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Science and Technology Great Leap Forward in Brazil

 
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Brazil Science and Technology Great Leap Forward



The Great Leap Forward, 1968-79
In the so-called "great leap forward" period, the Brazilian military government, which took power in 1964, embarked on its ambitious program of scientific and technological self-sufficiency. In the first years, the military government entered into conflict with a significant part of the country's scientific leadership, because of the latter's real or assumed socialist stands. The two sides later reconciled, however, because of their shared nationalism and concern with social and economic development. The move toward scientific self-sufficiency reached its climax during Ernesto Geisel's presidency (1974-79), which scientist Reinaldo Guimarães describes as a period of "enlightened despotism." The main initiatives in this period included the university reform in 1969 that introduced graduate education and organized the universities into departments and institutes.

In the "great leap forward" period, science and technology became linked institutionally to the economic authorities. The federal government created support agencies and programs under a newly created Planning Ministry or the Secretariat of Planning and Coordination of the Presidency of the Republic (Secretaria de Planejamento e Coordenação da Presidência da República--Seplan). The National Bank for Economic and Social Development (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social--BNDES), Brazil's main investment bank, created a special fund for science and technology, which led to a new agency, the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos--Finep). The Finep was organized as a private corporation under ministerial supervision and was responsible for the administration of the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico--FNDCT), which has provided institutional grants for technological projects for research and development in public and private nonprofit institutions. The FNDCT's annual budget in the mid-1970s was around US$200 million but was reduced gradually to about US$40 million by the early 1990s.

The 1968-79 period also saw the establishment of two large research and graduate institutions in science and technology: the Coordinating Board of Postgraduate Programs in Engineering (Coordenação dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Engenharia--Coppe) at both the UFRJ and Unicamp. Both institutions were oriented toward research and training in advanced engineering (chemical, mechanical, biomedical, electric, metallurgical, nuclear, and naval) and in new technologies derived from recent advances in solid-state physics and lasers. Other institutions also benefited, such as the Technology Center (Centro de Tecnologia) of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro--PUC-RJ), the Polytechnical School at the USP, and the ITA. The PUC is Brazil's only private university that produces a significant amount of scientific research.

Initiatives in the 1968-79 period also included the cooperation agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) for the development of nuclear technology, followed by the development of the so-called Parallel Program (Programa Paralelo), a secret program for nuclear weapons development; the beginning of the space program, with the development of a satellite launch vehicle and a satellite; the development of a subsonic military jet aircraft (the AMX project, in association with Italy); the adoption of a market protection policy for the computer industry; and the writing of three successive national plans for scientific and technological development. Another initiative included the creation of research and development centers within the country's main state-owned corporations, such as the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro--Petrobrás), Brazilian Telecommunications, Inc. (Telecomunições Brasileiras S.A.--Telebrás), and the Brazilian Electric Power Company, Inc. (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.--Eletrobrás). In addition, a national system for agricultural research was reorganized and strengthened through the Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Research Enterprise (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária--Embrapa), under the Ministry of Agriculture.

On the positive side, these initiatives were characterized by abundant funding resources, quick-decision mechanisms, and some relative flexibility in the use of the grants. Even for large projects, resources were provided whenever possible to the group leader, in a deliberate bypass of the traditional, cumbersome, and ineffectual procedures of public administration. On the other hand, the absence of well-defined peer-review procedures, particularly at Finep, allowed for the support of less than worthy groups and projects, which became permanent clients of FNDCT resources.

More serious was the lack of consistency that existed between science and technology policies, oriented toward self-sufficiency and a strong presence of the public sector, and the economic policies of the same period, which opened Brazil to multinational corporations and the acquisition of ready-made, turnkey technologies from abroad. The result was that the research seldom benefited the productive sector, except in three main areas: in agriculture, mostly through the development of new varieties of sugar cane, corn, soybeans, coffee, fruits, and other crops; in a few sectors where government research and development centers--such as the Army Technology Center (Centro Tecnológico do Exército--CTEx), the CTA, and those of Eletrobrás, Petrobrás, and Telebrás--linked with industry and established technical standards for communications equipment and other products; and in the area of computing, where the government tried to link research and production by Brazilian private firms under the umbrella of market protection.

Data as of April 1997










 



 


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