Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy in August 1942 and on Japan in June 1945. The country was an important link in the air route to the Middle East from the United States, and it furnished important raw materials, especially rubber, to the Allied war effort. Brazil was also the only Latin American state apart from Mexico to provide combat units. Some 26,000 men of the Brazilian Army and Air Force participated in the Italian Campaign on the Allied side. Brazil became a large recipient of U.S. military aid during the war, and its economy benefited from American investments that jump-started industrialization.
In 1947, Brazil hosted the conference that created the Inter-American Treaty of Mutual Assistance (Rio Pact). Under the administration of President Enrico Dutra (1946–1951), Brazil aligned its foreign policy with that of the United States. The Communist Party was outlawed, and Dutra broke relations with the Soviet Union in 1947. Brazil signed a mutual assistance pact with the United States in 1952.
The government of President Getulio Vargas (1951–1954) pursued nationalist policies designed to strengthen Brazilian control over its natural resources. In 1953, the Brazilian Congress approved creation of the Brazilian oil company known as Petrobras. Originally there was to be both national and foreign investment, but the final bill eliminated the latter, giving the government a monopoly over Brazilian oil reserves.
Vargas's successors adopted a nonaligned foreign policy, maintaining relations with Cuba after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and celebrating Che Guevara as a national hero. In the domestic sphere, Brazil's economic growth slowed; inflation was running at an annual rate of 140 percent in early 1964, and unemployment was rampant. On the other hand, President Joao Goulart (1961–1964) was unable to reconcile sharp divisions among communists, conservatives, and the armed forces. The military overthrew Goulart in April 1964.
Following the coup, Brazil's foreign policy changed. Washington, concerned about Goulart's leftist policies, had welcomed the coup. The fight against communism became one of the main goals of President Humberto Castelo Branco (1964–1967). In 1964, Brazil decided to break diplomatic relations with Cuba, and in 1965 it supported the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Brazil sent troops to the island as part of the Inter-American Force. Castelo Branco's foreign policy adhered to the defense of Western democracies, but a certain level of independence was in line with Brazilian national interests. Thus, Brazil maintained commercial relations with the Soviet Union.
In 1964 Brazil and other South American countries implemented the National Security Doctrine (NSD). Created in Brazil's War College, the NSD was anticommunist in essence and saw the military as the guardian of the state and society. Immediately after taking power in 1964, the military regime suspended the Brazilian congress, dissolved political parties and student and union organizations, arrested political leaders, and distanced itself from the Catholic Church. According to the NSD, the armed forces were empowered with internal security functions. In the 1970s other military regimes in the Southern Cone, such as Argentina and Chile, emulated this Brazilian model.
The alliance between Brazil and the United States operated at three levels: military, economic, and technical. The United States continued military assistance, yet it was in the economic arena that Brazil benefited the most. Between 1964 and 1970, Brazil received nearly $2 billion in economic aid from the United States. U.S. advisors were present in almost every government office.
By the end of the 1960s, however, bilateral relations changed. Brazil was positioning itself as the main economic and military power in South America, and its foreign policy reflected a new pragmatism. While the country continued to maintain good relations with the United States, it also sought to strengthen its ties with developing nations. Brazil was one of the leading nations in creating the Group of 77, a coalition of developing countries at the United Nations; it also opened new markets in Europe and increased its trade with the USSR.
Throughout the early 1970s, Brazil was more concerned with its own economic development than with Cold War ideology. Nevertheless, U.S.-Brazilian relations remained cordial. In the mid-1970s, a combination of inflation, climbing foreign debt, and the effects of the oil crisis (1973–1974) put an end to the Brazilian economic miracle. Two issues also strained U.S.-Brazilian relations during the late 1970s: human rights violations and Brazil's development of a nuclear program. The military junta ruling Brazil was guilty of human rights abuses, including the torture and execution of political prisoners. The Catholic Church was the principal agency condemning the repression, but human rights organizations such as Amnesty International also raised the alarm. Brazilian leaders, however, considered U.S. President Jimmy Carter's defense of human rights an intervention in Brazilian internal affairs. Consequently, President Ernesto Geisel (1974–1979) decided to end the bilateral military pact with the United States that dated from World War II. Because U.S. economic and military aid was suspended, Brazil signed trade agreements with Europe and Japan while continuing to develop its nuclear program in association with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany).
The Brazilian nuclear program had begun in 1975, when Brazil signed an agreement with the FRG for reactors and enrichment plants. The nuclear program was not a new Brazilian ambition, but the need to develop new energy sources accelerated the process. The effort by the United States to stop Brazil from developing a nuclear program failed. With the inauguration of democratic governments in the 1980s, Brazil and Argentina did agree to develop nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, to cooperate in nuclear policies, and to exchange personnel at their nuclear plants. Such nuclear cooperation continued during the following decade.
Toward the end of the Cold War, Brazil continued to follow a nonaligned and independent foreign policy. In 1985, President José Sarney (1985–1990) and Argentine President Raul Alfonsin (1983–1989) signed the Iguazu Declaration, by which both countries shared their commitments toward the peace process in Central America, the defense of the Argentine sovereignty rights over the Falklands, and the creation of a peace zone in the South Atlantic. Later agreements were signed laying the groundwork for the creation of Mercosur (Southern Common Market) in 1991.
Nieto, Clara. Masters of War: Latin America and U.S. Aggression from the Cuban Revolution through the Clinton Years. New York: Seven Stories, 2003.; Parkinson, F. Latin America, the Cold War & the World Powers, 1945–1973: A Study in Diplomatic History. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1974.; Wesson, Robert. The United States and Brazil: Limits of Influence. New York: Praeger, 1981.