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date: 08 August 2020

Drought and Public Policy in Northeast Brazil

Summary and Keywords

The semi-arid interior of Brazil’s northeast region, known as the sertão, has long been subject to droughts. These can devastate the agricultural and ranching economy and cause serious hardship for the area’s inhabitants, particularly those who labor on farms and ranches belonging to the landowning elite. A prolonged drought in the late 1870s led the Brazilian government to begin soliciting advice from engineers about how to redress the periodic crisis. In 1909 the federal government established a permanent federal agency, the Inspectorate for Works to Combat Drought, to undertake reservoir construction throughout the sertão along with other measures that would alleviate future droughts. In subsequent decades the activities of the drought agency expanded to include constructing irrigation networks around reservoirs and establishing agricultural experiment stations to teach sertanejo farmers improved methods of farming in semi-arid conditions. Although powerful landowners lobbied for federal aid to construct reservoirs, which helped to sustain their own cattle herds through drought years, they were often opposed to initiatives like the establishment of irrigated smallholder colonies around reservoirs, which threatened to alter the social order in the sertão. Support for the federal drought agency’s work waxed and waned during the 20th century under different presidential administrations. Often it would rise in response to a period of damaging drought, then diminish once the crisis abated.

Droughts have affected the sertão at irregular intervals since at least the colonial era. They vary in temporal duration and geographic expanse. Their impact on human populations depends on how the area of reduced rainfall overlaps with human settlement patterns and land use. Over the 20th century the years in which drought most severely impacted human communities (including crops and livestock) in the sertão included 1915, 1919–1920, 1931–1932, 1942, 1951–1953, 1958, 1970, 1979–1983, and 1998–1999. These are the periods when local, state, and federal governments received the most persistent pleas for assistance from affected populations. The precise cause of droughts in the region is debated, but they are thought to be triggered by changes in major wind patterns, particularly the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), that prevent Atlantic Ocean precipitation from reaching the sertão.

Keywords: agrarian reform, development, drought, Celso Furtado, irrigation, northeast Brazil, sertão, SUDENE (Superintendência do Desenvolvimento do Nordeste, Brasil


Drought and Public Policy in Northeast Brazil

Figure 1. The sertão drought zone in northeastern Brazil.

Source: Boletim da Inspetoria Federal de Obras Contra as Secas 10, no. 1 (1938): n.p.

Brazil’s sertão (etymologically “great desert”) is the semi-arid interior of its northeast region. It comprises portions of the states of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Bahia, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Minas Gerais (figure 1).

After initial Portuguese colonization in the 16th century, the region was settled primarily by families on the margins of the colonial sugar economy who were willing to risk migrating into the dry hinterland in hopes of increasing their fortunes and living independently of coastal plantation owners. Most sertanejos, as the region’s inhabitants are known, are descended from a variety of peoples, including native Brazilians (índios) who remained at the frontiers of white colonization; European settlers, primarily the Portuguese and Dutch (due to a mid-17th-century Dutch occupation of the states of Bahia and Pernambuco); and black or mestiço (mixed-race) refugees from coastal plantation society. Many sertanejos made their living as cattle ranchers; most others subsisted as farmers, producing crops for local consumption or export. Small farming was particularly successful in the middle decades of the 19th century, notably when US cotton exports declined during and immediately following the Civil War. But periodic droughts wreaked havoc on the ranching and agricultural economies. They also contributed to concentrated land ownership, as farmers who managed to weather drought periods—often, in the 20th century, as a result of federal development initiatives on their property—were able to increase their property holdings by buying out neighbors in crisis.

During what became known as the “Great Drought” of 1877–1879, upward of 200,000 people across Brazil’s northeastern states died from starvation and disease. Entire households fled the sertão on foot, and waves of epidemic disease swept the migrant routes. Massive encampments of drought refugees outside the region’s capital cities alarmed urban residents and led authorities to plead for aid from the provincial and imperial governments. To awaken southern Brazilians’ sympathy for drought victims, photos of the starving were reproduced (as line drawings) in popular magazines, in one of the first uses of photojournalism in Brazil. These images and the accompanying stories of wrenching deaths conveyed the horror of famine and epidemic disease to readers far from the sertão.1

In response to this recurrent crisis, Brazil’s late-19th-century imperial court appointed engineers to study the sertão and propose solutions to the drought problem. Northeastern elites opposed the resulting plans to create smallholder colonies along riverbanks by constructing large reservoirs surrounded by irrigated farmland. Instead landowners lobbied the government to subsidize smaller reservoirs on private property, arguing that these would stabilize the sertanejo population across a larger area. Not coincidentally, constructing a large number of small reservoirs eliminated the need for land expropriation by the federal government, contributed to increased property values, and retained rural workers on existing estates. Over the 20th century a number of critics of federal drought aid highlighted the benefits that accrued to regional elites as a result of federally funded infrastructure meant to address the drought problem.

Creating the Federal Inspectorate for Works to Combat Drought

At the turn of the 20th century, Brazilian president Rodrigues Alves created committees to study dams and irrigation in the northeast. Near the end of his presidency Alves established the Superintendência dos Estudos e Obras Contra os Efeitos das Secas (Superintendency of Studies and Works to Combat the Effects of Droughts) to implement the solutions proposed by these committees. In 1909 this became the Inspetoria de Obras Contra as Secas (IOCS; Inspectorate for Works to Combat Droughts) within Brazil’s Ministry of Public Works. IOCS was renamed the Inspetoria Federal de Obras Contra as Secas (IFOCS; Federal Inspectorate for Works to Combat Droughts) in 1919. In 1945 it became the Departamento Nacional de Obras Contra as Secas (DNOCS; National Department for Works to Combat Droughts) and continued under that name into the 21st century.

When IOCS was established, several theories were in vogue to explain what caused drought in the sertão. European meteorological studies were often cited to support conjectures about the sertão’s weather patterns, but the scant climate data available for the northeast made it difficult to argue conclusively for one theory over another. The “rainmaker thesis,” popular since the mid-19th century, had adherents who sketched ambitious plans to alter the climate by means of large reservoirs or massive reforestation. The most impressive of these was a proposal by Luiz Mariano de Barros Fournier to build a gigantic reservoir with a perimeter of 335 kilometers that would create a 400,000-hectare (1,544-square-mile) lake.2 More modest proposals for altering the sertão’s climate focused on changing human behavior—in particular, ending deforestation. During its initial years IOCS gathered rainfall and river flow data for the sertão, and this spawned more detailed theories about what caused the drought cycle. Sampaio Ferraz, director of Brazil’s meteorological service, argued vehemently for the importance of monitoring the sertão’s climate via an expanded network of meteorological stations, which would improve the government’s ability to predict droughts and respond before they became humanitarian crises.3

IOCS under Drought Inspector Miguel Arrojado Lisboa

The first drought inspector, Miguel Arrojado Lisboa, combined the various climate theories in circulation regarding the sertão into a multipronged strategy for reducing the adverse effects of drought. He believed that wind elevation was the primary influence on the sertão’s rainfall pattern: when ocean winds passed high over the drought zone, this inhibited condensation of atmospheric vapor, resulting in little precipitation. This dynamic was obviously not susceptible to human interference. But the construction of numerous reservoirs throughout the sertão, along with investment in reforestation to regulate runoff during rainy seasons, could reduce the negative impact of years with limited precipitation. Lisboa advocated creating large reservoirs to allow for “full-scale irrigation and intensive cultivation” despite the sertão’s unreliable rainfall.4 He felt strongly that IOCS’s priority should be to improve agriculture for local sustenance and export, since that was the drought zone’s most important economic sector.

Lisboa also believed that the drought problem had to be considered from numerous angles—geographic, geologic, climatologic, botanic, engineering, hygienic, economic, and social—and that different solutions would be appropriate in different subregions of the sertão. Small reservoirs served an important purpose in places where farmers planted in their basins once the water had evaporated—a practice known as vazante (ebb tide) agriculture. Wells were appropriate in areas like the state of Piauí, which had substantial subterranean water reserves overlain by permeable rock but lacked the broad plains necessary for large reservoirs. Ceará had many obvious locations for reservoirs of varying sizes: broad basins surrounded by irrigable plains situated in river valleys with suitable dam sites. Lisboa also recommended irrigating the banks of the São Francisco River—the northeast’s most important waterway, and the sertão’s only perennial river—with the aid of hydraulic pumps driven by water descending from high interior plains. As the economy of the river valley improved, the irrigated area could be expanded by adding more pumps. The drought inspector cautioned that transporting the São Francisco’s water to other parts of the sertão, as had been proposed since the Great Drought, was unjust to those already living along the river’s banks. This would also be expensive and inefficient due to the distances that the water had to traverse, the high rate of evaporation in the sertão’s hot and dry climate, and the need to pump water up significant elevations at some points.

As Brazil’s first drought inspector, Lisboa confronted two competing approaches for sertão development. The option that threatened the greatest disruption to existing land-use patterns would create irrigated small-farmer settlements on the banks of reservoirs. A more conservative approach involved storing water in reservoirs and wells for current landowners to sustain their production, particularly of cattle (which died in droves during droughts). This was often accomplished via “cooperative construction” on private or municipal lands, in which the cost of construction was shared by the drought inspectorate and landowners or local governments. The owner was theoretically obligated to provide water for workers and neighbors during drought years. Applications for construction on private land had to justify the reservoir’s economic usefulness for ranching or agriculture. Most private reservoirs were justified as providing water for cattle and enabling farming in their evaporated basins during dry seasons. Few proposals for cooperative construction during IOCS’s early years mentioned irrigated farming as a goal.

Lisboa decided to begin with the more conservative strategy and move toward the more socially transformative one. He assumed that the extension of irrigation canals from agency reservoirs would evolve naturally despite initial opposition from rural landowners. “What is most important is to satisfy the immediate aspirations of the northeast; irrigation through canals will come as an inevitable consequence. In its own time, it will become an extreme political necessity,” the drought inspector surmised.5 Lisboa viewed irrigation as a long-term goal that would provide relief to vulnerable sertanejos during droughts, increase smallholding, generate revenue (from water use) to repay the cost of construction, and eventually contribute to the drought agency’s coffers. What he did not consider was that IOCS’s early work would increase the influence of rural bosses (coronéis) who funneled federal drought aid through their patronage networks.6 IOCS could not ignore regional landowners’ preferences, since the federal government had little muscle in the sertão without their blessing. Coronéis had no interest in seeing their workers settled on independent small farms, which would decrease their clients’ dependence on patrons and thereby diminish the coronéis’ political influence. Thus, reservoirs constructed on private land came to absorb the majority of drought-related aid, despite being criticized as a federal subsidy for the wealthy. Southern politicians resented the siphoning of federal funds to a region they perceived as backward, and northeastern landowners were resistant to changes that could diminish their control over natural and human resources. In this context it was expedient for the drought inspectorate’s managing engineers to recommend the improvements to transportation, water retention, and agricultural production desired by their patrons in the national legislature, who were primarily influential landowners from the northeast.

During Lisboa’s first term, from 1909 until 1912, IOCS’s budget increased fifteenfold. The agency used its funds to conduct surveys of northeastern botany, geology, climate, rainfall, and river flow in order to establish a solid basis for dam construction. Many of the surveys were conducted by foreigners. Philip von Luetzelburg was an Austrian botanist who spent most of his career studying Brazilian flora; Orville Derby was an American geologist who led the Serviço Geológico e Mineralógico do Brasil (Brazilian Geological and Mineralogical Service) in assessing the northeast’s subterranean waterways and the São Francisco River system to prepare for well and reservoir construction; and a team of geologists from Stanford University—Roderic Crandall, Horatio L. Small, Ralph H. Sopper, and Geraldo A. Waring—published a number of reports for IOCS between 1910 and 1923 on water sources in different subregions of the sertão.7 Crandall also worked under Derby to produce a detailed map of Ceará for the drought inspectorate showing town locations, rough elevation, waterways, telegraph lines, and existing and planned roads and railroads.8 IOCS also moved rapidly into reservoir construction. In this period and through the 1920s the agency’s engineers paid close attention to the activities of the US Bureau of Reclamation in determining how to address the problems confronting Brazil’s drought zone.

Investment in Drought Works by President Epitácio Pessoa

During World War I a sharp decline in coffee exports reduced Brazil’s federal revenue, and funding for many agencies, including IOCS, was cut. However, in 1919 President Epitácio Pessoa, a native northeasterner from Paraíba state, dramatically increased the drought agency’s funding and renamed it the Inspetoria Federal de Obras Contra as Secas (IFOCS; Federal Inspectorate for Works to Combat Droughts). Pessoa’s first budget allocated to IFOCS almost five times the amount that Lisboa had been granted as drought inspector in 1912. In 1921–1922 Pessoa more than doubled this and apportioned a similar amount for railroads and ports in the northeast. Altogether during his presidency, Pessoa directed 15 percent of federal revenue to drought works. In the same period the national legislature committed 2 percent of federal revenue to a fund for drought aid, to be matched by 2–5 percent of revenues from each state in the drought zone (payable once in donated land, thereafter in cash). The federal government would have administrative and use rights over drought works until the cost of constructing them had been repaid, via sale or rent of irrigated plots and an irrigation and drought works conservation tax.

Based on the variety of recommendations for northeastern development that he received from advisors, Pessoa adopted a multipronged strategy comprising reservoir construction, reforestation (which he believed would produce climate change), and increased road and rail networks. He anticipated that irrigation networks would eventually extend from IFOCS’s large reservoirs, but few such canals were constructed during his presidency. Pessoa saw improved transportation as essential to IFOCS’s regional development plan. Better roads would help deliver construction materials and relief provisions when needed and would bring settlers to new farming areas. The president also viewed irrigated agriculture as among the most significant outcomes that would be achieved from his investments in the northeast. Yet the majority of funds spent on the sertão during his administration were for reservoirs, wells, and improved transportation infrastructure rather than for irrigation. Pessoa’s successor, President Artur Bernardes, exhibited little concern for Brazil’s northeast region and halted sertão construction works by 1925, leaving IFOCS with a skeletal budget.

Drought Works during the Vargas Administrations

Getúlio Vargas renewed interest and investment in the northeast region when he came to power in 1930, and he appointed a Paraíba native, José Américo Almeida, as the Minster of Transportation and Public Works (ministro de viação e obras públicas), the ministry with authority over IFOCS. In 1931, Almeida laid out his priorities for the drought works agency. His main goal was to execute Pessoa’s plan for reservoir construction, since none of Pessoa’s major reservoirs had been completed, many works begun during his administration had been washed out by floods, and the remainder had deteriorated from neglect. Almeida wanted IFOCS to focus on reservoirs and irrigation, with roads as a secondary emphasis to provide access to construction sites and help move drought-affected populations to more fertile areas during emergencies. He believed irrigation was the only way to significantly improve sertanejos’ ability to withstand droughts, and he argued that all states in the drought zone had areas with as much productive potential as São Paulo. There was no need for sertanejos to migrate to other parts of Brazil as long as those subregions could be cultivated.9

Almeida also thought that stocking reservoirs with fish should become a standard component of IFOCS’s work. This would foster an economically and nutritionally viable alternative to the ranching industry, which suffered substantial losses during droughts. Fish provided a more efficient use of the sertão’s resources than cattle, Almeida reasoned. He claimed that 1 hectare of reservoir water could support 2,000 kilograms of fish flesh, whereas 1 hectare of pasture yielded at most 100 kilograms of beef.10 The average sertanejo’s diet was deficient in protein, which was usually obtained from poor-quality dried beef and beans. Like Vargas, Almeida believed that improving the diet of agricultural laborers would increase their productivity and thereby aid regional industrialization by providing a more reliable food supply for urban workers. From 1932 to 1943, IFOCS stocked its reservoirs with over 550,000 fish of fourteen species.11

During a devastating drought in 1931–1932, Almeida and drought inspector Luiz Vieira opened road and reservoir projects to employ drought refugees. These “work fronts” (frentes de trabalho) served to remove the migrants from cities, where they were seen as a threat to residents’ health and security. IFOCS’s accomplishments during and immediately after that drought indicate the substantial preference that its managing engineers continued to give dams over agricultural projects. From 1931 to 1935, Vieira’s staff oversaw the completion of twenty-nine public reservoirs with a capacity of almost 1.3 billion cubic meters of water. They also helped to construct forty-nine reservoirs on private land (mainly in the state of Ceará), holding fifty-nine million cubic meters of water. Thus, by the end of Vieira’s first term, IFOCS had brought the total capacity of all of its reservoirs (public and private) to three billion cubic meters, or 20 percent of the agency’s total goal for water storage; this was five times what the public reservoir capacity had been in 1930.12 Vieira hoped to increase the holding capacity of public reservoirs to fifteen billion cubic meters, but this was not realized for many decades. Only in the late 1930s did Vieira begin to emphasize irrigation as a central element in IFOCS’s drought alleviation strategy. A 1937 law (no. 508) required irrigation canals to be initiated simultaneously with the construction of all new reservoir projects. The law made cooperative government funds available to farmers who installed pumps to irrigate at least five hectares of land.13

Creation of an Agricultural Service within IFOCS

In response to the 1931–1932 drought, Almeida created the Comissão Técnica de Reflorestamento e Postos Agrícolas do Nordeste (Northeast Technical Commission for Reforestation and Agricultural Posts) within IFOCS, and he named José Augusto Trinidade as its first director. Trinidade hired three recent graduates of the Escola Nacional de Agronomia to study the sertão’s soils. He planted fields of commercially useful palms (mainly oiticica, from which a nut oil was harvested for use in manufacturing dyes) and started tree nurseries on the banks of reservoirs. In 1933 he hired fellow agronomist José Guimarães Duque to oversee the nurseries. The following year Trinidade turned several of Duque’s nurseries into agricultural posts to support farming in those parts of the sertão. The posts were theoretically dedicated to the promotion of irrigated agriculture, though their principal activity was distributing seed samples. By 1937 four primary and eight subsidiary posts were operating across seven northeast states, providing sertanejos with instruction in agronomy, zootechnics, horticulture, and arboriculture. The largest four were located at Condado and São Gonçalo in Paraíba and at Icó and Lima Campos in Ceará. The smaller posts employed only one agronomist, who gave advice, rented livestock and machinery, and sold insecticide at cost (repaid by farmers after the harvest).

Trinidade viewed irrigation as the second most important of IFOCS’s tasks, after water storage in reservoirs (the most urgent necessity to sustain humans and livestock). He believed that irrigation was essential to stabilize the sertanejo population, providing them with greater food security and more varied economic opportunities.14 Trinidade aspired to tilt the balance of power in the drought zone away from estate owners by increasing the security of smallholders, who reaped fairly low yields per hectare without the benefit of irrigation and suffered from significant fluctuations in annual output depending on rainfall.

In 1934 the Comissão Técnica de Reflorestamento e Postos Agrícolas do Nordeste was renamed the Comissão de Serviços Complementares da Inspetoria de Secas (CSC; Commission of Services Complementary to the Inspectorate for Droughts), to deflect the Ministry of Agriculture’s interest in administering it. Trinidade’s successor at the CSC was José Guimarães Duque. The son of landowners from Minas Gerais, Duque dedicated much of his career to soil conservation and identifying marketable xerophilous (drought-tolerant) plants that could thrive in Brazil’s semi-arid zone. Duque served as temporary head of the agricultural service from 1937 to 1939 while his boss’s health was in decline. During those years he moved the CSC’s administrative offices to Fortaleza, Ceará, for easier coordination with IFOCS. Duque subsequently served as secretary of agriculture for the state of Paraíba, then returned to direct the CSC in 1941.

Duque argued that sertanejos needed to be taught how to avert calamity through a process of guided acculturation, and he advocated formal and informal education to remake ordinary sertanejos into active “citizens of the sertão.” Like Trinidade, he focused on smallholders as the most likely to adapt to irrigation’s demands, since they suffered so much during droughts. Under Duque’s leadership the agricultural service had eight main divisions: agronomy; horti-pomi-silviculture; zootechnics; soils; a laboratory to analyze water and soil chemistry; phytopathology, ecology and botany; external cooperation (an extension service intended to support irrigation, administer water use, rent machinery, and offer public lectures); and reservoir administration. The CSC also included a medical and social service that operated a modest hospital and dental clinic, provided vaccinations, and distributed milk for children during droughts. Additionally, it offered hygiene classes for sertanejo families and a club for children similar to the American organization 4-H.15

In the late 1940s Duque published a book that comprised his recommendations for farming in a semi-arid environment, entitled Soil and Water in the Drought Polygon. Much of his advice emerged from the IFOCS agricultural service’s research into dry farming, “the practice of agriculture without irrigation in regions of limited natural precipitation.”16 In later editions of this book Duque adopted an ambitious view of his agricultural service’s mandate, arguing that expropriation of land from estate owners, and rental by the state of irrigated plots on that land to farmers, was essential for both soil conservation and sufficient food production. Estate owners typically devoted their best land to commercial crops, which left only the less fertile soil for food cultivation and contributed to soil depletion. By settling poor families around publicly funded reservoirs, Duque’s Serviço Agro-Industrial (as the CSC had been renamed in 1945) would guarantee food sufficient for the growing sertanejo population (12.5 million in 1950 and increasing by 2.4 percent annually). This, he hoped, would minimize outmigration during droughts, which damaged “the state, society, and the family” by draining young, productive men into urban capitals that did not readily absorb their labor.17 Duque described land expropriation—a politically volatile proposal—as having technical and economic motivations as much as social aims. Large cooperatives of smallholding irrigators would combine the economic advantages of fazenda estates with the social advantages of minifundia (smallholding), he argued. As the sertão’s population grew, new colonies could be established along the more humid western periphery of the drought zone, particularly in the state of Maranhão, with roads linking their products to northeastern markets. Agronomists would “establish medical and religious assistance, civic education and hygiene, and technical agricultural instruction” at these settlements, helping farmers learn to relate to each other as plants do in a harmonious ecosystem.18

Establishing New Agencies to Address the Drought Problem

As a step toward reorienting northeastern development priorities, President Eurico Gaspar Dutra (who held office from 1946 to 1951, following Vargas’s Estado Novo dictatorship and prior to Vargas’s final presidential term) experimented with “integrated river basin development” of the northeast’s São Francisco River valley. He created the Comissão do Vale do São Francisco (CVSF; São Francisco Valley Commission) in 1948, modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States. Although the CVSF’s initial plans were tremendously ambitious, including irrigating 60,000 hectares along the river’s banks, it ended up having little impact. Vargas had devolved authority over the São Francisco River’s largest waterfalls, Paulo Affonso, to a separate entity, the Companhia Hidrelétrica de São Francisco (CHESF; São Francisco Hydroelectric Company), whose formation he authorized in 1945. As a mixed public–private corporation required to obtain much of its funding from investors, the CHESF was more efficiently administered than its fully public counterpart. Without authority over the portion of the São Francisco River most valuable to northeastern industry, the CVSF floundered in a sea of small and poorly administered projects.

In another effort to rethink aid to the drought zone, President Vargas established the Banco do Nordeste do Brasil (BNB; Bank of Northeast Brazil) in 1952, staffed primarily by economists. That same year he established the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico (BNDE; National Economic Development Bank), cementing his administration’s commitment to development planning grounded in economic analysis. Both institutions were intended to foster industrialization, which had fueled economic growth in many Latin American countries since the Great Depression (thanks to import-substitution tariff policies pursued by Vargas and other national leaders). The BNB was established separately from the national development bank to guarantee that a portion of development resources would be targeted at the northeast region, since the south-central region’s more rapid industrialization lured both investments and trained staff there. The BNB was a publicly and privately funded entity like the successful CHESF; it was expected to assess the northeast’s economic potential and loan money to promising projects that would eventually attract private capital, thereby freeing government funds for other efforts.

The BNB’s federal funding came from the same revenue reserved for northeastern development that DNOCS (the drought agency’s new acronym after its renaming in 1945) depended on, and both organizations’ mandate centered on adopting preventative measures to avert drought crises. Thus, the bank’s establishment was an acknowledgment by Vargas that the original northeastern development agency had not succeeded. When Vargas established the BNB, the United Nations sent the development economist Hans Singer on a three-month mission to evaluate northeastern Brazil’s development potential. Based on Singer’s favorable impression, the UN assigned Stefan Robock to work with the BNB for two years, from 1954 to 1956. Robock had been the chief economist for the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States. He established the Escritório Técnico de Estudos Econômicos do Nordeste (ETENE; Technical Office for Economic Studies of the Northeast) within the BNB and, aided by UN advisers, launched a year-long program of economic analyses and other regional surveys. Robock’s work had the dual purpose of helping to establish a sound empirical base for regional development while providing valuable research experience for the Brazilian staff involved.

Celso Furtado’s Northeast Development Strategies

The administration of President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956–1961) embraced ambitious goals for national industrialization. Although these focused primarily on Brazil’s southern states, Kubitschek also increased funding for federal development agencies in the northeast. In December of 1956 he formed the Grupo de Trabalho para o Desenvolvimento do Nordeste (GTDN; Working Group for Northeast Development) to investigate a criticism leveled by the BNB that development efforts in the northeast should be better coordinated. The GTDN, led by the native nordestino economist Celso Furtado, included representatives from the BNB, the National Development Bank, the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works, the CVSF, and the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, and Education. Kubitschek asked the working group to meet regularly for a period of two years and present him with a regional development proposal. The GTDN’s report, submitted in 1959, became the basis of northeastern development strategy over the following five years, and it reiterated many of Stefan Robock’s earlier recommendations. Essentially it advised intensifying agricultural and industrial production where that was possible and relocating some sertanejos outside the drought zone to provide reliable food harvests for those left within it.

By 1958, DNOCS oversaw 177 public reservoirs holding more than 6.4 billion cubic meters of water. More than 65,000 people were living in irrigated reservoir basins administered by the agency, and 1,000 students participated in schools or farming clubs at agricultural posts. Yet these individuals represented only about 0.5 percent of the sertanejo population, which the federal government estimated at 12.6 million by 1957.19 Following a severe drought in 1958 that impacted almost 90 percent of sertão inhabitants, and faced with accumulating evidence that DNOCS and other federal agencies had failed to fulfill their responsibilities in the drought zone, Kubitschek requested yet another report on the region—this time from Furtado, who was now a director of the BNDE. Furtado was born in the interior of Paraíba state and raised in Recife, the northeast’s largest capital. He attended law school (one of the main avenues to a political career) in Rio de Janeiro, then joined the military during World War II and served briefly in Italy. Following the war, he received a doctorate from the Sorbonne for his dissertation analyzing Brazil’s colonial economy. Upon returning to his native country as minister of finance in 1948, he joined the newly formed Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro as a staff economist. Furtado was hired almost immediately by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), headquartered in Santiago, Chile. He quickly became the director of ECLA’s Development Division, and in 1953 relocated to Rio de Janeiro to head the BNDE as well. In “A Policy for the Economic Development of the Northeast,” submitted to Kubitschek in 1958, Furtado cited several fiscal policies that had inadvertently retarded the northeast’s growth while aiding the southern region. His proposals for economic reform highlighted inequities in land distribution and political power that he believed contributed to the northeast’s low productivity. In Furtado’s evolving understanding, drought and subsequent famine were symptoms of the northeast’s precarious economic organization rather than the primary cause of its difficulties.20

After receiving Furtado’s 1958 report, Kubitschek created the Conselho de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste (CODENO; Economic Development Council for the Northeast) in February 1959. Headed by Furtado, the council was a temporary body charged with drafting a plan for coordinating regional development efforts. CODENO’s goal was to identify new ways of employing northeasterners so that the regional economy would be more resilient to both climate fluctuations and changes in export markets. In particular, the council wanted to make food-crop harvests more reliable. To this end, council members drafted an irrigation law in August 1959 with support from Kubitschek. This proved to be a very controversial proposal.

CODENO’s irrigation bill proposed that all farms surrounding DNOCS’s reservoirs be expropriated from their owners if they were greater than 30 hectares in size or not under cultivation. The same law would apply to farms along irrigable rivers, except that those were expropriated if they exceeded 100 hectares. The council expected to recoup the cost of land expropriation through rents and taxes for water use charged to farmers who settled the new smallholder colonies. Landowners were to receive compensation for their property according to a price table, determined by CODENO, based on land and soil surveys that DNOCS had conducted. This compensation would not take into account increasing land values that resulted from existing or planned irrigation works. Passing the law therefore required an amendment to Brazil’s 1946 constitution, which stipulated that land expropriated by the government had to be compensated in cash at market value (which presumably rose following the installation of irrigation works). In response to vigorous criticism by influential landowners, the size of plots to be distributed to farmers was increased, with existing landowners permitted to retain up to two such lots for themselves.21

In order to draw national attention to the irrigation controversy and the shortcomings of existing federal aid for the northeast, Furtado sponsored a trip to the region in September 1959 by the investigative journalist Antônio Callado. Callado published a series of articles in Rio de Janeiro’s Correio da Manhã. He hoped to help win support in Brazil’s south-central region for making CODENO into a permanent agency that would coordinate the work of all northeastern development organizations. The articles, reprinted as a book in 1960, elicited considerable response from CODENO’s supporters and detractors. In them Callado criticized what he termed the “drought industry,” a development sham with DNOCS at the center. “Rather than organizing to combat droughts, [northeastern] elites industrialized the drought,” he wrote. “They live off it and the income it brings, not in spite of it. They needed a Bank of the Drought, which would nourish the calamity and its associated industries; and they found it in DNOCS.”22 In the end CODENO’s irrigation law did not pass. But SUDENE (the Superintendency for Northeast Development), the permanent version of CODENO, did win legislative approval—thanks in part to broad public support for a new approach to northeastern development that Callado’s publications had helped to incite. Politicians from south-central states voted to establish SUDENE over objections from DNOCS and some conservative northeastern legislators. When the superintendency was established, in December 1959, Kubitschek appointed Furtado to lead it.

SUDENE’s jurisdiction encompassed an area much larger than the “drought polygon,” which distinguished it from DNOCS at the outset. It was to be a multifaceted regional development agency, not merely focused on drought. The area falling under SUDENE’s purview stretched from the northeast coasts to the Amazon frontier and encompassed 25 percent of Brazil’s sixty-six million people. The superintendency was established as an autarchy (like the CVSF), autonomous from federal ministries and subordinate only to the president. It was to receive 2 percent of federal tax revenues, separate from the 3 percent already shared by DNOCS and the BNB and the 1 percent allotted to the CVSF. Release of this funding was subject to legislative approval of the agency’s Plano Diretor de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social do Nordeste (Guiding Plan for the Economic and Social Development of the Northeast). SUDENE produced its first Guiding Plan three months after it was formed. Many of the plan’s objectives followed policy recommendations made by the GTDN, which themselves reiterated the findings of Stefan Robock and BNB staff during the early 1950s. Budgetary figures provided in the Guiding Plan indicate that industrialization was to be SUDENE’s main concern initially: two-thirds of its predicted expenditures for 1961–1965 were allocated for road construction and electric power generation. Like Miguel Arrojado Lisboa’s assumption in the 1910s that DNOCS’s politically palatable focus on dams would inevitably lead to irrigation projects, Furtado and his staff saw industrialization as the first step in a larger program of regional reform that would ultimately encompass education, public health, and significant reorganization of the agricultural economy.

In mid-1963, SUDENE obtained approval for a second Guiding Plan containing more specific proposals than the first. Furtado’s memoir portrays the subsequent months as a period of tremendous optimism as SUDENE’s staff began to reap the fruits of their initial studies and undertakings. Supported by President Goulart, the agency continued to promote agrarian reform. However, a year later, following a military coup supported by right-wing opponents of Goulart’s most radical proposals, SUDENE was temporarily closed. Furtado’s success as an advocate for change had led the military to view his staff as subversives.23 Furtado went into exile in Chile, the United States, and finally Paris, where he remained a professor at the Sorbonne for over twenty years. When SUDENE reopened under leadership approved by the military, it focused primarily on industrialization, infrastructural improvements, and agricultural modernization in the northeast. Its greatest successes were in the areas of electric power supply and water sanitation.

Impact of the Military Regime

Over the following decade, Brazil’s authoritarian military government established several projects aimed at developing the most dynamic sectors of the northeastern economy and providing credit for investment in farms and ranchland. These included the POLONORDESTE development program (1974); Projeto Sertanejo, focused specifically on the sertão (1976); the Companhia de Desenvolvimento do Vale do São Francisco (Development Company of the São Francisco Valley), for irrigation; and the PROTERRA credit program. In a detailed analysis of these efforts published shortly after the dictatorship ended, Otamar de Carvalho described the right-wing regime’s neoliberal approach to development as “conservative modernization.”24 In the absence of attention to class inequalities, and with no serious effort to reorganize land ownership, the bank credit and technical infrastructure offered as part of these programs merely solidified the advantages of the landowning class over their workers. Developers focused more on export crop marketability and regional economic growth than on the social impact of their projects. The years of military rule recapitulated, and perhaps intensified, the pattern that had developed over the drought agency’s first half-century. In response, many sertanejos migrated to cities, contributing to the urbanization of Brazilian society during the second half of the 20th century.25 They joined other recent migrants in São Paulo and other major cities, establishing new communities that drew on social networks from the migrants’ native regions.26

Agronomists working for DNOCS and other federal agencies, such as the Empresa Brasileira de Assistencia Tecnica e Extensao Rural (EMBRATER, Brazilian Enterprise of Technical Assistance and Rural Extension, an agricultural extension service established in 1975), hoped that their irrigated settlements would serve as centers for economic and social development, with health posts, schools, and roads aiding many people in addition to the irrigantes who were selected as direct beneficiaries of these projects. Yet construction of irrigation works proceeded slowly. By the end of 1977 just over 2,000 families occupied smallholder colonies administered by DNOCS, the majority of which were in the state of Ceará. The 14,000 irrigated hectares in these settlements (representing just over half of the colonizers’ farmland, the remainder being “dry areas” for ranching and xerophilous crops) amounted to about 12 percent of the agency’s planned irrigated area. Many citizens from whom land had been expropriated in order to establish irrigated colonies resisted participation in the new settlements, resenting the federal government’s claims on their land, homes, and other property.27

More than a decade after the 1964 coup, one of Celso Furtado’s former assistants, Francisco de Oliveira, published a critique of SUDENE’s accomplishments under military rule in which he accused the organization of having functioned primarily to stabilize the northeast’s agro-ranching economy.28 Following the coup, SUDENE’s appointed directors were members of landholding families intent on promoting their own class interests, which had grown to encompass banking, transportation, and manufacturing as well as agriculture. Even projects that relocated sertanejo small farmers to new settlements on the Amazon frontier served the needs of the rural elite, Oliveira insisted. Estate owners became more willing to invest in intensive farming as DNOCS increased its provision of irrigation canals and mechanized technologies. State-funded resettlement provided employment for their former workers, whom DNOCS also expected to adopt new farming methods (though with little training). Extreme inequalities in landholding persisted: in the mid-1970s, when the sertão population was roughly twelve million, 8 percent of property holdings encompassed 58 percent of the northeast’s land area. Soil degradation on the smallholdings occupied by the majority of sertanejos intensified their poverty, and young adults continued to migrate to cities in search of a more secure future.29 SUDENE remained focused on the northeast’s most dynamic economic sectors, aiming to diversify the regional economy.

Many critics have argued that the military government’s priorities for northeastern development favored industry at the expense of rural workers. Small farmers were often displaced to build dams whose waters were used primarily for hydroelectric power that was directed to cities. The result was a continuing scarcity of food crops and economic opportunity for the rural poor. Placing primary emphasis on their needs would have dictated a radically different approach to regional development. Observers of conditions in the sertão during the last years of the 20th century argued that federal drought aid continued to rely on patronage relationships, leaving poor sertanejos in a state of “persistent vulnerability” to the vagaries of both climatic and political fluctuations. The multiyear drought of 1997–1999 was reported to have left ten million people (roughly half the sertão’s population) “on the brink of starvation” after the first year.30 Families tried to survive on remittances sent by relatives who had migrated to São Paulo and on erratic government aid—generally food rations or cash wages paid in return for labor on public works projects (a practice begun in the 1920s).31 Land that remained arable was often converted to forage (to sustain ranchers’ cattle) rather than food crops. These descriptions of drought-induced crisis and government response at the turn of the 21st century are eerily similar to accounts from eighty years earlier.

Discussion of the Literature

The perceived linkages between nature and culture in the Brazilian sertão informed Euclides Da Cunha’s 1902 masterpiece Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands, in English translation), an epic account of the three-year standoff between federal military forces and a millenarian community, which the new Republic’s army ultimately defeated at great human and moral cost. Based on Da Cunha’s reports of the conflict published in a paulista newspaper during the 1890s, Os Sertões influenced the perceptions of sertanejos held by elite Brazilian and foreign readers. Da Cunha portrayed his sertanejo compatriots as in many ways a race apart, uniquely adapted to their harsh environment and not easily incorporated into national modernization projects. Decades later, the nordestino geographer Manuel Correia de Andrade wrote eloquently about the political economy and cultural geography of the northeast region. Classics of his from the 1970s onward include Geografia economica do Nordeste and A terra e o homem no Nordeste, translated into English as The Land and People of Northeast Brazil.32 More recently, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque’s A invenção do Nordeste e outras artes postulates the development of a distinctive northeastern regional identity in the early 20th century, largely in opposition to paulista modernism.33 He depicts the drought crisis as a key element in the formation of this identity, which regional elites manipulated to solicit federal aid for their preferred infrastructural projects.

The dynamics of elite political patronage in the northeast, often termed coronelismo (from the military title granted to 19th-century landowners who were officers in the national guard), is explored in Raymundo Faoro’s Os donos do poder: Formação do patronato político Brasileiro, and in Victor Nunes Leal’s, Coronelismo: The Municipality and Representative Government in Brazil.34 These works focus primarily on the federalist First Republic (1890s–1930), when state governments held significant power. Linda Lewin’s Politics and Parentela in Paraíba: A Case Study of Family-Based Oligarchy in Brazil offers a detailed case study of these dynamics in one northeastern state, home to the Pessoa clan.35 For an analysis of how northeastern elites manipulated drought works and other federal agencies to serve their interests, see Marcel Bursztyn’s O poder dos donos: Planejamento e clientelismo no Nordeste, and Francisco Souto’s Nordeste: Poder subdesenvolvimento sustentado; Discurso e prática.36

Regarding SUDENE, Francisco de Oliveira’s Elegia para uma re(li)gião: SUDENE, Nordeste; Planejamento e conflitos de classes provides a scathing critique of the agency’s first decade following the military coup in 1964.37 He argues that it worked in defense of the region’s powerful agro-ranching and industrial interests. Anthony M. Hall’s Drought and Irrigation in Northeast Brazil (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978) was likewise critical of the technocratic options preferred by DNOCS and SUDENE, particularly under the military regime.38 In the years following Brazil’s return to democracy the economist Celso Furtado published several reflections on his work with SUDENE and its predecessors, including A fantasia desfeita, and Seca e Poder: Entrevista com Celso Furtado.39

The 21st century has witnessed an increase in detailed analysis of social-science data related to droughts, such as studies by Renato Duarte of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco in Recife.40 Eve E. Buckley’s Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth-Century Brazil examines the Brazilian government’s approach to drought amelioration as a history of science and technology.41 There is a growing body of historical scholarship based on a variety of primary source records about the experience of drought refugees, such as Kênia Sousa Rios’s “O curral dos flagelados,” and Lara de Castro’s Avalanches de flagelados do sertão Cearense.42 Several scholars at the Universidade Federal do Ceará have written about drought policy and the work of federal drought agencies.43

Primary Sources

The richest collection of materials relating to the Brazilian federal government’s efforts to address the problem of drought in the northeast region are in the drought agency’s Açudes Públicos (public reservoirs) collection. Most of these are in an off-site storage shed on the outskirts of Fortaleza; some may have been relocated to the DNOCS headquarters in Fortaleza. A finding aid for these documents that was compiled in the early 2000s by graduate students and faculty from the Federal University of Ceará is under the aegis of historians Almir Leal de Oliveira and Frederico de Castro Neves. Another potentially rich collection of materials relating to federal drought amelioration is the library holdings of the Instituto Agronômico José Augusto Trinidade, which were transferred to the DNOCS library in Fortaleza.

Other collections with archival material related to drought works include the Instituto Hisórico-Geográfico Brasileiro (IHGB) in Rio de Janeiro, which has papers from President Epitácio Pessoa’s administration (early 1920s). The Museu da República, also in Rio, has relevant collections related to the presidential administrations of Pessoa and Getúlio Vargas (primarily 1920s–1930s). The Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação (CPDOC) of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, has a number of documents from the 1930s–1950s relating to drought works, including transcripts of interviews conducted with former drought agency staff. The Fundação Joaquim Nabuco library and archive in Recife, Pernambuco, has a range of materials relating to northeast Brazilian culture and politics, including the regional experience of drought.

Further Reading

Albuquerque, Durval Muniz de, Jr. A invenção do Nordeste e outras artes. Recife: FJN Editora Massangana, 1999.Find this resource:

Andrade, Manuel Correia de. The Land and People of Northeast Brazil. Translated by Dennis V. Johnson. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Arons, Nicholas. Waiting for Rain: The Politics and Poetry of Drought in Northeast Brazil. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Blake, Stanley. “The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern Brazil. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Buckley, Eve. Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth-Century Brazil. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Cunha, Euclides da. Rebellion in the Backlands. Translated by Samuel Putnam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944. This work was originally published as Os Sertões (Rio de Janeiro: Laemmert & Cia, 1902).Find this resource:

Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocaust: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. New York: Verso, 2001.Find this resource:

Greenfield, Gerald Michael. The Realities of Images: Imperial Brazil and the Great Drought. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001.Find this resource:

Hall, Anthony M. Drought and Irrigation in Northeast Brazil. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978.Find this resource:

Li, Tania M. The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development and the Practice of Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Neves, Frederico de Castro. A multidão e a história: Saques e outras ações de massas no Ceará. Coleção Outros Diálogos 3. Fortaleza, Brazil: Governo do Estado do Ceará, 2000.Find this resource:

Page, Joseph A. The Revolution that Never Was: Northeast Brazil, 1955–1964. New York: Grossman, 1972.Find this resource:

Santos, Martha. Cleansing Honor with Blood. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Tendler, Judith. Good Government in the Tropics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Villa, Marco Antonio. Vida e morte no sertão: História das secas no Nordeste nos séculos XIX e XX. São Paulo: Editora Ática, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) Joaquim Marçal Ferreira de Andrade and Rosângela Logatto, “Imagens da seca de 1877–78 no Ceará: Uma contribuição para o conhecimento das origens do fotojornalismo na imprensa Brasileira,” Anais da Biblioteca Nacional 114 (1994): 71–83.

(2.) Luiz Mariano de Barros Fournier, O problema das secas do Nordeste, 2nd ed., Coleção Mossoroense Series C, vol. 475 (Mossoró, Rio Grande do Norte: Fundação Guimarães Duque, 1989).

(3.) J. de Sampaio Ferraz, Causas prováveis das sêccas do Nordeste Brasileiro: Conf. realisada no Club de Engenharia no dia 20 de Dezembro de 1924 (Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Agricultura, Indústria e Commércio, 1925); and see also J. de Sampaio Ferraz, A previsão das seccas do Nordeste: Ensaios pelo méthodo de correlações (Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Agricultura, Indústria e Commércio, 1929).

(4.) Miguel Arrojado Lisboa, “O problema das seccas,” Anais da biblioteca nacional do Rio de Janeiro 35 (1913): 129–146, at 140.

(5.) Epitácio Pessoa, Obras do Nordeste: Resposta ao Exmo Snr. Senador Sampaio Corrêa, Coleção Mossoroense, Series C, vol. 587 (Mossoró, Rio Grande do Norte: Fundacao Guimaraes Duque, 1990); originally published 1925, this book includes Lisboa’s response to an interview given by Pessoa.

(6.) Victor Nunes Leal, Coronelismo: The Municipality and Representative Government in Brazil, trans. June Henfrey (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

(7.) For Philip von Luetzelburg’s work, see Philip von Luetzelburg, Estudo botânico do Nordeste, Publicação: Departamento Nacional de Obras Contra as Secas, Series 1A, 57 (Rio de Janeiro: IFOCS, 1922).

(8.) This and similar maps for other states in the drought zone are in the EP archive, Documentos Visuais, Aim 2, Pr4, Museu da República, Rio de Janeiro.

(9.) “IFOCS Regulamento 1931,” 13–16, CP-DOC, Fundação Getúlio Vargas (henceforth FGV), Rio de Janeiro.

(10.) Luiz Augusto da Silva Vieira, “Obras no Nordeste,” Boletim da Inspetoria Federal de Obras Contra as Secas 13, no. 2 (1940): 85–94.

(11.) “IFOCS até o fim de 1943,” CP-DOC, GV Archive, GV rem.s 1944.00.00, Fundação Getúlio Vargas.

(12.) Before 1930, IFOCS had stored 621 million cubic meters of water in public reservoirs; that figure stood at 2.6 billion cubic meters following Vieira’s first term. Ninety-three percent of the private reservoir capacity available in 1943 had been constructed under Vieira’s direction. Almost 60 percent of the wells drilled by IFOCS through 1943 were drilled while Vieira was inspector, and he was responsible for nearly 75 percent of the highways constructed by the agency up to that time. “IFOCS até o fim de 1943.”

(13.) “Legislação do DNOCS” (Rio de Janeiro: MVOP-DNOCS, 1951), 76, CP-DOC, FGV.

(14.) José Augusto Trinidade, “Os serviços agricolas da inspectoria de seccas,” Boletim da Inspetoria Federal de Obras Contra as Secas 7, no. 1 (1937): 27–43.

(15.) Paulo de Brito Guerra, O instituto agronômico José Augusto Trindade (Fortaleza: Ministério do Interior, DNOCS, 1984).

(16.) Mary W. Hargreaves, Dry Farming in the Northern Great Plains, 1900–1925 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), 83.

(17.) José Guimarães Duque, Solo e agua no polígono das sêcas, 3rd ed. (Fortaleza: MVOP-DNOCS, 1953), 201 and 291.

(18.) Duque, Solo e agua, 188 and 201.

(19.) Legislação do DNOCS, 2nd ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Brasil–Ministerio de Viação e Obras Públicas, 1958).

(20.) Celso Furtado, “A Policy for the Economic Development of the Northeast” (1958), reprinted in Superintendência de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste, A Policy for the Economic Development of the Northeast and a Synthesis of the First Guiding Plan for the Development of the Northeast (Recife: SUDENE, 1961), 15–79.

(21.) For a detailed analysis of congressional agrarian reform debates over the subsequent decade, see Marta Cehelsky, Land Reform in Brazil: The Management of Social Change (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979).

(22.) Antonio Callado, Os indústriais da sêca e os “Galileus” de Pernambuco: Aspectos da luta pela reforma agrária no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Editôra Civilização Brasileira, 1960), 54. The articles comprising this volume were published in September–December 1959.

(23.) “Sudene,” Pronumerário no. 0276B, archive 1, Fundo SSP n. 444, DOPS (Delegacia de Ordem Política e Social) collection, Acervo Público de Pernambuco.

(24.) Otamar de Carvalho, A economia política do Nordeste: Secas, irrigação e desenvolvimento (Brasília: ABID, 1988), 233–251.

(25.) Alfredo José Gonçalves, “Migrações internas: Evoluções e desafios,” Estudos Avançados 15, no. 43 (2001): 173–184.

(26.) Paulo Fontes, Um Nordeste em São Paulo: Trabalhadores migrantes em São Miguel Paulista, 1945–1966 (Rio de Janeiro: Ed. FGV, 2008).

(27.) Maria José Carneiro and Patricia Monte-Mór, “Sujeição e idealização do Passado: Reflexões sobre as representações das condições de vide do ‘irrigante,’” Reforma Agrária 13, no. 3 (1983): 27–36.

(28.) Francisco de Oliveira, Elegia para uma re(li)gião: SUDENE, Nordeste; Planejamento e conflitos de classes, 2nd ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1977).

(29.) José Osvaldo Pontes, “O DNOCS e a irrigação do Nordeste,” paper presented at the conference III Seminario Nacional de Irrigação e Drenagem, November 18, 1975, 8–10, DNOCS library, Fortaleza.

(30.) Kathleen Bond, “A Drought Ravages Northeast Brazil,” NACLA Report on the Americas 32 (1999): 11–13.

(31.) The administration of President Lula (2003–2011) gained considerable support in the northeast region by trying to stabilize assistance to poor families via the Bolsa Família conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. See D. M. Cavalcanti, E. M. Costa, and J. L. M. Silva, “Programa Bolsa Família e o Nordeste: Impactos na renda e na educação nos anos de 2004 e 2006,” Revista de Economia Contemporânea 17, no. 1 (2013): 99–128.

(32.) Manuel Correia de Andrade, Geografia economica do Nordeste (São Paulo: Editora Atlas, 1970); Manuel Correia de Andrade, A terra e o homem no Nordeste (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1963); and Manuel Correia de Andrade, The Land and People of Northeast Brazil (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980).

(34.) Raymundo Faoro, Os donos do poder: Formação do patronato político Brasileiro, 3rd ed. (Porto Alegre, Brazil: Editora Globo, 1976), vol. 2; and Victor Nunes Leal, Coronelismo: The Municipality and Representative Government in Brazil, trans. June Henfrey (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

(35.) Linda Lewin, Politics and Parentela in Paraíba: A Case Study of Family-Based Oligarchy in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).

(36.) Marcel Bursztyn, O poder dos donos: Planejamento e clientelismo no Nordeste (Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes, 1984); and Francisco Souto, Nordeste: Poder subdesenvolvimento sustentado; Discurso e prática (Fortaleza: Editora UFCE, 1992).

(37.) Francisco de Oliveira, Elegia para uma re(li)gião: SUDENE, Nordeste; Planejamento e conflitos de classes, 2nd ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1977).

(39.) Celso Furtado, A fantasia desfeita (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1989); and Celso Furtado, Seca e Poder: Entrevista com Celso Furtado, 2nd ed. (São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 1999).

(40.) For example, Renato Duarte, Do desastre natural à calamidade pública (Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2002).

(42.) Kênia Sousa Rios, “O curral dos flagelados,” Revista Canudos, “Seca” 3, no. 1 (1999): 69–84; and Lara de Castro, Avalanches de flagelados do sertão Cearense (Fortaleza: DNOCS, BNB-ETENE, 2010).

(43.) For example, Frederico de Castro Neves, “Getúlio e a seca: Políticas emergênciais na era Vargas,” Revista Brasileira de história 2140 (2001): 107–131.