832.00 Revolutions/278

The Chargé in Brazil ( Thurston ) to the Secretary of State

No. 3894

Sir: In amplification of the Embassy’s telegraphic reports during the last few days, I have the honor to inform the Department as follows with respect to the insurrection now in progress in the State of São Paulo:


While various factors have contributed to the present situation, its immediate causes may be said to have been the ineptitude displayed by the Provisional Government in its treatment of the proud and powerful State of São Paulo, the conflict between the politicians and the military or “Tenente” element of the Administration, and the delay in the return to constitutional government.

For almost two years, as Consul General Cameron’s able reports will have made evident to the Department, the State of São Paulo, defeated in the 1930 revolution,1 has been maintained in a condition of irritating political uncertainty and subjected to arbitrary military control, with the result that the habitually strong sectional feeling of the Paulistas has been provoked to the point of apparently unanimous rebellion. It is not to be doubted, of course, that the political organization overthrown by the 1930 revolution has sought to benefit by these conditions—but that the abuses were great is indicated by the fact that the State political party originally supporting the Administration joined forces with those of the old régime in the formation of a United Front (Frente Unica) for the defense of the rights of the State.

The Tenente problem resulted from the necessity which confronted the victorious revolutionists in 1930 of replacing the entire personnel of the deposed Government with supporters of the new régime. Many of the appointees—even State Interventors—were necessarily young officers (Lieutenants, or Tenentes) whose inexperience was outweighed by their loyalty. Rivalry between these officers (the Tenente group, of course, likewise embraces many civilians) and the political leaders inevitably developed, as a result of inherently divergent policies, until it assumed a character of the utmost gravity. It must be recalled, in this connection, that the revolution of 1930 was not exclusively an uprising of one political party against the one in power, but was a movement of States, largely transcending local party sentiment [Page 398] and designed to break the control of one powerful State—São Paulo—then in power and supported momentarily by the arms of the Nation. Thus it was, for example, that at the beginning the present Government had the full collaboration of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, the local contending parties having united in the revolution and each having contributed members to the administration.

As the divergent policies of the two groups became defined, it was apparent that the political element advocated the early termination of the provisional government and the return to normal constitutional government through elections, whereas the Tenente element considered that the fruits of victory would be lost unless the elections should be postponed until the political organization of the old régime had been certainly destroyed. It was in consequence a logical development for the Tenentes to come to regard the “pro-constitutionalization” program of the political parties as merely a cloak for the efforts of the old régime to regain control.

Throughout his administration, President Vargas has adopted a policy of opportunism designed to conciliate as much as possible the conflicting tendencies within his government. It was not probable, however, that he could indefinitely pursue such a course with success, and although he permitted the destruction of a Rio de Janeiro newspaper by the Tenentes to go unpunished (thereby so offending the political parties that the support of his own State was withdrawn), but acquiesced in an adjustment of the São Paulo problem in a manner constituting a defeat for the Tenentes, only later to refuse the demands of the political parties that the Government be reorganized in a manner to lessen the power of the Tenentes, the practice of balancing favors and rebuffs weakened confidence in his leadership. The failure of this policy followed the President’s effort to appease both the “immediate constitutionalization” and “postponement” organizations when, in apparent deference to the former, he promulgated last May (a year and a half after taking over the Government) a Decree providing for the holding of a Constituent Assembly, but offset that concession by fixing the date for the Constituent Assembly one year in the future, in May, 1933. Both sides may have been expected by him to be gratified by this arrangement, but the politicians saw in the further delay only a victory for the Tenentes, and they had no confidence in a plan which failed to set a date, after the holding of the Constituent Assembly, for the actual election of new supreme authorities.

To summarize the foregoing, then, it may be said that the Vargas Government came into power with general approbation, and that had elections been called within a reasonable period after the victorious [Page 399] revolution it is probable that the revolutionary candidates and their principles would have prevailed. The long delay in the return to constitutional government, and the errors that were committed caused the early enthusiasm to wane and animosities to be created, with the result that the old politicians, momentarily dispersed and discredited, have been able to reestablish themselves. If the São Paulo revolution is victorious, it is to be presumed that the new Government will be largely formed and controlled by the old political régime.

The Revolution

With respect to the immediate situation, it is not possible, in the absence of trustworthy information, to formulate a sound opinion. The Minister for Foreign Affairs informed me, and his statements have been repeated by others, that the revolution was premature, it having been prepared to take place on July 14 as a simultaneous uprising in São Paulo, Minas Geraes, Rio Grande do Sul, and the City of Rio de Janeiro. The indiscretion of a young conspirator in São Paulo in communicating a seditious message to Rio Grande do Sul by radio, and the suspicious activities of the military commander in Matto Grosso (General Klinger—now with São Paulo) warned the Government of the danger and forced the revolutionists in São Paulo to strike before they had intended. The Government, by immediately taking the requisite measures in the threatened districts, was enabled to prevent the general outbreak which had been contemplated. Assuming this information to be accurate, as I do, it is obvious that the revolutionists had support in the places named, which, despite repressive measures, may be assumed still to exist and to constitute a potential danger to the Vargas Government.

The tactics of the Government, as has been reported, are designed to isolate São Paulo, preventing it from receiving cooperation from other sections of the Republic, and so to circumscribe it as to bring about the collapse of the movement without bloodshed, if possible. To this end, instead of engaging in immediate attack upon the State, troops are being concentrated on the frontiers in large numbers, presumably with the intention of accumulating such a preponderant military force as to make any eventual aggressive measures reasonably certain of success. Reinforcements have arrived from some of the northern States, and others are expected from Rio Grande do Sul. It is officially stated, and apparently correctly, that Minas Geraes and Paraná are collaborating with the Government. Minor skirmishes have occurred, but no general offensive seems yet to be underway.

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Possible Developments

In speculating upon the possibilities of the present situation, the following contingencies may be considered:

The balance of power rests with the States of Minas Geraes and Rio Grande do Sul. If they voluntarily or by constraint remain with the Government São Paulo may be forced to capitulate;
A coup d’état in Rio de Janeiro might occur;
A similar occurrence might take place in Minas Geraes or Rio Grande do Sul, throwing their support to São Paulo;
The São Paulo forces, being well armed and apparently inspired by a cause, might inflict a decisive defeat upon the Government forces.

Respectfully yours,

Walter C. Thurston