Sunday, 7 November 2010
CASE 158 - The History of Brazil
The Portuguese were the first European settlers to arrive in the area, led by adventurous Pedro Cabral, who began the colonial period in 1500. The Portuguese reportedly found native Indians numbering around seven million. Most tribes were peripatetic, with only limited agriculture and temporary dwellings, although villages often had as many as 5000 inhabitants. Cultural life appears to have been richly developed, although both tribal warfare and cannibalism were ubiquitous. The few remaining traces of Brazil's Indian tribes reveal little of their lifestyle, unlike the evidence from other Andean tribes. Today, fewer than 200,000 of Brazil's indigenous people survive, most of whom inhabit the jungle areas.
Other Portuguese explorers followed Cabral, in search of valuable goods for European trade but also for unsettled land and the opportunity to escape poverty in Portugal itself. The only item of value they discovered was the pau do brasil (brazil wood tree) from which they created red dye. Unlike the colonizing philosophy of the Spanish, the Portuguese in Brazil were much less focused at first on conquering, controlling, and developing the country. Most were impoverished sailors, who were far more interested in profitable trade and subsistence agriculture than in territorial expansion. The country's interior remained unexplored. Nonetheless, sugar soon came to Brazil, and with it came imported slaves. To a degree unequaled in most of the American colonies, the Portuguese settlers frequently intermarried with both the Indians and the African slaves, and there were also mixed marriages between the Africans and Indians. As a result, Brazil's population is intermingled to a degree that is unseen elsewhere. Most Brazilians possess some combination of European, African, Amerindian, Asian, and Middle Eastern lineage,and this multiplicity of cultural legacies is a notable feature of current Brazilian culture.The move to open the country's interior coincided with the discovery in the 1690s of gold in the south-central part of the country. The country's gold deposits didn't pan out, however, and by the close of the 18th century the country's focus had returned to the coastal agricultural regions. In 1807, as Napoleon Bonaparte closed in on Portugal's capital city of Lisbon, the Prince Regent shipped himself off to Brazil. Once there, Dom Joao established the colony as the capital of his empire. By 1821 things in Europe had cooled down sufficiently that Dom Joao could return to Lisbon, and he left his son Dom Pedro I in charge of Brazil. When the king attempted the following year to return Brazil to subordinate status as a colony, Dom Pedro flourished his sword and declared the country's independence from Portugal (and his own independence from his father).
In the 19th century coffee took the place of sugar as Brazil's most important product. The boom in coffee production brought a wave of almost one million European immigrants, mostly Italians, and also brought about the Brazilian republic. In 1889, the wealthy coffee magnates backed a military coup, the emperor fled, and Brazil was no more an imperial country. The coffee planters virtually owned the country and the government for the next thirty years, until the worldwide depression evaporated coffee demand. For the next half century Brazil struggled with governmental instability, military coups, and a fragile economy. In 1989, the country enjoyed its first democratic election in almost three decades. Unfortunately, the Brazilians made the mistake of electing Fernando Collor de Mello. Mello's corruption did nothing to help the economy, but his peaceful removal from office indicated at least that the country's political and governmental structures are stable.
Brazil has the sixth largest population in the world--about 148 million people--which has doubled in the past 30 years. Because of its size, there are only 15 people per sq. km, concentrated mainly along the coast and in the major cities, where two-thirds of the people now live: over 19 million in greater Sao Paulo and 10 million in greater Rio.
The immigrant Portuguese language was greatly influenced by the numerous Indian and African dialects they encountered, but it remains the dominant language in Brazil today. In fact, the Brazilian dialect has become the dominant influence in the development of the Portuguese language, for the simple reason that Brazil has 15 times the population of Portugal and a much more dynamic linguistic environment.
The old joke about Brazil is that it is the country of the future, and always will be. There are signs, however, that the Brazilian economy is finally achieving the stability necessary for it to fulfil its potential after years of being corruptly outsted out by major US corporations and the deforrestation at a speed the size of Wales every day. What is particularly intriguing is that this has happened under the leadership of Lula, the former print-worker, union leader and founder of the innovative Workers’ Party, who is now in his second term as elected president of Brazil. To what extent is it possible for a radical politician to deliver on commitments to the poor in the context of a global neo-liberal agenda?