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The History of Brazil (Brasil) begins with the arrival of the first indigenous peoples, over 8,000 years ago by crossing the Bering land bridge into Alaskamarker and then entering the rest of North and Central America.

It is widely accepted that the European first to discover Brazilmarker was Portuguesemarker Pedro Álvares Cabral on April 22, 1500. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Brazil was a colony of Portugal. On September 7, 1822, the country declared its independence from Portugal and became a constitutional monarchy, the Empire of Brazilmarker. A military coup in 1889 established a republican government. The country has been nominally a federal republic ever since, except for three periods of overt dictatorship (1930–1934; 1937–1945 and 1964–1985).

Pre-Colonial history

Fossil records found in Minas Geraismarker show evidence that the area now called Brazil has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years by indigenous populations. The dating of the origins of the first Brazilians, who were called "Indians" (índios) by the Portuguese, are still a matter of dispute among archaeologists. The current most widely accepted view of anthropologists, linguists and geneticists is that they were part of the first wave of migrant hunters who came into the Americas from Asia, either by land across the Bering Straitmarker or by coastal sea routes along the Pacific, or both.

The Andes and the mountain ranges of northern South America created a rather sharp cultural boundary between the settled agrarian civilizations of the west coast (which gave rise to urbanized city-states and the immense Inca Empire) and the semi-nomadic tribes of the east, who never developed written records or permanent monumental architecture. For this reason, very little is known about the history of Brazil before 1500. Archaeological remains (mainly pottery) indicate a complex pattern of regional cultural developments, internal migrations, and occasional large state-like federations.

At the time of European discovery, the territory of current day Brazil had as many as 2,000 nations and tribes. The indigenous peoples were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. When the Portuguese arrived in 1500, the Indians were living mainly on the coast and along the banks of major rivers. Initially, the Europeans saw the natives as noble savages, and miscegenation of the population began right away. Tribal warfare, cannibalism and the pursuit of Amazonian brazilwood for its treasured red dye convinced the Portuguese that they should "civilize" the Indians (originally, Colonists called Brazil Terra de Santa Cruz, until later it acquired its name (see List of meanings of countries' names) from brazilwood). But the Portuguese, like the Spanish in their South American possessions, had unknowingly brought diseases with them against which many Indians were helpless due to lack of immunity. Measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza killed tens of thousands. The diseases spread quickly along the indigenous trade routes, and whole tribes were likely annihilated without ever coming in direct contact with Europeans.

The population density was rather low, however; total numbers have been estimated at 1 million people (but recent archaeological discoveries, such as those mentioned above, seem to indicate a much higher number, as high as 3 million). Although many Brazilian Indians succumbed to warfare, diseases, and the hardships of forced labour and displacement, many were absorbed into the Brazilian population. A few tribes still subsist in their pre-discovery lifestyle in remote corners of the Amazon rainforest.

Present Brazilian culture owes to those peoples the development of crops like the cassava (still a major staple food in the rural regions) and empirical knowledge for survival in the tropical jungle.

Beginning of Brazil

Royal Flag (1495–21)

It is generally accepted that Brazil was discovered by the Portuguesemarker on April 22, 1500, by Pedro Álvares Cabral, though this is contested by some.

Until 1530 Portugal had little interest in Brazil, mainly due to the high profits gained through commerce with India, China, and Indonesia. This lack of interest led to several "invasions" by different countries, and the Portuguese Crown devised a system to effectively occupy Brazil, without paying the costs. Through the Hereditary Captaincies system, Brazil was divided into strips of land that were donated to Portuguese noblemen, who were in turn responsible for the occupation of the land and answered to the king. Later, the Portuguese realized the system was a failure, only two lots were successfully occupied (Pernambuco and São Vicente, currently São Paulomarker), and took control of the failed lots.

In the first century after its European discovery, the country's major export—giving its name to Brazil—was brazilwood, a large tree (Caesalpinia echinata) whose trunk contains a prized red dye, and which was nearly wiped out as a result of overexploitation. Starting in the 17th century, sugarcane culture, grown in plantation's property called engenhos ("factories") along the northeast coast (Brazil's Nordeste) It became the base of Brazilian economy and society, with the use of black slaves on large plantations to make sugar production for export to Europe. At first, settlers tried to enslave the Indians as labor to work the fields. (The initial exploration of Brazil's interior was largely due to para-military adventurers, the bandeirantes, who entered the jungle in search of gold and Indian slaves.) However the Indians were found to be unsuitable as slaves, and so the Portuguese land owners turned to Africa, from which they imported millions of slaves.

Mortality rates for slaves in sugar and gold enterprises were dramatic, and there were often not enough females or proper conditions to replenish the slave population indigenously. Some slaves escaped from the plantations and tried to establish independent settlements (quilombos) in remote areas. The most important of these, the quilombo of Palmares, was the largest slave runaway settlement in the Americas, and was a consolidated kingdom of some 30,000 people at its height in the 1670s and 80s. However these settlements were mostly destroyed by government and private troops, which in some cases required long sieges and the use of artillery. Still, Africans became a substantial section of Brazilian population, and long before the end of slavery (1888) they had begun to merge with the European Brazilian population through miscegenation and mulatto work rights.

During the first two centuries of the colonial period, attracted by the vast natural resources and untapped land, other European powers tried to establish colonies in several parts of Brazilian territory, in defiance of the papal bull and the Treaty of Tordesillas, which had divided the New World into two parts between Portugal and Spainmarker. Frenchmarker colonists tried to settle in present-day Rio de Janeiromarker, from 1555 to 1567 (the so-called France Antarctique episode), and in present-day São Luísmarker, from 1612 to 1614 (the so called France Équinoxiale).

The unsuccessful Dutch intrusion into Brazil was longer lasting and more troublesome to Portugal. Dutch privateers began by plundering the coast: they sacked Bahia in 1604, and even temporarily captured the capital Salvadormarker. From 1630 to 1654, the Dutch set up more permanently in the Nordeste and controlled a long stretch of the coast most accessible to Europe, without, however, penetrating the interior. But the colonists of the Dutch West India Company in Brazil were in a constant state of siege, in spite of the presence in Recife of the great John Maurice of Nassau as governor. After several years of open warfare, the Dutch formally withdrew in 1661. Little French and Dutch cultural and ethnic influences remained of these failed attempts.

The Empire of Brazil

United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (1816–21)

Brazil was one of only three modern states in the Americas to have its own indigenous monarchy (the other two were Mexico and Haitimarker) - for a period of almost 90 years. In an unusual reversal, Brazil, rather than Portugal itself, was the metropole of the Portuguese Empire from 1808 to 1821.

In 1808, the Portuguese court, fleeing from Napoleon's invasion of Portugal during the Peninsular War in a large fleet escorted by Britishmarker men-of-war, moved the government apparatus to its then-colony, Brazil, establishing themselves in the city of Rio de Janeiro. From there the Portuguese king ruled his huge empire for 13 years, and there he would have remained for the rest of his life if it were not for the turmoil aroused in Portugal due, among other reasons, to his long stay in Brazil after the end of Napoleon's reign.

In 1815 the king vested Brazil with the dignity of a united kingdom with Portugal and Algarves. When king João VI of Portugal left Brazil to return to his European territory in 1821, his elder son, Pedro, stayed in his stead as regent of Brazil. One year later, Pedro wrote a paper (not so well known as his alleged proclamation — "Independence or Death") to state the reasons for the secession of Brazil from Portugal and bequeathed a constitution instituting a constitutional monarchy in Brazil, assuming its head as Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, also known as "Dom Pedro I" or "Dom Pedro Primeiro". He was liked by the common people, but displeased both the landed elites, who thought him too liberal, and the intellectuals, who felt he was not liberal enough. After his abdication in 1831 for political incompatibilities with Brazilian politicians he left for Portugal, leaving behind his five-year-old son as Emperor Pedro II. In 1835, the Malê Revolt, perhaps the most significant slave rebellion in Brazilmarker, took place in the city of Salvador da Bahiamarker. After a period of nine years of regencies, Pedro II was declared of age in 1840 and assumed his full prerogatives. Pedro II started a more-or-less parliamentary reign which lasted until 1889, when he was ousted by a coup d'état which instituted the republic. At the end of his reign, he presided over the abolition of slavery in 1888.

The Old Republic (1889–1930)

Pedro II was deposed on November 15, 1889 by a Republican military coup led by General Deodoro da Fonseca, who became the country's first de facto president through military ascension. The country's name became the Republic of the United States of Brazil (which in 1967 was changed to Federative Republic of Brazil.) From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of São Paulomarker and Minas Geraismarker.

Flag of Brazil (1889 - present)
In the late 19th century, coffee started to replace sugar as the country's main export crop. The coffee trade caused Brazil to thrive economically, attracting many European immigrants—particularly from Italymarker and Germanymarker. This influx of labour also allowed the country to develop an industrial economy and expand away from the coast.

This period, known as the "Old Republic", ended in 1930 with a military coup that placed Getúlio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency.

See also: Coronelismo

Populism and development (1930–1964)

A military junta took control in 1930. Getúlio Vargas took power soon after that, and would remain as dictatorial ruler (with a brief democratic period), until his suicide in 1954. After 1930, the successive governments continued industrial and agriculture growth and development of the vast interior of Brazil.Provisional President Getúlio Dorneles Vargas ruled as dictator (1930–34), congressionally elected president (1934–37), and again dictator (1937–45), with the backing of his revolutionary coalition. He also served as a senator (1946–51) and the popularly elected president (1951–54). Vargas was a member of the gaucho landed oligarchy and had risen through the system of patronage and clientelism, but he had a fresh vision of how Brazilian politics could be shaped to support national development. He understood that with the breakdown of direct relations between workers and owners in the expanding factories of Brazil, workers could become the basis for a new form of political power—populism. Using such insights, he would gradually establish such mastery over the Brazilian political world that he would stay in power for fifteen years.

A democratic regime prevailed 1945–64, during which the capital was moved from Rio de Janeiromarker to Brasíliamarker. If corporatism was the hallmark of the 1930s and 1940s, populism, nationalism, and developmentalism characterized the 1950s and early 1960s . Each of these contributed to the crisis that gripped Brazil and resulted in the authoritarian regime after 1964 .

Military Dictatorship (1964–85)

New Professionalism and the Escola Superior de Guerra

The primary task of the Brazilian military, as with all modern militaries, was to kill the enemies of the Brazilian state. “Defense of the state” took on a very different hue towards the end of the Second Republic. By the late 1950s and early 2000s, the success of revolutionary warfare techniques against conventional armies in Chinamarker, Indochina, Algeriamarker, and Cubamarker led the conventional armies in the developed and underdeveloped worlds to concentrate in finding military and political strategies to fight domestic revolutionary warfare. This led to an adoption of what Stepan called, in 1973, “New Professionalism.” The New Professionalism was formulated and propagated in the Escola Superior de Guerra, which had been established in 1949. By 1963 New Professionalism had come to dominate the school, when it declared its primary mission to be preparing “civilians and the military to perform executive and advisory functions (Decreto Lei No. 53,080 December 4, 1963).” This new attitude towards professionalism did not arise out of nowhere. Though its domination of the ESG was completed by 1963, it had begun to penetrate the college much earlier than that — assisted by the United States and its policy of encouraging Latin American militaries to assume as their primary role counter-insurgency programs, civic action, and nation-building tasks.

By 1964 the military elite had begun to see a leftist revolution as a real possibility. Through the paradigm of internal warfare doctrines of the new professionalism, a great number of the officer class saw rising strike levels, an inflation rate of over 75%, the declining economy, the demands of the Left for broadened political process, and the growing indiscipline of the enlisted men as a sign that Brazil was facing the serious possibility of a leftist internal insurgency.

Knocking on the barracks door

From 1961 to 1964, Brazilian President João Goulart had been initiating economic and social reforms that were clearly failing to address the economic problems of the country; policies which satisfied neither Brazil's elites nor its increasingly mobilized working classes. The cost of living index, rather low in late 1950s began to rise sharply, and per capita GDP growth fell sharply, from 4.5% in 1957 to negative growth by 1963 . Goulart also began to take steps that alienated the Brazilian military and stoked their worst fears of revolutionary leftism.Goulart was a member of the wealthy agrarian elite of the country, was a Catholic, possessed huge amounts of land and supported the United States during the Cuban missiles crisis. But he also tolerated communists within his government, pursued a neutralist foreign policy, passed a law limiting the amount of profits multinationals could transmit out of the country, a subsidiary of ITT was nationalized and showed favoritism towards military officers labelled "ultra-nationalist" (he claimed they were loyal to him), which worried the pro-American national military and the United States government, concerned that Goulart could be too leftist for their tastes.

Military response

By early 1964 important sections of the military had developed a consensus that intervention in the political process was necessary. The development of this consensus was likely helped by important civilian politicians, such as José de Magalhães Pinto, governor of Minas Gerais, and the United States government. The Brazilian coup of 1964 can be considered "revolutionary" because, unlike previous coups which were generally welcomed adjustments of politically deadlocked civilian governments, this coup led the military to seize power and govern directly from 1964 to 1985. At first, there was intense economic growth, due to neoliberal economic reforms, but in the later years of the dictatorship, the reforms had left the economy in shambles, with soaring inequality and national debt, and thousands of Brazilians were deported, imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. Politically motivated deaths numbered in the hundreds, mostly related to the guerrilla-antiguerrilla warfare in the 1968–73 period; official censorship also led many artists into exile.

Redemocratization to Present (1985–Present)

Tancredo Neves was elected president in an indirect election in 1985 as the nation returned to civilian rule. He died before being sworn in, and the elected vice president, José Sarney, was sworn in as president in his place.

Fernando Collor de Mello was the first elected president by popular vote after the military regime in December 1989. defeating Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a two round presidential race and 35 million votes. This victory owed partly to Rede Globo's coverage of the pair's presidential debate. The network gave Collor more airtime than Lula and juxtaposed his most eloquent statements with his socialist rival's least impressive moments. Years later Globo would actually apologise for their editing of this debate. Collor won in the state of São Paulo against many prominent political figures. The first democratically elected President of Brazil in 29 years, Collor spent the early years of his government allegedly battling hyper-inflation, which at times reached rates of 25% per month.

Collor's neoliberal program was also followed by his successor Fernando Henrique Cardoso who maintained free trade and privatization programs. Collor's administration began the process of privatization of a number of government-owned enterprises such as Acesita, Embraer, Telebrás and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. With the exception of Acesita, the privatizations were all completed during the term of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Following Collor's impeachment, acting president, Itamar Franco, was sworn in as president. In elections held on October 3, 1994, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, his finance minister, defeated left-wing Lula da Silva again. He was elected president due to the success of the so called Plano Real. Reelected in 1998, he guided Brazil through a wave of financial crises. In 2000, Cardoso ordered the declassifying of some military files concerning Operation Condor, a network of South American military dictatorships that kidnapped and assassinated political opponents.

Brazil's most severe problem today is arguably its highly unequal distribution of wealth and income, one of the most extreme in the world. By the 1990s, more than one out of four Brazilians continued to survive on less than one dollar a day. These socio-economic contradictions helped elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2002.

In the few months before the election, investors were scared by Lula's campaign platform for social change, and his past identification with labor unions and leftist ideology. As his victory became more certain, the real devalued and Brazil's investment risk rating plummeted (the causes of these events are disputed, since Cardoso left a very small foreign reserve). After taking office, however, he maitained Cardoso's economic policies, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to extend fiscal austerity policies. The real and the nation's risk rating soon recovered.

Lula, however, has given a substantial increase to the minimum wage (raising from R$200 to R$350 in four years). Lula also spear-headed legislation to drastically cut retirement benefits for public servants. His primary significant social initiative, on the other hand, was the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program, designed to give each Brazilian three meals a day.

In 2005 Lula's government suffered a serious blow with several accusations of corruption and misuse of authority against his cabinet, forcing some of its members to resign. Most political analysts at the time were certain that Lula's political career was doomed, but he has so far stayed in power by highlighting the achievements of his term (like reduction of poverty, unemployment and dependence on external resources, like oil), and managed to detach himself from the scandal (despite his opposition's efforts to prove his guilt). Lula was re-elected President in the general elections of October, 2006.


  1. Levine, R.M., & Crocitti, J.J. (1999). The Brazil reader: History, culture, politics. p. 11]. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  2. Johns Hopkins University Press | Books | Slave Rebellion in Brazil
  3. Stepan, 1973.
  4. An excerpt of "Killing Hope" dealing with the Jango government
  5. [1] "Tais políticas - iniciadas com a abertura do governo Collor - foram continuadas por Fernando Henrique Cardoso e Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, segundo economistas e industriais ouvidos pela Folha"
  6. Programa Nacional de Desestatização
  7. Os efeitos da privatização sobre o desempenho econômico e financeiro das empresas privatizadas
  8. Lula segue política econômica de FHC, diz diretor do FMI

  • Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, Vol. III of Civilization and Capitalism, 1984, pp. 232–35.

See also

External links

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