By 1943 Brazil was at war. After a series of Nazi-led U-boat attacks and gradual dependence on US business, Latin America’s largest country officially made the Second World War truly global. Brazils siding with the Allies would complete the intercontinental puzzle of alliances and become the first Latin American country to see active combat outside of the continent.
It is a part of the war’s history which is often patched over and it is indeed important not to overplay it; the 26,000 strong Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB) gained the nickname the Smoking Snakes for the saying at the time “it’s more likely for a snake to smoke a pipe, than for the BEF go to the front and fight.” By the end of the war however, the forces would take close to 21,000 Axis troops’ prisoners losing 1,000 men on the Atlantic and Italian Fronts in the process.
The ‘promotional video’ above is an intriguing historical relic for a number of reasons. Firstly, its production by the U.S. Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs demonstrates how concerned the American government was of Nazi infiltration on their doorstep. The video, along with a number of others on the sidebar, was just a block in the “Good Neighbor” policy employed by Roosevelt to counter financial and ideological competition in the region.
Secondly, the short film is symbolic of the ‘manufactured’ perception change Americans had of Latin America in the run-up to the war. This was the age of Carmen Miranda and The Three Caballeros; Latin America was to become romanticised and exotic, but always under masked with the lucrative economic opportunities available to the American businessmen the videos were fundamentally aimed at.
The United States involvement with Brazil at this time was exciting, novel and, for once, of vital importance to the country. American magnates would file down to the south, establishing projects ranging from the infamous Fordlandia project to the Sao Paulo factories presented in the video.
The ‘Good Neighbor’ project in Brazil was a sound success for America (less so for Brazil), establishing an economic program which would greatly boost the US war effort and out see the war. Latin Americans would finish the war as some of the most ardent supporters of American foreign policy.