Juscelino Kubitschek (popularly known as “JK”) won the 1956 presidential elections with the aid of the snappy campaign slogan “Fifty years in five” (i.e., he would accomplish in five years what most leaders could only accomplish in 50). The visionary and determined Kubitschek—who had cut his political teeth as mayor of Belo Horizonte and governor of Minas Gerais—promised Brazilians a future of great growth and change. He set about making good on his promise by immediately hiring a team of highly talented modernist architects to build a utopian new Brazilian capital in the geographical heart of the nation.
Although the spot for Brasília ’s construction was literally located in the middle of nowhere, Kubitschek’s ambitious goal was to open up Brazil ’s vast and deserted interior to settlement and development. Many critics thought he was insane—particularly Rio ’s political elite, who were loath to forsake the Cidade Maravilhosa for the dry and dusty Planalto Central—but the “bossa nova presidente” proved them wrong. With a team led by brilliant architect Oscar Niemeyer, construction of the space-age capital advanced at rapid speed.
In the end, Kubitschek fulfilled his promise to the people. Before his term was over, he presided over the April 21, 1960, inauguration of the new capital, an event that was celebrated with much pomp. The only problem was the massive bill. Despite the fact that Kubitschek had presided over a period of strong economic growth, the costs of building Brasília left the nation in serious debt, which would later play a factor in the astronomic rates of inflation that gripped Brazil in the 1970s.