Iuri Gagárin’s visit to Brazil was worthy of a pop star. Crowds on the streets, paparazzi, celebrity hype and endless politicians surfing the prestige of the Soviet cosmonaut.
The passage of the Russian star in Brazilian countries was so radiant that even a baby from a mining family was baptized as Yuri Gagarin da Silva and brought to Rio for the aviator to meet.
During his six days in Brazil, the Soviet was photographed tirelessly. “You [os fotógrafos]without knowing it, they are preparing my resistance for new flights, “he said in a humorous tone to journalists in São Paulo.
Gagárin’s tour lasted only three months after the cosmonaut flew around the earth in his Vostok 1. In Brazil, the Russian completed a tour of America, which also included visits to the USA and Cuba.
Despite the popular appeal, Gagarin’s visit was marked by violent repression by the police. People and journalists were harassed by security forces when the Soviet landed in Brasilia on July 29th.
Scene repeated hours later, upon his arrival in Rio, with jets of water being fired from a water cart over the public waiting eagerly at the exit of Galeão airport for minimal contact with the Russian.
During his stay in Rio de Janeiro, Gagárin visited the UNE, the Brazilian Press Association and the Metalworkers Union, but lived in the villa of the Deputy Drault Ernanny in Gávea Pequena.
There he slept in the same suite in which Madame Chiang Kai-shek was already staying. He was in contact with Rio’s high society, but also met personalities such as the painter Di Cavalcanti, the writer Jorge Amado and the pioneer of Brazilian aviation, Anésia Pinheiro Machado.
He was met by Carlos Lacerda (UDN-RJ) at the Guanabara Palace for a conversation that lasted only fifteen minutes. He also met with several politicians in the capital of Rio, such as the controversial Tenório Cavalcanti (UDN-RJ).
Iuri Gagárin traveled to São Paulo on August 1st. A huge crowd went to the streets of Congonhas to meet the cosmonaut. At the invitation of the Union of Journalists, the Russian had lunch in Paulicéia at the Othon Palace Hotel nightclub.
Lunch was an unusual event. Police officers from Dops (Department of Political and Social Order) who attended the event without an invitation attacked some of the journalists, an organization that then promoted the meeting.
After lunch, Gagárin went to the Palácio dos Campos Elíseos to meet with Governor Carvalho Pinto (PDC-SP). He drank coffee, handed out autographs and even talked about Santos Dumont.
Tired of the marathon, the Russian canceled his planned trip to the Presidente Bernardes refinery in Baixada Santista and rested in his room in the Hotel Jaraguá.
At night, more than two thousand people visited him in the Ibirapuera gym when he told the São Paulo public all the steps of his adventure aboard Vostok 1. He was also honored by Mayor Prestes Maia (UDN-SP).
Folha’s report at the time reported that the public was unhappy with the poor quality of the sound system and even more so with the translation, which was in Spanish instead of Portuguese.
On August 2nd, Iuri Gagárin returned to Brasilia, where he was awarded the Order of Aeronautical Merit by President Jânio Quadros (PTN-SP).
Gagárin’s visit was part of the efforts of the Jânio Quadros government to restore diplomatic relations with the former Soviet Union. Relations with the Russians resumed in December 1961, but President Jânio resigned from his post on August 25, weeks after Gagárin’s visit.