BRAZIL: Brigadier Candidate

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Brazilians celebrated a great occasion this week.

They elected a President. Not since 1930 had the people voted for a President in Brazil. The man they did not elect that time, Getulio Vargas, took office anyway—by revolution—and overstayed his leave. Now, by staging the biggest popular election in Latin American history, Brazilians had marked the end of the long dictatorship and had set the stage for a fuller democracy than any they had ever enjoyed.

Man of Legend. Win or lose, the most interesting candidate was a stern, greying airman of 49, Brigadier General Eduardo Gomes. He helped start three revolts, quell a fourth, was already a hero to Brazilians. As a fierce young idealist in an abortive revolt of 1922, he had been one of the Dezoito do Forte, 18 irreconcilables who had preferred death on Copacabana's bloody beach to surrender. Badly wounded, Gomes and two others survived. He fought again in the São Paulo rebellion of 1924. In 1930 he marched to power as one of Getulio Vargas' "young lieutenants."

Under Vargas, Gomes rapidly made himself his country's leading expert on aviation. He organized Brazil's military airmail routes, agitated for a strong air arm. As World War II came to the Americas, he took command of the air force on northeastern Brazil's strategic bulge. A little later, while American engineers and Brazilian laborers feverishly hacked out bases in the jungle for the vital air route to North Africa, Gomes backed them up with all his might.

The U.S. Army and Navy officers who worked with him, and sipped an occasional cafezinho in his office at Recife, liked his honesty and directness. "Even if I can't always convince him," said one, "I feel good knowing that others won't be able to unsell him on the things he's sold on." Flying "anything with two seats," the Brigadeiro ranged the coast to the remotest bases, keeping a sharp eye out for graft and mismanagement.

The Intransigent. When Vargas made himself dictator, Gomes refused to lend his prestige to the "New State." He devoted himself to the Army. He declined promotions (his men still call him "the Colonel"). Finally, when the Vargas star went into decline, dissident politicians turned to the intransigent Brigadeiro as their likely leader.

Brazilians who had called him "too idealistic and too politically naive" now praised him for "his honesty and firmness, pitted him against Vargas' old War Minister General Eurico Caspar Dutra for the Presidency.

Gomes has been called both an ultra-nationalist and "the most pro-American man in Brazil." He neither smokes nor drinks, goes regularly to Mass, is a bachelor (but Rio rumor said last week he might marry a Spanish Socialist). In the campaign his democratic backers played on the handsome Gomes' appeal, advised Brazil's recently enfranchised women to "vote for the Brigadier, handsome and single."