Osvaldo Aranha

Osvaldo Aranha (1894-1960) was a leading figure in the group of Brazilian politicians from Rio Grande do Sul who came to power with President Vargas in 1930. During the following 30 years, Aranha remained a major figure in Brazilian political life.

Osvaldo Aranha was born in Alegrete in the state of Rio Grande do Sul on Feb. 15, 1894. He graduated from the Porto Alegre Law School in 1916 and for some years practiced his profession.

During the 1920s Aranha served his apprenticeship in politics as mayor of the town of Alegrete, and he was wounded fighting in defense of the state regime during a revolt in 1926. In 1927 he was elected a member of the state legislature, and in 1928 he became a member of the Federal Chamber of Deputies.

When Getulio Vargas became governor of Rio Grande do Sul in 1929, he chose Aranha to head his Cabinet as secretary of justice. In this capacity Aranha became the intermediary of Vargas's government with the rebel group of young military men known as the Tenentes, who had organized two revolts against the government during the 1920s.

Vargas ran as opposition candidate for president of Brazil in 1930, and when he took a leave of absence from the governorship during the campaign, Aranha served as acting governor. After Vargas lost to the government of Washington Luiz, Aranha joined with the Tenentes in urging Vargas to go along with efforts to organize a revolt. Once Vargas had agreed, the rebels succeeded within 3 weeks in overrunning Brazil's northeast and Amazonian areas, as well as the three southernmost states. Thereupon army leaders in Rio de Janeiro overthrew President Luiz. Aranha was then sent to Rio by the rebel high command to negotiate with the military leaders the transfer of power to Vargas.

Minister and Diplomat

With the installation of President Vargas, Aranha became minister of justice, a post he held until his transfer to the Ministry of Finance in December 1931. In 1934 President Vargas named Aranha ambassador to Washington, D.C. There he worked out a program for resumption of payment on Brazil's foreign debt, which had been in default for 4 years. When President Vargas led a coup d'etat to establish a semifascist regime in November 1937, Aranha resigned his Washington post in protest. However, in March 1938 Vargas convinced him to enter the government once again, this time as minister of foreign affairs. He continued in this post until 1944.

Aranha was a major force working for alignment of Brazil with the Allies in World War II. Once Brazil had entered the war on the Allied side in 1942, Aranha sought to stimulate popular support for Brazilian participation. To this end, he became vice president of the Society of the Friends of America. When the police refused to allow the society to function, Aranha resigned from the government in August 1944.

At this point Aranha broke with Vargas and became one of the organizers of the antigovernment party, the Uniao Democratica Nacional (UDN). The pressure of the UDN helped force Vargas to call elections for December 1945, but Vargas was overthrown before that date.

During the administration of Vargas's successor, President Eurico Dutra, Aranha returned to diplomacy. He served as ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1947-1948 was president of the UN General Assembly.

With the return of Vargas to the presidency at the end of 1950, peace was made between Vargas and Aranha. Aranha was named minister of finance in 1953, and it was reported that he though this a step toward his candidacy for president. However, President Vargas committed suicide in August 1954, and Aranha immediately resigned from the Cabinet. Aranha did not return to public office but held the status of an "elder statesman" until his death on Jan. 27, 1960.

Further Reading on Osvaldo Aranha

There is no biography of Aranha in English. Background works that contain information on him include José Maria Bello, A History of Modern Brazil, 1889-1964 (1940; trans. 1959); Austin F. MacDonald, Latin American Politics and Government (1949); and Bryce Wood, The United States and Latin American Wars, 1932-1942 (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Cohen, Esther., Oswaldo Aranha, Porto Alegre, RS: Tchae!, 1985.

Flores, Moacyr., Osvaldo Aranha, Porto Alegre: IEL, 1991.