Brazil History


Brazil History

The history of the Americas dates back to not only its encounter with Europe but to the pre-Columbian era. By the time the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in 1500, many indigenous groups already inhabited the country with the population in the millions. The Tupi- Guarani and the Tupinambas were the most common groups and only a few hundred thousand of them remain in Brazil today.


Led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, Portuguese immigrants landed in Brazil in 1500 in Porto Seguro unknowingly. Some historians believe that this was no accident and Cabral purposely navigated to Brazil to conquer South America in the Portuguese name. Other expeditions were sent out and commerce was set up to export the dye wood, which is famous for its reddish pigmentation, also found in the new land known as pau do brasil. Pau brasil is a tree that can grow up to 30 meters; the trunk and boughs have yellow, aromatic flowers, and the wood is hard and heavy, which was an excellent resource for cabinet-making, musical instruments and the naval industry. The reddish dye from the wood made it desirable for trade and exportation as well as gave a name to this new land called Brazil.


In 1531, King Dom Joao III of Portugal conquered and divided Brazil into captaincies, which he distributed among friends and influential figures. The French and Dutch had also become very interested in Brazil because of the potential exploration of the vast amount of land. Sugar plantations had been implemented to help grow the economy, and the Indians were taken as slaves. Portuguese immigrants traveled to the Peruvian Andes to capture Indians to extend Brazil’s territory. These Portuguese immigrants were known as Bandeirantes, and had the objective to persecute the Indians with harsh treatment with the intent of expanding Portuguese influence on the land.


Years earlier, Jesuits had arrived in Brazil with the purpose of improving the relationship between the Europeans and Indians as well as help out both sides. This caused the Portuguese colonists to struggle with the Jesuits over different labor markets. Eventually, by the end of the 16th century, the Jesuits were able to advance across various villages in Brazil to become an important and prosperous force with much control over trade and commerce.


In the late 16th century, the Portuguese immigrants imported slaves from Africa in order to keep up the demand for sugar. With the economy relying on the sugar plantations, Brazil quickly became the world’s largest producer of sugar. The sugar cane business brought more than 3 million slaves from Africa who were forced to leave to improve the economy in Brazil and Portuguese sovereignty. The Portuguese government would be headquartered in Salvador da Bahia, when the general Governor Tome de Sousa was sent to the area to build a city to serve as the new settlement.

After a few years in captivity, some of these slaves escaped from their owners, and built small communities known as Quilombos. Some of the Quilombos grew to the size of a small country and there are even some still in existence today. Due to the contact that African nations imposed on Brazil, much of the culture, traditions, music, cuisine, art, and more stem from African influence.

At the end of the 17th century, the Dutch and the French invaded Brazil due to the large sugar export that the country provided. However, this also contributed to Brazil becoming a melting pot of different races and ethnicities including Dutch, French, Native Indian, African, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and more. This shows why there is a vast amount of diversification and influences from all over the world in Brazil.

Also towards the end of the 17th century, the Gold Rush began to hit Brazil. This first started in the state of Minas Gerais and due to an increasing amount of gold; more slaves were brought to explore the mines in Minas Gerais. This news spread quickly throughout Europe and many countries became eager to explore the wealth that Brazil had to offer. The gold rush in Brazil brought about new colonies in the country and became the new export. This displaced more people inland and surged a new economic development. Rio de Janeiro became the new capital because of the proximity to the gold mines and this symbolized a new era in Brazil.

In the 19th century, the Gold rush began to decline and coffee replaced gold to be the major export in Brazil. Dom Pedro I eventually was able to separate from Portugal and Brazil was able to abolish slavery. Only Cuba abolished slavery later than Brazil in the Americas.

Coffee continued to be the main export in Brazil into the late 19th century. However, in 1889, Dom Pedro was overthrown by a military coup which caused Brazil to become a Federal Republic. During this time, Brazil was ruled by various presidents and a new constitution of 20 states had been recognized which caused Brazil to become unstable for the years to come.

By the start of the 20th century, Brazil was controlled by a number of oligarchies who also seized control of the coffee plantations. Due to coffee planters losing power, an alliance was created to oppose the oligarchies that were increasing in power. However, the liberal alliance lost the election in 1930 and a man by the name of Getulio Vargas was elected president of Brazil.

Getulio Vargas is considered as one of the most critical leaders to ever rule Brazil. Originally from the south of Brazil, the power of the oligarchies declined under Vargas and new political parties emerged being mostly the Fascists and Communists. Vargas created the “Estado Novo” which was his response to the economic crisis in the country. After the price of coffee began to decline because of World War II, along with other criticisms of the government, Vargas shot himself in August 1954 which caused resurgence in the country.

The successor to Vargas was Juscelino Kubitschek who was eager to improve the economic crisis in Brazil. He created the new capital Brasilia but only worsened the countries debt. He was eventually overthrown by a coup detat in 1961 making this period a time of turmoil in Brazil full industry strikes and advances to secure trade union rights.

For the next 20 years, Brazil remained under a military dictatorship. Brazil began to undergo difficult times and hardships due to human rights violations, censorship, and unbalanced police powers. A new constitution was also introduced in the 1960s during these turbulent times in order for the president to gain more control over the states and Congress.

Things began to turn around for Brazil by the start of the 1980’s. The economy was growing faster than ever and the country was able to attain a democratic election with Fernando Collor de Melo. However things began to take a turn for the worse when Melo was removed as president after being accused of corruption and embezzling money from the state.

After the impeachment of Mello, Itamar Franco took office. Franco introduced the new currency of Brazil called the real to help combat inflation but only took office for two years. Fernando Henrique Cardoso became the new president in 1994 and created the plano real to help improve economic growth. He also added a new amendment in 1998 for Brazil to have reelections.

Although Fernando Henrique Cardoso introduced several new policies and managed to hold back inflation, many Brazilians are still living under impoverished conditions. There have been improvements in education, land reform, welfare and the social system, but there are still many problems with the health system, with violence in overcrowded cities, and environmental abuse and corruption. Luis Inácio da Silva (Lula) was voted into power in 2002 with an overwhelming majority and throughout his two terms as president has achieved several internal improvements and economic growth even in years of global financial crises.  He achieved the confirmations for Brazil to host the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2014 and for Rio to be host city for the Olympics in 2016.

His successor Dilma Rousseff was the first female President of Brazil and got into power in January 2011, with high expectations from both inside and outside of Brazil.

Dilma Roussef was recently re-elected in a very tight run and won by a very small margin. Now she needs to prove herself to almost half the Brazilian population and will face tough opposition in the Congress. 

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