Witnessing History in the Making in Brasilia

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Brasilia’s Airplane-Shaped Layout
Brasilia’s Airplane-Shaped Layout

This past week, the Lauder Portuguese program had the opportunity to visit Brazil’s capital- Brasilia. The city is unique in several respects. Notably, it is a masterpiece of modern urbanism and architecture. Inaugurated in 1960, Brasilia was developed with the goal of moving the country’s capital away from Rio de Janeiro on the coast and placing it nearer to the center of the country where it would foster unity among states in Brazil’s vast territory.

Under the leadership of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia was designed in the shape of an airplane with the headquarters of the three branches of government (executive, judicial, legislative) forming a triangle at the front from where they are “piloting” the nation.

To go along with the meticulous city planning, Brasilia boasts unique architecture designed by Niemeyer. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Nossa Senhora Aparecida and the building that houses the Senate and the House of Deputies are two of the most famous examples of his work. For its meticulous city planning and modernist architecture, the city of Brasilia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Brasilia’s Cathedral
Brasilia’s Cathedral
The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies
The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies

Although the architectural aspect of Brasilia was enthralling, our visit was all the more so because it took place during a key moment in Brazil’s political transition away from the Partido Trabalhista (PT)- the Worker’s Party under which Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff have led the country over the last thirteen years. Although both enjoyed popular support through much of their mandates, the ongoing political scandal has tainted both of their names and threatened President Rousseff with impeachment. Illicit operations involving bribes allegedly also involved the now ex Chair of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, who is said to have stolen millions of dollars over the last several years. While in Brasilia, we had the opportunity to experience the democratic process by attending his trial to be removed from his chairmanship.

In addition to witnessing history in the making at Cunha’s trial, were able to meet with Deputy Alessandro Molon who represents the state of Rio de Janeiro and who is running for mayor of the city of Rio. He agrees, as many in Brazil do, that labor and retirement reforms are vital to stabilizing the country’s economy, but he cautions that they cannot be used to increase the precariety of the most vulnerable members of society. This dichotomy is representative of the concerns of many Brazilians: How can the country tackle unemployment and inflation simultaneously? How can they trust politicians when corruption has so clearly been an issue over the last several years? How can they form future leaders more effectively to prevent such grave situations in years to come?

Pro-impeachment Rally in Sao Paulo
Pro-impeachment Rally in Sao Paulo

Brazil today is a politically-divided country in the midst of an economic crisis. Unemployment hovers around 11% and many analysts expect it to rise to 15% before it starts to fall. Our visit to Brasilia gave us a first-hand look at the attempts to ameliorate the concerns citizens are expressing on the streets across the country. While there, we witnessed budding hope that with a greater sense of responsibility will come better governance. Yet, overcoming this historical phase will not be easy. The modernity of Brasilia is indicative of an important fact: modern Brazil is a relatively new entity. The country’s first president chosen by direct elections after the military coup of 1964 was not installed until 1990 and there have only been three other presidents since then. As a young democracy, most challenges that emerge are relatively new and unique and will require the collaboration of millions of Brazilians, many of whom are disheartened but cautiously optimistic for better years to come.

This article was written by Angela Londoño (WG’18)