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Getulio Vargas and the New Brazil, World War II

Brazilian politics, Brazilian navy, urban workers, economic nationalism, caretaker government

During World War II (1939-1945) Brazil fought with the Allies. The Vargas regime, aided by the United States, embarked on a vast program of industrial expansion, emphasizing increased production of rubber and other vital war materials. Naval bases and airfields, constructed at strategic coastal points, became important centers of Allied antisubmarine warfare. The Brazilian navy eventually assumed all patrol activities in the South Atlantic Ocean. In 1944 and 1945 a Brazilian expeditionary force participated in the Allied campaign in Italy. Brazil was the only Latin American country to contribute troops to the war effort.

In the early 1940s, Brazilians were fighting a war against dictators in Europe while living under a dictatorship at home. More and more Brazilians began demanding a return to democratic elections, especially after Vargas postponed the elections he had scheduled for 1943. Vargas responded to these demands by promising presidential elections for 1945 in which he would be ineligible to run for the presidency. Vargas realized that he would eventually have to build a base of support among voters if he hoped to remain active in Brazilian politics. He began to shift his policy to the left in order to establish solid support among urban workers, poor rural laborers, and leftists. He moved toward economic nationalism, challenging the economic and business interests of Britain, the United States, and other foreign powers. He also created social legislation to protect workers. These new laws established pensions and social security benefits, and set a minimum wage and maximum work hours.

Many Brazilians feared Vargas might stage another coup before the elections, as he had done in 1937. To prevent this from happening, members of the army—many of whom were alarmed at his turn to the left—staged a coup of their own in October 1945 and forced Vargas to resign. Vargas quietly left for his ranch in southern Brazil, and the electoral campaign proceeded under a caretaker government.

Article key phrases:

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