Constructing Development: Bras í lia and the Making of Modern Brazil
Story, Emily Fay
On 21 April 1960 President Juscelino Kubitschek oversaw the inauguration of Bras í lia as the capital of Brazil. While construction of the city was far from complete at that moment, Kubitschek rightly laid claim to a tremendous administrative and political victory by having overseen the construction of a city ex nihilo in the remote Center-West to become the seat of the federal government during his five years in office. As the centerpiece and most conspicuous symbol of Kubitschek’s program for national development, Brasília provided a focus for debates about the nation’s present and future. Virtually all aspects of the construction were intensely controversial and occurred during a time of relatively little government censorship. The debates about Bras í lia provide rare and valuable insight into how Brazilians from a variety of perspectives conceived of modernity and their place in it. This dissertation explores the campaign to build Bras í lia and its reception by various contemporaries through an analysis of the public debates as documented in newspapers and other media, official documents, the recollections of participants, and published primary sources related to the construction of Brasília. Bras í lia's inauguration marked the triumph of a particular vision of modernity, one that privileged socioeconomic modernization and investment in large-scale infrastructural improvements. It provided the framework, in both material and intellectual terms, for the developmental policies pursued by the military regime that governed the nation from the new capital from 1964 to 1985. Exhibiting an unwavering focus on the future, the planners of Bras í lia appeared to ignore the present, failing to address the problems that plagued existing cities and populations. Rather than an emblem of progress and development, with time, Brasília came to epitomize the continuation of politics as usual—it was a top-down, forced effort at development that brought considerable economic growth, but that did not reach the majority of Brazilians. Nearly fifty years on, Bras í lia is neither the utopia nor failure imagined by proponents or detractors, but a living city that embodies the complex and contradictory nature of modernity in contemporary Brazil.