Revolution in the Terra do Sol
The Cold War in Brazil
Sarah Sarzynski



Tropes of o Nordeste: Contested Visions of the Region During the Cold War

Que a terra é do homem num é de Deus nem do Diabo
O sertao vai virá mar e o mar virá sertão

The land belongs to man, not to God or the Devil.
The land will turn into the sea, and the sea into land.

—The repeated verse that concludes Glauber Rocha’s Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, 1964

Given the revolutionary wave reverberating throughout the Americas following the Cuban Revolution, in 1959, Glauber Rocha could have portrayed Northeastern Brazil as a land erupting in social revolution in his groundbreaking film Deus e o diabo na terra do sol (released in English with the title Black God, White Devil). At the time of the film’s release, in 1964, hundreds of thousands of rural men and women in Northeastern Brazil were demanding land, labor, and citizenship rights through protests, strikes, and land invasions. Insiders and outsiders alike drew direct comparisons between the Northeastern rural social movements and the Cuban Revolution, raising both hopes and fears of an encroaching Brazilian social revolution. But Rocha’s film did not allude to the massive social mobilizations occurring in Northeastern Brazil. Instead, Rocha chose to depict historical struggles involving messianic cults, violent bandits, hired thugs, greedy large landowners, and miserable, ignorant rural people.

Deus e o diabo criticized historical forms of rural rebellion, such as messianism and cangaceirismo (banditry), as primitive forms of resistance emanating from hunger and alienation. Throughout the film, protagonists Manuel and Rosa escape from the historical legacies plaguing this region of the terra do sol (the land of the sun). In the open-ended finale, the rural couple flees from a battle between a hired gun and the backlands bandits, running across the dry lands of the sertão toward the presumed salvation of the sea. The folk ballad that narrates the film picks up tempo, suggesting the potential for change in the region when rural people become aware of their political rights instead of following false prophets (messianic cults) or partaking in unorganized, violent rebellion (banditry).

The film is one of the founding films of Cinema Novo, or New Cinema, a radical cultural movement that challenged romanticized Hollywood and European depictions of Third World poverty and sought to transform the passive spectatorship experience of cinema as entertainment into a political consciousness-raising exercise. Deus e o diabo was widely applauded nationally and internationally on its release, and it continues to be celebrated today as one of the most important Brazilian films ever made.1 In 1964, Brazilian critics applauded Deus e o diabo for being a “truly revolutionary film” and a “huge leap in the development of Brazilian cinema,” comparing it to Citizen Kane in terms of its impact on Brazil’s national cinema.2 Others compared Glauber Rocha to Euclides da Cunha, author of the canonical book from 1902 Os sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands), for creating a national epic that portrayed the desperation of the homem nordestino (Northeastern man), and described Deus e o diabo as the first Brazilian film to offer an “impressive real and authentic vision of Northeastern misery, its causes, and consequences.”3 To achieve this “reality effect,” Rocha filmed the landscape of Northeastern Brazil in high contrast to accentuate the region’s relentless sun and arid topography. He portrayed local inhabitants as nonwhite, small-in-stature victims, whose hunger and passivity preordains their death by messianic cults, backlands bandits, or the harshness of the terra do sol itself.

While I agree with critics that Deus e o diabo is a cinematic masterpiece, my analytical interest in the film returns to the question of why Rocha made a film in the early 1960s using the historical symbols of the cangaceiros (backlands bandits) and messianic cults. Investigating the film as a historical artifact of the time, I found that the references to cangaceiros and messianic cults were anything but unusual. It seemed that everyone—including commercial filmmakers, leaders of rural social movements, journalists, large landowners, intellectuals, popular poets, and Brazilian and US government officials—communicated about Northeastern political and social struggles in the 1950s and 1960s in a language borrowed from the past or, at least, composed of historical themes, narratives, and symbols associated with the region of Northeastern Brazil. This realization led me to inquire further about why people referred to historical themes when arguing for or against agrarian reform in the era of the Cuban Revolution and the consequences the discourse has held for the region and its people.

Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonparte, invoked the idea of “borrowed language” to explain that the French Revolution of 1848 had failed because of its repetition of past revolutionary ideas and symbols, which led to “farce” instead of a proletarian revolution. Marx implied that a language for the future had to be created for a social revolution to be successful, one that abandoned the past and its superstitions. In Northeastern Brazil, in the 1950s and 1960s, an entirely new language would have been impossible and impractical. Historical symbols and themes such as messianism and backlands banditry are core components that define Northeastern Brazil, forming part of a regional trope that distinguishes the region and its people as the Other in Brazil.

In Brazilian society, assumptions that Northeasterners are backward, violent, illiterate, and exploited victims who lack agency are readily believed to be true and acted on as if they were true.4 Instead of creating a new language, the leaders of the rural social movements found that the best way to challenge existing social structures, such as the latifundio (large landholding system), was to engage with the region’s historical symbols and themes and imbue them with new revolutionary meanings. And yet even when rural social movements and other advocates for agrarian reform attempted to assert new meanings for historical symbols and themes, the images they produced often served to further entrench the assumptions about the region and its people, as in the case of Rocha’s terra do sol. By analyzing the debates over the meanings of historical symbols and themes in Northeastern Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s, I show the political consequences of regionalist stereotypes and their power to legitimize the state’s violent repression of Northeastern rural social movements, provide a rationale for the 1964 coup, and influence how the history of the Cold War has been written.

Historical Overview: Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s

After the Second World War, Brazil, like many Latin American countries, transitioned from being a dictatorship (Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo, 1937–45) to having a reasonably democratic government (1945–64), though many Brazilians remained disenfranchised, mainly because of literacy requirements. In 1950, more than half the Brazilian population, an estimated 15,200,000 to 16,700,000 adults, was illiterate and thus ineligible to vote.5 Vargas returned to the presidency in 1951, employing a nationalistic language to drive forward the impetus to “improve” the Brazilian nation through moderate social-reform programs, industrialization, and large-scale development projects in areas such as petroleum and energy. These projects and reforms did not include development projects for the rural Northeast until the late 1950s. Even though populist leaders like Vargas often used anti-imperialist slogans, the government passed laws such as SUMOC 113 (Currency and Credit Board, Instruction 113) to encourage direct foreign investment, which increased US business interests in Brazil.6

The emphasis on economic development and growth based on further industrialization and large-scale development projects accelerated during the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956–60), who had been elected on the slogan, “Fifty years (of progress) in five.” During these years, the Brazilian government built a new capital city, Brasília, “the city of the future,” to usher in a modern era. As James Holston has argued, architects, urban planners, and the Kubitschek administration designed Brasília as a “blueprint” for the modern Brazilian nation.7 Brasília would lead by example, becoming a model city that would eventually colonize the social order and transform Brazil’s social structures without social upheaval. Those who could not be incorporated into the national vision, such as the “nonmodern” Northeastern rural population, remained further marginalized in the national project.

The spread of modernization projects like Brasília in the 1950s inspired social scientists in Brazil and beyond to offer novel ways to define regional difference in Brazil. Through a new language of social indicators and statistics, journalists, scholars, and politicians could now prove that the Northeast was Brazil’s most unequal and “underdeveloped” region. The new, modern language replaced previously used racist terms, such as savage or barbaric, without diminishing social divisions predicated on racialized notions of superiority and inferiority. Commonly cited demographic indicators rarely put life-expectancy rates above thirty years for nordestinos (people from Northeastern Brazil); mothers were described as offering their infants coffee, farinha (yucca flour), and sugar instead of milk, which resulted in severe malnutrition, and infant mortality rates were reported to reach 700 deaths per 1,000 infants under the age of one.8 Illiteracy rates and parasitic infection rates were also extremely high in the rural Northeast, averaging over 70 percent. Journalists, intellectuals, and politicians jumped on the production of such “social scientific” knowledge to reinforce their political projects aimed at social change and economic development in the region. They produced new catchphrases to define the entrenched poverty of o Nordeste, describing the region as “600,000 square miles of suffering,” a land of “crab people” trapped in a repetitive cycle of scavenging and starvation, where human survival was “a miracle.”9 The synopsis on the book jacket of one of the most important books in English on the Ligas Camponesas (Peasant Leagues), Joseph Page’s The Revolution That Never Was (1972), provided a poignant example of this poverty discourse, explaining to readers that the “Northeast is indeed ‘underdeveloped,’ if so mild a word can be used about one of the most extensive and wretched wastelands of poverty in all of the world, where legions of the poor live on so little food that medical science says they should not be living at all.”10

Northeastern miséria, a combination of misery, wretchedness, and extreme poverty, became a newsworthy political issue in the 1950s and 1960s, in part because of the influence of social science and modernization theory, but also because of prevailing interpretations of the Cuban Revolution and the belief that impoverished peasants could form the social base for a revolution. In the mid-1950s, the rural social movement in Northeastern Brazil that later became known as the Ligas Camponesas began organizing rural workers to fight for radical agrarian reform and to extend labor laws to rural workers and grant citizenship rights to rural people, such as voting enfranchisement. In late November of 1959, the Ligas Camponesas won their first legal victory in the state court, mandating the expropriation of the defunct sugar plantation, the Engenho Galiléia. After this initial victory, the Ligas expanded rapidly throughout Northeastern Brazil, encouraging the growth of other rural social movements led by the Ligas, the Catholic Church, and the Brazilian Communist Party. The mainstream media drew connections between the Ligas and Cuba, “revolutionizing” the rural social movements and influencing how Brazilians and foreigners interpreted the Northeastern rural movements.

Rural social movement leaders realized that the most powerful strategy for gaining support for their political projects was to infuse the legends and historical symbols of the Northeast with new revolutionary meanings. The dominant symbols associated with the Northeast had to be reclaimed or transformed into symbols that expressed resistance and demanded justice, transferring the power attached to the landowning elite to the rural laborers. By appropriating regional symbols, social movements could generate popular support for the struggle for land or, metaphorically, for power in the region and the nation. For example, the Ligas challenged the traditional view that the backlands bandit was a sadistic, mixed-race criminal, transforming the cangaceiro into a regional Robin Hood fighting in the style of a guerrilla warrior against the latifúndio system and for rural people’s rights to the land. The Ligas used the symbol of the cangaceiro to encourage rural men to join the fight against the large landowners and for radical agrarian reform.

The rural social movements contributed to broader debates over the future of the Northeast, the Brazilian nation, and the Western Hemisphere being articulated by a range of political and cultural actors active in the region in the 1950s and 1960s, including Cinema Novo directors. For example, Northeastern state officials supported radical social-reform projects such as the adult literacy programs Paulo Freire discussed in his famous Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), now the bible of popular literacy programs around the globe. The Brazilian government inaugurated a widely celebrated development institute in 1959, SUDENE (Superintendência de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste, “Superintendency for Northeast Development”) headed by Celso Furtado, to raise the region’s economic prospects. The first funds from President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress were allocated to the United States Agency for International Development (US AID) for development projects in Northeastern Brazil meant to thwart the threat of communism and promote the American way of life. Regional landowners formed organizations to lobby for economic aid to modernize agricultural production as a strategy to regain their traditional regional power. An array of foreign luminaries, including Roberto Rossellini, Ralph Nader, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the mother of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, traveled to the Northeast to assess whether Brazil would be the “next Cuba.”

Carefully cultivating fears of “another Cuba” enabled large landowners, Brazilian military officials, the US government, and others I label here as Conservatives to offer Brazil a military solution.11 Citing escalating violence and chaos in the Northeast and alleged communist infiltration in the region, Conservatives argued that the Ligas Camponesas posed a threat to the modern Brazilian nation. On March 31, 1964, the Brazilian Armed Forces overthrew democratically elected leaders, including Brazilian president João Goulart and Pernambucan governor Miguel Arraes, and arrested, tortured, and disappeared Northeastern social-movement activists, beginning a military dictatorship that would rule Brazil for over twenty years. Over those two decades, the military government enacted “agrarian reforms” that favored policies to increase the mechanization of agricultural production, leading to an even more inequitable distribution of land in Northeastern Brazil. Talk of the Ligas Camponesas and other rural social-movements from the 1950s and 1960s fell silent against the national overture of order and progress.

The widely accepted interpretation of the Brazilian military dictatorship is that the 1964 coup was “mild” and that the first military president, General Humberto Castelo Branco (1964–67) was a “moderate.” This description erroneously suggests that the Brazilian military did not seize power through violent means, even though scholars, reporters, and activists were publishing reports about the human rights violations taking place in Northeastern Brazil after 1964.12 Most scholarly analyses of the dictatorship concentrate on the linha-dura (hard line) or anos de chumbo (leaden years) that began after 1968 with the leadership of General Artur Costa e Silva (1967–69), who increased censorship and repression through extraconstitutional decrees that limited citizens’ rights and sharply increased incidents of political arrest, torture, disappearance, and exile. This historical narrative developed out of testimonies and studies on student movements and guerrilla movements located in the urban centers of Brazil—namely, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília. Scholars João Roberto Martins Filho, James Green, and others have questioned the traditional historiographical interpretation, claiming that the authoritarian decrees Castelo Branco enacted were neither mild nor moderate and framing Brazilian authoritarianism as progressing along a continuum instead of starting in 1968.13 Revolution in the Terra do Sol furthers these critiques of the traditional interpretations of the coup and military dictatorship by showing how the law of national security was used in the Northeast before the 1964 coup, how state and landowner violence regularly targeted rural men and women throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and how rural social-movement leaders and participants, particularly those affiliated with the Ligas Camponesas, faced violent forms of repression after the coup and during the dictatorship.

What Was the Ligas Camponesas?

The Northeastern rural social movement Ligas Camponesas developed on the defunct sugar plantation known as the Engenho Galiléia, outside Vitória de Santo Antão in the state of Pernambuco, in the mid-1950s. After lawyers won the legal battle to have the property expropriated, in 1959, the movement expanded rapidly throughout Northeastern Brazil, primarily in the states of Pernambuco and Paraíba, and largely in the coastal (mata) and transitional (agreste) regions of these states. The Ligas Camponesas was an autonomous Northeastern movement without broader affiliations to political parties or institutions. They fought for radical agrarian reform under the banner “by law or by force” to continue to push for the expropriation of latifúndios. The Ligas also fought to end coercive rural labor systems, such as the cambão or the day of unpaid labor that large landowners required from their tenant workers.14 They tried to establish a minimum wage for rural workers and limits on numbers of hours and weeks worked and to extend the Labor Relations Code (Consolidação de Leis Trabalhistas, CLT), to rural workers.

I refer to the Ligas Camponesas in the plural because that is how they are referred to in Portuguese, as Ligas Camponesas, which is an umbrella term used to describe the collective of community-led and organized ligas (leagues). When rural workers established a liga (league) in their community, the liga was often referred to by its location (e.g., Liga de Galiléia, Liga de Sapé). The name “Liga” signified that the rural workers were associated with the broader social movement known as the Ligas Camponesas, but each community liga had its own elected leaders, interests, and priorities, which meant that some leagues employed more radical strategies than others in their struggles for land rights, for example, using “force” instead of legal action by threatening to take over property and displace the landowners and their administrators. Ligas members often had passbooks, paid monthly dues, and participated in political rallies and conferences with other rural workers who supported the Ligas Camponesas. Lawyer Francisco Julião of the Brazilian Socialist Party, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), who served as Pernambucan state representative from 1954 to 1962 and as federal representative from 1962 to 1964, is generally considered the leader of the Ligas Camponesas. The social movement also published a newspaper, LIGA, had a “hymn,” and published materials detailing the political motivations of the movement and its organizational structure.

Although I am interested in revealing the dialogues among the political and cultural actors in the Northeast, I focus more heavily on the Ligas. The Ligas became the focus of media and public discussions in the early 1960s, and the target of Conservatives’ fears about the spread of communism and social unrest in the Northeast. Because of the movement’s rapid acceleration, its connections to Cuba, and Francisco Julião’s prowess as a public speaker and organizer, the Ligas also attracted a good deal of attention in Brazil and the United States. Conservatives, the new military government that seized control in 1964, and other competing groups on the left blamed the Ligas for instigating the coup. Scholarly publications have also focused more on the Ligas than other rural social movements. Because of this presence, the sources used to write history are available, making it possible to discern how the Ligas engaged with the trope of o Nordeste.

Initial studies of the rural social movements in Northeastern Brazil addressed why they had emerged and spread so quickly throughout the region. Scholars investigated their participant bases, leaders, tactics, structures, political persuasions, and broader national or global connections.15 Following the coup and the silencing of the rural social movements, scholars—with an eye to social struggles elsewhere—turned to the pressing question of the time about the revolutionary potential of the peasant versus the rural proletariat.16 Aspasia Camargo and Florencia Mallon’s studies transcended the stalemate of the peasant-versus-wage-labor debate by reframing the question, arguing that alliances between rural workers, peasants, and other social groups created a revolutionary force.17 By the 1980s, scholars studying rural social movements returned to the questions about the political organization of the social movements, the political positioning of movement leaders and their strategies, and the major struggles the movements faced. Studies by sociologist Fernando Antônio Azevedo and by political scientist Elide de Rugai Bastos, both titled As Ligas Camponesas, have become the core works to which many scholars turn in order to understand the rural social movements in the 1950s and 1960s.18 Both studies take questions about why the Ligas emerged as their starting point, using a Marxist theoretical framework to argue that the rural social movements formed as a reaction to the stage of capitalist development and expansion in the countryside in the 1950s.

Yet even with the greater visibility in the 1960s and as a focus of scholarship, a number of questions about the Ligas Camponesas remain difficult to answer. For instance, it likely will remain impossible to determine the actual size of the Ligas Camponesas. Some estimate that the Ligas had about 80,000 members in the states of Pernambuco and Paraíba.19 Photographs and film footage from the 1960s show enormous political rallies in support of the Ligas in the Northeast. A special report for O Estado de São Paulo, in 1963, estimated 30,000 to 40,000 registered Ligas members in Pernambuco but argued that this number was misleading, because the region’s misery and the intensity of the leftist activists could easily have led to an explosion of membership numbers. The article went on to insinuate that the 250,000 people who voted for Miguel Arraes for state governor could be considered Ligas sympathizers.20 According to a military publication produced by the Second Army, in the second half of 1963 there were 218 Ligas distributed throughout every Brazilian state, sixty-four in Pernambuco alone.21

This said, I am wary of any estimate of the number of Ligas members, for several reasons, including a lack of trustworthy sources. Rural workers were often affiliated with more than one rural social movement, making it difficult to draw definitive lines between the Ligas, the Rural Syndicates, and the Catholic Church Federations of Rural Workers. In some communities and at some times, the rural social movements collaborated; at other times, they opposed one another. Some leagues had passbooks and records, but many did not, and most of that information has been lost. Because of the violence, disruptions to rural communities, and immediate illegal status of the Ligas and the PCB Rural Syndicate after the 1964 coup, many records were destroyed. Likewise, the historical memory of the Ligas has been erased in many communities, making it difficult to determine which communities may have had leagues. Rather than address a question I believe is not possible to definitively answer, I employ a cultural approach to analyze the participation of the Ligas in political debates and struggles about the future for the region, nation, and the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s. This history is a product of the Cold War, both shaped and being shaped by the broader ideological conflicts between capitalism and communism, the quest for Third World independence, political polarization, and the radicalization of political struggles.

Incursions into Cold War and Diplomatic History

The Cold War has long been defined as a confrontation between the superpowers, a lengthy period of time, from 1945 to 1991, when the United States and the Soviet Union battled for alliances in the countries in the so-called Third World, manifesting fear of “communism” or of “capitalism” to legitimize the build-up of nuclear weapons. Most studies of the Cold War focus on diplomatic history, examining international policy making and national security strategies at the state level. Latin American Cold War history largely focused on diplomatic history from a US perspective, positioning the United States as the political actor shaping international relations and Latin America as the dependent victim.22 More recent histories of international relations during the Cold War have challenged this perspective by providing perspectives from Latin America and examining conflicting definitions of concepts such as anti-Americanism or modernization theory and how such definitions shaped policies.23 Among others, Greg Grandin claims that although the Cold War played out differently throughout the Latin American nations, the era can be defined by its radicalization of political strategies and political polarization.24

Recent works on the Cold War in Latin America detail how Latin American anticommunist leaders did not rely on Washington and instead manipulated US officials and pursued projects of inter-American diplomatic relations outside the sphere of US influence.25 This allows scholars to question the amount of power the United States government and CIA had in dictating Latin American policies during the authoritarian period while also emphasizing the ignorance of the United States in its relations with Latin American nations. Such studies rely on recently declassified US and Latin American government documents, often with the intention of explaining what happened during the Cold War by examining the degree of US involvement, the actual threats of terrorism or armed resistance, and the diplomatic relations between Latin American countries, as in Operation Condor. Scholars have taken an international approach to studying the Cold War in Latin America, comparing the perceptions of events between two or more countries as detailed in official documents. This scholarship tends to focus on key events and hotspots, such as Cuba, Guatemala, Allende’s Chile, and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.

This book builds upon the appeal of Gilbert Joseph and Daniela Spenser’s edited collection In from the Cold to develop a “new history” of the Latin American Cold War, showing how the local–foreign struggles for power functioned through representations and symbolic systems and shaped ordinary people’s experiences and political activism.26 My interpretation of Joseph’s call for a re-envisioning of Cold War history from the grassroots level distinguishes my work from other Cold War histories in terms of its source base, methodological approach, and focus on a marginal region that temporarily became a major global hotspot. In addition to traditional historical sources such as government documents and periodicals, I interpret a variety of sources from popular culture and oral histories. I take a cultural approach to analyzing my sources, meaning that I use discourse analysis to uncover the significance of the political and cultural debates about Northeastern Brazil during the Cold War. This means that I am less concerned with uncovering the degree of US involvement in Northeastern Brazil and more concerned with revealing what US officials were saying about regional underdevelopment and the threat of communism and how they were saying it.

Revolution in the Terra do Sol illustrates why the so-called margins are crucial to understanding the Cold War. While writing the book, I often thought of the Cold War as a soundtrack to a film. The Cold War increased and diminished in volume, sometimes narrating the plot, at other times, fading into the background, replaced by local voices and local concerns. Conservatives drew from Cold War discourses that emphasized the fear of “foreign agitators,” communism, and deviancy in order to criticize the Ligas Camponesas and depict them as criminal elements that threatened the Brazilian nation. The Ligas looked to Cuba as a role model for creating social revolution in Brazil, re-appropriating historical regional figures as native guerilla warriors and precursors in the battle for agrarian reform. To challenge Conservatives, they drew from a Cold War language that designated the traditional landowning elite and the United States as imperialist enemies who sought to further exploit and enslave Northeastern rural workers. Although the global debates over the Cold War themes of capitalism versus communism and the meanings of freedom, modernity, and underdevelopment circulated throughout the rural Northeast, local struggles focused on such problems as acquiring stable access to land; putting an end to extralegal violence and exploitation; and addressing the lack of rural social services, such as education and health care; and labor rights. In these local struggles, Cold War discourse was used as a form of political power to attract attention to local problems and to create allies and support for competing political projects. Since the local and global debates and struggles were in and about Northeastern Brazil, they also had to engage with the trope of o Nordeste, a powerful discourse that Brazilians generally perceived to be real or true in the 1950s and 1960s.

Regionalism: Northeastern Brazil and the Trope of o Nordeste

Northeastern Brazil is easily located on a map (see Figure 0.1) as the mass of land in South America that extends easterly into the Atlantic Ocean; or as an American journalist described in 1962, it is the “enormous, bloated paunch protruding from the edge of the Amazon basin in the north and then receding.”27 Although political borders of the region have changed over time, in the 1950s and 1960s the region included the states of Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Piauí, and Maranhão.28 In the 1950s and 1960s, around twenty million people inhabited the region, which stretched over 400,000 square miles. The region is often divided into three topographical zones: the mata, or fertile cane-growing coastal area; the agreste, or transitional farmland area; and the sertão, or arid backlands. Neither the topographical nor the political borders have been hard-and-fast designations.29

FIGURE 0.1   Map of the region defined as Northeastern Brazil from 1950 to 1969. The states of Bahia and Sergipe become part of the Northeast in 1969.

While political borders and topographical features offer one definition of the region, the narratives and traditions of the imagined community of o Nordeste are the threads that strongly bind the region together.30 The idea of o Nordeste is broad enough to apply to the region as it is variously defined so long as each conception is seen to reflect the overarching themes of misery, poverty, violence, inequality, climatic harshness, folk religions, the nonwhite, and the nonmodern. Drawing from Edward Said’s Orientalism, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior has argued that through a repetition of texts and images, Northeastern Brazil was nordestinizado, or turned into the Other of the modern urban center-south of Brazil.31 Examining discourses of o Nordeste in literature and art, Albuquerque shows how the landowning elite invented o Nordeste as a way of maintaining their dominance and to avoid being “swallowed up” by the larger nation.32

Albuquerque’s work details the “truth regime” produced by intellectuals and regional elites that emerged in the early twentieth century, naturalizing the differences among Brazil’s regions. One of the foundational narratives defining the region and its people was Euclides da Cunha’s 1902 exposition on the War of Canudos, Os sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands). Da Cunha portrayed the Northeast as a threat to the modern Brazilian nation, depicting nordestinos as both resilient warriors and immiserated mixed-race pathogens whose traditions and backwardness left them prey to devious messianic leaders. Filmmakers, novelists, and artists further developed o Nordeste as a trope in the 1920s and 1930s, portraying an imagined land of starving drought victims, a traditional plantation society ruled by rural elite families, and a region defined by its folkloric traditions.33 Regionalist images weigh so heavily on the national imagination that they have long influenced how people think about Northeastern Brazil, reinforcing assumptions of o Nordeste and limiting the possibilities for change in the region.

Much of the literature on the emergence of Latin American nations, reflecting a teleological bias, considered regions to be provincial and traditional, and depicted them as areas condensing the material and social problems that afflict the Third World. Scholars who examine regionalism in Latin America have treated the processes of regional constructions as related to colonial legacies, ethnicities, and topographical distinctions (i.e., highlands/coast).34 The region often symbolizes the authentic roots of a people, as well as a provincial space at odds with the modern nation. Regional differences in Latin America are usually racialized, othering rural, black, and indigenous regions as backward in contrast to wealthier regions portrayed as whiter and more modern.35 In the Brazilian case, some scholars have argued that regionalism persists because of the socioeconomic inequalities that distinguish the Southeast from the Northeast, emphasizing material conditions rather than a geographic or cultural difference.36 While I agree that material conditions often underpin regional distinctions, the regime of representations defining o Nordeste relies heavily on naturalized characterizations of impoverishment that are racialized and gendered and based on the notion that Northeastern culture is inferior.

Historians Barbara Weinstein and Stanley Blake have examined the processes that led to the creation of regional difference in the twentieth century. To challenge the assumptions entailed, Blake shows how elites and intellectuals constructed the nordestino as a separate racial category early in the century. State-sponsored development projects defined the nordestino as a part of nation through discourses of scientific studies on race and medicine. Such studies and development projects naturalized regional racial and social differences as defining the modern Brazilian nation, constituting what Blake labels a “neo-orientalism.”37 In The Color of Modernity, Weinstein examines how uneven patterns of regional development created racialized regional identities. Focusing on the 1930s and 1950s, she shows how people from São Paulo envisioned themselves as superior to those from the North and Northeast, producing their own identity as a composite of economic prosperity, modernity, and whiteness. She argues that in the case of São Paulo, the region became the place to construct the nation, an imagined community in which São Paulo placed itself at the top of a hierarchy of regions that made up the Brazilian nation.

Revolution in the Terra do Sol further develops the historiography on Brazilian regionalism by showing how people used popular culture and political discourse during a period of conflict to draw from and reconfigure the trope of o Nordeste in their struggles to change the traditional power structures in the region. Although I agree that the trope of o Nordeste has primarily been mobilized by elites, intellectuals, and state officials to claim and maintain their power, my study shows how nonelites also engaged with the trope of o Nordeste to shape resistance movements that countered elitist or state conceptions of the region and its people. To stretch beyond elite and nonelite dichotomies, I also examine mass media and popular culture and its power, via repetition and circulation, to reinforce or potentially change people’s assumptions about the region and its people.

To show the debates and how they connected to Brazilian regionalism and Cold War history, I focus on analyzing the conflicting representations of the key symbols of the trope of o Nordeste in political discourse and popular culture. Applying the theoretical works of Stuart Hall and Pierre Bourdieu on representations exposes the fundamental blind spot in much of the scholarship on regionalism, identity formation, and the Northeastern rural social movements. Pierre Bourdieu argues that an analysis of regional identity must locate a separation between representation and reality, even if this only involves the study of struggles over representations and the “social demonstrations whose aim it is to manipulate mental images.”38 The representations are the means through which “social agents imagine the divisions of reality and which contribute to the reality of the divisions.”39 Bourdieu’s point about the power of representations to create and reinforce notions of difference in a society is further developed in Stuart Hall’s work on representations in popular culture. In a study explaining why popular culture matters, Hall claims that “how things are represented and the ‘machineries’ and regimes of representation in a culture play a constitutive, and not merely a reflexive, after-the-event role.”40 Even though the discursive or the representational realm is not an innate or real distinction—people know that what they see in movies is not “real” per se—at the same time, representations in popular culture influence what people believe to be true or false, possible or impossible. As Stuart Hall argues, the longer or the more frequently such ideas circulate in society, the more likely it becomes that people will believe the representations as truths.41

In the case of Northeastern Brazil, stereotypes about o Nordeste and nordestinos are so entrenched that they are better defined as a trope, or the themes, conventions, or devices a filmmaker or author employs to tell a story, which the audience will recognize and understand instantly because they are commonly used in popular culture.42 As Hayden White argues, tropes are the “soul of discourse.”43 White’s interest in trope focused on how forms of writing created the structure and language of the historical narrative. I use the notion of a trope to describe how representations of historical figures and narratives have created a language to define the region and its people, or to distinguish o Nordeste as the Other in the Brazilian nation. Like Foucault’s arguments about discourse, tropes circulate and are held as truths within a society. But tropes are so widely accepted that they become figures of speech that stand in for a broader array of visual images, themes, phrases, accents, and stereotypes and other representations of difference.44 As such, tropes are entrenched stereotypes that are rarely questioned within a society. As figures of speech, tropes are also ambiguous, holding different meanings for groups and individuals. Tropes can be repressive but they also offer the possibility for resistance, subversion or contestation.45

The trope of o Nordeste emerged in the late nineteenth century as intellectuals defined Northeastern Brazil and its inhabitants, nordestinos, as the backward, nonwhite, folkloric, impoverished, and violent Other threatening the modern Brazilian nation. The trope includes historical symbols, such as the cangaceiro, the impoverished drought victim, the rural poor, the religious pilgrim, and the coronel (rural political boss), and historical themes, such as plantation slavery, patriarchy, and messianic movements. The trope of o Nordeste encompasses multiple themes and symbols that overlap and, at times, contradict one another. For some, o Nordeste might bring to mind sugarcane fields and slave labor while for others, o Nordeste is the barren, dry lands of Rocha’s Deus e o diabo. The trope can invoke visions of ignorant, vulnerable rural people brainwashed into a messianic cult, or the same rural people, depicted as strong and virulent warriors fighting against the Brazilian Armed Forces for a different type of nation. The repetition of such symbols and themes naturalize and reproduce the idea of Northeastern Brazil as nonmodern and chained to its past, while also being unstable and ambiguous. This study examines the influence of the trope of o Nordeste in shaping the political debates over and in Northeastern Brazil during the Cold War.

While themes and symbols composing the trope of o Nordeste, such as cangaceiros, rural poor and coronéis, slavery, and messianism, formed the language of the political debates in the 1950s and 1960s, other themes or symbols associated with o Nordeste were rarely mentioned. For example, although the symbols mulher macho (butch woman) and mulher braba (bossy woman) or mulher brava (warrior woman) are associated with the masculinized regional trope of o Nordeste, they were not a part of the language commonly used to discuss agrarian reform and rural workers’ rights in Northeastern Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. The idea of “mulher macho, sim senhor!” describes the “masculine” characteristics of rural nordestinas, whose bodies have been masculinized in descriptions of muscles and physique, as in Domingos Olímpio’s Luzia-Homem (1903). Mulher macho and mulher braba also refer to women who take on “masculine” roles that subvert the traditional gendered hierarchies in the family, with sexual partners, or in societal roles. The terms often have a negative connotation, suggesting that a woman is “barbarous” or unreasonably confrontational. While the idea of mulher macho has been used in conjunction with the idea of mulher brava46 to describe historical women who followed the cangaço, such as Maria Bonita, this idea was not addressed in connection to debates using the symbol of the cangaceiro in the 1950s and 1960s. The struggles of the 1950s and 1960s were perceived as masculine, and women rarely appear in historical sources except as figures to illustrate a man’s masculinity or honor. The few Northeastern women who are mentioned in newspaper articles and other documents are women whose husbands led Ligas and were assassinated, such as Elizabeth Teixeira, or nonrural women who were often involved in the organizations because of their husbands. The Ligas published a few reports on the emergence of Ligas Femininas and Rural Women’s Congresses in the Northeast, but I never found additional documentation on such organizations.47

Organization of the Book

Using a cultural approach to Cold War history to recognize the power of regionalism in Brazil, Revolution in the Terra do Sol is thematically organized and divided in two parts: the first contains five chapters centered on the debates over key historical symbols of the trope of o Nordeste in the 1950s and 1960s; the second and much shorter part consists of two final chapters in which I analyze the historical memory of the Ligas Camponesas. Chapter 1 establishes the historical context of the Cold War in Brazil and introduces the cast of characters, including the rural social movements, politicians, development agencies, Conservatives, and radical cultural movements. The following chapters in the first part of the book address the main historical symbols and themes associated with the trope of o Nordeste that formed the language of the debates about the region: the cangaceiro, the rural poor and the coronel, slavery, abolition and quilombos, and messianic cults such as Canudos. I attempt to recreate the dialectic exchange among competing groups to show how they appropriated the historical symbols and themes to bolster their arguments about the type of development projects or reforms needed in Northeastern Brazil to combat rural poverty. In doing so, I employ discourse analysis to recognize how categories used to distinguish difference such as race, social class, gender, and religion informed the debates and experiences of social and political struggles.

I use four different types of sources to find the voices debating the future of Northeastern Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. Official documents in Brazilian and US archives about Northeastern Brazil offer government officials’ perceptions about Northeastern Brazil and its people. Such documents express broader concerns about foreign influences in Northeastern Brazil, primarily Cuba and the United States. The secret police records (DOPS, Department of Political and Social Order) in Recife, Pernambuco, and São Paulo offer perspectives of rural elites and the military police. Newspapers, magazines and news documentaries compose another set of sources I use to uncover representations of Northeastern Brazil and nordestinos in the 1950s and 1960s, including mainstream and alternative periodicals in Brazil and the United States. In the context of the Cuban Revolution, the rural social movements, in particular the Ligas Camponesas, generated a tremendous amount of interest not only in the media but also among scholars. I analyze books, articles, and conference papers produced in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States and Brazil to understand how intellectuals perceived the region and its people. I analyze works by foreigners who visited the area, such as Jean-Paul Sartre; papers about the literacy projects Paulo Freire led in rural Northeastern Brazil; and conferences held at the main Northeastern research institute, the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation. Popular culture sources such as films, literatura de cordel (popular chapbook poetry), theater plays, songs, and artwork are the fourth set of sources I use to engage with popular perceptions of Northeastern Brazil. By examining the representations across diverse media and in the context of one another, or employing an intertextual analysis, I show how difference was represented, challenged, and sustained during the Cold War while suggesting the repercussions of such representations in terms of legitimizing violence against rural people, creating support for the military coup, and structuring inequalities in the Brazilian nation.48

The point of this kind of analysis is to render visible the entrenched stereotypes composing the trope of o Nordeste, recognize the power they have held in legitimizing political processes that limited rural men and women’s citizenship rights, and to advocate for the need to denaturalize such stereotypes, interrupting the power they hold to create hierarchies of superiority and inferiority in Brazilian society. Many politicians, artists, social movement leaders, and participants fighting for agrarian reform and rural workers’ rights in the 1960s engaged with the trope. In some cases, they sought to counter the dominant meanings of a symbol, replacing them with new meanings that empowered rural people and turned rural nordestinos into the heroes of the Brazilian nation. In other cases, social movements tried to reframe ideas of criminality, replacing the idea that the rural worker who stole food from the large landowner was a criminal with the idea that the large landowners were the “real” criminals for beating, starving, exploiting, and, at times, murdering rural workers. But, in still other cases, social movements relied upon the trope, further entrenching stereotypes of nordestinos as impoverished and backward victims. Political filmmakers such as Glauber Rocha may have intended to bolster the fight for agrarian reform in the Northeast through films such as Deus e o diabo, but in doing so, they reinforced stereotypes that distinguished the region and its people as the Other. This book shows the past attempts to challenge the dominant stereotypes through political projects demanding greater social and political equality, and the second part of the book describes projects to replace the negative meanings associated with o Nordeste with positive meanings in today’s Northeast.

The final chapters of the book examine the question of memory and how the story of the Ligas Camponesas turned into a historical narrative. In this effort, I analyze oral histories, autobiographies, museums, and documentary films. Chapter 6 shifts forward to the 1980s when the topic of the rural social movements resurfaced in the final years of the military dictatorship. As a form of resistance to the dictatorship, the history of the Northeastern rural social movements in the 1950s and 1960s was written as tragedy, reinforcing a central theme in the trope of o Nordeste. Chapter 6 analyzes why certain versions of history have been accepted as “true.” Although these versions drew from stereotypes associated with o Nordeste to reinforce their argument, they also offered a new narrative of suffering, resilience and resistance. The final chapter evaluates the story of one of the few surviving members of the Peasant Leagues in 2005 in the context of other memorial projects in Northeastern Brazil. An autodidactic historian and political militant residing on the plantation where the initial Peasant League victory for land expropriation occurred, Zito de Galiléia’s story demonstrates the power of the trope of o Nordeste both as a tool of discrimination and a platform for resistance.

I divide the book into these two sections to separate the “truths” revealed in the oral histories, documentaries and autobiographies created during the final years of the dictatorship (1979–85) from the insights of the sources created in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout Latin America, scholars have turned to oral history and memory projects to contest the official histories of the dictatorship created by the military or military supporters.49 Such an approach relates to work done by human rights commissions in collecting testimonies to put military officials on trial. In addition, oral histories offer a source to tell “other” histories of authoritarian regimes because censorship and repression during the dictatorships limited the production of historical sources.

In Brazil, as the dictatorship drew to a close in the 1980s, two research institutions funded major oral history projects interviewing leaders and political players who had been involved in politics and the rural social movements in the 1950s and 1960s in Northeastern Brazil. While the recorded testimonies provide invaluable information about the political and social movements, they also carry the burden of time and the discrepancies of being produced in an entirely different historical context. It is impossible to separate the stories told in the 1980s from the multiplicity of experiences that individuals encountered after the 1964 coup, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, political silencing, and in many cases, the experience of over fifteen years of exile. Likewise, perspectives on Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union had changed drastically between 1964 and the early 1980s. Many of the interviews were produced as a form of resistance to the dictatorship, emphasizing the tragic defeat of the revolutionary political and social projects and the further impoverishment of the Northeast that had occurred during military rule. Such sources are more relevant to understanding how, as Dominick LaCapra argues, oppressed or marginalized people reclaim history, transforming it into a way to understand their lives in the present.50 The final chapters reveal how people transformed the history of the Ligas at two different historical moments and how this relates to the power of regionalism.

Before moving forward to the 1980s and 2005, it is necessary to go back to the 1950s and early 1960s, providing the context in which the “revolutions” developed. Chapter 1 introduces the major players who engaged in the debates about the Northeast, the Brazilian nation, and the Third World. Not only did filmmakers, popular poets, playwrights, and artists actively shape commonly held assumptions about the region and its people, but a wide range of political actors including international, national and regional state officials, journalists, landowning elites and other Conservatives, intellectuals, social movement leaders, and rural workers engaged with the trope. For many, it was a time in which change seemed imminent, offering people hopes and fears of what such changes could mean. The traditional landowning elite who had been in power for as long as anyone could remember no longer controlled politics as they had previously, allowing new voices to emerge with new political projects for the Northeast. The global context of the era of the Cuban Revolution sent sparks flying throughout Latin America, and suddenly revolutionary social movements and cultural movements in Northeastern Brazil seemed to have the potential to turn Brazil into another Cuba. And yet for many, the rural social movements seemed more similar to the nineteenth-century messianic movement known as Canudos in the backlands of o Nordeste than a social revolution.

Note on Terms and Translations

All translations from Portuguese are my own except where otherwise indicated. In cases when the Portuguese phrasing influences the tone, or when the Portuguese word may be misspelled or have dual meanings, I include the original Portuguese in the notes. This is particularly relevant with one of my key sources, literatura de cordel (popular pamphlet poetry or chapbook literature) commonly referred to as folhetos, which is a form of poetry associated with Northeastern Brazil, printed on both sides of large sheets of newsprint paper, folded in four sections into pamphlets that are hung on a string and sold in markets, hence the name, cordel (twine). This form of “folk” culture has a rhythmic cadence as it was often performed rather than read, and it often derives humor from phrases or words with dual meanings. In the printed copies of the folhetos, phonetic spellings or misspelled words could have signaled the author’s limited literacy or been used by literate authors to create an authenticity based on the idea of the nordestino as semiliterate and informally educated. I have left film and book titles in their original Portuguese followed by their English titles in parentheses. If the film or book has been officially translated in English, I use italics but if it is my own translation, the translated title is not italicized. I attempt to distinguish between the trope of o Nordeste and nordestinos and the actual place and people of Northeastern Brazil and Northeasterners by using Portuguese italics to distinguish the trope and English translations to refer to the place and people.

I use the term rural worker to characterize rural men and women who work in the rural Northeast, unless I have evidence that they identified themselves as camponesas (peasants) or any other category used in the rural Northeast related to their work contract or the various types of rents or free labor tenants provided landowners in exchange for living or squatting on the land, including eiteiro, foreiro, posseiro, meeiro, or parceiro. The broad designation includes rural women and children who may not have earned wages or held official jobs but who worked in the fields, on the plantations, in their homes, and on their plots of land. In its Portuguese translation, the term “rural worker” (trabalhador rural) specifically refers to itinerant wage laborers, but to be clear, I do not wish to invoke this definition in English. Many of the rural men and women in this book were resident laborers, living on the properties where they worked.


1. Scholarly criticism of Rocha’s Deus e o diabo is prolific and includes Ismail Xavier, Sertão Mar (Glauber Rocha e a Estética da Fome) (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1983); Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, eds., Brazilian Cinema (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995); and Lúcia Nagib, Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema, Utopia (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007).

2. Ely Azeredo, “Semana é de ‘Deus e Diabo,’A Tribuna, June 6–7, 1964; Claudio de Mello e Souza, “A ideologia do sol,” Jornal do Brasil, March 29, 1964; F. F. “Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol,” O Globo, March 6, 1964; “Arte Popular Nasce no Cinema do Brazil com Deus e o Diabo,” Diario de Notícias, March 25, 1964, folder: Deus e o diabo na terra do sol,” Centro de Documentação e Informação (CEDOC), Fundação Nacional das Artes/National Foundation of Arts (FUNARTE), Rio de Janeiro.

3. Raimundo Ramos Freire, “Glauber, Deus e o diabo na terra do sol,” Pamela de Aguiar, “Deus e o diabo na terra do sol,” in the V Jornada Nacional de Cineclubes (Salvador, Bahia, February 6–13, 1965), Associação de Críticos Cinematograficos do Ceará, Clube de Cinema de Fortaleza, Federação Norte-Nordeste de Cineclubes, folder “Deus e o diabo na terra do sol,” CEDOC, FUNARTE, Rio de Janeiro.

4. Foucault’s definition of a “regime of truth.” Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Vintage, 1982).

5. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Illiteracy at Mid-Century (Paris: United Nations, 1957), 32, 38, 50–52.

6. Ana Cláudia Caputo and Hildete Pereira de Melo, “A industrialização brasileira nos anos de 1950: Uma análise da instrução 113 da SUMOC,” Estudos Econômicos 39, no. 3 (2009): 513–538.

7. James Holston, The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasília (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

8. Rubens Rodrigues dos Santos, “A SUDENE e a revolução nordestina,” special edition of O Estado de São Paulo, April 28 to May 7, 1963, 5.

9. Josué de Castro, Sete palmos de terra e um caixão (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1965), 38; Josué de Castro, Of Men and Crabs (New York: Vanguard, 1970); Rubens Rodrigues dos Santos, “A SUDENE e a revolução nordestina,” special edition of O Estado de São Paulo, April 28 to May 7, 1963, 4.

10. The quotation is from front flap of book jacket. See Joseph Page, The Revolution That Never Was: Northeast Brazil, 1944–1964 (New York: Grossman, 1972).

11. I use the term “Conservatives” to refer to groups that generally opposed the leftist politicians and rural social movements. This was not a term used by the groups themselves or by others during the Cold War.

12. Márcio Moreira Alves reported on cases of torture in the Northeast for Rio’s Correio da manhã. Moreira Alves, A Grain of Mustard Seed: The Awakening of the Brazilian Revolution (New York: Anchor, 1973). Dom Helder Camara also regularly informed international audiences about the political arrests, imprisonments, and torture following the 1964 coup in the Northeast.

13. João Roberto Martins Filho, O Palácio e a Caserna: A dinâmica military das crises políticas na ditadura (1964–1969) (São Carlos, São Paulo: Editora da UFSCar, 1995); James N. Green, We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 56–58.

14. Francisco Julião, Cambão—the Yoke: The Hidden Face of Brazil (New York: Penguin, 1972), 11.

15. F. Novaes Sodre, Quem é Francisco Julião? Retrato de um movimento popular (São Paulo: Redenção Nacional, 1963); Irving Louis Horowitz, Revolution in Brazil: Politics and Society in a Developing Nation (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964); Antônio Callado, Os industriais da sêca e os ‘Galileus’ de Pernambuco: Aspectos da luta pela reforma agrária no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1960); Antônio Callado, Tempo de Arraes: Padres e comunistas na revolução em violência (Rio de Janeiro: José Alvaro, 1964); Page, Revolution. Some scholars argued that the rural social movements functioned within the established norms of patronage politics with opportunistic leaders who manipulated the rural nordestinos as clients in order to further their own political objectives. Anthony Leeds, “Brazil and the Myth of Francisco Julião,” in Politics of Change in Latin America, ed. Joseph Maier and Richard W. Weatherhead (New York: Prager, 1964), 190–204. Other scholars praised Julião profusely for leading the “revolution” for agrarian reform in the Northeast. Lêda Barreto, Julião-Nordeste-Revolução (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Civilização Brasileira, 1963).

16. Some argued that peasants were the most radical labor force, with the greatest revolutionary potential. Gerrit Huizer, The Revolutionary Potential of Peasants in Latin America (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1972); Clodomir Moraes, “Peasant Leagues in Brazil,” in Agrarian Problems and Peasant Movements in Latin America, ed. Rodolfo Stavenhagen (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 453–501. Caio Prado Júnior and Márcio Moreira Alves argued that the cane workers, as rural proletarians, held the greatest revolutionary potential in the Northeast. Caio Prado Júnior, A revolução brasileira (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1966); Márcio Moreira Alves, Grain, 101–104.

17. Florencia Mallon, “Peasants and Rural Laborers in Pernambuco, 1955–1964,” Latin American Perspectives 5, no. 4 (1978): 49–70; Aspásia Alcantara de Camargo, “Brésil nordest: Mouvements paysans et crise populiste” (PhD diss., University of Paris, 1973).

18. Fernando Antônio Azevedo, As Ligas Camponesas (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1982); Elide de Rugai Bastos, As Ligas Camponesas (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1984). Other studies on the rural social movements similar to the works of Azevedo and Bastos include Bernadete Wrubleski Aued, A vítória dos vencidos: Partido Comunista Brasileiro e as Ligas Camponesas, 1955–1964 (Florianópolis: Editora da UFSC, 1985); Luciana de Barros Jaccoud, Movimentos sociais e crise política em Pernambuco, 1955–1968 (Recife: Editora Massangana, 1990); Clodomir Santos de Morais, História das Ligas Camponesas do Brasil (Brasília: Iattermund, 1997); Regina Reyes Novaes, De Corpo e Alma: Catolicismo, classes sociais e conflitos no campo (Rio de Janeiro: Graphia, 1997).

19. Lúcia Gaspar, Peasant Leagues (Ligas Camponesas), Pesquisa Escolar online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at

20. Rubens Rodrigues dos Santos, “A SUDENE e a revolução nordestina,” special issue of O Estado de São Paulo, April 28, 1963–May 7,1963, 7, 10.

21. Cited in O Comunismo no Brasil: Inquérito Policial Militar 709 (Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército, 1967), 380–381.

22. For example, Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of U.S.–Latin American Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Ariel Dorfman and Armando Mattelhart, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (New York: International General, 1991); Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

23. Alan McPherson, Yankee No! Anti-Americanism in U.S.-Latin American Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2011); Hal Brands, Latin America’s Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, Fórmula para o caos: A derrubada de Salvador Allende, 1970–1973 (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2008); John Dinges, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents (New York: New Press, 2005); Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Greg Grandin, “The Narcissism of Violent Differences,” in Anti-Americanism, ed. Andrew Ross and Kristen Ross (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 17–31.

24. Grandin, Last Colonial Massacre, 10.

25. McPherson, Yankee No!; Harmer, Allende’s Chile; Brands, Latin America’s Cold War; Moniz Bandeira, Fórmula para o caos; Dinges, Condor Years; Grandin, Last Colonial Massacre.

26. Gilbert Joseph, “What We Now Know and Should Know: Bringing Latin America More Meaningfully into Cold War Studies,” in In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War, ed. Gilbert Joseph and Daniela Spenser (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

27. Nathan A. Haverstock, “Brazil’s Hungry Millions,” Saturday Evening Post, July 28, 1962, 75.

28. Bahia was formally included a part of the Northeastern region in 1970 even though much of the state was culturally considered Northeastern earlier because of the sertão.

29. The sertão is often synonymous with the Northeast because of the extensive cultural production that has long connected it to Northeastern Brazil. The dry backlands region stretches through most of the Northeastern States and into non-Northeastern states such as Minas Gerais. The idea of “sertão” generally means a place without agricultural production. Many communities located geographically in the sertão, define themselves as agreste if they have agricultural production.

30. Benedict Anderson’s widely accepted definition of the nation as an “imagined community” provides the platform for asking questions about inclusions and exclusions as well as why and how national communities are imagined and how these ideas change. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006).

31. Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior, A invenção do Nordeste e outras artes (Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Editora Massangana; São Paulo: Cortez Editora, 1999), 311.

32. Bernadete Beserra, “Introduction,” and Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Júnior, “Weaving Tradition: The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast,” Latin American Perspectives 31, no. 2 (March 2004): 3–15; 42–61.

33. The regionalist movement, known as the “1930 Generation” included novels, poetry essays and scholarship by Rachel de Queiroz, José Lins do Rego, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, José Américo de Almeida, Gilberto Freyre, and Jorge Amado. Artists Cícero Dias and Lula Cardoso Ayres painted scenes of plantation society and Northeastern folklore, Di Cavalcanti, and Carybé portrayed life in Bahia and Cândido Portinari depicted scenes of misery and drought refugees.

34. Ana María Alonso, Thread of Blood: Colonialism, Revolution, and Gender on Mexico’s Northern Frontier (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995); Nancy Appelbaum, Muddied Waters: Race, Region and Local History in Columbia, 1846–1948 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); Marisol de la Cadena, Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); Mary Roldán, Blood and Fire: “La violencia” in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946–1953 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

35. Nancy P. Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, “Introduction: Racial Nations,” Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, ed. Nancy P. Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 10.

36. Beserra, “Introduction,” Latin American Perspectives 31, no. 2 (2004): 6. See also, Francisco de Oliveira, Elegia para uma re(li)gião: Sudene, Nordeste Planejamento e Conflitos de Classes (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1977); Barbara Weinstein, “Brazilian Regionalism,” Latin American Research Review 17, no. 2 (1982): 262–276.

37. Stanley Blake, The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern Brazil (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).

38. Pierre Bourdieu, “Identity and Representation: Elements for a Critical Reflection on the Idea of Region,” in Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 221.

39. Bourdieu, “Identity and Representation,” 226.

40. Stuart Hall, “New Ethnicities” in Black Film/British Cinema, ed. Kobena Mercer (London: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1988).

41. Hall, Representation.

42. The traditional definition of trope is a “figure of speech, such as metaphor or metonymy, or a usage that diverges from the norm.” Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi, eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 309. Cultural studies scholars have been developing the definition of trope to include reoccurring themes or devices, similar to a convention of a genre. Barbara Tomilson defines trope as “a convention, a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type. Its incessant repetition constitutes part of the cultural training program that makes antifeminism and misogyny a routine element in everyday speech and written argument.” Tomilson, Feminism and Affect at the Scene of Argument: Beyond the Trope of Angry Feminist (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 1.

43. Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

44. Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Vintage, 1982).

45. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multicutluralism and the Media (London: Routledge, 1994), 137.

46. The idea of mulheres bravas is also associated with the story of Northeastern women who fought against the Dutch in favor of the Portuguese in the battle of Tejucupapo (1646). Claudio Bezerra, ed., Tejucupapo: História, Teatro, Cinema (Recife: Edições Bagaço, 2004).

47. “I Encontro estadual de mulheres camponesas,” LIGA, November 13, 1963, 5; “Preliminar do encontro das mulheres camponesas,” LIGA, December 18, 1963, in Francisco Julião, ed., Ligas Camponesas Outubro 1962–Abril 1964, Cidoc Cuadernos 27 (Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC, 1969): 404, 447.

48. Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1997), 232–234.

49. Elizabeth Jelin, Los trabajos de la memoria (Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno de España, 2002); Steve Stern, Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London 1998 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004); Rebecca J. Atencio, Memory’s Turn: Reckoning with Dictatorship in Brazil (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

50. Dominick LaCapra, History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 57.