Brazil History Information

Information About Brazil - History

The history of the Americas is always told beginning at the encounter with Europe. However, it actually dates back to the pre-Columbian times, which were also important because they contributed to the American cultures. Brazil is shaped by its aborigines, who were not as advanced as the Aztecs in Mexico and Quechuas in Peru, but sufficiently leave their mark on the Brazilian culture of today. The most common indigenous groups found in Brazil were the Tupi-Guarani and the Tupinambas. It is believed that by the time the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in 1500 the population was around the millions, nevertheless these indigenous groups were nomads and didn't leave much archeological information. Nowadays, this population has been reduced to a few hundred thousand.

The Portuguese made their way to Brazil in 1500, led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, arriving in Porto Seguro instead of India where they had originally planned to go. Many historians argue that Cabral in fact deviated from the main route following specific instructions from the King of Portugal so that he could take possession of South America in the name of the Portuguese crown. It is common knowledge among contemporary historians that other navigators had previously been to these lands before Cabral, but no country had yet claimed them as their own. Rapidly, the Portuguese realized that Brazil was a continent rather than another Caribbean island. Further expeditions were sent out and commerce was set up to export the profitable dye wood, famous for its reddish pigmentation, also found in the new land, Pau do brasil. Pau brasil is a tree which can grow as tall as 30 meters; the trunk and boughs have yellow, aromatic flowers, and the wood is hard and heavy, which was an excellent resource for cabinet-making, musical instruments and the naval industry. Most of all, it was its reddish dye which made it so desirable for mass exportation. Furthermore and most importantly, this tree conferred its name to this new land, Brazil.

The Portuguese crown quickly accelerated the process of conquering Brazil and in 1531 King Dom Joao III of Portugal divided the land into 15 captaincies, which he distributed amongst friends and influential figures. The landowners were given the rights to exploit the lands in any way they desired, as long as they invested their own resources. The French and Dutch were also very interested in this newly discovered horizon because of the potential to be explored and they started to trade directly with the Indians. The Portuguese introduced sugar plantations to help the economical growth, but the Indians were not accustomed to the hard work of growing sugar cane and they refused to work such arduous jobs. Portuguese colonists took the Indians as slaves, which was not an easy task. In addition they had to employ the resources of Bandeirantes who even made their way to the Peruvian Andes to capture Indians to extend Brazils territory for the Portuguese crown. These Bandeirantes, sons of Portuguese and Indian parentage, persecuted the Indians with barbaric treatment while exploring territory for the Portuguese crown.

The colonists had a struggle over the labor market with the Jesuits, who arrived in Brazil with the mission of improving relations between the Indians and the Europeans, to convert and to educate the Indians and to organize them into special villages. By the end of the 16 th century the Jesuits had spread out the villages and had become a wealthy and powerful force, which had monopoly control of the Amazon spice trade and some of the major sugar plantations.

African slavery started in the late 16 th century as soon as the Indian slavery reported to be unsuccessful. Portuguese colonists decided to import labor from the African continent to maintain the sovereignty over the worlds sugar market. This economy depended mostly on the sugar plantations and by the 17th century the northeastern provinces of Pernambuco, Bahia and Paraiba were the worlds largest producers of sugar. Salvador da Bahia became formally the first capital of Brazil in 1549 when the first Governor General of Brazil, Tome de Sousa, was sent to the new land to build a city which would eventually serve as the settlement of the Portuguese government for more than two hundred years. This profitable business of sugar cane brought more than 3 million African slaves to Brazil, who were taken, stolen and forced to leave their countries to benefit the economy of the Portuguese Empire.

After a few years in captivity, some of these slaves escaped from their owners and built communities called Quilombos (kilomboes). The most famous of these was the Palmares Quilombo. The size of a small country, it was ruled by the great Zumbi, a masterful, military leader and King of Palmares. There are still small Quilombos in existence today in Brazil.
As a result of the direct contact with Africa and its people, African traditions and culture have had a profound influence on Brazilian music, dance, arts, sports, cuisine and physique.

The French and Dutch invaded Northeast Brazil and had short term presence in the later 17 th century. Perhaps the greatest legacy of their presence is the miscegenation of races which characterizes todays Brazilian native. Nowhere in the world is there a truer melting pot of races than in Brazil: Native Indian, Portuguese, African, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German, Arab, Japanese and others. Perhaps this may help to explain why there is such a wealth and variation of beauty and creativity in Brazil today.

At the end of the 17th century, the Gold fever started. In the state of Minas Gerais a goldmine was found and rapidly the economics in Brazil moved to the rhythm of the gold rush. More slaves were brought to excavate and work in the mines. The news about the Goldmines spread throughout Europe and along with the Portuguese, other Europeans rushed to join the gold exploitation. The 18th century in Brazil was lead by the Gold economics. Even though the gold extracted from Brazil was mainly exported to Europe, this event helped to populate inland Brazil. The gold fever transformed many aspects of the colony and numbers of people settled in the interior encouraging a new economic movement. The gold rush shifted the center of the power from the northeastern sugar plantations to the center of Brazil and the captaincy of Minas Gerais was created. The capital of the country was moved from Salvador, Bahia to the new city of Rio de Janeiro in 1763, symbolizing the decline of power of the sugar plantations.

The 19th century caught the western world in independence movements. Lead by the French revolution with the egalite, fraternite et liberte, most of countries in the American continent started their process for their independence from their colonists, except Brazil, which became an Empire in the new continent. Napoleon Bonaparte's troops took over Lisbon, the capital of the Portuguese Empire, and forced Dom Joao VI, the King of Portugal to leave the country. As soon as he arrived in Rio de Janeiro, he made the city the capital of the Portuguese Empire in 1807, becoming the first colony to become a seat for a monarch. A few years later, Dom Joao VI's son, Prince Regent Pedro declared independence from Portugal without any need to spill blood. In October of 1821 the government in Lisbon demanded the return of Prince Regent Dom Pedro to Europe. Dom Pedro, supported by the Brazilians, declared the independence of Brazil on the 7 of September of 1822. Brazil became a constitutional monarchy by crowning Dom Pedro as its emperor.

During the 19th century, coffee had replaced gold and sugar as Brazil's major export source of income, and slavery still existed. Dom Pedro I quickly earned the mistrust of the Brazilian new elites because he did not want to separate the ties with Portugal. Only in 1831, when Dom Pedro I abdicated in favor of his 5 year old son, did Brazil finally separate from Portugal. In 1888, Brazil became the second last country in the American continent to abolish slavery, just before Cuba. In 1889 a military coup d'etat overthrew Dom Pedro II from the crown and Brazil became a Federal Republic. The new constitution established 20 states and a directly elected president with senate and chamber deputies. For the next few years, Brazil became a vulnerable state, which was ruled by different military and civilian presidents. Coffee continued to be the main source of economics in Federal Brazil.

Brazil entered the 20th century in the hands of oligarchies, which controlled the coffee exportations. By 1929 when the economics around the world had deteriorated, the coffee planters also were loosing their power and an opposition was created. The liberal Alliance lost the elections of 1930 and the military that were supporting the Alliance unrecognized the elections and imposed their leader, Getulio Vargas, as president of Brazil. Getulio Vargas was influenced by the fascists in Europe and governed Brazil for 24 years until 1954.

The period of the Getulio Vargas government was a critical era in Brazilian history. Vargas, a wealthy rancher from Rio Grande do Sul, ruled the country as if it were a Fazenda (Brazilian farm) and governed by decree replacing all the state governors with 'interventor'  who reduced the military force and restructured the states in favor of Vargas interests. Under Vargas government the traditional oligarchy declined and the political parties emerged, especially the Fascists and the Communists. Vargas also suspended the constitution and created an 'Estado Novo' (the new state.) The Estado Novo was a response to the economic crises. The price of coffee and other agricultural products had fallen in the international market due to the Second World War. Vargas assumed dictatorial powers, censoring the press, excluding political parties, weakening trade unions, and tolerating unrestricted behavior from the police. Getulio Vargas shot himself on August 24 th of 1954 after 24 years governing Brazil.

Juscelino Kubitschek became his replacement. Kubitschek, desperate to raise the economical deficit of Brazil, created the new capital Brasilia, a project that increased the national debt. Due to the unsuccessful intent to achieve economical growth, Kubitschek was deposed by a coup d'etat in 1961. The 1960s were a turbulent time in Brazil as well as elsewhere. In Brazil, following the success of the Cuban revolution, many communist agitators encouraged land occupations, industry strikes and a move to secure trade union rights.

From 1964 to 1985 Brazil was again under a military dictatorship. During this era the Brazilian population witnessed human rights violations, censorship, labor unions eradications, and unrestricted police powers. A new constitution was introduced on 1967 giving the president broad power over the states and over the Congress. Repression was the characteristic of these difficult times for Brazil.

By the 1980s, Brazils economy had grown miraculously and the military was forced to return state power to the civilians. In 1989, Brazil held its first democratic elections in many years and elected Fernando Collor de Melo as president. Later Collor was removed from the presidential office charged with corruption and accused of embezzling more than US$1 billion from the state.

Itamar Franco succeeded Collor in December of 1992. Franco introduced the plano real , the new currency, to stabilize Brazil's inflation. New elections were held in 1994 and Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president. Cardoso's popularity had grown since he had acted as finance minister creating the plano real. Cardoso achievements in the economical growth of Brazil led him to win the second elections becoming reelected president in 1998 after introducing an amendment to the constitution allowing reelections.

Although Fernando Henrique Cardoso introduced several new policies and managed to hold back inflation, many Brazilians are still living under impoverished conditions. There have been improvements in education, land reform, welfare and the social system, but there are still many problems with the health system, with violence in overcrowded cities and environmental abuse and corruption. Luis Inacio da Silva (Lula) was voted into power in 2002 with an overwhelming majority; the new elected president for the period 2003-2007. Lula will worked hard to manage the problems of extreme poverty and inaccessible education for many Brazilians.

The first female President in Brazil - Dilma Roussef - Lula´s successor, came into power in January 2011 and was re-elected in 2014, winning by a thread. Brazils hopes for the land of the future rest on this womans’ shoulders.

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