Where Conspiracy Reigns

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Illustrations by Eren Su Kibele Yarman[embedded content]As the 20th century began, conspiracy was simply how Brazilian politics got done. Paranoia was everywhere, and often warranted. Secret plotting and military coups were routine across the political spectrum. And by the end of the Cold War, citizens in Brazil’s young democracy had inherited a world of deep-seated suspicions, and would have to look back on a dizzying set of contradictory narratives to understand their own history.In 1930, one of these putsches propelled a man named Getúlio Vargas to the presidency. Then conspiracies, both real and fake, helped lead the country to dictatorship. In 1935, a right-leaning newspaper published a story—entirely false—reporting that communists were planning an uprising that would eliminate “all non-communist officials.” But then leftists, worried about a fascist turn in the Vargas government, did attempt a real rebellion. It was quickly crushed, but not before Vargas used it to justify the consolidation of dictatorial powers.Two years later, right-wing forces came up with another fake conspiracy, one that would stoke paranoia for decades. Plano Cohen, or the “Cohen Plan,” was, supposedly, a dastardly Jewish-Communist plot to overthrow the government. It was a forgery, drawn …

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