Manifesto to the Nation. It should be strong, but at the same time it should be generous.”5 This statement appears to have been made, like the statement to Mascarenhas, about four or five days after Alzira had discussed with her father the handwritten note. On another occasion Vargas is described as bent over the papers on his desk and exchanging words with his brother, Benjamim. Getúlio, we read, remarked: “If you were a politician I would give you this paper. As you are not a politician I shall give it to Jango or Maneco.” When Benjamim asked what the document was, Getúlio said: “A political document.”6

From Zenha Machado we learn that before the last cabinet meeting, held before dawn on the 24th, Getúlio signed one copy of the typewritten carta-testamento, giving it to Goulart and giving the pen (with which he had signed) to Justice Minister Tancredo Neves. Then when Alzira and her husband arrived for the meeting, Gétúlio pulled two copies from his briefcase, looked over the typewritten words (in front of Amaral Peixoto) to check them, and signed one of those two copies. He put them in his coat pocket and went ahead with the last cabinet meeting.7

Alzira tells us that after the meeting Vargas called to her and Benjamim’s attention the key to his safe: “If anything happens to me, in the safe you will find some securities and important papers. One of you should take them out. The securities are for Darcí8 and the papers are Alzira’s. Now I am going to sleep.”9

After the suicide Ernani do Amaral Peixoto stated that he saw on the bedside table “leaning against the lamp, in a very visible position the document which the President had signed in my presence. I opened it to see what it contained, for I guessed that it must be a farewell message.”10 It was one of the signed copies of the typewritten carta-testamento and it was promptly read on the radio.

One can make a good case for the carta-testamento not being originally conceived as a suicide note. A possibility that Getúlio could well have had in mind was a document to be read after he had been killed, struggling to stay in the presidency as per the constitution. Sandbags were being placed around Catete Palace, and people there given arms. But perhaps it was not so easy to be killed dramatically fighting. The military probably had no intention of putting a fatal bullet through Getúlio. Maybe, as Oswaldo Aranha maintained, by suicide Vargas saved the lives of close ones who would have fought at his side.

There are good reasons for regarding Alzira’s expressions about the carta-testamento as the honest reconstruction of an authority. For the readers of all the testimony recorded by F. Zenha Machado, there is nothing very surprising about Alzira’s revelations of October, 1963, regarding the carta-testamento. The signed copy which Alzira says was found in the safe “full of typing mistakes” is described by F. Zenha Machado as “the original draft with pencil notations.”

1

F. Zenha Machado, Os últimos dias do govêrno de Vargas (Rio de Janeiro, 1955), pp. 55-57. These three pages are based in part on Alzira Vargas do Amaral Peixoto’s interview published in última Hora, August 30, 1954.

2

A vida de Getulio by Alzira Vargas do Amaral Peixoto, narrated to Raul Giudicelli; 13th (final) chapter, in Fatos & Fotos, Oct. 5, 1963. See photograph of first sheet of the handwritten note.

3

Ibid. See text on first page of article.

4

Zenha Machado, Os últimos dias …, p. 81.

5

Ibid., p. 94. Some of the material on this page is based on Lourival Fontes’ interview in O Cruzeiro of Sept. 11, 1954.

6

Ibid., p. 85.

7

Ibid., pp. 99-101. The description of these incidents is based on testimony of Tancredo Neves and Ernani do Amaral Peixoto.

8

Wife of Getúlio Vargas.

9

A vida de Getúlio; 12th chapter, in Fatos & Fotos, Sept. 28, 1963.

10

Ernani do Amaral Peixoto quoted in Zenha Machado, Os últimos dias …, p. 129.

Author notes

*

The author is Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas.