About Brazil

 

Orixa

History

The history of Brazil is pretty simple and linear compared to the old continent’s tumultuous past. Brazil was mainly built around 4 economical cycles: wood (Pau Brazil), sugar, gold and finally coffee.

Discovered on the 22nd of March 1500 by Pedro Alvares Cabral, who set foot on land in Cumuruxatiba in the state of Bahia (close to Porto Seguro). The Portuguese mainly organized exploratory expeditions along the coast and it wasn’t until 1530 that organized occupation really began. The town of Sao Vincente, on the coast of today’s Sao Paulo, was founded in 1532 and Salvador de Bahia was chosen as the first seat of the Governors General in 1549.

The Portuguese Crown installed a system of ‘captaincies’, dividing the Brazilian territory and in return the beneficiaries or ‘Donatarios’ where responsible for their economical development and defense against the different Indian tribes and occasional foreign invaders. This system lasted long enough to determine the actual territorial and political pattern of modern Brazil.

Around half of the 16th century, Pau Brazil exploitation had been overtaken by the successful growth of sugar cane, imported from the Indies, in the northeastern regions (Pernambuco State). But the unexpected decease of King Sebastian of Portugal and the lack of a successor rendered Portugal to the Spanish throne in 1578 and put a temporary stop to the economical growth.
This link between both kingdoms, which lasted until mid 17th century, brought the advantage that the whole of South America was now Portuguese-Spanish territory with no borders. Both countries took advantage and started to penetrate deeper into the continent. The Brazilian inland expeditions mainly had the goal to bring back Indian slaves and discover new richnesses but unwillingly these first explorers or ‘Bandeirantes’ set today’s Brazilian borders.

When Portugal recovered their Independence under Joao VI in 1640, it also successfully managed to maintain rightful ownership over Brazil. They were able to get rid of the Spanish and of the Dutch who had been occupying the north east for the last 24 years. In the meantime the sugar cane production had weakened and this resulted in renewed expeditions into unknown territories in search of undiscovered wealth.

By the end of the 18th century, during one of these expeditions, gold was discovered in the State of Minas Gerais. This drew people from the coastal plantations and started fresh immigrations from Portugal, which resulted in the growth of interior cattle farming to meet with the alimentary demands and thus in new settlements and finally cities.

But yet another and even more powerful economical cycle was to begin. In the 18th century coffee found its way to Brazil from French Guiana. This had yet more settlement and immigration as a result. Due to climate and soil conditions, coffee plantations started off in Rio de Janeiro’s backyard and found their way to Sao Paulo and even more south, in the meantime opening way for more settlement and immigration. It soon made Brazil world’s biggest coffee producer.
This also resulted in the capital being relocated form Salvador de Bahia to Rio de Janeiro in 1763, which it remained until Brasilia took over in 1960.

During all this time the role of Portugal restricted itself to merely intermediating between Brazil and its commercial partners, taking substantial parts of the profits in the process. This led to continuous discontentment among the Brazilian settlers or Donatarios and led to a growing sense of nationalism which in some regions led to some serious attempts to revolution. One of the most famous being the Minas Conspiracy supposedly led by Tiradentes. Nevertheless the Portuguese throne managed to maintain its stronghold on its colony. The Napoleonic wars, in the beginning of the 19th century, would slowly but certainly change all this.

First the decision was made to transfer the Portuguese monarchy from Lisbon to its colony to escape Napoleon’s armies. In 1815 the Portuguese Crown took a fatal decision to elevate Brazil from the status of colony to that of a United Kingdom WITH Portugal. Although it is not clear if this was conscious, it is sure that King Joao VI took a liking to Rio de Janeiro and reluctantly returned to Lisbon in 1821, although Napoleon’s reign ended in 1815. He did, though, leave his son Pedro behind as Viceroy Regent to make sure nobody else would snatch the crown from his head during his absence.

The distance from the Portuguese motherland and the permanent pressure of close Brazilian advisors made Pedro proclaim the independence of Brazil from Portugal just one year later, on the 7th of September 1822 and solemnly crown himself as the new emperor: Don Pedro I. A short two year war of independence was quickly fought and Don Pedro I was the new emperor of Brazil and heir to the Portuguese throne.

D. Pedro I was a striking personality and made an important contribution to the social and political evolution of 19th century Brazil by granting Brazil groundbreaking constitutional charters which ended the Divine Right of Kings. When his father, Joao VI, died in 1926 he returned to Portugal, only to abdicate the throne soon after in favor of his daughter and to return to his beloved empire. In 1931 though, he stepped down form the Brazilian throne in favor of his son D. Pedro II and returned to Portugal to settle a royal dispute over the throne.  He would never return alive to his beloved Brazil but his mortal remains were transferred to Sao Paulo in 1972 on occasion of the 150th  birthday of Brazil’s independence from Portugal.
 
His son D. Pedro II contributed to the political, cultural and social maturity of Brazil and secured the unity of the country. A competent administration took shape, and European immigration was encouraged. 
Between 1865 and 1870, Brazil allied itself with Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay. This unpopular war was the last armed conflict with any of its 11 neighbors. But it was the abolition of the slavery that finally put an end to the Brazilian empire. By the end of the 19th century immigrant wages were lower than the cost to feed and lodge slaves. During the emperors absence his daughter, under political pressure, signed the famous ‘Lei Aurea’, definitely abolishing slavery. Though D Pedro II had always despised slavery he had never really taken any measures giving in to the pressure of the big land owners. And it were exactly those who took revenge on the Crown when Princess Isabel signed the abolition of slavery. Furious by the loss of their cherished right to ownership over human lives, they adhered to the Republican movement. One year later the empire was overthrown and the Republic proclaimed. Although this happened peacefully, the royal family was banned from Brazil. D. Pedro II would die in Paris in 1891. His remains were returned to his beloved Petropolis (Rio de Janeiro State) in 1922 at the occasion of the 100th birthday of the independence from Portugal.

The newborn republic adopted a federal system which is in place to this day. The provinces were transformed into states and a presidential system with a bi-cameral congress (chamber of deputies and senate) and independent Supreme Court were installed. The same structure was adopted at state level. Elected presidents succeeded each other until 1930.

The world, by then, had become a complex and difficult place. Worldwide economic depression had taken its toll on the coffee prices. Fascist and communist ideologies from far away Europe tore at the domestic political scene. In 1930, Getulio Vargas headed a victorious revolution aiming at political and electoral reforms. In the absence of strong parties, the elected presidents were usually in support of the leading states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, whose governors in turn secured congressional representatives in favor of the central governments policies. Vargas, although a very controversial figure, introduced a new constitution which amongst others gave women the right to vote. Shortly before the end of his second term the heated political scene led Vargas to declare state emergency. He dissolved the congress and assumed extraordinary powers to govern by decree under authoritarian charter. However, controversial to his acts, his policies led to the introduction of advanced social welfare legislation, reform of the educational system and substantial progress in industrialization.

At the end of WWII, to which Brazil contributed 25000 soldiers, Vargas was forced to resign. The country returned to democratically elected President Dutra and a new constitution was approved. By 1951, building on the success of his progressive measures in the field of social welfare, Vargas was constitutionally elected president. In 1954 though, during a bitter political crisis, he committed suicide in his presidential palace in Rio de Janeiro (Catete).

Under Juscelino Kubitscheck, the founder of Brasilia, Brazil headed into another five years of accelerated economic expansion. He was followed by President Goulart, who led the country into political and economical turmoil. Afraid of his Marxist tendencies, he was overthrown by the military in 1964.

Five presidents, all of them generals, followed each other until 1985. In this controversial period of Brazil’s history, individual and collective rights were virtually suspended in favor of the return of political and economical stability. And between 1967 and 1974 Brazil enjoyed an impressive economic growth but unfortunately the more resistance the military regime received from the unsatisfied population; the more it reacted with brutal repression. Finally, by the mid 70’s, Presidents Geisel and Figeuiredo, both Generals of the military Junta, started a slow but steady process that would eventually bring Brazil back to democratic elections in 1982. 

Since that period Brazil has seen president Coller impeached, but generally democracy has been well re-established and economy is slowly but steadily improving due to a certain degree in continuity in the political directions. This doesn’t mean though that all problems have been solved. Brazil is still fighting with enormous problems: lack of decent education, social welfare and healthcare and continuous corruption are still enemies to be reckoned with.

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