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The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA in English and CEPAL in Spanish and Portuguese) was more than an economic development institution. Established in 1948, at the height of post-World War II internationalism, CEPAL was one of the first three regional commissions alongside those of Europe and Asia charged with addressing problems of postwar economic reconstruction. But, in the hands of a group of mostly Argentinean, Brazilian, and Chilean economists, CEPAL swiftly became the institutional fulcrum of a regional intellectual project that put Latin America at the center of discussions about international development and global capitalism. That Latin America’s place in the periphery of the global economy as a producer of primary products and raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods from the world’s industrial centers, combined with the long-term decline in the international terms of that trade, constituted an obstacle for economic development, was the foundational tenet of that project. Through regional economic surveys and in-depth country studies, international forums and training courses, international cooperation initiatives, and national structural reforms, cepalinos located themselves at the nexus of a transnational network of diplomats and policymakers, economists and sociologists, and made the notion of center–periphery and the intellectual repertoire it inspired the central economic paradigm of the region in the postwar era. Eclipsed in the 1970s by critiques from the New Left and dependency theorists, on the one hand, and by the authoritarian right and neoliberal proponents, on the other hand, the cepalino project remains Latin America’s most important contribution to debates about capitalism and globalization, while the institution, after it reinvented itself at the turn of the century, still constitutes a point of reference and a privileged repository of information about the region.

Article

Housing has been a central feature of Latin America’s dramatic transformation into the most urbanized region of the world. Between 1940 and 1970, the portion of people who lived in urban areas rose from 33 percent to 64 percent; a seismic shift that caused severe housing deficits, overcrowding, and sprawl in Latin America’s major cities. After the Second World War, these urban slums became a symbol of underdevelopment and a target for state-led modernization projects. At a time when Cold War tensions were escalating throughout the world, the region’s housing problems also became more politicized through a network of foreign aid agencies. These overlapping factors illustrate how the history of local housing programs were bound up with broader hemispheric debates over economic development and the role of the nation-state in social affairs. The history of urban housing in 20th-century Latin America can be divided into three distinct periods. The first encompasses the beginning of the 20th century, when issues of housing in the central-city districts were primarily viewed through the lens of public health. Leading scientists, city planners, psychiatrists, and political figures drew strong connections between the sanitary conditions of private domiciles and the social behavior of their residents in public spaces. After the Second World War, urban housing became a proving ground for popular ideas in the social sciences that stressed industrialization and technological modernization as the way forward for the developing world. In this second period, mass housing was defined by a central tension: the promotion of modernist housing complexes versus self-help housing—a process in which residents build their own homes with limited assistance from the state. By the 1970s, the balance had shifted from modernist projects to self-help housing, a development powerfully demonstrated by the 1976 United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I). This seminal UN forum marked a transitional moment when the concepts of self-help community development were formally adopted by emergent, neo-liberal economists and international aid agencies.

Article

Between 1934 and 1943, French cultural diplomacy in Brazil was the task of intellectuals, the so called “intellectual ambassadors.” Notwithstanding the differences in their individual profiles, political convictions, academic conceptions, and religious beliefs, they all carried out their common mission of creating a pro-French profile in the Brazilian academic realm. The article is an analysis of the strategies, means, actors, and results of French cultural diplomacy in Brazil between 1934 and 1943, whose success can be explained, fundamentally, by the symbiosis between the university field and the diplomatic field.