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History of Brazil

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The pre-columbian indigenous Indian population in Brazil was widely scattered and probably numbered no more than 1 million when Pedro Cabral, the Portuguese explorer, reached the coast of Brazil on April 22, 1500. The first permanent Portuguese settlement was founded at Sao Vicente, in the state of Sao Paulo (1532). Initially, development was slow, based upon a feudal system in which favored individuals received title to large blocks of land called capitanias. Because of the great demand for sugar in Europe, the first major economic cycle in Brazil was based upon the sugarcane, grown in plantations along the northeast coast. To work the fields, the early settlers used native labor, often furnished by the Bandeirantes, as the pioneers from the state of Sao Paulo were known. When the indians proved insufficient in numbers, or unable to withstand the hard labor, depending upon the story, the importation of millions of slaves from African began.

Brazil History

During this period the Dutch and the French briefly settled in the Northeast and Rio de Janeiro, building forts and leaving blue-eyed brown-skinned Brazilians. Under Estacio de Sa and others the Portuguese and Brazilians expelled the invaders, who in the case of many of the Dutch from Recife and Sao Luis, moved to their new colony in a place called New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan. That is how Brazil settled New York City.

Another interesting fact from this period was founding of the Quilombos by slaves who escaped from the plantations. The Quilombos were built in remote areas, and could have hundreds of people living, raising families, growing crops and fighting to keep their independence. Of course the former owners took a dim view of this, but were usually defeated when sending military expeditions against the ex-slaves. What to do? Call in the Paulistas and Bandeirantes from Sao Paulo in the south of Brazil, even at that time known to be the most efficient, hard working and organized of Brazilians. The Paulistas soon destroyed the Quilombos, including the most famous one at Palmares, which required cannon and a long seige.

Gold and diamonds were discovered in Minas Gerais shortly after 1700, beginning what is called the gold cycle, and leading to the development and occupation of the interior. Rio de Janeiro supplanted Bahia as the capital in 1763.
In 1807-08, during the Napoleonic Wars, King John VI of Portugal took refuge in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, now the seat of government for its mother country, witnessed tremendous economic growth.

Life was so good in Rio, that after Napolean had been defeated, the Royal family stayed on until a threatened revolt in Portugal forced John VI to return to Lisbon. Popular pressure in Brazil compelled his son, Dom Pedro, to declare Brazil independent in 1822, and so Brazil became an Empire with a monarchy, while the rest of North and South American became republics. Pedro's personality was enigmatic and his rule erratic. After a disastrous war (1825-28) with Argentina and a revolt in Rio de Janeiro, Pedro's abdicated (1831) in favor of son, Pedro II. He then returned to Portugal, where he was able to get his daughter to be crowned as queen.

Pedro II (1825 - 1891), second and last emperor of Brazil was a reformist best remembered for overseeing the abolition of slavery in Brazil, in 1887, and for bringing millions of Italian, German and Polish immigrants to the south of Brazil. Pedro II, was far more successful as a scholar and scientist than he was as a ruler; his reign was marred by a number of internal revolts and conflicts with neighboring countries. Unrest among planters, the military, and the republicans finally culminated in a coup that overthrew the emperor and established (1889) the first republic. Pedro, by all accounts a decent, kindly gentleman, was poorly treated by the new government and spent the last two years of his life in exile. With the new republican government came the rubber cycle, which produced great profits, an opera house and the great Caruso singing in the middle of the Amazon jungle. But, as every Brazilian school boy knows, an English rascal stole a rubber plant and the boom collapsed, unable to complete with the stolen rubber from Asia. The next cycle was that of the coffee bean, and for more than 50 years politics was expressed in terms of cafe com leite, or coffee and milk, representing the coffee growers from Sao Paulo and the cattle ranchers from Minas Gerais.

CRISIS and World War II
This period was ended by a little gaucho from the south of Brazil, named Getulio Vargas. Unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency in 1930, Vargas led a revolt that overthrew the government. Over the next 15 years, he effected massive transformations in the public and private sectors. His style was authoritarian and his appeal populist: unionization, industrialization, and social welfare programs gained him the working - and middle-class backing. Vargas gave support to the Allies during World War II, but his popularity declined as democratic sentiment grew. In 1945 he was ousted by the army. Vargas returned to power in 1950, democratically election as president, but his second tenure was beset with scandals and economic difficulties. Faced with growing opposition and expecting a coup, he resigned and then committed suicide in 1954. Vargas's tenure marked the start of modern industrialization for Brazil.

Vargas was a strange guy - a mixture of Mussolini and FDR. Today he is the hero of all left wing activists and politicians, but his secret police brutally tortured communists in the 30s. The book OLGA paints a good picture of this period (there is an English translation). Olga was a German communist jewess who met and married Luis Carlos Prestes in Russia and returned with him to bring the joys of Stalinism to Brazil. Prestes -- who lived to be a ripe old age and whom I once saw in Rio -- is best known for a long march undertaken in the 30s, traveling thousands of kilometers and holding off government forces and proving that most people did not care for either Vargas or Prestes. What happened to Olga? She was capyured by Vargas' police and shipped back to Nazi Germany -- not a good place for a jew. She died in a concentration camp, but not before delivering a baby girl, now a university professor in Rio.

In 1960 a new capital was established at Brasilia to encourage development of the interior, but the concern of the military and business leaders turned to the pressing problems of social unrest and excessive inflation. In 1964 the military overthrew President Joao Goulart, who was rapidly moving to the left. For the next 21 years, Brazil was ruled by a succession of military governments. Although the country's economy prospered, the military suspended constitutional guarantees and imposed press censorship. Civilian government was restored in 1985 when an electoral college chose the very popular Tancredo de Almeida Neves as president. He died before taking office and was succeeded by Jose Sarney, a well connected and powerful politician from the North of Brazil.

Brazil got a new constitution in October 1988. A year lated Fernando Collor de Mello was elected, after a close electoral race with Luis Ignacio de Souza (always called LULA) representing the always very vocal left. Lula might have won, except for: (1) Eastern Europe deciding they had had enough of the very thing Lula wanted for Brazil. This was very embarrassing for Lula and his supporters, who went on TV to try to convince the people that the PT's (Worker's Party) had nothing to do with Communism in Europe. (2) Roberto Marinho, the owner of the Globo network and most powerful man in Brazil, was afraid that a left wing government would nationize his property, so he backed Mello. (3) some of the usual dirty tricks all politicians do.
Mello was elected and soon launched a "shock" program to reduce inflation and government spending (these programs are called pacotes, meaning packages, a term you must learn if living in Brazil). People soon found that Collor was corrupt, and so he lost all support, even that of Marinho. Out went Collor, under a cloud of impeachment. These last two presidents are representative of everything that is bad in traditional Brazilian politics, where nice words are used to cover the the ugly face of power, priviledge, self-interest and corruption.

This may be changing with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, elected in 1994, and whose pacote, called the Real Plan, named after the new currency, has held inflation under control and generated growth.

Pedro II was an able ruler, and the country prospered and grew during his long reign, which continued until 1889. His government helped overthrow neighboring dictatorships and took a series of steps to end slavery, completing that process in 1888.
By then large sections of the population favored a republic. A military revolt led by Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca forced Pedro II to abdicate. Brazil was proclaimed a republic with official separation of church and state. A constitution like that of the United States was adopted in 1891, and Brazil officially became the United States of Brazil. Fonseca was elected its first president but soon ruled as a dictator, only to yield to another.

Order was restored during the administration of the first civilian president, Prudente José de Moraes Barros, and succeeding administrations struggled to strengthen the troubled Brazilian economy. World War I (1914-1918) caused an increase in demand for Brazilian products on the world market, and the Brazilian economy improved. Brazil contributed ships and supplies to the success of the Allied forces.

After the war, continually deepening economic crisis led to unrest, a large-scale revolt, and martial law under President Artur da Silva Bernardes. Continued economic trouble and an upsurge in radicalism prompted his successor, Washington Luiz Pereira de Souza, to ban labor strikes and repress communism.

Brought to power by military revolt in 1930, Getúlio Dornelles Vargas ruled for the next 15 years. His government followed mixed policies of social reform and repression, and the economy continued to struggle. Woman suffrage and social security were established, but by 1937 Brazil was a totalitarian state. During this period, Brazil was friendly with the United States and other democracies but broke ties with the Nazi Third Reich because of German political activity in Brazil, including support of an open revolt. Brazil sided with the Allies in World War II (1939-1945), again using increased world demand for raw materials to expand its economy. It contributed direct military support, access to bases, and vital supplies to the defeat of the Axis powers. After the war, the Vargas regime loosened its political grip. National elections were scheduled for late 1945. Amid fears that Vargas would retain his dictatorship, opponents ousted him by a military coup. Elections proceeded, and former Minister of War Eurico Gaspar Dutra won the presidency.

Vargas was elected president in 1950, and his coalition government at once moved to balance the budget while improving the standard of living. It did not succeed. In 1954 military leaders forced Vargas to resign; he then committed suicide.

For the next three decades, Brazil suffered a series of unstable governments followed by military rule. Attempts to stimulate the economy with foreign loans foundered on sinking coffee prices. Rigorous austerity measures were abandoned. Pressured by the military, the legislature amended the constitution in 1961 to strip the presidency of most powers. Two years later the legislature restored presidential powers. Opposition parties were outlawed or refused to enter candidates in elections. Despite repression, unrest became widespread.

During this time, the economy grew, but the plight of the poor worsened. The Roman Catholic clergy criticized government failure to help the disadvantaged. Economic growth also brought inflation, high energy costs, and difficulties with loan payments.

Brazil returned to civilian rule with the election of Tancredo Neves in 1985. However, he died before taking office, and José Sarney became president. Faced with rising inflation and a huge foreign debt, Sarney imposed an austerity program that included introducing a new unit of currency. A new constitution restoring civil liberties and providing for direct presidential elections was enacted in 1988. Fernando Collor de Mello was elected president in 1989. His term was marked by an anti-inflationary recession and by allegations of financial corruption. Shortly after Brazil hosted the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, in 1992, Collor was impeached. He resigned his post to Vice President Itamar Franco. In 1994 a plan to restructure and reduce Brazil's foreign debt was implemented. In the same year, Brazil joined other Latin American and Caribbean nations by declaring itself free of nuclear weapons.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former finance minister responsible for much of Brazil's economic recovery, won the 1994 presidential elections. Soon afterward, Collor was acquitted of corruption charges.

Cardoso's administration found itself caught up in issues of land ownership and land use. By a 1995 presidential decree, Cardoso redistributed tracts of land from large, private estates to poor families. In 1996 he signed a decree allowing people other than Native Americans to appeal land allocation decisions made by Brazil's Indian Affairs Bureau. The law was widely condemned by human rights, Native American, and religious organizations.

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