The Good Neighbor: A Half Century of Brazilian-American Friendship



IN THIS troubled world, when a great effort is necessary simply for nations to live in peace with one another, it is gratifying to see two countries whose lasting friendship seems to have come naturally. There are geographical, historical, economic, and political sources for the traditional understanding which, twice in this century, has led Brazil and the United States to a full alliance in war. This alliance is a continuation of the oldest international agreement in existence, inherited from our mother countries and enriched on our side of the Atlantic. On one occasion, Sir Winston Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons about the Treaty of 1373 between England and Portugal, and the agreement which led to the use during World War II by British and American flotillas and air forces of the key island of the Azores, said: “ I do not suppose any such continuity of relations between two powers has ever been set forth . . .”The continuity appears, however, to be greater than even that eminent statesman realized, and the excellent relations which exist between the United States and Brazil account in major part for the harmony between England and Portugal which permitted the leasing of those valuable bases.

Owing to the centuries-old alliance, the influence of English culture was great in Portugal. We find English inspiration in Portuguese arts and crafts and there are many similarities between Portuguese and English customs and usages, especially in many family traditions such as the celebration of the birthday instead of the saint’s day as is the Spanish custom. Affinity for things British has made it easier for Brazilians to understand American habits, institutions, and purposes, and even enabled them, at times, to explain these to their Spanish-speaking neigh hors.

Only a few years after the United States won independence, there were already clear signs of her friendly policy toward Brazil. In a letter written in 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then Ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI of France, stated:

As a North-American I firmly believe that my country not only wants, but also needs an independent, strong, and friendly Brazil, to carry out in the southern portion of the hemisphere the mission that is ours in the northern part. Our two nations, united by a sincere friendship, would not only maintain peace throughout the Western Hemisphere, but would form, with the other countries of America, a block capable of resisting any aggression from Europe.

And today it is indeed a large block, bigger perhaps than even so farsighted a man as Jefferson could have expected. Brazil is the largest of the Latin-American countries— not only in territorial expanse but in population as well. In fact, Brazil is as big as all the others together. Geographically, therefore, Brazil and the United States are the two largest continental areas of our hemisphere, one balancing the other. In a new world where Spanish is so widespread, the fact that each of the two speaks a different language has drawn them together. Within their borders live the two largest Englishand Portuguese-speaking populations on earth: nearly sixty million Brazilians and about three times as many Americans.

Although the United States is predominately Protestant and Brazil Catholic, a common heritage of Christian principles has influenced the formation of their political institutions, which are based on respect for the dignity of man. The United States progressed by leaps and bounds, surely faster than Jefferson himself foresaw; Brazil is advancing at a more leisurely pace but his dream will some day come true. As early as 1840, Jefferson’s projected policy was already being pursued. In that year, owing to the good offices of the United States, the French military occupation of Amapá — where the Bethlehem Steel Corporation now obtains manganese— was brought to an end. And Baron Rio Branco, Brazil’s foremost Minister of Foreign Affairs, tells us that in 1895 it was the Monroe Doctrine which kept France from setting forth on a second military venture in the same area. The benefits to Brazil of the Monroe Doctrine were to be recurrent. Among them we might mention the collapse of the German Emperor’s dream of colonizing part of southern Brazil, following an incident in 1909 when the German gunboat Panther landed an armed party in Santa Catarina.


EVER since the beginning of the independence of Brazil, whichever way one counts it — de facto, from the arrival of Dom João VI in Brazil in 1808 (when Rio temporarily became Portugal’s capital), or de jure, from 1822 when, some eighteen months after the King returned to Lisbon, Brazil formally declared her independence — relations with the United States have been most cordial. The understanding has always amounted to an unwritten alliance. Each country has showered upon the other proofs of its esteem. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln refused an offer of mediation by European powers and is said to have replied that if it ever came to making an amicable settlement the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, would be his choice. In 1876 the Emperor went to the United States, where he had been invited to open the Centennial of Independence Exhibition in Philadelphia. He also used the opportunity to cement intellectual friendships with Emerson, Longfellow, Agassiz, and Alexander Graham Bell, thus drawing closer the ties between the two countries.

Dom Pedro was perhaps the largest single contributor to Brazilian-American relations, not only because he was a democrat and had faith in the destiny of the American people, but because he strove throughout his long reign of fifty-eight years to develop democracy in his own Country. In this way he built one more bridge over the Caribbean, linking Brazil to the United States. When the Brazilians thought they wanted more democracy than even Dom Pedro II could give them, the Monarchy fell. This was in 1889 when the Republic was born, which, except for some ten years of dictatorship under Vargas, has existed to this day. But even with the best-organized international relationships there are ups and downs. BrazilianUnited States relations were relatively quiescent until 1905, when a felicitous coincidence placed four eminent men —two Brazilians and two Americans — in key positions. One of these statesmen, Rio Branco, whom we have already mentioned, kindled a new flame of friendship by sending Joaquim NabuCo to Washington. The broad-mindedness and foresight of these statesmen, who influenced the Brazilian-American movement in its second phase — one might almost say who brought about the renaissance of the Pan-American movement — are well shown by the following incident.

When NabuCo arrived in Washington in 1905 as Brazil’s first Ambassador — up to that time most countries had only sent diplomatic agents of lower rank to the United States — a most cordial understanding arose immediately between him and Theodore Roosevelt. The President’s great Secretary of State, Elihu Root, also became a close personal friend of the new ambassador. Root then came to an epoch-making decision: to visit Brazil on the occasion of the Third Pan-American Conference in Rio in 1906. No Secretary of State before him had ever left United States territory during his tenure of office and it took a man of great authority to establish such a precedent. Nabuco’s broad vision made him insist that Elihu Root call not only at Rio but also at other capitals south of the Rio Grande. The President at first would not agree to this; in fact he said: “Well then, if you want Root to go to the other countries, he won’t go to Brazil at all.” Fortunately he soon changed his mind and so the first good-will trip, and a very successful one it was, rolled down to Rio in the USS Charleston. The Brazilian diplomat had rendered good service to the United States and to the cause of Pan-Americanism.

In 1913—14 Theodore Roosevelt, accompanied by Colonel Rondon, our remarkable Indian authority, explored 1,500 kilometers of an unknown river in the heart of Brazil, now known as Rio Roosevelt. Their adventure was described by T.R. in Through the Brazilian Wilderess.

Among other important good-neighbor visits was that of President-elect Herbert Hoover, who undertook a journey around South America in 1928. It is impossible to mention all of those who contributed to a favorable climate for understanding between Brazil and the United States, but I would like to recall Edwin V. Morgan, for over twenty years Ambassador to Brazil, who chose to be buried in Petrópolis. He held a privileged position throughout his long and fruitful mission, and was Ambassador in Rio when the United States entered World War I. Then Brazil, following public demand, severed relations with Germany and soon afterward declared war. Twenty-five years later, Brazil entered the second world conflict, again on the side of the United States.

Prior to that, she had made available to American forces, thanks to the long association between our navies, the coastal air bases which contributed to the victory of Allied arms in Africa. The Brazilian hump, as that region is known in the United States, is the portion of the American coastline nearest to Africa. There, through the airports of Pernambuco and Natal, thousands of men passed to fight against Rommel in the Libyan Desert. Those bases were defended by Brazilian ground forces, and the Brazilian Navy and Air Force watched over the South Atlantic with increasing vigilance. Our industry and agriculture furnished the Allied nations a diversified list of strategic materials. The battle for rubber cost us dear, but rubber was produced. At last, in the beginning of 1944, came the opportunity for Brazil to send an expeditionary force to Europe; her troops fought in the Italian theater of operations side by side with those of the American Fifth Army until the enemy surrendered. So much for Brazil’s friendship during the war. The United States reciprocated and, while fighting was still going on, gave A-l priority to several industrial developments that interested her southern friend, including the material necessary for Brazil’s first integrated steel mill at Volta Redonda. V-day in Europe almost coincided with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who dealt personally with relations between the two biggest American countries.

After the war, Europe began to absorb the United States’ interest as well as her funds. Rebuilding the European economy was a challenge to the American sense of adventure; Brazil could wait — for staunch friends, like gilt-edged securities, can always wait. In this preoccupation with Europe, one of the factors that had contributed to BrazilianAmerican friendship was lost sight of: the fact that the two economies were non-competitive and, indeed, complemented each other. The United States has more coal than she can use, while Brazil is thought to have the largest iron ore deposits in the world. It was this potential for co-operation in the two economies which inspired one American businessman, the late Percival Farquhar, in his efforts to hasten the development of Brazil’s resources. No one has pursued that goal with greater vision, or with less selfishness, than this promoter-idealist whose name must ever be linked with BrazilianAmerican friendship. But even as Farquhar died, three or four years ago, great assets were being neglected and points of strain were forming between Brazil and the United States.

One of these has to do with Africa. Brazilians, aware of the similarity of their own economy to that of the continent to the east, watched with concern the help the United States was giving to African development. Only part of this American aid to Africa has been direct and intentional; much of it is an indirect result of the Marshall Plan, which has freed European capital for African investments. No one wants to see Africa remain underdeveloped; that immense zone must prosper and make its contribution to the world economy. But in the face of Brazil’s highly advanced labor laws this competition with cheaper labor seems unfair.


THE economy of Brazil is based chiefly on coffee. Recently coffee prices rose and we were criticized for it. People in the States did not understand the situation. During the last war many countries of Europe were cut off and stopped buying their coffee in Brazil. Our growers suffered and reduced their production. With European postwar recovery this market was opened again and demand has risen faster than production — it takes time to bring a coffee tree to maturity. Now there is not enough coffee to go around and the price has gone up. The prices of American products have risen too, but Brazil has never reminded its consumers abroad that coffee was the last commodity to obtain an increase.

The material props under Brazilian-American friendship which have been weakened must be replaced by moral and spiritual resources, which become more powerful with the progress of civilization. There is no reason for despair. In Brazil, those who have fought hard against the policy of friendship toward the United States have always lost out in the long run.

The blinding hood of nationalism, the worst obstacle to international relations, may well disappear if Brazil achieves prosperity. Another stimulus to understanding is the strong upsurge of culture in Brazil, where a great scientific, intellectual, and artistic advance is on its way. New schools, museums, and laboratories are mushrooming. There are now dozens of libraries where ten years ago there was one. The number of our citizens visiting the United States is now counted by thousands where a generation ago it was inconsiderable. All these influences will help to guard that great rock of peace and liberty — Brazilian-American friendship. Every time one of the two countries has considered, even for an instant, the adoption of some other course, it has soon reverted to that policy of friendship which is imposed upon us by political, by human, and, if I might say so, by sentimental factors. It is now exactly half a century since the rebirth of Brazilian-American friendship in 1905. Its golden jubilee should be celebrated with measures which may assure another long period of mutual understanding.