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Brazil - History

Exports, slavery, and Patriarchy have been the three constants of Brazilian history. The export orientation of the colonial economy shaped Brazil's society. Even the name "Brazil," like the country itself, is suggestive of commerce and the pursuit of wealth. Brazil's name derives from the brazilwood trees from which Europeans sought in the sixteenth century to make valuable red dyes. However, the central fact of the country's history was the exploitation of cheap labor, first as slaves, then as wage-earners. Indeed, Brazil's history is the story not only of conquest but also of the enslavement of its native peoples and of millions of imported African slaves.

Recent archeological discoveries suggest that Brazil may have been inhabited as long ago as 40,000 years. Additional research must be undertaken before these hypotheses, which may push the history of Western Hemisphere human occupation back by as many as 20,000 years, are universally accepted. In addition, there is continuing speculation that Brazil may have been visited by the 15th century Portuguese explorers who sailed widely in the South Atlantic, trading with Africa and settling the Azores and Madeira Islands.

Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. The colony was ruled from Lisbon until 1808, when Dom Joao VI and the rest of the Portuguese royal family fled from Napoleon's army, and established its seat of government in Rio de Janeiro. Dom Joao VI returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889, when a federal republic was established in a coup led by Deodoro da Fonseca, Marshal of the Army. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Princess Regent Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.

Brazil's history can be divided into five economic periods, each characterized by a dominant export product. The first period, from 1500 to 1550, involved the logging of brazilwood along the coast of the Northeast (Nordeste). Brazilwood was the source of a red dye important to the expanding textile industry of sixteenth-century northern Europe, particularly Normandy and Flanders. The trees and the ready labor of the natives, who were eager to acquire metal products in return for cutting and hauling logs to the coast, attracted Portuguese and French ships. The French were quite successful because they sent young men to reside among the natives, to learn their languages, and to get them to bring the timber to the nearest bay or estuary.

By contrast, the Portuguese, in the first few decades, traded from their ships or haphazard outposts. The Portuguese attempted to use the factory system that they were then employing along the African, South Asian, and Asian coasts. This system consisted of fortified trading posts that had minimal contact with the local population. The French, with deeper roots among the native peoples and more knowledge of their cultures, filled their waiting ships more quickly. France's activity convinced the Portuguese crown to undertake sustained settlement to protect its claim.

The Europeans struggled among themselves for control of the beachheads, anchorages, and bays. The Portuguese effort to gain effective control of the coast coincided with the onset of the sugar era, which extended from 1530 to 1650. Sugarcane cultivation was carried out in widely separated tidewater enclaves from So Vicente in the South (Sul - the present-day states of Paran, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul) to Pernambuco in the Northeast; it became most successful around the Bahian Recncavo and in Pernambuco. Enslaved natives and increasingly, after the 1560s, imported African slaves provided the labor for the mills (engenhos ) and fields.

Slave shipments from Africa directly to the Americas did not begin until 1532 to the Spanish West Indies and, still later, to Brazil. The opening up of the Brazil market for slaves was more signi?cant than mere distances on the map may indicate. The long east-west coast of West Africa has a strong ocean current and prevailing winds from the west.

To reach either Europe or the West Indies, a sailing vessel had to drop south of the equator to catch the southeast trades, then cross the equator once more in mid-ocean to catch the northeast trades for the main Atlantic crossing or go north to the Azores for the westerlies that would carry it to Europe. Each crossing of the equator meant passing through a belt of calms, the doldrums, which greatly increased the time required for the voyage.

After about 1550, however, the situation changed. Political disturbance in the kingdom of Kongo increased the supply of slaves; the beginning of the Brazilian sugar industry increased the demand. The voyage to the new sugar plantations was a straight run with the southeast trades, far shorter and more predictable than the trip to the West Indies. This gave Brazil an early advantage over the Caribbean. Brazilian sugar had to travel farther to reach Europe, but Brazil had easier access to African labor.

Sugar tied Brazil into the developing system of European capitalism, imposed a patriarchal social system on the country, and prompted Dutch attacks on Portugal's South Atlantic empire. The sugar economy's need for oxen and meat led to the accompanying growth of cattle raising in the dry interior hinterlands, known as the serto. Cattle raising became so important to the economy and to the development of the interior as to almost constitute a phase in its own right. However, although cattle raising provided hides for export, it supplied principally local markets. The Dutch seizure of Recife in 1630 and their subsequent capture of Luanda on the Angolan coast, a principal source of slaves imported into Brazil, disrupted the Portuguese dominance over sugar. When the Hollanders (holandeses ) withdrew from Brazil in 1654, they stimulated cane growing on the Caribbean islands and used their control of distribution in Europe to reduce Portuguese access.

The third period -- mining of gold and diamonds from the 1690s to the 1750s -- carried Portugal's effective occupation of the land far into the interior of what are now the states of Minas Gerais, Gois, and Mato Grosso. The discoveries of alluvial gold on the Rio das Velhas in about 1693, throughout central Minas Gerais in the next years, and out into Mato Grosso in 1718 and Gois in 1725, and then the growth of diamond mining along the Rio Jequitinhonha in Minas Gerais after 1730, shifted the colonial center away from the Northeast coast into the interior. Minas Gerais became the new jewel in Portugal's crown, although one that was difficult to keep in place. As more people spread to the distant interior, many of them were living beyond the reach of royal officials. Indeed, one of Brazil's distinctive features has always been the existence of people who live within the boundaries of the country but outside the limits of the society and the controls of the state.

The Northeast and the South were tied to Minas Gerais via the livestock trade. The mineiro (Minas Gerais) towns needed beef, as well as a seemingly endless supply of mules. Without good roads, mule trains became characteristic of the region, which was soon tied together by an extensive web of trails. The cattle came south from ranches along the Rio So Francisco, thereby linking the mines to the Northeast. The mules came from the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul via the market at Sorocaba in So Paulo, tying the South to the mining region. Because Paulistas (residents of the state of So Paulo) made most of the initial gold strikes, So Paulo was connected to all the mining areas. The importance of Minas Gerais and the mines farther inland led the crown to transfer the viceregal capital from Salvador, Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro in 1763.

Gold production declined in the later decades of the eighteenth century, and from about 1820 coffee cultivation provided a fourth period that lasted to the end of the 1920s. It began in the mountains behind Rio de Janeiro, moved along the Rio Paraba Valley to the west across So Paulo State and out into Paran. Coffee powered the rise of So Paulo and its port of Santos, and although it gradually took a secondary position to industrialization after the late 1930s, Brazil remained the world's major coffee producer.

The Amazon had an important era of its own from the 1880s to 1919, when it was the world's major source of rubber. The rubber boom drew world attention to the region, prompted Brazil to secure its boundaries, and lured thousands of rubber tappers from the drought-plagued serto of the Northeast to the forests of Acre. It turned into a bust when the helter-skelter collection of wild rubber lost out to the massive production methods of British, Dutch, and French plantations in Southeast Asia.

The fifth economic period began in the 1930s with import-substitution industrialization and extended into the 1990s. Industry's initial and heaviest concentration was in the triangle of So Paulo-Rio de Janeiro-Belo Horizonte. The period was perhaps best symbolized by the steel mills of Volta Redonda, built in 1944, and So Paulo's integrated industrial zone. Industrialization and its parallel urbanization attracted rural migrants from throughout the country, but especially from the drought-plagued Northeast. In the space of a generation after 1940, Brazil leaped from the age of the bull-cart to that of the internal combustion engine, changing the national map in the process.

Before the 1930s, despite the earlier incursions into the interior, Brazil still consisted of a series of enclaves connected by sealanes rather than by railroads or paved highways. Pan American Airway's introduction of the DC-3 on its run from Belm to Rio de Janeiro in 1940 vaulted Brazil directly into the air age. By the 1970s, it had the world's third largest commercial air fleet after the United States and the Soviet Union. The 1950s push to develop an automotive industry was followed in later decades by large-scale construction of long-distance highways, which by the 1980s made it possible to travel to all regions of the country on paved roads. Symbolic of this era was the building of Brazil's third capital at Braslia (1955-60) on the plains of Gois.

The internal combustion engine and the coinciding growth of the petroleum industry made possible the mechanization of agriculture, which changed rapidly the face of the Brazilian west and made Brazil the second largest exporter of food in the 1980s. The combination of highways and automotive transport opened up Amaznia for the first time. The construction of the highway corridors from Braslia to Belm and from Cuiab to Porto Velho to Manaus triggered large-scale migration, mining and agricultural development, timbering, land disputes, displacement of native peoples, and massive deforestation. The latter made Brazil's Amazon policies the subject of world debate, which in turn made Brazilians worry about the security of their immense North region (Amaznia).

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional republic, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945. Between 1945 and 1961, Brazil had six presidents: Jose Linhares, Gaspar Dutra, Vargas himself, Cafe Filho, Carlos Luz, Nereu Ramos, Juscelino Kubitschek, and Janio Quadros. When Quadros resigned in 1961, Vice President Joao Goulart succeeded him.

Goulart's years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and the increasing influence of radical political elements. The armed forces, alarmed by these developments, staged a coup on March 31, 1964. The coup leaders chose Humberto Castello Branco as president, followed by Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-69), Emilio Garrastazu Medici (1969-74), and Ernesto Geisel (1974-79), all of whom were senior army officers. Geisel began a democratic opening that was continued by his successor, Gen. Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-85). Figueiredo permitted the return of politicians exiled or banned from political activity during the 1960s and 1970s and allowed them to run for state and federal offices in 1982.

Concurrently, an electoral college consisting of all members of congress and six delegates chosen from each state continued to choose the president. In January 1985, the electoral college voted Tancredo Neves from the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) into office as President. Neves died 39 days later, before his presidential inauguration, from abdominal complications. Vice President Jose Sarney became President upon Neves' death.

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