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Brazil Information - Page 2
It would be easy to think that Brazil's history started in 1500 with its "accidental" discovery by Pedro Alvares Cabral. It is estimated that there was an indigenous population of between one and two million Amerindians at the time of discovery in what is now Brazil, although some estimates are as high as five million. The poor historical data in part results from the fact that the Indians, mostly Tupi-Guarani, were a scattered tribal people without the sophisticated urban centres of other South and Central American indigenous people like the Incas and Aztecs. However, twenty-five thousand years old cave paintings in Brazil's Serra da Capivara National Park are thought to be evidence of one of the earliest human communities in South America.

Initial colonisation was slow with the only known exploitable natural resource being the red coloured brazilwood, from which Brazil is thought to have taken its name. The first permanent settlement was not established until 532 at Sao Vicente in Sao Paulo. Explorers' relations with the Amerindians were at first good, with the Amerindians teaching the Europeans about cultivating corn and welcoming them into their communities. This was to rapidly change as the Portuguese colonists saw the Amerindians as primarily a source of slave labour. Migrations, inter-tribal wars and European diseases devastated the Amerindian population and allowed the Portuguese settlers to establish control over the territory.

This control was initially a commercial venture rather than true colonisation as Portugal did not have the population pressure of other European nations at that time and it is thought that the population of what was to become Brazil was significantly larger than Portugal itself. The settlers tended to live in forts along the sea lanes and export produce from the interior.

Portuguese claims on this New World territory were not won completely without conflict with other European powers. Both the French and Dutch settled in areas claimed by the Portuguese. The French lost interest early in 1567 when their settlement in what was to become Rio de Janeiro was destroyed by Mem de Sa. The Dutch attacked Salavador (Bahia) in 1624 and through the concerted efforts of the Dutch West India Company seized and held the north east region until 1654 when ousted by a Portuguese naval force.

The style of rule was to change towards the late 16th century as brazilwood trading was complemented and then gradually replaced by plantations growing sugar cane. The merging of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns between 1580 and 1640 also helped the move towards the more traditional colonialism. This included true settlers working the land and a certain amount of intermarriage between European colonists and the Amerindian population. The growth of the plantations also fuelled the demand for slaves. As the Amerindians were resistant to slavery and often melted into the jungle, the 16th and 17th centuries saw significant numbers of African slaves brought to work the plantations.

Another key contribution from the Spanish was the creation of Jesuit missions to spread Christianity among the Amerindians. As the demand for slaves grew, the Jesuits saw their role as protectors of the native peoples. From 1629 to 1631 these missions were attacked by bandeirantes, or slave hunters, and it is estimated that 70,000 Amerindians were taken captive as slaves. The survivors, evacuated and then armed and trained by the Jesuits along with the Guarani tribe, successfully fought and defeated the slavers in 1641 at the Battle of Mborore. This success ultimately led to stabilizing the boundaries between the Spanish and Portuguese territories in southern Brazil.

Mining settlements grew in the interior to complement the huge sugar trade with Europe. With the discovery of gold in the Minas Gerais in the late 17th century, mining camps were established inland, leading to the creation of flourishing towns such as Ouro Preto, which became a major centre of art and culture.

Throughout the 17th and 18th century conflict between Spain and Portugal over territorial boundaries in the north and west continued. Towards the end of the 18th century, through treaties in 1750, 1761 and 1777, the conflict gradually led to the shaping of modern Brazil's borders, although the western boundaries were not settled until the early 20th century. On gaining independence in 1822, Brazil was huge and similar in size to the then Chinese and Russian empires.

The seeds of independence were sown in the 1790s through the success of American and French revolutionaries. In 1807 at the height of the Napoleonic wars, Portugal was overrun by French revolutionary forces and the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil in 1808 with a British Naval escort. On arrival, King Joao (John) VI, declared Brazil a kingdom in its own right and equal to Portugal, with Rio de Janeiro as capital of the Portuguese empire. A new era of cultural and economic freedom had arrived in Brazil.

King Joao VI returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving his son Pedro as regent. In September 1821 Portugal voted to abolish the Kingdom of Brazil, restricting trade and cultural freedoms and stirring up significant unrest. Led by the Brazilian nationalist Jose Bonifacio, Pedro declared Brazil independent from Portugal on 7 September 1822 and became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. The United States of America recognised Brazil's sovereignty in 1824, followed by Portugal and Great Britain in 1825.

Despite independence and the creation of Brazil's first constitution in 1824, Pedro I did not enjoy popular rule and abdicated in favour of his 5 year old son Pedro II in 1831. Brazil was ruled by regents until 1841 when Pedro II was crowned emperor and was responsible for the foundations of modern Brazil. This period saw a series of wars between the emerging South American nations, including the War of the Triple Alliance and a number of brutally repressed internal rebellions. 1850 saw the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself was outlawed in May 1888.

On November 15-16 1889 Pedro II was deposed by the Army and the first or Old Republic of Brazil was founded with Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca as first president. The political situation did not stabilize until the first civilian president, Jose de Morai Barros, took office in 1894. Economically Brazil was experiencing a boom through its coffee and rubber exports to Europe.

In the early 20th century the economic success of Brazil's exports suffered significantly as a result of competition from South East Asian plantations. Awareness began to grow of the dangers of dependence one or two major exports. In 1917 Brazil joined the Allies by declaring war on Germany and entering World War I. Despite its steps on the world stage, Brazil chose to leave the League of Nations in 1926. The 1920s still saw unrest in the countryside with several failed attempts to start a popular revolution.

Serious revolts in 1930 brought Getulio Vargas to power through a coup to form the 1930-1946 Transitional Republic. Vargas instituted a number of major constitutional and economic reforms. Brazil's growing dependence on its coffee exports was reversed and the constitution was changed to centralise government with the creation of the Estado Novo, or New State, in 1937.

1942 saw Brazil join the Allies in World War II by declaring war on the Axis powers, although it very nearly sided with Germany. A Brazilian Expeditionary force was sent to Italy in 1944 to participate in the campaign. The war also brought economic prosperity through a resurgence of the rubber trade and a boom in mineral exports. In 1945, President Vargas was forced out of office by the Army and the era of the 1946-1964 Republic began with the election of General Eurico Gaspar Dutra.

The economy took centre stage during the year of the Republic, with inflationary problems plaguing a series of presidents. Despite this significant investment was made into the transport and energy infrastructure, with an ambitious programme of road, rail and dam building. Brasilia became Brazil's official capital in April 1960 heralding a new era for the development of the interior of Brazil. Weak leadership and economic chaos in the early 1960s led to a military coup in March 1964 and the dark years of the 1964-1985 Military Republic began.

Marchal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco was "elected" president by a purged congress in April 1964. The following years saw the repression of human rights and free speech, although relatively benign compared with other South American military dictatorships. By the early 1970s Brazil's economy was in tatters and Brazil had become the world's largest debtor.

The election of General Ernesto Geisel in 1974 began the slow path towards reform. From 1977 various emergency legislation of the 1960s was repealed, and constitutional and electoral reforms introduced. Geisel's successor, General Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, continued the move towards democracy during his term of office (1979-1985). Although this period saw large scale industrial development and increased democracy, the economic and social problems persisted and the military government still ruled.

At last civilian government was restored in 1985 with the appointment of Jose Sarney. The right to vote was extended throughout all social groups together with other social reform, including a new constitution with a presidential model reinstated, reduced labour hours, the right to strike and freedom of assembly. Yet continued economic crises and inflation saw a return to civil unrest and anti-government protest.

In the first free, direct, presidential elections since 1960, President Fernando Collor de Mello was elected in 1990. Collor introduced programs to decrease deforestation and protect Amerindian rights but was impeached in 1992 on charges of corruption. Although ultimately cleared of these charges, Collor was banned from taking public office until 2001 and Vice-President Itamar Augusto Franco served until the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso in January 1995.

Cardoso introduced further radical economic reforms, including privatisation programmes and generally reducing state controls of the economy. Despite these reforms and the introduction of a new Brazilian currency, the Real, in 1994, Cardoso was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package of $42 billion. Subsequent tough economic policies gradually strengthened the economy to the point that international investment returned.

Brazil, predicted to be a major economic power, was the world's largest debt until the early 1990s: hyper-inflation, rescue by the International Monetary Fund, currency creation and flotation.

Natural resources form a major part of Brazil's wealth. The mineral wealth of Brazil includes bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin and uranium. Offshore oil fields discovered in 2007 were predicted to hold more than four times Brazil's current proven reserves. Hydroelectric plants generate most of Brazil's electricity.

Timber is another natural resource. The biological diversity of Brazil's rainforests has yet to be fully realised in medical and pharmaceutical applications.

Major exports are coffee, soybeans, footwear, iron ore and transport equipment. Other industries include steel, aircraft, motor vehicles, cement, chemicals and textiles.

Brazil's service industry now employs the highest percentage of the working population. The banking system is highly sophisticated and the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange has been one of the fastest growing in the world since the mid-1990s. However, during the 2008 global financial crisis Brazil had to suspend trading on the Stock Exchange for the first time in nine years and government intervention was needed to support the banking system.

The tourist industry, seen as part of the service sector, is promoting ecotourism as well as the traditional tourist destinations.

Brazil is a long term trading partner of the UK; in 2016 the value of trade between Brazil and the United Kingdom was 5.4 billion for goods and services.

The arts scene in Brazil spans literature, performing and visual arts, all of which have been shaped by the Portuguese colonial influence with Amerindian and African input, brought together with the shared language of Portuguese. The at times troubled history and oppression of Brazil's past has led to a rich legacy of literature and poetry.

The performing arts are expressed by the thriving theatre and dance to be found in Brazil's cities. One of the best known music and dance exports is the Samba, whose roots are in the carnival's drum beats and have European and African influence - the Spanish Bolero with African rhythms. Brazilian funk, similar to rap and hip-hop, was a hugely popular music scene in the 1990s.

The spectacular landscapes and wildlife produce inspiration for Brazil's visual art scene, covering fine arts, modern and contemporary. The fine arts are best expressed in Brazil's churches and monasteries. Ziraldo was a famous Brazilian cartoonist. Naza is a contemporary Brazilian-American artist who works in abstract with landscapes and portraits, as is Felga who takes his inspiration from the wild life and Brazilian folklore.

Aleijadinho, the "Little Cripple" was an 18th century sculptor whose work was astonishing as he did not have the use of hands and attached his tools to his arms.

Virtually every sport imaginable is played in Brazil, but perhaps Brazil is the best known on the international sporting stage for football and motor racing.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, is possibly one of the greatest football players of all time and led the Brazilian national team to three world cup victories and inspired a nation in desperate need of heroes. In 2002 Brazil won their fifth FIFA World Cup Championship. Ronaldo scored the two goals in the match against Germany, scoring a total of eight goals in the finals.

Emerson Fittipaldi was Brazil's first Formula 1 championship winner in 1972. Ayrton Senna da Silva, or simply Ayrton Senna, became one of the most exciting Formula 1 motor racing drivers to watch and was the world's leading driver before his tragic and untimely death in 1994.

Although the Rio carnaval is the best known, throughout Brazil the carnival season starts seven weeks before Easter. The carnival is a pre-Lent celebration shared by many Roman Catholic countries and is thought to have its roots in pre-Christian festivals of the Romans and Greeks.

News from Brazil is available from Newslink.

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