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Brazil: On the Road to Dreams

3 minute read

By U.S. standards, Brazil’s Highway BR-14 is certainly no Indiana turnpike or New York State Thruway. Meandering 1,350 miles from Belém to Brasilia through the jungles and scrub of Brazil’s wild interior, it is barely two lanes wide; the surface is dust in the dry season, mud in the wet, and some of the ruts could swallow a Volkswagen alive. Yet in the eyes of former President Juscelino Kubitschek, who built the road between 1956 and 1960, BR-14 is “the highway of dreams” for underdeveloped Brazil, and the means to “a new civilization on the central plateau.” So it is.

Since the road’s opening in 1960, some 600,000 settlers have poured into the area to tap Brazil’s immense riches. Every day long lines of trucks rumble north and south carrying out lumber, rubber and vegetable oil. New farmlands produce beans, rice, corn and fruit to feed Brazil’s exploding population; what was once useless scrub in the central state of Goiás is now pasture land for 4,000,000 head of cattle. And prospectors fanning out from the road have found a vast mineral potential, with deposits of nickel, tin, lead, zinc, copper, gold, diamonds and quartz.

Sprouting Towns. Towns are sprouting every few miles. “If I don’t pass a certain stretch of road for two or three weeks,” says one road engineer, “I almost always find a new cluster of shacks there when I get back.” Cidade Presidente Kennedy, founded in April 1964 700 miles north of Brasilia, already has a population of 1,000. Araguaina, which got its start in 1958 as a road-construction camp 500 miles north of Brasilia, is now up to 8,000 people, has its own branch of the Bank of Brazil and will soon have a $1,600,000 factory that will refine oil from native babaçú nuts, peanuts, cotton and sunflower seeds, produce the cans in which to export the oil and cut up local mahogany to make cases for the cans.

More impressive still is Anápolis. In 1950 it was a sleepy back-country town of 18,000 at the end of a railroad from São Paulo. Today it boasts 80,000 people, and last week construction crews were putting the finishing touches on four 15-story buildings. Belém, at the northern terminus of the road, has developed from a ragged river port into a thriving commercial center of 430,000, shipping jute, pepper and rubber to markets in the south.

Redeeming Feature. Kubitschek, currently in self-exile in Manhattan, is a man without honor in Brazil. President Humberto Castello Branco’s revolutionary government has suspended the ex-President’s political rights for ten years on charges of corruption in office. Nevertheless, Castello Branco has tripled the Belém-Brasilia budget to $9,000,000 yearly for maintenance and road improvement. Even so bitter a Kubitschek critic as Carlos Lacerda, the acid-tongued ex-governor of Guanabara (Rio), gives the ex-President his due. “I’m an old enemy of Juscelino’s,” Lacerda told some road engineers recently, “but if I were judge, I’d absolve him of all his crimes just because of this road.”

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