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Brazil and Argentina

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

Brazil under Vargas. By Karl Loewenstein. The Macmillan Company. $2.75. Frontier by Air. (Brazil Takes the Sky Road.) By Alice Rogers Hager. The Macmillan Company. $3.50. Argentina. The Life Story of a Nation. By John W. White. The Viking Press. $3.75.

There are several ways of understanding a country and its people. One is through research on their institutions; another is by travel through the country; and still another is by long residence in the region. In three new books these three methods of approach to the understanding of the institutions, civilization, and history of Brazil and Argentina are employed in the order indicated. Both the armchair traveler and the amateur student of civilization may find material here for thoughtful contemplation in a world torn by enmities, hatreds, and rivalries.

“Brazil under Vargas,” is written by an exiled scholar from Munich who feels that a European-trained student of political institutions can better understand the Vargas regime in Brazil than can a scholar from the United States or even one from Latin America. He approaches his task as a political scientist, rather than as an historian, and he presents a morphological analysis of Brazilian political life as determined by President Vargas and his constitutions since 1930, when the executive came into office by revolution. However, Dr. Loewenstein has come to the conclusion that Brazil has a “novel system of government” when in reality it is actually not so greatly different from other governments which have existed in other Latin American countries. Thus the author has succeeded in making a political mountain out of a constitutional molehill, although at the same time he has given the reader a shrewd, if not always interesting, appraisal of the constitutions of 1934 and 1937 and of the central figure of the Brazilian state.

Of the first constitution, Dr. Loewenstein writes: its provisions were permeated by a “pronounced collectivism . . . with the emphasis on the people as a whole and on the forgotten man.” Dr. Loewenstein describes the Constitution of 1937 as a “ghost constitution,” “It exists on paper, but its essential provisions are devoid of living reality. It was born and yet it has never lived. It is a document of no less than one hundred and eighty-seven elaborate articles, drafted in lofty phraseology, and with that technical craftsmanship for which its author, Minister Francisco Campos, is duly renowned.” Under this document prepared by his “one man brain trust” President Vargas rules by decree law today. Of the executive Dr. Loewenstein writes: “Vargas is neither a vegetarian mystic with voices nor a cynical braggadocio with vices; he is a bourgeois person with bourgeois tastes and some very human failings which are no secret to many people.”

A logical complement to this volume is “Frontier by Air,” by Alice Rogers linger which indicates clearly the steps taken by President Vargas and the Brazilian government to improve many economic, social, intellectual, and, incidentally, military, characteristics of this great country. The book is a report of a 15,000 mile tour in Brazilian military planes made in 1941 at the invitation and blessing of President Vargas in order that the author might present to the world a description of the remarkable pioneering job the government is doing in air transportation. The author, a flier and writer for many years, has told her story informally and chronologically with a sense of humor and with an appreciation of the Brazilian character. The result is the kind of book one cannot lay aside before it is completed. But for the busy reader, the meat of the account may be found in the appendix which contains statistical summaries. The value of the book is greatly increased by the superb photographs taken by a professional news photographer, Miss Jackie Martin.

Just as the reader may obtain an intimate appreciation of Brazil by reading the first two volumes listed above, so he may obtain a clear, concise conception of the neighboring state of Argentina from reading the third book. “Argentina” is an appraisal of the land, the people, and the government of that country by a newspaper man long resident in Latin America. His attitude toward his subject is both critical and sympathetic, and his style makes his book easy to read.

In many interesting paragraphs Mr. John W. White describes the people of Argentina. He writes: “Much as they would resent being told so, the Argentines in many ways are more like the people of the United States than is any other people. For one thing, they have developed to a higher degree than any of the other Latin Americans most of those traits which they so persistently criticize in North Americans. They are materialistic, imperialistic, hypocritical, overbearing, and insincere—the five major crimes they charge against the Yanquis. Like North Americans, they are money-conscious and are forever talking about the price of things. Like North Americans, they talk too loudly in public places, as though afraid they will not be seen unless heard. Like North Americans, the Argentines are intense individualists, full of zest and spontaneity, and ready to fight at the least slight, real or imaginery, and they stubbornly refuse to be disciplined. . . . They crowd railroad and theater ticket offices and all other public places, barging into one another like sheep and struggling to get ahead of someone else. . . .

Toward those he knows, an Argentine can be a most courteous and charming person, but he seems to lack any sense of public politeness toward those he does not know. . . , Hatred is a congenital disease of the Argentine people and . . . the hatred in the Argentine character hinders energy and nullifies constructive effort.” It is no wonder such similar peoples do not get along well, and when each country considers itself the leader in Latin American continental affairs, the inevitable result is misunderstanding and non-co-operation.

With this description in mind the reader may peruse the book with a clearer understanding of past Argentine history and contemporary Argentine political action. While some parts of the story appear overdrawn for effect and some of the history is faulty, certainly the reader of this book, who follows the author to its end, will be better able to judge for himself the contemporary Argentine characteristics which the newspapers, especially of the United States, customarily report almost daily. But the Argentines, like other peoples, have a right to determine their own destiny.


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