211. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Call of Celso Furtado on the President


  • The President
  • Celso Furtado—SUDENE2
  • Carlos Bernardes—Minister Counselor, Brazilian Embassy
  • Under Secretary Chester Bowles
  • Robert F. Woodward—Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, Department of State
  • Richard Goodwin—White House
  • Leonard J. Saccio—Director USOM Brazil
  • Milton Barall—Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, Department of State

After greetings, Dr. Furtado handed the President a letter from President Quadros which the President read immediately.3 The President instructed Mr. Goodwin to try to prepare a reply prior to Dr. Furtado’s departure on July 15. He told Dr. Furtado that if the letter is not ready on that date, it will be transmitted to President Quadros through the Embassy. The President also accepted a copy of the master plan for the Northeast, on which he said he already has some information.

The President asked for Dr. Furtado’s judgment on whether the Brazilian Congress would approve the plan and appropriate the funds, and his estimate of the impact of implementation of the plan. Dr. Furtado replied that the lower House has already approved the plan. He said the impact must be enormous for it is intended to change the area in a 3 to 5 year period. The entire future of Brazil depends on success in this area, he said. The President asked several questions with respect to population, the percentage of arable land, square miles, etc. to which Dr. Furtado replied. On the question of the percentage of people who own land, Dr. Furtado replied that ownership was highly concentrated in the hands of a few people and for this reason he hoped to increase efficiency in cane production and reduce the number employed in the cane fields through the mass migration program. He explained his proposal to trade irrigation [Page 440] for land which would then be turned over to the people in the form of small holdings for the production of scarce foodstuffs. He believes the land owner would be willing to trade land in this way because cane operations are now uneconomical and non-competitive with sugar grown in the south. Dr. Furtado also provided some explanation of the sums he seeks from foreign sources.

President Kennedy said he had become aware of the problems of the Northeast which were now a matter of great interest and understanding in the U.S. He said we would have to move toward a solution and that the U.S. desires to be helpful. He commended Dr. Furtado for his sound judgment in making use of his experience to plan for the solution of the problems of this area. The President said U.S. assistance would, of course, be conditioned by what is available here. He referred to the present fight in Congress on the Aid Bill, but said we would nevertheless want to be associated with implementing Dr. Furtado’s plan.

The President mentioned the forthcoming trip to Brazil to be made by his brother4 and expressed the hope that he would be able to visit the Northeast. Dr. Furtado said he would be delighted to show him around the area, at least the East coast humid zone, and to give him a first-hand explanation of his plan.

Dr. Furtado then provided some explanation of the severe problems of the Northeast and his hopes for the ultimate migration of up to 1 million persons. He said the major difficulty is to create hope in people who now have none. This, he said, can be accomplished only by immediate action which would make the people of the area aware of the fact that help was in sight. The President replied that he sensed that migration was an essential feature of the plan. He asked whether the peasant leagues gave land to the people. Dr. Furtado replied that they promise land and this promise alone was very effective because land is what the people most desire. He said that initially land would be made available by the Government, but in later stages through the exchange of land from the sugar cane plantations in payment for irrigation, and through the land reform bill now being prepared.

The President asked about the size of SUDENE. Dr. Furtado replied that he had about 200 technicians now but that he had an active program for training additional professionals and he hopes to reach 500 within a year.

When the President expressed concern for the people of the area who suffer from a shortage of food, a high rate of infant mortality and other symptoms of acute depression, Dr. Furtado replied that it is awareness of this situation which makes President Quadros accept the [Page 441] improvement of the Northeast as the number 1 task of his Administration.

The President read the press release which he approved and subsequently issued.5

After closing remarks, the party was escorted to another part of the White House for a private showing of a Bell and Howell film on the Northeast in which Dr. Furtado played a prominent role.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Brazil, June-July 1961. Official Use Only. Drafted by Barall. Approved in U on July 24 and in the White House August 2.
  2. SUDENE: Superintendency for the Development of the Northeast (Brazil). [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. Not found.
  4. Edward M. Kennedy visited Brazil July 30-August 4.
  5. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 508-509.