With good reason, Robert Alexander extols Juscelino Kubitschek, “the hurricane mayor, the jet governor,” “the developmentalist president,” who harnessed adroit methods of achievement to an extraordinary vision. Readers will also be struck by the practical foresight of “the missionary” (p. 332). Kubitschek, governor of Minas, might be accused of neglecting agriculture and education, but he foresaw that for these neglected sectors to flourish, the state needed the strong economy that the expansion of industry, electric power, and transport would bring.
Governor Kubitschek, getting things done quickly, was accused of overlooking corruption and increasing the state debt. President Kubitschek, who gave the country the architecturally stunning Brasilia, national highways, power projects, SUDENE, and the automobile and heavy machinery industries, encountered similar accusations. After President Quadros complained that Kubitschek had increased Brazil’s foreign debt from $1.5 billion to $3 billion, the former president told Alexander that he would have increased it to $15 billion or $20 billion if he could have borrowed that much.
Alexander explains that the Brazilian foreign ministry assumed a new leadership role among the Latin American nations when Kubitschek launched Operation Pan America. He also discusses cultural developments and adherence to the principles of democracy and freedom; and he stresses the emergence of optimism and pride, replacing pessimism. He is convincing.
Foes of the Kubitschek presidency (if any still exist) might wonder why no mention is made of the ban on broadcasting maintained for years by congressional opposition leader Carlos Lacerda (who, incidentally, did not write President Castello Branco in 1964 asking for the cancellation of Kubitschek’s political rights). And they might suggest that steps to accelerate or decelerate inflation take time to make themselves felt, and therefore that statistics for 1960 (reflecting earlier stabilization efforts by Lucas Lopes) do not accurately portray a problem that Kubitschek left to successors.
Young Kubitschek, Alexander writes, was taught by his forceful mother, a widow, that “a job begun must be a job concluded” (p. 33). Overcoming the handicap of poverty, he became a surgeon and earned enough, we are told, to make the investments in Belo Horizonte real estate that brought him economic independence. The young doctor took readily to politics after Benedito Valadares gave him his start. The Minas PSD, organized in 1945 by the tireless and personable Kubitschek, played key roles in state and national politics. It is an intricate story, well told by Alexander.
Even before leaving the presidency in 1961, Kubitschek decided to devote his second term, after reelection in 1965, to agriculture and reforms that had been awaiting the bases needed for economic development. But in 1964, President João Goulart, whom Alexander considers “utterly irresponsible” (p. 253), rejected Kubitschek’s plea for a repudiation of Communists and the restoration of military discipline. In a scene admirably described by Kubitschek to Alexander, Goulart maintained that Kubitschek’s advice amounted to “surrender” (p. 357). The narrative that follows is tragic. Deprived of his political rights, jailed for awhile, and mistreated by military interrogators, Kubitschek shared a fate unfortunately suffered by hundreds of other prominent Brazilians.