In his 1950 study, Mexico: The Struggle for Peace and Bread, historian Frank Tannenbaum remarked that “physical geography could not have been better designed to isolate Mexico from the world and Mexicans from one another.” He recognized, like others before him, that the difficulty of travel by foot, water, or wheel across the country’s troublesome landscape was an unavoidable element of its history. Its distinctive topography of endless mountains but few navigable rivers had functioned, in some sense, as a historical actor in the larger story of Mexico. In the mid-19th century, Lucas Alamán had recognized as much when he lamented that nature had denied the country “all means of interior communication,” while three centuries before that, conquistador Hernán Cortés reportedly apprised Emperor Charles V of the geography of his new dominion by presenting him with a crumpled piece of paper. Over the last half-millennium, however, technological innovation, use, and adaptation radically altered how humans moved in and through the Mexican landscape. New modes of movement—from railway travel to human flight—were incorporated into a mosaic of older practices of mobility. Along the way, these material transformations were entangled with changing economic, political, and cultural ideas that left their own imprint on the history of travel and transportation.
Travel and Transport in Mexico
J. Brian Freeman and Guillermo Guajardo Soto
Civilian Aviation in Mexico
The Mexican government’s civil aviation program implemented elite development strategies during a period of national reconstruction. In the decades following the revolution, political leaders and industrialists attempted to strike a balance between preserving a unique national identity and asserting their country’s place in global affairs as a competitive, modern nation. Nation builders were primarily concerned with improving the nation’s communication and transportation capabilities, although they quickly learned to exploit the spectacle of aviation through the mass media and in public ceremonies, as well. The symbolic figure of the pilot proved an adept vessel for disseminating the values championed by the country’s ruling party. Aviators validated the technological determinism underpinning the government’s development philosophy, while projecting an image of strength abroad. This article traces the trajectory of aviation development from 1920s through the 1950s. In the process it demonstrates how the social and cultural significance of technology in Mexico changed over time. The establishment of the Department of Civil Aeronautics under the Secretariat of Communications and Public Works (SCOP), in 1928, reflected the ambitions of reform-minded officials who were intent on modernizing the country. Although the onset of the Great Depression slowed aviation development for about a decade, policymakers recommitted to the technology during World War II. President Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946) used it to achieve two of his primary goals: securing the country from the threat of international fascism and shifting the nation from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Wartime aid alleviated material obstacles hamstringing national aviation development, and the rapid growth of tourism to the country in 1940s and 1950s benefited commercial airlines. Presidents Miguel Aléman (1946–1952) and Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952–1958) touted the success of the aviation industry as a consequence of their development policies. The near financial collapse of the country’s largest airline, Compañía Mexicana de Aviación (CMA), at the end of the decade nevertheless hinted that the country’s sustained economic growth was less miraculous than officials and foreign observers liked to believe.
Alberto Santos-Dumont and Brazilian Aviation
Felipe Fernandes Cruz
Aviation has played a unique role in the history of Brazil, beginning with the life of Alberto Santos-Dumont. Most Brazilians consider him to be the true inventor of the airplane over the North American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. Born in the province of Minas Gerais in 1873, he became a global celebrity in the early 1900s when he designed, built, and piloted several of his dirigibles and airplanes in Paris. He won major prizes for his aeronautical feats, such as the Deutsch de La Meurthe prize for an aerial circumnavigation of the Eiffel Tower. Santos-Dumont is a beloved national hero in Brazil. The potent symbolism of his life was often invoked in calls for the development of Brazilian aviation. Throughout the 20th century, aviation was hailed as a technological panacea for Brazil’s problems. Many Brazilians thought its development could boost homegrown industry and technology, and that aviation would in turn enable Brazil to conquer its frontiers by air. The potential to connect vast and often inaccessible territories by air was very attractive to a state with a weak grip on its frontiers. The dictatorial government of Getúlio Vargas, for instance, used propaganda and cultural programs to engender great excitement among Brazilians for the mass development of national aviation. This notion of frontier conquest by air played a major role in the development of aeronautical technology in Brazil, creating a unique history of frontier expansion and interaction with indigenous peoples. Starting in 1969, Brazil also became a major exporter of airplanes. Originally a state-owned company, the now privatized EMBRAER is one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, selling military, airline and private jet aircraft around the world.