Book ReviewsComptes rendus

Márcio de Oliveira, Brasilia entre le mythe et la nation (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014), 228 p.[Record]

  • Tatiana Acevedo

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  • Tatiana Acevedo
    Département de géographie, Université de Montréal

In “Brasilia between the myth and the nation” Márcio de Oliveira provides an important contribution to the literature on the history of the city of Brasilia. Oliveira manages to offer an impressive account of the process through which the idea of a new capital city became the promise of a united nation. This is an important book for scholars interested in processes of nation building in Brazil, as well as for researchers concerned with the political struggles behind the conception and construction of Brasilia. Persons interested in the book should look at its tittle to understand its focus. Oliveira is particularly interested in framing the construction of Brasilia in a mythic narrative according to which the nation was unfinished and the construction of a new capital along the country’s isolated highlands would complete it. For Oliveira, it was the government of Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira (1956–1961) that spread and gave meaning to this myth, calling for the occupation and development of the whole country. Oliveira claims that by doing so the government promised a different future and was able to shed some positive light on the usually pessimistic image that people had about their country back then. But the discourse of incompleteness of the nation was not new in Brazilian history; neither was the idea of transferring the capital. Oliveira argues that the government astutely took advantage of all these disjointed discourses of the past and presented them as a coherent narrative. Within this narrative Brasilia was a historical aspiration, and the president was in charge of “putting an end to the long journey of the conquest of the nation” (p. 50). Oliveira divides his arguments into four chapters. The first chapter of the book provides a brief biography of Juscelino Kubitchek de Oliveira (also called by his initials, JK) and presents the political context of his presidency. Born into a middle class family in Diamantina, Minas Gerais, JK was trained as a medical doctor. Oliveira suggests that his marriage to Sarah Gomes de Lemos, daughter of a former parliamentary member, catalysed his entry into the world of electoral politics. JK held public office on two earlier occasions. He was appointed mayor of Belo Horizonte – where he first collaborated with architect Oscar Niemeyer – and was elected governor of Minas Gerais. Once elected president he launched the “Plan de metas,” comprising 31 goals covering such issues as energy, transport, and base industries. According to JK’s testimony, the Brasilia idea, which became goal number thirty-one, occurred to him when a “man of the people” asked if, once elected president, he would respect the transfer of the capital stipulated in the 1946 Constitution (p. 46). But why was the transfer of the Brazilian capital a constitutional mandate? Oliveira goes on to provide that history in chapter two. The desire to transfer the capital to populate the hinterland can be traced back to the eighteenth century. Oliveira presents the history of these projects and ideas through official and alternative sources. From the first initiative, presented in the context of a political separatist revolt in 1789, to the constitutional mandates of 1891 and 1946, and through the dream of Italian priest Giovanni Bosco – who never knew Brasilia but supposedly dreamed about it – Oliveira tracks down every reference to a new capital. The compilation of all these initiatives reveals a significant amount of meticulous archival work. This second chapter is by far the most interesting and pertinent to the arguments that Oliveira is ultimately making. The author explores the way in which JK selectively articulated the ideas that had defended …