Science and Technology in Brazil

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Science and Technology in Brazil

by Maurice Bazin & Brazilian Comrades

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 7, No. 3, May 1975, p. 22 – 27

On July 25, 1973, the Brazilian President General Medici approved the “Basic Plan for Scientific and Technological Development” for the period 1973/1974.1 According to the Minister of Planning, “the main task of the Plan (PBDCT) is to have modern science and technology serve Brazilian society, in its objectives of development and greatness”. In fact, the military government will spend 700 million dollars for this plan, with a promise of future increases; this can be compared to 17 million dollars a year spent in the same sector five years ago. 

At the same time, the dictatorship is eager to announce the astonishing increase in the number of university students during the last decade: from 142,000 to 688,000. In the same period, the number of teachers increased from 30,000 to 66,000. The content and intent of this education is not mentioned. There is no doubt that the sleepy and anachronistic scientific, technological and university systems of the 50’s and early 60’s are about to suffer a big impact. 

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, to make an analysis of the Brazilian dictatorship’s sudden interest in science, to see who benefits from it, and to show what hardships it brings to the majority of Brazilian people. Second, to stimulate everyone to discuss the subject more deeply and formulate a progressive line of action with respect to science and technology. 

The Recent Development of Capitalism in Brazil 

It is important to interpret the “technological boom” as a consequence of the recent development of the productive forces in Brazil. 


In order to control wages the old-fashioned process of class struggle was replaced by a “scientific” formulation and solution to the problem. The adjustment of wages due to inflation is calculated by a complicated mathematical formula, constructed by the present Finance Minister Simonsen, formerly known for his facilities as a mathematician, Italian Opera freak and whiskey drinker. 

The formula looks like this: 

w n+1 = 0.5[w n + w n-1 ] [1 + r n+1 ] [1 + 0.5i n+1

w n is the real wage during the past year. 

w n-1 is for the year before that. 

r n+1 is the productivity increase anticipated for the coming year. 

i n+1 is the rate of inflation anticipated for the coming year. 

w n+1 is the wage allotted for the coming year. 

Anyway, the key to the formula is the forecasted inflation rate for the one year period of effect of the new wages-which is always smaller than the inflation rate that actually happens. This is the spirit of the so-called indexing technique of monetary correction. There are indications from the press that the American working class is going to receive the same recipe. Let’s compare the official forecasts and official effective inflation rate released by the Getulio Vargas Foundation one year later:


1966                    25%                                        45%

1967                    10%                                        30.1%

1968                   15%                                       21.5%

1969                   15%                                       21.1%

1970                   15%                                       21.3%

1971                   12%                                       20%

This way, with the effective help of “pure,” “cold,” “impartial” and “fair” mathematical computation, the real wages of the workers are going down and down. 

According to the Getulio Vargas Foundation and DIEESE, the real minimum wage fell 50% in Rio de Janeiro from 1958 to 1973, and almost 70% in Sao Paulo. In December 1965, a minimum wage worker needed 87 hours of work to buy one month’s worth of subsistence level food. In March 1974, he needs 177 hours of work to buy the same amount of food. This doesn’t include housing and transportation, not to mention education and medical care for the family.

Income distribution analysis leads to the following conclusions: 80% of the poorer strata of the population in 1960 received 46% of the total income; this percentage fell to 37% at the beginning of the seventies. On the other hand, 20% of the wealthier strata in 1960 received 54% of the total income; at the beginning of the 70’s the figure had grown to 63%. Of this 20%, 5% alone, the richest, saw their share grow from 27% to 36%. And the 1% of the richest of the richest, saw its participation soar from 12% to 18%.

The real economic miracle is that the Brazilian workers are surviving. They are not fooled by technocratic mysticism, and keep struggling in spite of the violence of the dictatorship’s repression which imprisons, tortures, and kills hundreds of them each year.

Since 1971, the Brazilian and foreign press have been giving a lot of attention to the so-called Brazilian economic miracle. At the international level, this has contributed to improving the image of the military dictatorship abroad, as well as stimulating external investments in Brazil. (The political situation is “stable” and the returns in profits are greater than anywhere else.) But by now it is well known what this “economic miracle” really is and whom it has benefited. The indicators of such a miracle are: the growth of the gross national product at an annual rate of about 10% since 1968, the reduction of the inflation rate starting in 1964, and an enormous increase in exports. Yet during the same period of time, the child mortality rate in Sao Paulo, the country’s most developed state, has also increased by 10%.2 [See box] 

This economic growth was achieved by creating attractive conditions for investment by foreign capitalists and corporations and also by continually reducing the real salaries of the Brazilian workers. The reduction in real wages as well as the almost non-existent environmental protection legislation have been instrumental in persuading foreign companies to build factories in Brazil.

In order to understand the current interest of the Brazilian military dictatorship in science and technology, the classic idea of “cultural imperialism” 3 is insufficient. Obviously cultural imperialism is being used by the international bourgeoisie to manipulate the Brazilian people. The interaction with North American “centers of excellence” is stronger than ever, as is shown in a letter of invitation sent to major U.S. universities announcing faculty positions in the Physics institute of a Brazilian University [See box below] What is happening now is that the desire for increased bargaining power by some sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie has led to a drive for research and development within Brazil. The goal is to ”put Brazil, within-the period of one generation, in the category of developed nations” through a “modern, competitive and dynamic economy”. The (1972/1974) First National Development Plan recognizes that “the international technological revolution has a big influence over industrial development and international commerce; economic growth becomes more and more determined by technological progress”. Studies by government planning institutions (IPEA/IPLAN) point out that “the absence of internal production of ‘know-how’ reinforces the dependency of Brazilian production on foreign technology”. Indeed this dependency cost Brazil, during 1973 alone, $400 million, which is obviously too much for an economy with an increasing deficit in its balance of payments. 

The need for a home-made technology to develop a national capitalism emerged from these and other studies, and the final result was the PBDCT (1973/1974). 


… the Institute has at present 7 Ph.D’s (four are Brazilians and all of them had at least one year of post-doctoral experience abroad) and 8 M.Sc. ‘s. Before the end of 1973 we hope to hire at least four more Ph.D’s. We are also expecting in 1973 visits, with periods ranging from one to six months, of senior researchers… Your duty here would be to help in the orientation of Ph.D. theses, suggest and supervise MSc. theses, and teach graduate courses and give advanced topics in seminars. Also we need your enthusiasm and ideas for general educational, scientific and human problems. The positions available are associate and full professorships, with a monthly salary equivalent to US$1,000.00 to $1,300.00 for 13 months a year [the 13th is paid at Christmas time]…. I must add that most foreigners find life here very pleasant. The beaches are definitely among the best in the Country! Although the region is still quite poor one can live comfortably in… Three bedroom apartments can be rented for US$100.00 to $200.00. Medical services are good but almost as expensive as in the United States. Transportation and other services are very cheap. There is an American School which teaches in English and Portuguese and follows American programs and calendars.

— letter from a Brazilian university

The Plan for Science and Technology 

An examination of the budget of the Basic Plan for Scientific and Technological Development (PBDCT) will show how it will fulfill the needs of the Brazilian ruling class instead of solving the real problems of the people: chronic malnutrition, endemic tropical diseases, unemployment, lack of medical care, illiteracy, poverty. 

The budget of the PBDCT — $700 million — will be used as follows: 

28% — Industrial Technology

Through this, the largest percentage allocated to a single area, the PBDCT gives direct assistance to the capitalists in order to “keep the high levels of national economic development rate”. The dictatorship’s strategy of development requires the continuous increase of exports, with simultaneous elevation of the “technological content of the exported goods”. Thus it is explicitly stated that the project is to a great extent aimed at the external market and not at the Brazilian people’s needs. Included in this program are armored cars and tanks, a joint project of the army with the automobile industry, and portable bridges “to be used mainly in military operations”, a joint project of the army with the civil engineering industry. There is no need to explain that this is connected with anti-guerrilla and imperialist activities in Latin America. In addition, the program is designed to increase the production of export goods such as meat, soy beans, coffee, sugar and cotton. Production of export goods does not increase the intake of calories and protein by the undernourished Brazilian people.4 

10% — Infrastructure Technology 

This infrastructure, necessary to a growing capitalist system, e.g., energy (hydroelectric, nuclear, oil), transportation and communications systems, is being built with no regard to the ecology or to the social conditions of the workers and the people living in the regions being developed. The extermination of the Amazonian Indians in the process of budding the strategic trans-Amazonian highway is a concrete example. 

4.9% — Support Activities

These activities will provide the necessary bureaucracy to receive, deal with and spread in a systematic way the up-to-date scientific and technological developments, giving the bourgeoisie better control over the data, hence increasing its control over the population. For instance, there is being created a bank of socio-economic data including information about housing, work power, migrations, fertility, etc. Another bank of data will provide technological assistance to private Brazilian and foreign industries. Included in this allotment are provisions for close international “cooperation”, mainly with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Germany, England, France and Japan. 

2.6% — Technology Applied to Social Development

This ridiculously small percentage of the PBDCT, allocated to the fundamental problems of health and education, is not going to solve them, but is actually part of the needed industrial infrastructure. The health program is necessary to keep the people barely alive and provide workers to the industries. The interest in cures for Schistossomosis, Chagas disease and Bubonic pest coincides with reports on the shortage of labor power in Sao Paulo. The Educational Technology Program will provide semi-literate instead of illiterate workers to the factories. At the same time, the audio-visual technology will delivery huge amounts of government propaganda to the classroom as well as through the radio, TV, movies and the press. However, this expenditure on propaganda measures the extent to which the people are smart and know what’s going on. 

2.1% — Special Integrated Projects

The purpose of these projects is to incorporate “unexplored lands” into the productive process. The Amazon Forest, the cerrados region and the municipio Aripuana will be affected through integration, development and colonization organized by private companies, but at the expense of the sweat and blood of the hard-working Brazilians, mainly Nordestinos (from the North East of Brazil). The consequences of this policy are of public knowledge: the extermination of Indians and the plundering of the natural resources of the land. 

2.9% — Planning and Programs Being Studied (No description given). 

The basis of the PBDCT is the same as that of the whole “Brazilian model”; that is, the Brazilian working class must pay for research and development that will benefit the capitalists. Two recent declarations in the Brazilian magazine Visao5 are worth quoting. According to commandant Thomas Thedim Lobo, president of the Industrial Planning Institute, “technology is the application of scientific knowledge, including the scientific method, to the conditions of production and consumption markets, to maximize certain goals. In economic systems of free enterprises, as for example ours, the objective to be maximized is the profit of the entrepreneurs“. According to Giordano Romi, of the Administrative Council of Romi Industries S.A., one of the first Brazilian companies to develop knowhow in the sector of equipments, “the Companies wanting to develop their own projects involving new technologies would be allowed to deduct from their operational receipts, as far as income tax is concerned, a value corresponding to three times the global cost to the total execution of the project”. It is obvious, then, that the use of science and technology depends on which class has political power. Since the military dictator now in power represents the bourgeosie, the PBDCT is a basic instrument for their strategy. To oppose it, the progressive forces in Brazil should write a program of their own, in which science and technology will benefit the people. 


Foreign Capital in Brazil on June 30, 1973 

Source: Banco Central do Brasil (quoted in Veja, number 289)

USA 1455
Germany 523
Switzerland 327
Canada 322
England 315
Japan 232
France 213
Panama (!) 106
Holland West Indies (!) 92
Holland 91
Luxembourg 86
Sweden 72
Belgium 65
Bahamas (!) 42
Italy 33

Brazilian Militarism 

One important outcome of the current scientific and technological plan is the growth of militarism. The military projects in the PBDCT will develop military power in Brazil with two purposes: one, to protect the bourgeoisie and emerging sectors of the middle class that benefit from the recent capitalist growth, and, the other, to protect Brazilian economic interests 6 in Latin America, including repression of popular revolutions in neighboring countries. 

According to a recent issue of the Brazilian Embassy Bulletin, Brazil is negotiating to sell armored cars, an operation worth over 100 million dollars, to the Qatar emirate. These vehicles travel 110 km/hour over any type of terrain. They will be equipped with gun towers and infrared detectors. The same company involved in this deal, Engesa, is planning to sell those armored cars to Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and South Korea. The type of research mentioned in the plan, such as armored cars, airplanes and hovercrafts, is clearly the sort required for building up an intervention army. 

Alienation and Brainwashing

The participation or non-participation of the Brazilian scientist in this “economic miracle” is a question of great importance. Until recently one could say that the scientists were excluded from the productive sectors of the economy; isolated and alienated, they were easy preys to cultural imperialism. Many emigrated to research centers of advanced capitalist countries, and those who stayed in Brazil were doing a science with no application in the country. With the economic boom from 1968 on, the situation became more complex. Now the PBDCT plans to integrate scientists into the new stage of capitalist development. This does not mean that Brazilian science will work towards the people’s needs. On the contrary, it will serve the interests of the Brazilian bourgeoisie associated with international imperialism. 

Indeed, there is an enormous participation and control by foreign capital in fundamental sectors of the economy. [See box] Profit rates for foreign investors in Brazil are among the highest in the world. According to British capitalist Rothschild, “Brazil is the paradise for investors.” Due to the growing external debt, strategic resources will be exported at very cheap prices. From 1970 to 1980, Brazil will be one of the biggest mineral exporters. What is the reflection of this economic situation in the scientific sector? It is the coexistence of two types of science in Brazil. On one side, cultural imperialism will still be guiding the elites in the “pure sciences”. On the other hand, the applied sciences will serve the big Brazilian and multinational corporations.7 

Besides the alienation of the scientist, science is used for ideological alienation of the people, through massive propaganda used by the military dictatorship. Following the example of the North American government, which intensified its bombing against the people in Vietnam during each space trip, the Brazilian dictatorship uses each “scientific advance” for self-promotion, such as rocket experiments for the modernization of the mail service, computer centers to computerize the official Sports lottery racket, automobile race victories, and so on. These are attempts to shift the attention of the people from their real problems. The dictatorship is fearful of the conscientization which will lead to its overthrow. Brazilian science is obviously not directed to solve any fundamental problem of the majority of the people. Its priorities are completely alienated from them. Moreover, it serves to legitimize an unlawful regime which manipulates it. 

The ideology imposed in the universities by the present bigshots of Brazilian science consists of the importation of the scientific ethics from advanced capitalist countries. Brazilian scientists are required to seek contact and approval from the scientific community of those countries. Such approval, of course, is dependent on their acceptance of the capitalist scientific ethic of the neutrality and apolitical nature of science, which includes the belief that research (pure Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry) is good for everybody. They are also expected to defend “academic freedom” as it is understood in the bourgeois society, that is, the freedom to choose the research of your own choice, even if irrelevant or racist. Implicit in this is a denial of the relationship between science and social problems. Brazilian scientists are expected to adopt elitist attitudes and obey the “commandments of elitism”: 

  • Knowledge is private property. 
  • Theory is above everything else. 
  • Science is competition for personal fame and power. 
  • Superiors must be flattered; students must be forced to trail behind at a snail’s pace. 
  • This same ideology must be transferred to the students who survive the university obstacle race. 

Scientists in Brazil rationalize their non-participation in democratic struggles because, being “prepared persons”, they should preserve the “flame of knowledge” and the “technological skill” until after social changes occur. At the same time, of course, they participate in and profit from the “economic miracle”, through consulting, high salaries, industrial and military research, writing books for McGraw-Hill of Brazil, etc. 

But the truth is that most Brazilian scientists do not have a chance to choose how and to whom to direct their knowledge and creativity. Political and socially directed activities are forbidden and repressed. For example, Brazilian law pertaining to schools and universities (decree 477) states that: teachers, students and employees of educational institutions who participate in strikes, destroy property (inside or outside of schools), participate in street marches and unauthorized rallies, or distribute “subversive material”, will be punished by the following penalties: professors and employees will be summarily dismissed, and banned from employment in any other educational institution during a period of 5 years; students will be expelled and banned from matriculating in any other educational institution during a 3 year period. If the student is on a scholarship, he/she shall lose it and become ineligible for any scholarship aid for a period of 5 years (if a foreigner, the scholarship student will be expelled from Brazil). 

Decree 477 was issued early in February 1969. It came as an answer to mass demonstrations of protest against the dictatorship under student leadership, which took place during 1968 in all major Brazilian cities. 

On one side the dictatorship coopts scientists with high salaries and resources. On the other side they must comply with the U.S. standards of productivity, competition and self-censorship. 

It is the task of all Brazilian students, teachers and staff to organize themselves to fight against the misuse of science, by joining the fight of all the oppressed Brazilian people towards their liberation.


>> Back to Vol. 7, No. 3 <<


  1. PBDCT—Plano Basico de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Technologico 1973/1974, Presidencia da Republica, Junho de 1973 (Servico Grafico Fundacao IBGE)
  2. Veja, (the Brazilian equivalent to Newsweek) number 295, 1974 (April Editorial).
  3. In addition to the many activities…. which are directly related to U.S. economic gains, there is a vast network of supporting activities which limit the options of the Latin American peoples for alternatives to foreign domination. These affect education, maps media, organized labor, community relations, etc., and, though much more subtle, still constitute imperialism-cultural imperialism. The ultimate effect is to give the U.S. supreme voice in the internal and cultural affairs of these countries.

    Cultural imperialism has two separate but related elements. One is the spread of an ideology and the other is the emulation of foreign cultural forms and their substitution for the native culture.

    Porque?: Science and Technology in Latin America, Science for the People, 1973.

    See also the articles by Maurice Bazin (Rutgers University, New Jersey 08903): “Science, Technology and the People of Latin America” in Perspectives on Latin America (S. Haily, ed.) MacMillan, N.Y., 1974 and “Pure Science and Cultural Imperialism in Chile” in Rape the Sun (J. Carew, ed.) Third Press, N.Y., 1974 and in Les Temps Modernes, March 1973, Paris. See also Oscar Varsarsky’s Ciencia, Politica y Cientificismo, Centro Editor de America Latina, Buenos Aires, 1969.

  4. The similarity of this project with the Green Revolution is quite clear. The Green Revolution is a recently developed form of agriculture based on high yield varieties of wheat and rice, developed in Latin America by the Rockefeller foundation, Ford foundation and AID. The analysis in Por Que?, published by SESPA, 9 Walden St., Jamaica Plain, Mass. 02130, December 1972, applies here.
  5. Visao, February 11, 1974.
  6. Some examples: Brazil-Bolivia oil and gas exploration; Brazil-Colombia coal exploration; Brazil-postcoup Chile negotiations about Chilean copper and coal; Brazil-Paraguay Itaipu hydroelectric and cattle raising business. The consequences of the eventual concretization of the hydroelectric plant will be the creation in the Parana Plata basin of a situation similar to the Panama Canal zone.
  7. As quoted from Visao, February 11, 1974: “The proof of the high quality of our services”, says Angela Pompeu, director of the Brazilian Technological Information Center, “is the interest, including from big international corporations that have research laboratories and highly trained people of their own, to get information and suggestions from our staff.”