Listen to article

By Henry Mance
Brasilia is one of the world's most famous planned cities

Three years before John F Kennedy declared that he too was a Berliner, a Brazilian president made a similarly striking claim: that he was a candango, one of the thousands of poor people who left their homes and families for a better future building the country's new capital, Brasilia.

“Brasilia is only here… because the faith in God and in Brazil supported all of us, all this family here today, all you candangos to whom I am proud to belong,” said President Juscelino Kubitschek when the city was inaugurated on 21 April, 1960.

It was President Kubitschek's leadership that had won the political support and the financing for Brasilia, in the face of significant public opposition.

But it was the candangos who gave their sweat, toil and – in some cases – their lives for its construction.

In just three years, filled with dizzying optimism, they built what is now one of the world's most famous planned cities.

Vicente Castro has seen Brasilia grow and spread
“At the beginning, it was difficult. We worked like slaves – 48 hours without a break – to finish the city in time for the inauguration,” said Vicente Castro, 78.

Mr Castro arrived in Brasilia on a flatbed truck after hearing a radio advertisement. He now has children and grandchildren in the city.

This year, as Brasilia celebrates its 50th anniversary, the candangos are finally gaining public recognition for their contribution.

“Those who worked in the construction [have been] considered simple people. The public knows more about the story of the 'pioneers': people who were of a higher social class and who arrived after the city was built,” says Luciana Maya, of the Living Museum of Candango Memory in Brasilia.

“This year I've seen the media become interested in the candangos' stories… and their role in creating not just the buildings, but also the soul of the city. I think the courage and fortitude of the candangos make them really important.”

Carving city out of forest
Work on Brasilia began in earnest in 1957. A few hundred workers cleared the forest and carved out the city's main thoroughfares.