J. Carlos' cartoon from the beginning of 1937 is accurate. In it, Getúlio Vargas spreads banana peels around the Palácio do Catete, the seat of government. In real life, he was already setting traps to keep potential candidates for his succession away from Catete. In power since 1930 and prevented from running in the 1938 elections, Getúlio planned to perpetuate himself as the “head of the Nation”.
The coup took place 80 years ago, on November 10, 1937. On that Wednesday, the Congress was occupied by the police. After a ceremony without pomp or circumstance, the Constitution that had been prepared in secrecy for months by Minister Francisco Campos came into force. Inspired by the Polish semi-fascist model, it became known as “Polish”.
At night, Getúlio made a Manifesto to the Nation: he announced on national radio that Brazil was living under a new political order, the Estado Novo. He would continue in the position of undisputed head of the country, at the head of a far-right nationalist regime, inspired by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany; in the fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini; in Francisco Franco's Francoist Spain; and in the Salazarist Portugal of António Salazar.
He later quoted the Manifesto to the Nation in his diary, almost as if it were a routine act: “After greetings from the audience and speaking a little, I withdrew with my family and the Civil and Military Houses, going to dinner at the embassy Argentina. Ambassador Cárcano was on his way to Buenos Aires, and he had promised him this intimate dinner”.
In fact, the coup was preceded by articulations that disrupted the national scene. The main one involved the dissemination by the General Staff of the Army of a document called the Cohen Plan, with “instructions from the Communist International (Komintern) for the action of its agents in Brazil”. It was the ghost of communism on the horizon.
With its pronounced anti-Semitic tinge, the Cohen Plan was nothing more than a fiction. It had been written by Army Captain Olímpio Mourão Filho, the one who later, as a general, would start the civil-military coup of 1964. Even though it was false, the plan worked to scare the population and point out Getúlio as the way to take Brazil out of the Communist claws.
In popular memory, there was a recent trauma. After all, two years before, agents of the Communist International associated with the Brazilian Luiz Carlos Prestes, tried to seize power. When the Estado Novo was enacted, Prestes and his wife, activist Olga Benário, were in prison. Afterwards, Olga was deported pregnant to Nazi Germany.
For Olga, deportation was a death sentence. German of Jewish origin, communist, she ended up dead in the Nazi extermination camp of Bernburg. For Brazil, the Estado Novo represented an eight-year period marked by intense centralization of power and cruel political repression. At the same time, advances were made, especially in industrialization and in the granting of broad labor rights.