Our Ally BRAZIL
When Brazil joined the United Nations we got "the bulge on the Axis," added a wealth of resources and another 40,000,000 people to our side
BRAZIL has never declared war in her entire history, but on August 22, 1942, for the second time in a quarter of a century she “recognized that a state of belligerency existed" between herself and Germany. She included Italy, too, on the sound theory that you can’t very well distinguish between the submarine activities of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Japan was excluded because Brazil had not been specifically provoked by the Japanese Navy (for obvious geographical reasons if none other). She had been wantonly attacked by Germany again and again in the spring and summer of 1942. Her ships, one after another, had been sent to the bottom of the Atlantic. The total had reached nineteen by the time a “state of war” was recognized.
What made Brazil finally decide that she had been outraged beyond endurance was the Nazi
torpedoing Of ships engaged in coastal-trade.For Brazil a blow at intercoastal shipping is an attack on the internal life of the nation. It is just as impudent an act of war as the bombing of railroad yards in Montreal or Winnipeg would be to Canada.
Brazil covers just about half the area of the entire South American continent. Its coastline stretches an enormous distance—and it bulges far out into the Atlantic toward Dakar. When Dakar was Vichy-held it was feared that if Germany ever pounced on this hemisphere, Dakar might be the springboard and Brazil the first target.
The Brazilian population clusters mostly along that long coastline, and those who live on the Northern Bulge depend on the manufacturing cities far down in the south for many of their daily needs. There is no railroad connecting Rio de Janeiro, the capital, with the ports on the Bulge that face the Atlantic at its narrowest point. Nor is there a system of connecting coastal highways over which to transport goods and men. To move soldiers to the vulnerable Bulge, Brazil must send them by ship. One of these, loaded with troops, was sunk just before Brazil became a belligerent.
Ever since Germany invaded Poland in 1939 Brazilians have been uneasy about what role their country would play this time. They, as a people, were on the side of the democracies. During 1940 and 1941 they approved when their president,
Getulio Vargas, again and again defied the Axis by helping the Allied nations. At Pan-American conferences Brazil had always worked for the fulfillment of President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy.
Naturally, nothing is known of what President Roosevelt said to President Vargas, or vice versa, when the former stopped over in Brazil for a short time recently while en route home from Casablanca; but it is a safe assumption that it amounted to more than a courtesy visit.
In Panama in 1939, in Havana in 1940 (just after the fall of France), and finally in Rio (just after Pearl Harbor), Brazil put her full moral weight behind the United States.
I was in Rio in the spring of 1941, I recall how high Brazilians spirits were when the Italians were on the run in March; then a gloom came over my friends, and ominous rumors about cabinet upheavals spread in April and May as the Nazis moved rapidly toward the Mediterranean and through Greece.
In the summer of 1941 arrangements were made whereby a long list of strategic materials produced in Brazil would be sold exclusively to the United States. The first of these so-called preclusive buying deals, in 1941, was tantamount to a blockade of the Axis.
Back in the summer of 1941 Pan-American
Airways was permitted to improve air fields and build new ones all along the Bulge. This is by far the most important single contribution Brazil has made to the cause of the Allied Nations. These bases, all through 1942, gave a short cut for the quick shipment of U.S. supplies and planes to Africa. Even before Brazil became a belligerent, a joint U.S.-Brazilian Defense Commission composed of American and Brazilian Army and Navy officers sat regularly in Washington to plan the joint defense of the Bulge.
The Brazilian people knew that President Vargas had compromised their country in all those ways to the side of the democracies, and most of them heartily approved. But they worried about certain elements within the Government itself. They were afraid that fifth column activities in Brazil were not being forcefully quashed. There is, in southern Brazil, a large concentration of Germans—between 600,000 and 1,000,000 of them. German-controlled airlines formed a thorough network over the nation.
The people feared, too, that if the war went too badly for the Allies, certain influences within the Government might shove Vargas aside, and shift the foreign policy toward the Axis. For Vargas' power rests ultimately—and precariously—on the support and goodwill of the Army. Not that the people thought all their Army leaders pro-Axis.
Rather, being military men, many of the top officers were suspected of an altogether too overwhelming admiration for the Nazi military machine. Possibly, Brazilians feared, the Army was convinced that the Nazis were bound to win.
On May 1 Getulio was injured in an automobile accident. How serious his condition was, few knew. Ominous rumors were circulated; that he was dying; that he was so ill that he could not attend to any affairs of state; that Brazil was drifting toward the Axis because Getulio was no longer holding the delicate balance. Brazilian spirits dropped to a new low in June when the British were retreating before Rommel’s army and Tobruk fell. The uneasiness of the Brazilians always increased with Allied defeats on the African front. For, when you think of the world map, you can readily see how important Africa and the Mediterranean are to the Brazilian Bulge—less than 1,800 miles from Dakar. (The distance between the tip of the Bulge and Miami is nearly twice as great.)
Getulio made no public appearance between May 1, the day of his accident, and August 18, when he spoke to the crowds who had been demonstrating their anger at Axis sinkings, and had come within the grounds of the Presidential Palace. Then he came out on the balcony and told them in stirring words that the sinkings would
be avenged. They were reassured not merely by his words, but because they had actually seen him, and knew that he was back on the job. Within a few days the war announcement was made.
Showed Their Feelings
THE PEOPLE of Brazil plainly showed how they felt the week war came to them. Since they do not have a free press they had not been given much opportunity in the past to show the strong preference they had for the cause of the Allied nations. Public demonstrations were forbidden. Once the Government was prepared to take its step into war (a few days before the actual announcement), the people in Brazil were freely permitted to blow off steam. They demonstrated wildly in the streets, protesting the Nazi sinkings; they smashed the windows and contents of German shops; they scrawled their vigorous messages of hatred for the Axis on walls and public buildings. The police, who had previously done everything to prevent “unneutral” manifestations in movie theatres and on the streets, took no steps whatever to stop the people’s enthusiasm for war.
Brazil’s regular Army, plus its now-mobilized reserves, totals some 400,000. The Navy is small—
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two battleships, two cruisers, ten destroyers, six new mine layers and four submarines. Perhaps both the Army and the Navy are best employed in defense of the long coastline, in convoy service within the hemisphere—and keeping a close guard on the German population down south. The small Air Force (strength of this new arm is not divulged) has already seen action against Axis submarines. However there is a movement afoot in Rio— and it is permitted by the Government— to have Brazilian troops go overseas. A Brazilian named Nemo Canabarro has even proposed that a Latin American army of 2,000,000 men be raised to join the other United Nations forces abroad. Whatever comes of these ideas boiling up in Rio, they are heartening evidence of Brazil’s earnestness in war.
Just before and just after the official announcement of a state of war, Brazilians went wild. We Anglo-Saxons entered the war with solemn grimness. The Brazilians did it with whoops of enthusiasm. This is explained only in part by the obvious difference between the Latin temperament and our own. It is also due to the fact that Brazilians live under a kind of dictatorship. It is by no means Fascist but it is repressive. Getulio Vargas took office in the revolution of 1930 and has been President ever since. In 1937 he called off the scheduled elections, wrote himself a brand-new constitution, and did away with the representative forms of government under which Brazilians had lived for many years. He closed both state and national legislative houses and thereafter issued decree laws himself. The press was carefully controlled, political parties were expressly forbidden, and the right of assembly curtailed.
Without much doubt, if Brazilians had a chance to vote tomorrow, they would install in the office of President none other than Getulio Vargas. For, in many ways, he has ruled well. He has not regimented his people in Fascist fashion; no national party snoops into their affairs, nor bullies them. There is no Fuehrer worship, and no gospel of state-over-indi vidual.
Getulio Vargas (called “Getulio” by Brazilians who invariably abbreviate everyone’s name) has brought his country through an extremely difficult economic and political period with amazing skill and considerable justice to the various groups and areas. He has decreed labor laws that are modern and advanced; he is the first president to have shown equal concern for the problems of the various parts of his big, sprawling country. Most of his predecessors shamelessly favored whatever state they came from. He has weathered the storm of the difficult thirties— not precisely the way we would have done it—but no one who has taken the trouble to investigate Brazil’s form of government can conscientiously call it a Fascist dictatorship. North Americans have a far easier task to make democracy actually
work than Brazil—where well over sixty per cent of the people are illiterate.
Immediately after Brazil joined the Allied Nations, President Vargas appointed a Co-ordinator of Economic Mobilization whose job it is to convert Brazil to war. Sweeping powers were given to the new economic czar. The man chosen to fill the post was Brazil’s erstwhile Minister to Canada, Joao Alberto Lins de Barros who had been recalled to Rio some weeks before, for reasons not specified by Getulio.
Vast Treasure House
NEARLY as big as Canada, Brazil covers no less than 3,286,170 square miles. This is, in itself, an unimportant figure since much of the acreage is dense, unproductive jungle and much of it is uninhabited if rich, arable land. But Brazil is also some 44,000,000 people — a population about four times as large as Canada’s. And Brazil is the greatest source of virtually untapped natural resources in this hemisphere.
To cite Brazilian mica, manganese, quartz, nickel, tungsten, bauxite, zinc, industrial diamonds and fibres, is to list some vitally needed war materials. There is also iron, and experts testify that Brazil possesses the largest single deposit of high grade iron in the world. There are rubber, coffee, cocoa, and valuable vegetable oils. The babassu nuts that grow in Brazil yield an oil that is an ideal substitute for coconut oil which used to come in vast quantities from the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. Each year in Brazil enough unused babassu nuts fall to the ground to provide oil for all the soap and explosives that the Allies need. The oiticica nut contains an excellent substitute for China’s tung oil.
The job of getting what the Allied Nations want from their new ally is not limited by the existing resources. It is, however, complicated by a whole series of knotty problems. Although Brazil’s wealth is tantalizingly great, her poverty is equally great: poverty of transportation and fuel, of machines and ships. For example, the potentially unlimited babassu oil production is hampered by all four of these lacks. The babassu tree is found growing over thousands of square miles—in an area where the population is sparse and the transportation deplorably primitive. To step up production rapidly would mean not only the movement of a large number of people but the building of roads and railroads. If it is to be roads, machinery is needed, and later trucks and gasoline. If it is a railroad—steel rails, cars, locomotives and fuel. To squeeze oil from the nuts processing machinery must be constructed, which means the use of steel and other strategic materials. And ships must be found to transport any of these supplies. Brazil has her own undeveloped petroleum deposits.
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Tankers now taking the barest minimum of fuel oil and gasoline to Brazil could be saved if these deposits were exploited. But drilling equipment would require the use of strategic materials.
How can the Allied nations get the utmost of war materials out of Brazil with the least use of already scarce metals and machines? That is the big problem of Joao Alberto and the American Government which must supply whatever equipment and ships are to be devoted to the further expansion of Brazil’s arsenal.
Manganese Moves Steadily
MEANWHILE the Brazilians do their best with what they have in human labor, machines and railroad equipment. The production of manganese needed to make steel has increased 500 per cent since Hitler invaded Poland. In spite of an overstrained transportation system manganese moves steadily to the port of shipment. The U.S. has contracted to buy no less than 800,000 karats of industrial diamonds a year —to cut the hard metals of war. These, fortunately, are so small they can be moved by plane. Highgrade quartz crystal, which is produced only in Brazil, is absolutely necessary for periscopes, gun sights, radios and other instruments. We are getting all we need of it.
Development of the world’s biggest deposit of high-grade iron which England needs to take the place of Swedish ore will soon be stepped up. Repairs on the railroad that serves the area, and the port where the ore will be loaded are being completed. Brazil’s new Government-owned steel mill is now being built with credit aid (and high priorities for the equipment) from the U.S. Government. This will save ships by cutting down Brazil’s imports of steel, and may, next year, add to our total steel supply.
To the average person the name Brazil connotes first of all, Carmen Miranda, coffee, and rubber. Long ago, before the automobile was a commonplace, Brazil had all the world’s supply of rubber. The tree, Hevea Braziliensis, grew only in the vast valley of the Amazon. Then Northern Brazil was rich, and for many years lived on the plump dividends of rubber. Every year French opera and theatre companies crossed the ocean and travelled for days up the Amazon to the inland city of^ Manaos where they entertained the Brazilians made rich from rubber. But someone bootlegged the seeds of wild rubber out of Brazil in defiance of a law that forbade their exportation. They were promptly
planted in the Far East by the British and the Dutch. From one plantation started in 1874 grew the enormous rubber wealth of Sumatra, Java and the Malay Peninsula.
Brazil’s rubber boom abruptly collapsed. The Far East, not Brazil, cashed in on the new market provided by the automobile. Northern Brazil suffered a long economic depression while the cheap rubber of the East flooded the world.
Quest For Rubber
BUT today, again, Brazil is straining to take out of the jungle thousands of miles up the Amazon every possible pound of wild rubber. Men who live in the coastal cities are being persuaded to make the long trek to the headwaters of the world’s mightiest river, to cut away the jungle, find the Hevea Braziliensis and tap its trunk for the precious fluid.
Coffee, too, once made fabulous millionaires in Brazil, and it, too, was virtually a monopoly. It has been the country’s chief export crop for years.
As Brazilian production of coffee soared in the twenties the price was pegged. Too much coffee was harvested and the mounting surplus was burned. The great coffee port of Santos in southern Brazil for years was overlaid with the acrid smell of burning coffee. It was a costly policy but the rich state of Sao Paulo (the heart of Brazil’s coffee business) has a wonderful resiliency. It has diversified its crops in recent years. Along with the coffee trees now grow oranges and grapefruit, lemons, avocadoes, castor-beans — and cotton.
However, coffee is still Brazil’s number one crop, and the U.S. for many years has been by far the biggest coffee buyer. But today coffee is being rationed in the United States—and Brazil has lost almost all of her European markets. Because it is only a ship shortage that prevents the U.S. from taking more coffee this year than ever before, and because Brazil would be crippled economically if this cash crop were cut much farther, the United States has agreed to buy and pay for as much coffee as she would like to have. If it cannot be delivered (as is now the case) in the hoped-for quantities, it will be stored in Brazil. A similar deal has been made on Brazilian cocoa.
When Brazil went to war in August it meant to this hemisphere not merely a big new ally, with 44,000,000 people, important resources and the certainty of close economic and strategic co-operation. It also meant that the continent to the south of us was in the war. Whether Argentina likes it or not, whether Argentina persists in her isolation or not, the continent is involved, willy-nilly, as soon as the Bulge of Brazil and the long coastline and the resources of Brazil are committed to war. Argentina has lost the leadership of the continent— a role she has coveted for a long time. For geographical reasons Brazil is the strategically important country in eastern South America. Look again at your map.
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