Well-focused look at the authoritarian rule of charismatic Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954).
Unlike fellow British scholar Michael Reid in his recent broad overview (Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power, 2014), Lochery (Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies/Univ. Coll. London; Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45, 2011, etc.) keeps the spotlight on the buildup to World War II, when Brazil, then a resources-rich provincial backwater, was eyed as a valuable asset by both the Axis and the Allies. Assuming power in 1930 and then ruling as a dictator from 1937 to 1945, Vargas was determined to make Brazil a stronger, more modern power politically, economically and militarily. Argentina was already pro-Nazi, and Brazil’s trade with Germany was vigorous. The United States grew increasingly alarmed by the aggressive moves of Germany and Italy (Brazil also had a large Italian immigrant population), and President Franklin Roosevelt asserted in his inaugural speech of March 1933 what would become known as the Good Neighbor Policy: “I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.” Wooing neutral Brazil would prove a difficult task for Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Undersecretary Sumner Welles and philanthropist Nelson Rockefeller, charged with coordinating inter-American affairs. Vargas liked to give alarming speeches reminding the U.S. not to take Brazil for granted. Flanked by his “right eye” (daughter Alzira) and “left eye” (Foreign Minister Osvaldo Aranha), Vargas played the Americans skillfully to get what he needed, eventually even sending troops to fight with the Allies in Italy in 1944. “Brazil may still have been waiting for its future to arrive,” writes the author, “but by the time Vargas was entombed, his capital was at least living in the present.”
Colorful personalities and tricky maneuvers make for a lively drama.