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He was born in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, and like many other Brazilians, was of Azorean-Portuguese origin. In 1936, he was appointed as Minister of War, a post he held until the end of World War II.
In this position, he played a key role along with Vargas and General Goes Monteiro, on conspiracy and establishment of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo, on November 10, 1937 and the repression of the uprising of the local fascists in May 1938. He remained as Minister of War until leaving office to contest the presidential election of 1945.
During World War II, he was among the Brazilian military leaders who were against an alignment with allies and a deeper involvement of the country in the conflict. With, although modest, Brazil's participation in the war on the Allied side, and the growing pressure from civil society for democratization of the country, Dutra formally adhered to the idea of the end of the regime that started in 1930, participating in the following deposition of Getúlio Vargas in October 1945, continuing the interventionist doctrine, practiced at the time by the Brazilian army.
In this context, the deposed leader announced the following month his support for Dutra, candidate of the Army, at the expense of the candidate of the Air Force, Eduardo Gomes, in the elections that followed.
He left it in 1951 and until then, he was considered as a presidential candidate.