Background: Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil has overcome more than half a century of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of the interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, Brazil became Latin America’s leading economic power by the 1970s. Highly unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem.
Government type: federative republic
Currency: 1 real (R$) = 100 centavos
Geography of Brazil
Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean
Geographic coordinates: 10 00 S, 55 00 W
Map references: South America
total: 8,511,965 sq. km
land: 8,456,510 sq. km
water: 55,455 sq. km
note: includes Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha, Atol das Rocas, Ilha da Trindade, Ilhas Martin Vaz, and Penedos de Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo
total: 14,691 km
border countries: Argentina 1,224 km, Bolivia 3,400 km, Colombia 1,643 km, French Guiana 673 km, Guyana 1,119 km, Paraguay 1,290 km, Peru 1,560 km, Suriname 597 km, Uruguay 985 km, Venezuela 2,200 km
Coastline: 7,491 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: mostly tropical, but temperate in south
Terrain: mostly flat to rolling lowlands in north; some plains, hills, mountains, and narrow coastal belt
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pico da Neblina 3,014 m
Natural resources: bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin, uranium, petroleum, hydropower, timber
arable land: 5%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 22%
forests and woodland: 58%
other: 14% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 28,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: recurring droughts in northeast; floods and occasional frost in south
Environment – current issues: deforestation in Amazon Basin destroys the habitat and endangers the existence of a multitude of plant and animal species indigenous to the area; air and water pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large cities; land degradation and water pollution caused by improper mining activities
note: President CARDOSO in September 1999 signed into force an environmental crime bill which for the first time defines pollution and deforestation as crimes punishable by stiff fines and jail sentences
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography – note: largest country in South America; shares common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador
Brazil’s twenty-six states and the Federal District (Distrito Federal) are divided conventionally into five regions–North (Norte), Northeast, Southeast (Sudeste), South, and Center-West (see fig. 4). In 1996 there were 5,581 municipalities (municípios ), which have municipal governments. Many municipalities, which are comparable to United States counties, are in turn divided into districts (distritos ), which do not have political or administrative autonomy. In 1995 there were 9,274 districts. All municipal and district seats, regardless of size, are considered officially to be urban. For purely statistical purposes, the municipalities were grouped in 1990 into 559 micro-regions, which in turn constituted 136 meso-regions. This grouping modified the previous micro-regional division established in 1968, a division that was used to present census data for 1970, 1975, 1980, and 1985.
Each of the five major regions has a distinct ecosystem. Administrative boundaries do not necessarily coincide with ecological boundaries, however. In addition to differences in physical environment, patterns of economic activity and population settlement vary widely among the regions. The principal ecological characteristics of each of the five major regions, as well as their principal socioeconomic and demographic features, are summarized below.
The equatorial North, also known as the Amazon or Amazônia, includes, from west to east, the states of Rondônia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Pará, Amapá, and, as of 1988, Tocantins (created from the northern part of Goiás State, which is situated in the Center-West). Rondônia, previously a federal territory, became a state in 1986. The former federal territories of Roraima and Amapá were raised to statehood in 1988.
With 3,869,638 square kilometers, the North is the country’s largest region, covering 45.3 percent of the national territory (see table 3, Appendix). The region’s principal biome is the humid tropical forest, also known as the rain forest, home to some of the planet’s richest biological diversity. The North has served as a source of forest products ranging from “backlands drugs” (such as sarsaparilla, cocoa, cinnamon, and turtle butter) in the colonial period to rubber and Brazil nuts in more recent times. In the mid-twentieth century, nonforest products from mining, farming, and livestock-raising became more important, and in the 1980s the lumber industry boomed. In 1990, 6.6 percent of the region’s territory was considered altered by anthropic (man-made) action, with state levels varying from 0.9 percent in Amapá to 14.0 percent in Rondônia.
In 1996 the North had 11.1 million inhabitants, only 7 percent of the national total. However, its share of Brazil’s total had grown rapidly in the 1970s and early 1980s as a result of interregional migration, as well as high rates of natural increase. The largest population concentrations are in eastern Pará State and in Rondônia. The major cities are Belém and Santarém in Pará, and Manaus in Amazonas. Living standards are below the national average. The highest per capita income, US$2,888, in the region in 1994, was in Amazonas, while the lowest, US$901, was in Tocantins.
The nine states that make up the Northeast are Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, and Sergipe. The former federal territory of Fernando de Noronha was incorporated into Pernambuco State in 1988. For planning or ecological purposes, Maranhão west of 44° W longitude, most of which until recently was covered with “pre-Amazon” forest (that is, transition from the cerrado or caatinga to tropical forest), is often included in the Amazon region.
The Northeast, with 1,561,178 square kilometers, covers 18.3 percent of the national territory. Its principal biome is the semiarid caatinga region, which is subject to prolonged periodic droughts. By the 1990s, this region utilized extensive irrigation. In an area known as the forest zone (zona da mata ), the Atlantic Forest, now almost entirely gone, once stretched along the coastline as far north as Rio Grande do Norte. Sugar plantations established there in colonial times persisted for centuries. Between the mata and the sertão lies a transition zone called the agreste , an area of mixed farming. In 1988-89, 46.3 percent of the region had been subjected to anthropic activity, ranging from a low of 10.8 percent in Maranhão to a high of 77.2 percent in Alagoas.
Because its high rates of natural increase offset heavy out-migration, the Northeast’s large share of the country’s total population declined only slightly during the twentieth century. In 1996 the region had 45 million inhabitants, 28 percent of Brazil’s total population. The population is densest along the coast, where eight of the nine state capitals are located, but is also spread throughout the interior. The major cities are Salvador, in Bahia; Recife, in Pernambuco; and Fortaleza, in Ceará. The region has the country’s largest concentration of rural population, and its living standards are the lowest in Brazil. In 1994 Piauí had the lowest per capita income in the region and the country, only US$835, while Sergipe had the highest average income in the region, with US$1,958.
The Southeast consists of the four states of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Its total area of 927,286 square kilometers corresponds to 10.9 percent of the national territory. The region has the largest share of the country’s population, 63 million in 1991, or 39 percent of the national total, primarily as a result of internal migration since the mid-nineteenth century until the 1980s. In addition to a dense urban network, it contains the megacities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which in 1991 had 18.7 million and 11.7 million inhabitants in their metropolitan areas, respectively. The region combines the highest living standards in Brazil with pockets of urban poverty. In 1994 São Paulo boasted an average income of US$4,666, while Minas Gerais reported only US$2,833.
Originally, the principal biome in the Southeast was the Atlantic Forest, but by 1990 less than 10 percent of the original forest cover remained as a result of clearing for farming, ranching, and charcoal making. Anthropic activity had altered 79.5 percent of the region, ranging from 75 percent in Minas Gerais to 91.1 percent in Espírito Santo. The region has most of Brazil’s industrial production. The state of São Paulo alone accounts for half of the country’s industries. Agriculture, also very strong, has diversified and now uses modern technology.
The three states in the temperate South–Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina–cover 577,214 square kilometers, or 6.8 percent of the national territory. The population of the South in 1991 was 23.1 million, or 14 percent of the country’s total. The region is almost as densely settled as the Southeast, but the population is more concentrated along the coast. The major cities are Curitiba and Porto Alegre. The inhabitants of the South enjoy relatively high living standards. Because of its industry and agriculture, Paraná had the highest average income in 1994, US$3,674, while Santa Catarina, a land of small farmers and small industries, had slightly less, US$3,405.
In addition to the Atlantic Forest and pine woods, much of which were cleared in the post-World War II period, the South contains pampa grasslands, similar to those of Argentina and Uruguay, in the extreme south. In 1982, 83.5 percent of the region had been altered by anthropic activity, with the highest level (89.7 percent) in Rio Grande do Sul, and the lowest (66.7 percent) in Santa Catarina. Agriculture–much of which, such as rice production, is carried out by small farmers–has high levels of productivity. There are also some important industries.
The Center-West consists of the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul (separated from Mato Grosso in 1979), as well as the Federal District, site of Brasília, the national capital. Until 1988 Goiás State included the area that then became the state of Tocantins in the North.
The Center-West has 1,612,077 square kilometers and covers 18.9 percent of the national territory. Its main biome is the cerrado , the tropical savanna in which natural grassland is partly covered with twisted shrubs and small trees. The cerrado was used for low-density cattle-raising in the past but is now also used for soybean production. There are gallery forests along the rivers and streams and some larger areas of forest, most of which have been cleared for farming and livestock. In the north, the cerrado blends into tropical forest. It also includes the Pantanal wetlands in the west, known for their wildlife, especially aquatic birds and caymans. In the early 1980s, 33.6 percent of the region had been altered by anthropic activities, with a low of 9.3 percent in Mato Grosso and a high of 72.9 percent in Goiás (not including Tocantins). In 1996 the Center-West region had 10.2 million inhabitants, or 6 percent of Brazil’s total population. The average density is low, with concentrations in and around the cities of Brasília, Goiânia, Campo Grande, and Cuiabá. Living standards are below the national average. In 1994 they were highest in the Federal District, with per capita income of US$7,089 (the highest in the nation), and lowest in Mato Grosso, with US$2,268.
The environmental problem that attracted most international attention in Brazil in the 1980s was undoubtedly deforestation in the Amazon. Of all Latin American countries, Brazil still has the largest portion (66 percent) of its territory covered by forests, but clearing and burning in the Amazon proceeded at alarming rates in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the clearing resulted from the activities of ranchers, including large corporate operations, and a smaller portion resulted from slash-and-burn techniques used by small farmers.
Deforestation in the Amazon declined from levels averaging 22,000 square kilometers per year during the 1970-88 period to about 11,000 square kilometers per year between 1988 and 1991. There was controversy about the levels in the mid-1990s. Knowledgeable experts placed the level of accumulated deforestation at about 15 percent in 1996, as opposed to 12 percent in 1991. Although unseasonal rainfall patterns may explain some year-to-year variation, the basic cause for the decline in deforestation after 1987 was economic crisis. There was insufficient capital, credit, or incentive for large-scale clearing, as well as insufficient public investment to stimulate new migration. Migration to the Amazon also fell quickly in the late 1980s. More effective enforcement of government regulations and bad publicity for large offenders, both of which were associated with changes in public opinion about the environment, also played a part. Technical changes involved in the transition from horizontal expansion of agriculture to increasing productivity also accounted for decreasing rates of deforestation.
Desertification, another important environmental problem in Brazil, only received international attention following the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Desertification means that the soils and vegetation of drylands are severely degraded, not necessarily that land turns into desert. In the early 1990s, it became evident that the semiarid caatinga ecosystem of the Northeast was losing its natural vegetation through clearing and that the zone was therefore running the risk of becoming even more arid, as was occurring also in some other regions.
In areas where agriculture is more intense and developed, there are serious problems of soil erosion, siltation and sedimentation of streams and rivers, and pollution with pesticides. In parts of the savannas, where irrigated soybean production expanded in the 1980s, the water table has been affected. Expansion of pastures for cattle-raising has reduced natural biodiversity in the savannas. Swine effluents constitute a serious environmental problem in Santa Catarina in the South.
In urban areas, at least in the largest cities, levels of air pollution and congestion are typical of, or worse than, those found in cities in developed countries. At the same time, however, basic environmental problems related to the lack of sanitation, which developed countries solved long ago, persist in Brazil. These problems are sometimes worse in middle-sized and small cities than in large cities, which have more resources to deal with them. Environmental problems of cities and towns finally began to receive greater attention by society and the government in the 1990s.
According to many critics, the economic crisis in the 1980s worsened environmental degradation in Brazil because it led to overexploitation of natural resources, stimulated settlement in fragile lands in both rural and urban areas, and weakened environmental protection. At the same time, however, the lower level of economic activity may have reduced pressure on the environment, such as the aforementioned decreased level of investment in large-scale clearing in the Amazon. That pressure could increase if economic growth accelerates, especially if consumption patterns remain unchanged and more sustainable forms of production are not found.
In Brazil public policies regarding the environment are generally advanced, although their implementation and the enforcement of environmental laws have been far from ideal. Laws regarding forests, water, and wildlife have been in effect since the 1930s. Brazil achieved significant institutional advances in environmental policy design and implementation after the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972. Specialized environmental agencies were organized at the federal level and in some states, and many national parks and reserves were established. By 1992 Brazil had established thirty-four national parks and fifty-six biological reserves (see fig. 5). In 1981 the National Environment Policy was defined, and the National System for the Environment (Sistema Nacional do Meio Ambiente–Sisnama) was created, with the National Environmental Council (Conselho Nacional do Meio Ambiente–Conama) at its apex, municipal councils at its base, and state-level councils in between. In addition to government authorities, all of these councils include representatives of civil society.
The 1988 constitution incorporates environmental precepts that are advanced compared with those of most other countries. At that time, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados) established its permanent Commission for Defense of the Consumer, the Environment, and Minorities. In 1989 the creation of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis–Ibama) joined together the federal environment secretariat and the federal agencies specializing in forestry, rubber, and fisheries. In 1990 the administration of Fernando Collor de Mello (president, 1990-92) appointed the well-known environmentalist José Lutzemberger as secretary of the environment and took firm positions on the environment and on Indian lands. In 1992 Brazil played a key role at the Earth Summit, not only as its host but also as negotiator on sustainable development agreements, including the conventions on climate and biodiversity. The Ministry of Environment was created in late 1992, after President Collor had left office. In August 1993, it became the Ministry of Environment and the Legal Amazon and took a more pragmatic approach than had the combative Lutzemberger. However, because of turnover in its leadership, a poorly defined mandate, and lack of funds, its role and impact were limited. In 1995 its mandate and name were expanded to include water resources–the Ministry of Environment, Hydraulic Resources, and the Legal Amazon–it began a process of restructuring to meet its mandate of “shared management of the sustainable use of natural resources.” In 1997 the Commission on Policies for Sustainable Development and Agenda 21 began to function under the aegis of the Civil Household. One of its main tasks was to prepare Agenda 21 (a plan for the twenty-first century) for Brazil and to stimulate preparation of state and local agendas.
Institutional development at the official level was accompanied and in part stimulated by the growth, wide diffusion, and growing professional development of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to environmental and socio-environmental causes. The hundreds of NGOs throughout Brazil produce documents containing both useful information and passionate criticisms. Among the Brazilian environmental NGOs, the most visible are SOS Atlantic Forest (SOS Mata Atlântica), the Social-Environmental Institute (Instituto Sócio-Ambiental–ISA), the Pro-Nature Foundation (Fundação Pró-Natureza–Funatura), and the Amazon Working Group (Grupo de Trabalho Amazônico–GTA). The Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development and the Brazilian Association of Nongovernmental Organizations (Associacão Brasileira de Organizações Não-Governamentais–ABONG) are national networks, and there are various regional and thematic networks as well. The main international environmental NGOs that have offices or affiliates in Brazil are the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI), and Nature Conservancy.
Especially after the events of the late 1980s, international organizations and developed countries have allocated significant resources for the environmental sector in Brazil. In 1992 environmental projects worth about US$6.8 million were identified, with US$2.6 in counterpart funds (funds provided by the Brazilian government). More than 70 percent of the total value was for sanitation, urban pollution control, and other urban environmental projects. Thus, the allocation of resources did not accord with the common belief that funding was influenced unduly by alarmist views on deforestation in the Amazon.
Among the specific environmental projects with international support, the most important was the National Environmental Plan (Plano Nacional do Meio Ambiente–PNMA), which received a US$117 million loan from the World Bank (see Glossary). The National Environmental Fund (Fundo Nacional do Meio Ambiente–FNMA), in addition to budgetary funds, received US$20 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (see Glossary) to finance the environmental activities of NGOs and small municipal governments. The Pilot Program for the Conservation of the Brazilian Rain Forests (Programa Piloto para a Proteção das Florestas Tropicais do Brasil–PPG-7) was supported by the world’s seven richest countries (the so-called G-7) and the European Community (see Glossary), which allocated US$258 million for projects in the Amazon and Atlantic Forest regions. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), created in 1990, set aside US$30 million for Brazil, part of which is managed by a national fund called Funbio. GEF also established a small grants program for NGOs, which focused on the cerrado during its pilot phase. The World Bank also made loans for environmental and natural resource management in Rondônia and Mato Grosso, in part to correct environmental and social problems that had been created by the World Bank-funded development of the northwest corridor in the 1980s.
Despite favorable laws, promising institutional arrangements, and external funding, the government has not, on the whole, been effective in controlling damage to the environment. This failure is only in small measure because of the opposition of anti-environmental groups. In greater part, it can be attributed to the traditional separation between official rhetoric and actual practice in Brazil. It is also related to general problems of governance, fiscal crisis, and lingering doubts about appropriate tradeoffs between the environment and development. Some of the most effective governmental action in the environmental area has occurred at the state and local levels in the most developed states and has involved NGOs. In 1994 the PNMA began to stress decentralization and strengthening of state environmental agencies, a tendency that subsequently gained momentum.
Although 90 percent of the country is within the tropical zone, the climate of Brazil varies considerably from the mostly tropical North (the equator traverses the mouth of the Amazon) to temperate zones below the Tropic of Capricorn (23°27′ S latitude), which crosses the country at the latitude of the city of São Paulo. Brazil has five climatic regions–equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, and subtropical.
Temperatures along the equator are high, averaging above 25°C, but not reaching the summer extremes of up to 40°C in the temperate zones. There is little seasonal variation near the equator, although at times it can get cool enough for wearing a jacket, especially in the rain. At the country’s other extreme, there are frosts south of the Tropic of Capricorn during the winter (June-August), and in some years there is snow in the mountainous areas, such as Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Temperatures in the cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília are moderate (usually between 15°C and 30°C), despite their relatively low latitude, because of their elevation of approximately 1,000 meters. Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Salvador on the coast have warm climates, with average temperatures ranging from 23°C to 27°C, but enjoy constant trade winds. The southern cities of Porto Alegre and Curitiba have a subtropical climate similar to that in parts of the United States and Europe, and temperatures can fall below freezing in winter.
Precipitation levels vary widely. Most of Brazil has moderate rainfall of between 1,000 and 1,500 millimeters a year, with most of the rain falling in the summer (between December and April) south of the Equator. The Amazon region is notoriously humid, with rainfall generally more than 2,000 millimeters per year and reaching as high as 3,000 millimeters in parts of the western Amazon and near Belém. It is less widely known that, despite high annual precipitation, the Amazon rain forest has a three- to five-month dry season, the timing of which varies according to location north or south of the equator.
High and relatively regular levels of precipitation in the Amazon contrast sharply with the dryness of the semiarid Northeast, where rainfall is scarce and there are severe droughts in cycles averaging seven years. The Northeast is the driest part of the country. The region also constitutes the hottest part of Brazil, where during the dry season between May and November, temperatures of more than 38°C have been recorded. However, the sertão , a region of semidesert vegetation used primarily for low-density ranching, turns green when there is rain. Most of the Center-West has 1,500 to 2,000 millimeters of rain per year, with a pronounced dry season in the middle of the year, while the South and most of the Atlantic coast as far north as Salvador, Bahia, in the Northeast, have similar amounts of rainfall without a distinct dry season.
People of Brazil
With an estimated 170 million inhabitants, Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks sixth in the world. The majority live in the south-central area, which includes the industrial cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. Urban growth has been rapid; by 2000, 81% of the total population were living in urban areas. Rapid growth has aided economic development but has also created serious social, environmental, and political problems for major cities.
Four major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern, and Asian immigrant groups who have settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous people of Tupi and Guarani language stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was once Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration have contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.
From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans emigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants have come mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong, and racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon. Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, constitute less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years but are controversial and often ineffective.
Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. About 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are Protestant or follow practices derived from African religions.
Population: 186,112,794 (July 2005 est.)
0-14 years: 28.57%
15-64 years: 65.98%
65 years and over: 5.45%
Population growth rate: 0.91%
Birth rate: 18.45 births/1,000 population
Death rate: 9.34 deaths/1,000 population
Net migration rate: -0.03 migrant(s)/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate: 36.96 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 63.24 years
male: 58.96 years
female: 67.73 years
Total fertility rate: 2.09 children born/woman
Ethnic groups: white (includes Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish) 55%, mixed white and black 38%, black 6%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 1%
Religions: Roman Catholic (nominal) 80%
Languages: Portuguese (official), Spanish, English, French
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 83.3%
female: 83.2% (1995 est.)
History of Brazil
MORE LIKE A CONTINENT than a country, the Federative Republic of Brazil (República Federativa do Brasil) is geographically larger than the conterminous United States. It is the world’s fifth largest nation in physical size, exceeded only by Russia, China, the United States, and Canada. By far the largest country in Latin America, Brazil occupies nearly half the land mass of South America and borders every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. With 90 percent of its territory lying between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, Brazil is the world’s largest tropical country. The Amazon Region has the world’s largest river system; the Amazon is the source of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
Brazil’s history prior to becoming an independent country in 1822 is intertwined mainly with that of Portugal. Unlike the other viceroyalties of Latin America, which divided into twenty countries upon attaining independence, the Viceroyalty of Brazil became a single nation, with a single language transcending all diversities and regionalisms. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking Latin American country, and its Luso-Brazilian culture differs in subtle ways from the Hispanic heritage of most of its neighbors. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of Italians, Germans, Arabs, Japanese, and other immigrants entered Brazil and in various ways altered the dominant social system. Their descendants, however, are nearly all Portuguese-speaking Brazilians.
Except for a small indigenous Indian population, Brazilians are one people, with a single culture. Anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro attributes a “national ethnicity” to Brazil’s melting-pot, disparate population, which has created a society that “knows itself, feels, and behaves as a single people.” Unifying forces that have strengthened Brazilians’ sense of national self-identity include the nation’s multiracial society and its various religions; Brazilian Portuguese, music, and dance, particularly the samba and, more recently, Brazilian funk, a wildly popular version of the musical genres known in the United States as rap and hip-hop; the national soccer team, which won the World Cup championship for the fourth time in 1994; Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé), widely acknowledged as the greatest soccer player ever, who won three World Cups with Brazil and was declared an official national treasure by Brazil’s National Congress (Congresso Nacional; hereafter, Congress); world-renowned Brazilian Formula 1 auto racers, such as Emerson Fittipaldi and the late Ayrton Senna; and the country’s television networks, with their widely viewed soap operas called telenovelas . Brazilian social scientists have used the concept of homem cordial (cordial man) to describe the Brazilian archetype. Brazilians are generally a friendly, warm, and spontaneous people.
With an estimated 161 million people in early 1998, Brazil is the world’s largest Roman Catholic nation, and its population is the world’s sixth largest. By 2000 Brazil will have an estimated 169 million people. Its population is largely urban; the urbanization rate soared from 47 percent in 1960 to 80 percent in 1996. Even the Amazon region is urbanized; 70 percent of its 18 million people live in cities. The Amazonian city of Manaus, which still lacks a sewerage system other than the river, now has a population of 1.5 million and a highway to Venezuela. Brazil has at least fourteen cities with more than 1 million people. Greater Rio de Janeiro’s population totaled 10.3 million in 1995. Greater Sao Paulo, with 18.8 million people, is the world’s third largest metropolitan area, after Tokyo and Mexico City. Although Sao Paulo’s Metrô is clean and efficiently moves more people in one day than Washington’s Metro does in two months, the megacity is disorienting and suffers from extreme traffic congestion and air pollution. To alleviate this situation, Sao Paulo State in January 1998 revived a fifty-year-old plan to build a US$2.5 billion beltway around the city.
The growth of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo slowed during the 1980s and early 1990s, along with internal migration. Moreover, Brazil’s demographic growth rate fell from about 3 percent a year in the 1960s to only an estimated 1.22 percent in 1995, even without the adoption of an official population-control program. During this three-decade period, Brazilian fertility rates decreased from 6.4 to about 2.3 children for each woman. The country’s new demographic profile shows a generally young population; nearly 50 percent of Brazilians are younger than age twenty.
Some of Brazil’s smaller cities, particularly those in the more developed South (Sul) and Southeast (Sudeste), have fared better than its megacities in their innovative approaches to urban ecology. Curitiba, the capital of Paraná, has earned a worldwide reputation as a model city, not only for the developing world but also the developed world, thanks to its former architect-mayor, Jaime Lerner (now governor of Paraná). In June 1996, the chairman of the Habitat II summit of mayors and urban planners in Istanbul described Curitiba as “the most innovative city in the world.” Often compared with a city in Switzerland or Sweden, Curitiba is a city that functions, even though its budget of US$1 billion a year is the same as that of Lausanne, a city with only one-tenth of Curitiba’s population. Curitiba has taken new approaches to urban ills such as illiteracy, homelessness, transportation and government service shortcomings, unemployment, pollution, and poverty. It has fifty-four square meters of green area per inhabitant, a widely praised trash-recycling system, and a world-class transportation system (used by 85 percent of the city’s commuters). Curitiba’s innovative professionals also include a heart surgeon, Randas J.V. Batista, who developed a revolutionary and potentially very important new heart-operation technique that surgeons around the world began learning about in June 1996.
Brazil has many other superlatives. The news media include highly professional, large-circulation newspapers and magazines and the powerful television network of Rêde Globo de Televisao (World Network), owner of TV Globo. Brazil has South America’s most aggressive journalists. In the 1990s, they have investigated banking scandals, environmental abuses, massacres of Amazon Indians, murders of street children, and governmental corruption. Television reaches more than 80 percent of Brazilian homes. TV Globo is Latin America’s largest network and the world’s fourth largest television broadcasting system (after ABC, NBC, and CBS). Its telenovelas are watched by 70 million Brazilians nightly and in addition are sold to sixty-eight nations, earning the network US$30 million annually in foreign profits. In 1996 Brazil was the only Latin American country with a communications satellite in orbit. In the print media, Veja , with a circulation of 1.2 million, is Brazil’s most influential magazine and the world’s fifth largest weekly newsmagazine. All of these media have enabled Brazil to become the world’s eighth largest advertising market, with US$4.5 billion spent on advertisements in 1994 and an estimated US$6 billion in 1995.
Brazil has enormous technological know-how and industrial capabilities. As President Fernando Henrique Cardoso explained to the Wall Street Journal in May 1997, “Our people are known throughout the world for their creativity, their ability to learn, to adapt to new circumstances, and to incorporate technical innovation on a daily basis.”
Brazil is the most highly industrialized country in Latin America. Its huge industrial base includes steel, automobiles, military aircraft (including the AMX jet fighter), tanks, hydroelectric power, and a nuclear power program. Its industrial base is so developed that the country exports high-technology aviation components, such as aircraft engines and helicopter landing-gear systems. Brazil’s Alberto Santos Dumont after all was the “father of aviation.” Brazil will construct a small part of the international space station. Major manufactured products include motor vehicles, aircraft (including the internationally popular EMB-120 Brasília commuter turboprop and EMB-145 regional jetliner), helicopters (Brazil has the world’s seventh largest helicopter fleet), electrical and electronic appliances, textiles, garments, and footwear. Since lifting its ban on computer imports in October 1992, Brazil has become the world’s fastest-growing computer market and a major producer of computer software.
Brazil’s major trading partners are the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Argentina, Mexico, and Canada. Exports represent 7.3 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product, and industry accounts for about 41 percent, a pattern found in some developed countries. Once an industrial powerhouse of the developing world, Brazil now counts on services for 48 percent of its GDP.
Brazil’s economy, Latin America’s biggest and the world’s eighth largest, is greater than Russia’s and twice as large as Mexico’s. Its economy will be the sixth largest in the world by 2015, according to a Ministry of Finance prediction. In 1997 Brazil had an estimated GDP of US$775.5 billion, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Brazil possesses enormous natural resources, including the world’s largest rain forest. The country contains two-thirds of the endangered Amazon rain forest, a region representing 60 percent of the national territory. Sixty-six percent of Brazil’s territory is still covered by forest. The Amazon rain forest and Pantanal (Great Wetlands) of Mato Grosso are two of the largest wildlife reserves on earth. The Amazon region is home to half of the earth’s species and almost one-third of the world’s 250 primates. Researchers in Brazil have identified a new primate species in Brazil six times in six years, including 1996. The Pantanal, the world’s largest freshwater wetland (larger than the state of Florida), contains flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, including eighty kinds of mammals, 230 varieties of fish, 650 species of birds, and 1,100 types of butterflies.
The country’s vast river systems serve not only as a transportation network but also as an energy source. Brazil’s hydroelectric plants provide 94 percent of the country’s electricity. Its huge dams, including Itaipu, easily the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant, generate vast amounts of hydroelectric power (a potential of at least 106,500 megawatts). Brazil is also the world’s largest producer of bananas, coffee, and orange juice. It has the world’s largest iron mine and vast stores of precious minerals. It is the world’s largest exporter of iron and a major exporter of steel.
Sao Paulo, the financial center of Brazil, is an economic power in itself; the state’s GDP of US$240 billion is larger than Poland’s and the third largest economy in South America, after Brazil itself and Argentina. Its GDP per capita income of US$7,000 is nearly twice the figure for all of Brazil. Sao Paulo has half of the country’s bank accounts. Its largest bank, with US$33.3 billion in assets and 1,900 branches, is the Brazilian Discount Bank (Banco Brasileiro de Descontos–Bradesco), Latin America’s third largest and possibly most powerful bank holding company; Bradesco’s profits in 1996 totaled US$800 million. The Sao Paulo Stock Exchange (Bolsa de Valores do Sao Paulo–Bovespa) has been one of the fastest growing in the world, at least until May 1997. Bovespa had a market capitalization of US$245 billion, far outranking the Mexican exchange’s US$118 billion and five times that of the Buenos Aires exchange. In early 1997, the Bovespa index gained 86 percent, but by early November it had fallen 37 percent, a casualty of turmoil in world financial markets.
As a result of having to adjust to three decades of hyperinflation, Brazil has one of the world’s most sophisticated and efficient banking systems. In 1993 the top forty Brazilian banks earned US$9 billion by lending inflation-eroded deposits to the government at high short-term rates. During the period of hyperinflation, the number of banks mushroomed from 106 institutions in 1988 to 246 in 1994. In 1996 Brazil had six of Latin America’s ten largest banks, including the number-one ranked Federal Savings Bank (Caixa Econômica Federal–CEF), with US$90.8 billion in assets.
In 1995 Brazil was ranked third, after China and Mexico, for planned investments by American multinational companies. The second largest United States trading partner in the hemisphere in 1995-97, it is first in foreign direct investment from the United States, with US$41 billion. According to President Cardoso, foreign direct investment in Brazil in 1996 totaled US$9.4 billion, as compared with US$3.9 billion in 1995 and was expected to exceed US$14 billion in 1997. Multinationals based in Brazil remitted US$4 billion in dividends to their parent corporations during 1995. The energy, mining, petroleum, and telecommunications sectors expect investments of US$24 billion by the end of the 1990s.
Amid the chaos of inflation, Brazil’s private sector had become the most dynamic in Latin America by 1994, with the automobile industry leading the country’s economic upturn. Once the symbol of the “economic miracle” period of 1968-74 but declared all but defunct in the 1980s, the automobile sector–aided by tax breaks, an end to the list of banned imports, and the relaunching of the Volkswagen Beetle–was revived in 1990. Brazil’s automobile industry, Latin America’s biggest industrial complex, overtook Italy and Mexico in 1993 to become the tenth largest producer of cars in the world. Brazil produced 1.58 million cars in 1994 and 1.65 million in 1995, making it the world’s ninth largest automotive manufacturer. Helped by a 70 percent tariff on imports by foreign automobile manufacturers, sales totaled about 1.7 million vehicles in 1996 and were expected to reach 2.5 to 3 million cars and trucks by 2000. However, the influx of new cars has made congestion and pollution in already clogged cities even worse. Furthermore, carmakers with manufacturing facilities in Brazil have been uncompetitive because of a tariff reduction on automobile imports mandated by the Common Market of the South (Mercado Comum do Sul–Mercosul; also known as Mercosur. General Motors was planning in 1997 to compete with a new US$9,000 automobile that would be the most affordable one in Brazil.
In the governmental realm, Brazil is the third largest democracy (after India and the United States). It has had civilian democratic rule since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-85). The period of military rule was relatively benign when compared with military dictatorships in the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. In recent decades, Brazil has been relatively free from revolutionary violence and terrorism, with the exception of a left-wing terrorist campaign in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, the foreign image of Brazilians as a joyful, fun-loving, and nonviolent people began to fade as a result of the regime’s repression, primarily from 1968 to 1972.
The constitution of October 5, 1988, Brazil’s eighth, provides for a presidential system with several vestiges of a mixed parliamentary system. Although the 1988 constitution reestablishes many of the prerogatives of the Congress, the president retains considerable “imperial” powers. According to political scientist David V. Fleischer, Brazilian presidents may still have more “imperial” powers than their United States counterparts by being less accountable to Congress and being able to make innumerable political appointments.
Under a system of checks and balances similar to the United States system, the three branches of government operate with substantial harmony and mutual respect, but on rare occasions one of the branches may challenge or reject the interference of the others. However, as Professor Fleischer points out, executive-legislative conflict is inherent in the system because the president is elected directly by a national constituency, whereas Congress is elected by very parochial regional interests. Rural states of the North (Norte) and Northeast (Nordeste) elect proportionately more members of Congress than the industrial and more populous states of the South and Southeast, according to political scientist Ricardo Tavares.
The constitution continues the holding of municipal elections two years after presidential elections. Thus, municipal elections were held in 1988, 1992, and 1996 and are scheduled for 2000 and 2004, while both state and national elections are scheduled for 1998 and 2002. The number of political parties increased from eleven in 1987 to eighteen in 1996, of which eight are significant. Unlike in the United States, where two main parties are national organizations, Brazilian parties are regionally based.
A national plebiscite was held on April 21, 1993, to decide the form of government (a republic or, oddly enough, a constitutional monarchy) and the system of government (presidential or parliamentary), and it overwhelmingly reaffirmed Brazil as a presidential republic. However, a constitutional revision enacted in 1994 constrained the chief executive by shortening the presidential term from five to four years, as of January 1995, in exchange for allowing immediate reelection (approved by the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados) in January 1997 and the Federal Senate (Senado Federal; hereafter, Senate) in June 1997). In mid-1997 there were serious plans to set up a parliamentary government in Brazil by 2002.
With its modernistic capital of Brasília and its booming economy, Brazil was poised in the early 1970s during the “economic miracle” period (1967-74) to become “the country of the future.” On being inaugurated on April 21, 1960, Brasília was referred to as “the city of the twenty-first century” and a “monument to the future.” However, the US$10 billion needed to build and support the Federal District (Distrito Federal) started an inflationary spiral that was not tamed until late 1994. Far removed from the nation’s realities, the sterile capital succeeded only in corrupting the political process by creating an enclave of privilege and self-interest. The 1990 census indicated that the wealthiest 10 percent of Brasília’s population of about 500,000 residents earned 75 percent more than the top 10 percent in the rest of the country.
Although Lúcio Costa’s jetliner-design for the futuristic capital was supposed to reflect Brazil’s aspirations of grandeza (greatness), Brasília’s once-dramatic architecture, designed in large part by Oscar Niemeyer, now inspires feelings of eerie alienation. Niemeyer, who is building a museum of modern art in the city, now refers to Brasília as “the city of lost hopes.” More than half of the 1.2 million residents in the city’s metropolitan area, including most of the capital’s poor, live in more than a dozen satellite cities (cidades satélites ), in favelas as far away as 150 kilometers from the city’s center. Brasília is reputed to have the highest rates of divorce and suicide of any Brazilian city. In its favor, however, Brasília has little air pollution, its traffic congestion is tolerable, and its crime rate is relatively low.
Despite its many superlatives, the image of Brazil as a land of immense rain forest, cordiality, samba, political conciliation, and racial harmony has masked the reality of urban violence, chronic political instability and corruption, environmental depredation, highly unequal income distribution (the worst in the world, according to the World Bank, extraordinarily high levels of abandonment and abuse of children, and severe economic and social disequilibrium.
Beginning in the early 1970s, crime soared as the consumer expectations of poor Brazilians, raised by television advertising, were crushed. Violence has become an increasingly visible aspect of Brazilian society, in both rural and urban areas, and includes rising vigilantism by citizens. There has also been an epidemic of husbands killing their wives with impunity by invoking the “defense of honor” code. By the early 1990s, homem cordial no longer seemed to fit the Brazilian archetype, as news of massacres of Indians by miners, landless activists by landowners and police, and street children and prisoners by police became more frequent.
Death squads (esquadrões de morte ) of off-duty or retired policemen target criminals in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and street children, but to little effect. Their actions only seem to generate more crime. Civilian deaths at the hands of the Sao Paulo Police increased from an average of 34.1 per month in 1993 to 56 per month in the first half of 1996, according to the Sao Paulo Police ombudsman office. Between 1992 and 1996, Sao Paulo Police killed 2,203 persons. Military Police (Polícia Militar–PM) members were suspected in at least seventeen of forty-nine massacres in Sao Paulo in the first eleven months of 1995. Efforts to control the Military Police in metropolitan Sao Paulo supposedly improved their record of killings from 1,190 in 1992 to 106 in 1996.
Nevertheless, TV Globo’s showing of videotapes of innocent civilians being shot, beaten savagely, or robbed by uniformed Military Police members in working-class suburbs of Sao Paulo in early March 1997 and Rio de Janeiro in early April shocked the country and caused profound soul-searching in Brazil. A poll taken in early April 1997 by Folha de Sao Paulo found that fewer than half of the people surveyed feared criminals more than they feared the police, and that 42 percent of all residents in the city of Sao Paulo had either experienced police violence first-hand, or knew someone who had. According to Jornal do Brasil , in the first half of 1996 the Rio de Janeiro police killed 20.5 civilians per month, as compared with an average of 3.2 persons per month prior to June 1995.
The world’s ninth most violent city by 1979, Greater Rio de Janeiro reportedly has recorded more than 70,000 homicides since 1985. In the first nine months of 1995, there were 6,012 homicides in the city, a 10 percent increase over 1994. About 90 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s violent crime is drug related and involves minors, whether as victims or perpetrators. In 1994-95 the military was deployed in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to carry out anti-drug-trafficking functions, normally a police responsibility. However, the temporary military presence in the favelas had no real impact on controlling the city’s crime problem.
By 1996 kidnappings for ransom of leading businessmen and socialites in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo had increased to an estimated fifty per month since 1994, in comparison with a reported seven in 1988. Kidnappings increased by 22.8 percent and bank robberies by 89.3 percent in Rio de Janeiro State in 1995, in relation to 1994, according to the Secretariat for Public Security (Secretaria de Segurança Pública–SSP). A poll conducted by the DataBrasil Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisas DataBrasil) in late 1995 found that 76.5 percent of 600 cariocas (Rio de Janeiro residents) felt that the city had become more violent during 1995 than in 1994. On November 28, 1995, at least 70,000 cariocas , rallying under the slogan Reage, Rio! (React, Rio!), marched to protest the violence. By September 1996, Rio de Janeiro’s crime rate was declining for the first time in years, with significant reductions in kidnappings and bank robberies, thanks to an energetic new command of the police force.
At the national level, homicide has had a major impact on Brazilian youths. A survey of 59.4 million Brazilian children, published on November 17, 1997, found that homicide had become the leading cause of death among fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds in Brazil, with its rate more than tripling since 1980. The survey, conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Fundaçao Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística–IBGE) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), found that 25.3 percent of deaths in that age-group were homicides, as compared with 7.8 percent in 1980.
Police corruption has also been a growing problem. In late 1995, the New York Times reported that, according to an internal report on the notoriously corrupt Rio de Janeiro Police Department, an estimated 80 percent, or 9,600 members, of the 12,000-member force were dishonest and collected more than US$1 million a month in bribes or extortion from drug dealers and kidnappers. Brazilians have cited the need for a reformed and unified police force under federal control. On April 7, 1997, in an attempt to change the profile of Brazil’s police forces, President Cardoso created a National Secretariat of Human Rights (Secretaria Nacional dos Direitos Humanos–SNDH), which is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. The federal crackdown on human rights abuses and diminished earning power under the three-year-old national economic stabilization policy led to a wave of nationwide police strikes in July 1997. As a result, Brazilian cities were hit by crime waves.
No issue has focused more world attention on Brazil since the 1970s than the destruction of the Amazonian jungle. Both Amazônia (the Amazon region) and the Pantanal are suffering the effects of human intervention from deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture, highway construction, illegal mining, drug trafficking, and pollution. Tropical wood cutters have already bought up more than 4.5 million hectares of virgin forest in the Amazon Region, which holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical woods. Dam building has also destroyed large swaths of rain forest. For example, the Tucuruí Reservoir inundated 2,000 square kilometers of tropical forest.
The topics of rapid deforestation and extensive burning of the Amazon rain forest and environmental pollution received unprecedented international attention in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Water and air pollution had also become a serious problem for Brazil. Sao Paulo State’s Tietê is so polluted that in 1992 the state was forced to launch a US$2.6 billion program to revive it. In June 1992, Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Environment and Development (Eco-92). However, the Brazilian government’s attention to the problems of deforestation and pollution waned following Eco-92, despite the creation in late 1993 of the Ministry of Environment and the Amazon Region.
In the mid-1990s, discussion of public policies intended to promote sustainable development remained intense. One issue concerns the Pantanal, which is threatened by South America’s massive waterway project, Hidrovia, a proposed 3,460-kilometer waterway along the world’s fourth-largest river system, the Tietê-Paraná, intended to open the continent for the region’s new free-trade bloc. According to a study by the Environmental Defense Fund, “channelization, dredging, channel simplification, and water control structures will drastically change the hydrology in the Pantanal region,” causing the eventual “loss of biodiversity as habitats decline and exotic species are introduced via barge traffic and human migrations.” However, Brazil shelved the project in early 1998.
As a result of deforestation and highway construction, Amazônia now consists of thirteen different regions that are in a critical political, social, economic, and environmental situation, according to a study begun in 1991 by the IBGE and the Strategic Affairs Secretariat (Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos–SAE) of the presidency of the republic. Since 1970 an area larger than 86 million hectares has been deforested. Marcio Nogueira Barbosa, director general of the government’s National Institute of Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais–INPE), citing INPE statistics for 1995, told the New York Times on October 12, 1995, that “burnings in the Amazon Region appear to be approaching the worst levels ever.”
During 1992-97 the Brazilian government claimed that destruction of the Amazon rain forest had slowed. However, Brazilian government information on the extent of forest clearing in the Amazon had dried up, and, five years after Eco-92, the government appeared unaware of what was happening in the Amazon rain forest. The New York Times reported that new data released in September 1996 showed that deforestation of the Amazon rose by 34 percent during 1991-94, from 6,913 square kilometers in the 1990-91 burning season to 9,253 square kilometers a year by 1994, consuming rain forest the size of Denmark. A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released in mid-1997 singled out Brazil as the nation with the highest annual rate of forest loss in the world. The New York Times reported on November 3, 1997, that burnings in the Amazon region were up 28 percent over 1996, according to satellite data.
Environmentalists have charged that tobacco and soybean cultivation, in addition to trans-Amazonian highway construction, has played a major role in Brazil’s deforestation. Tobacco plantations occupied 271 million hectares of the nation’s arable land in 1990. Brazil, which produced 450,000 tons of tobacco in 1994, is the world’s fourth leading tobacco producer, after China, the United States, and India. Soybean cultivation has had a similarly devastating effect on the rain forest. The largest areas deforested in the first half of the 1990s from expanding soybean cultivation were in Mato Grosso State and the southern part of Maranhao State.
Ninety percent of Brazilians live on 10 percent of the land, mostly along the 322-kilometer-wide east coast region. The Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) once stretched continuously along the entire coast of Brazil, extending far inland, and covering an area equivalent to France and Spain combined. Today, less than 7 percent of it remains, all in scattered fragments, and it is one of the world’s two most threatened tropical forests. Many of Brazil’s 303 species of fauna threatened with extinction are in the Atlantic Forest region, which contains 25 percent of all forms of animal and plant life existing on the planet. The region’s biodiversity is forty times greater than the Amazon’s.
Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (Fundaçao Nacional do índio–Funai) estimates that the indigenous Indian population, with about 230 tribes located in about 530 known Indian reservations in Brazil, totals 330,000 members. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Indians have never had contact with Brazilian government officials. About 62 percent, or 137,000, live in the Amazon region. They are the descendants of what could be the oldest Americans. According to a team of archaeologists led by Anna C. Roosevelt, radiocarbon dating of material in a cave located near Monte Alegre, between Manaus and Belém, shows that early Paleo-Indians were contemporaries of the Clovis people in the southwestern United States and had a distinctive foraging economy, stone technology, and cave art, dating back between 10,000 and 11,200 years ago.
One-tenth of Brazil’s national territory is to be set aside for its Indian population, according to the constitution. However, fewer than half of the reservations have been demarcated, and the issue has continued to be controversial. Settlers and gold miners have massacred Indians. In May 1996, the Ministry of Justice published decrees recognizing the existence of seventeen indigenous areas in Brazil, totaling 8.6 million hectares. Each Brazilian Indian (including children) has on average an area of 400 hectares on which to live. By comparison, Native Americans in the United States live on only eighteen hectares per person. Some members of Brazil’s Congress believe that the policy gives too much land to only two-tenths of the population.
A decree signed by President Cardoso in January 1996 did not include the Indians as one of his priorities. By permitting states, municipalities, and non-Indian individuals to contest demarcation of Indian land, the decree alarmed indigenous support groups. The executive order could end much of the violence against the Indians, by giving non-Indians a legal forum. However, official figures indicate that 153 of the 554 areas recognized by the government as Indian territories are liable to be revised under the decree. For example, in October 1996 a government decision on whether to uphold claims by 12,000 Indians, most of them from the 30,000-member Macuxí tribe, to more than 40 percent of 225,116-square-kilometer Roraima, Brazil’s northernmost state, was put on hold indefinitely as a result of legal challenges by non-Indians.
Despite its vast natural resources and economic wealth, Brazil has an overwhelmingly poor population. Relatively few Brazilians have benefited from the economy. In a country with some of the world’s widest social differences, grinding poverty and misery coexist with great industrial wealth; 20 percent of the population is extremely poor and 1 percent extremely wealthy. Brazil’s Gini index in 1991 was 0.6366. According to the UN, Brazil had the most uneven distribution of wealth in the world in 1995. The richest 10 percent of Brazilians hold 65 percent of Brazil’s wealth (GDP), while the poorest 40 percent share only 7 percent. Brazil placed sixty-eighth out of 174 countries in the UN’s 1997 human development index.
In the mid-1990s, at least one-fifth of the population, or about 32 million people, lived in extreme poverty, making less than US$100 a month. However, the anti-inflation policies of the Cardoso government helped pull 13 million Brazilians out of poverty, according to the Applied Economic Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada–IPEA). During Cardoso’s first three years in office, the number of people living below the poverty level dropped 9 percentage points to 21 percent. Thus, poverty in Brazil today is proportionately less, even though it is more visible and shocking, especially in the cities.
An estimated 45 million children and young people live in inhuman conditions, and the number of child workers has been as high as 10 million. Children from large poor families start working from the age of ten in order to help their parents. According to the IBGE, in 1995 there were 7.5 million Brazilian workers younger than eighteen, a group that represents 11.6 percent of the work force. However, the IBGE reported that the number of children between the ages of ten and fourteen who were employed decreased by 163,000 from 1993 to 1995. Some 3 million workers are between ten and fourteen years of age. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimate that anywhere from 500,000 to two million Brazilian children are forced into prostitution every year.
The vast substratum of the population lacks adequate housing, employment, education, health care, or any social security. An estimated 10 million Brazilian families are homeless. The government spends only US$80 per person annually on public health, less than a third of what Argentina spends. Consequently, the health system is struggling to survive; its employees are often overworked and underpaid, and corruption is endemic. In this context, the new law that took effect January 1, 1998, mandating organ donations for transplants unless the person applies for an exemption, sparked fear and outrage.
Brazil stands out for its sharp regional and social disparities. Of Brazil’s 39.1 million poor in 1990, 53.1 percent were in the poverty-stricken Northeast and 25.4 percent were in the prosperous Southeast. According to the IBGE, in 1996 the more developed Southeast and South regions had 63 million and 23.1 million people, respectively, who generated about 75 percent of the country’s GDP. By contrast, the Northeast had 45 million residents and generated only about 13 percent of Brazil’s GDP. The huge North and Center-West (Centro-Oeste) regions, which occupy 64.1 percent of Brazil’s total area, had 11.1 million and 10.2 million residents, respectively, and also generated only about 13 percent of Brazil’s GDP.
In 1988 the GDP per capita income of the Southeast was 43.6 percent higher than the national average, and that of the Northeast was 37.5 percent lower. Brazil’s GDP per capita income was US$5,128 in 1997, as compared with US$3,008 in 1994, according to the IBGE. However, the 1997 GDP per capita was practically meaningless because of the vast disparity between north and south or, more specifically, the Southeast and Northeast. Whereas Sao Paulo State had a US$7,000 GDP per capita in 1994, Pernambuco, a relatively prosperous Northeast state, had only US$1,500.
Brazil’s regional and social disparities are also reflected in the great inequalities of its education system. Illiteracy is widespread, particularly in the poor states of the Northeast and North. In 1995, according to Ministry of Education statistics, 18 percent of Brazilians over fifteen years of age could not read or write. Brazil will enter the twenty-first century with an estimated illiteracy rate of 16 percent. (Functional illiteracy in Brazil is as high as 60 percent.) Half of students nationwide repeat the first grade through a system of routine flunking. It takes an average of 11.4 years for students to complete the first eight years of education, and only 4.5 percent of all students who start school end up enrolling in a university. In 1994 UNICEF rated Brazil’s basic education system as being in last place in world ranking, with large rates of nonattendance in poor states. As much as 68 percent of the electorate, or 65 million people, never finish primary school. In a hopeful development, however, primary education in Brazil is being radically reformed.
In 1995 the countrywide average salary was US$650 per month, and the minimum wage amounted to US$780 per year. In April 1995, the Cardoso government reluctantly raised the minimum monthly salary to 100 reais. In 1994, when the minimum monthly salary was R$70 a month (about US$58), half the population earned less than US$240 a month, and about 15 million people, including 11.5 million pensioners, were on the minimum wage. The income of about 12 million Brazilians is less than US$65 per month.
Brazil’s official statistics on employment, incomes, consumption, and living standards do not provide an accurate portrayal of the real Brazil. The black market enables millions of Brazilians to get by in a country where household appliances, automobiles, compact disks (CDs), restaurant food, and other consumer items cost more than in France, Germany, or the United States. The country’s vast informal economy produces from US$200 billion to US$300 billion per year, according to figures from the IBGE. Brazil’s informal market, consisting of thousands of small to medium-size businesses that neither abide by government regulations nor pay taxes, is three times larger than the Portuguese economy and equal to that of Sweden. The illegal market provides an income for an estimated 30 million Brazilians. According to an early 1997 estimate by the weekly Sao Paulo newsmagazine IstoÉ , about half of the country’s workforce is employed in the black market. In Sao Paulo only 52 percent of the workforce is employed in the formal economy, according to the Interunion Department for Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (Departamento Intersindical de Estatística e Estudos Sócio-Econômicos–DIEESE). In Rio de Janeiro, one in every four persons works in informal jobs.
Brazil’s regional income disparities have produced massive migration to favelas, particularly in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. By 1996 the country’s poverty had become predominantly urban. The IPEA estimated that 23 million of the 30 million poor live in cities, with 9 million of them in big cities–half of them in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. In Rio de Janeiro, which has the largest concentration of poor migrants, 17 percent of the city’s metropolitan population, or 1 million people, live in hillside favelas. Although rampant crime and disease remain entrenched in the favelas, steps have been taken to improve the living conditions. For example, Rio de Janeiro has slowed the growth of its favelas by prohibiting new settlements, and more than 300,000 residents have been moved to new homes. Sao Paulo’s huge Cingapura project has been replacing 243 favelas, containing 500,000 people, with low-rise blocks of apartment buildings offering low-interest mortgages.
Brazil is steeped in five centuries of Roman Catholicism, but the religious affiliation of the Brazilian population has not remained unaffected by a decade of corruption, inflation, and economic hard times under civilian rule. About 93 percent of Brazilians identified themselves as Catholic in 1960; by 1993, however, the figure had dropped to 72.5 percent. Only an estimated 10 million of Brazil’s Roman Catholics attend Mass regularly, and most Brazilian Catholics ignore the conservative Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on family planning methods. The rapid growth and spreading influence of evangelical churches, such as the 3.5 million-member Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus), have put into question the Vatican’s characterization of Brazil as the world’s largest Catholic country. Millions of Brazil’s poor have turned away from the Roman Catholic Church and the liberation theology that it began to espouse in the 1970s.
Instead, poorer Brazilians–more interested in spiritualism, hard work, sober living habits, and individual advancement than the political causes promoted by liberation theologists–have embraced Protestantism by the millions. By 1994 about 22 percent of the population (an estimated 35 million Brazilians) was Protestant, as compared with only 3.7 percent in 1960. Protestantism has swept the country because Brazilian culture, which is both spiritual and pragmatic, interacts readily with the Pentecostal message delivered by plain-speaking, blue-collar evangelical pastors, many of whom are blacks, in contrast to the Latin language of a Catholic Mass. The Pentecostal churches offer more social support in prayer groups and give rural migrants a feeling of security in large cities.
Competing with the evangelizing Protestants is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, whose members practice an estatic prayer style, emphasizing lively music, “healings,” and speaking in tongues. With a claimed 8 million active Charismatic Catholics, Brazil is considered to be the world’s leading center of the movement.
Other former Roman Catholics have been lost to espíritas , a cult founded by a French mystic, and Afro-Brazilian religions, such as the Afro-centric candomblé and the twentieth-century cult more reflective of Brazilian urban life called umbanda . Owing to a Brazilian proclivity toward magic and mysticism, Afro-Brazilian cults have attracted members from all social classes, professions, and ethnic groups, including Brazilians of German, Italian, or Japanese ancestry. However, Christian evangelical churches have been drawing increasing numbers of former candomblé and umbanda worshipers.
At least 44 percent of Brazil’s much-touted “racial democracy” is black (6 percent) or of mulatto (mixed) heritage (38 percent), while at most 55 percent is of European (mostly Portuguese) descent. In socioeconomic terms, the subsistence-level living standards of the black population reflect a long history of racial discrimination. Tens of millions of Brazilians living in poverty are overwhelmingly black, the descendants of slaves. Racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon. President Cardoso, author of a classic study on Brazilian blacks, admitted in November 1995 that discrimination against blacks is still a problem. For example, the Northeastern city of Salvador, which is 80 percent black, has never had a black mayor. Blacks are almost totally absent from high government and military posts, although President Cardoso’s cabinet has a black member (soccer legend Pelé, the minister of sports). Two black women were elected to the Senate in 1994, but there were only eleven black federal deputies out of 513 in November 1995. Celso Pitta, a black, was elected mayor of Sao Paulo on October 3, 1996. Few blacks occupy high positions in business and other professions.
Largely marginalized, Brazil’s blacks have an illiteracy rate twice that of whites and an average income less than half that of whites. Nearly 40 percent of nonwhites have four years or less of schooling. Very few blacks make it to the university; blacks and mixed-race people represent a mere 1 percent of the student body at the nation’s largest university, the University of Sao Paulo (Universidade de Sao Paulo–USP). Black and mixed-race Brazilians were invisible in the print media until the founding of Brasil Raça (Brazil Race), a magazine geared to them, in September 1996 (300,000 copies of the first issue were sold).
Brazilian women, although constituting more than half of the population, traditionally have also been marginalized in politics. Only 868 women out of 12,800 candidates ran in the 1994 general elections. Only six of eighty-one senators and only thirty-four of 513 deputies are women. Only 171 of 4,973 mayors are women, and just 3.5 percent of 55,000 city council members nationwide are women. However, as a result of a 1995 quota law that requires at least 20 percent of the candidates of each political party to be women, an estimated 75,000 women participated in the October 3, 1996, election for mayors and members of city councils. According to Professor Fleischer, for the first time, two state capitals–Maceió and Natal–had exclusively female runoffs, and three other capitals had a woman in the runoff. He also noted that about 100,000 women ran for city council in 1996, as compared with only 869 in 1992.
In the countryside, land concentration, landlessness, homelessness, and joblessness are major issues. At least 500,000 rural jobs have been lost since the government formally ended its traditional protection of Brazilian-made goods in 1990. In the early 1990s, just under 2 percent of farms occupied 54 percent of arable land, while 15 million campesinos worked farms with fewer than 10 hectares of land. Of Brazil’s 3 million rural properties, only 58,000 account for about half the farmland. Moreover, about 42 percent of all privately owned land in Brazil lies idle.
Rural unions claim that 12 million peasants are landless, a figure that is disputed by government officials. The Landless Movement (Movimento dos Sem-Terra–MST), now Brazil’s most powerful, grass-roots movement, is leading a pressure campaign on behalf of the landless. The MST claims that 4.8 million families have no land but want it and that Brazil has 78.9 million hectares of fallow lands, properties that mostly belong to wealthy farmers who live in cities and use the land for tax write-offs. Land reform has been promised since colonial days, but has yet to take place. Sociologist José de Souza Martins has described the landless situation as the “conflict between archaic Brazil and modern Brazil.” Since its establishment in 1980, the MST has resettled permanently 150,000 families on land they originally occupied illegally. Led by more than 5,000 highly organized activists, the MST has 220,000 members and some 4 million followers. It reportedly enjoys the moral support of up to 90 percent of Brazil’s population.
In 1995 the MST stepped up its aggressive occupations of land. Encouraged by trade unionists, left-wing politicians, and even Roman Catholic clergy, thousands of campesinos have resorted increasingly to land invasions to obtain a parcel to farm. After the Military Police massacred nineteen landless activists in El Dorado de Carajás, in northern Pará State, on April 17, 1996, the Cardoso government urged Congress to give priority to its agrarian reform measures. In addition, President Cardoso created a new cabinet-level ministry, the Special Ministry of Agrarian Reform. The government claims to have given land to more than 100,000 families. Although Cardoso promised to award land to 280,000 families by the end of 1998, and some 60,000 families had been granted land by the end of 1996, the Chamber of Deputies voted in May 1996 to halt his land-reform plans. Tension has continued to build in the many squatters’ settlements in the countryside.
The Cardoso government found itself at odds with the Roman Catholic Church in the first half of 1997 as a result of President Cardoso’s complaint to Pope John Paul II in February that Brazilian priests and bishops were actively abetting MST-organized land invasions. In late June 1997, Cardoso, exasperated with the MST, signed a decree making government land expropriations quicker and simpler but also penalizing occupation of land by peasants.
Landowners and miners have reacted violently to people who have gotten in their way. In Amazônia they have killed numerous peasants and rural labor leaders, including the renowned rubber tapper and rural union leader Chico Mendes, in 1988. Alarmed by the MST’s activism, landowners have turned to hired guns (pistoleiros ) and resurrected an organization linked in the past with strong-arm tactics, the Ruralist Democratic Union (Uniao Democrática Ruralista–UDR). Apprehensive that the situation will only get worse unless there is an effective distribution of land, the military reportedly has been as anxious as the left to see rapid implementation of land reform. There has been intermittent violence resulting from land-reform problems, with much of it occurring in Pará State. About 1,000 people were killed in land conflicts during the 1985-95 period.
Since Brazil’s recession began to be felt in 1989, many rural workers have fallen victim to another form of violence–slavery practices, involving imprisonment for debt and coercion to prevent workers from leaving their employers. According to the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissao Pastoral da Terra–CPT), a nonprofit group sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, documented cases of forced labor in Brazil, mostly taking place on large estates called fazendas , rose from 4,883 in 1991 to 25,193 in 1994. The actual figure is believed to be closer to 85,000. In November 1995, Brazil, the last Western nation to abandon slavery (in 1888), celebrated the 300th anniversary of Zumbi, a seventeenth-century Afro-Brazilian. Zumbi led raids to free slaves from sugar plantations for more than twenty years, using Palmares, a fortress in Alagoas State, as his base of operations.
The huge, widening gap between Brazil’s great potential and the reality of the large, poverty-stricken majority of its population has inspired national cynicism about the country’s once-vaunted identification of its destiny with grandeza . During 1992-94 Brazilians reportedly were beset with self-doubt, disillusionment, and frustration at their country’s lack of progress and were concerned that their grand future would never arrive. “Brazil is the country of the future–and always will be” has been a familiar Brazilian aphorism since the early 1960s.
Beginning with the economic crisis of the 1980s, many Brazilians, including scientists, already had given up on the Brazilian dream and moved abroad. In the second half of the 1980s, for the first time in the country’s history, more people emigrated from Brazil than immigrated to the country; many moved to Canada and the United States (Brazilian migrants to the latter totaled an estimated 332,000 by 1994). An estimated 1 million Brazilians were living overseas by 1993.
Entering the 1990s with GDP per capita income no higher than it was in 1980 and monthly inflation raging at an unprecedented 30 percent, Brazilians were pessimistic about their economic future. Brazil was still squandering its riches, missing opportunities, and sinking deeper into misery. However, Fernando Collor de Mello (president, 1990-92)–young, athletic, and elegant–made Brazilians dream again with promises to make the country a developed world power through free-market policies that would bring inflation under control, create high economic growth, and attract foreign investment.
The 1992 presidential corruption scandal and subsequent impeachment of President Collor delayed action on economic reforms. In September 1992, Brazil became the world’s first democratic country to impeach its president on charges of corruption. Collor’s downfall reflected the endemic corruption that was undermining Brazilian democracy in the early 1990s. The principal result of a poll taken by the Gallup Institute in March 1991 was that 78 percent of Brazilians surveyed in the major cities remained convinced that Brazil was still a paradise–for corruption. The reputation of the judicial system was further undermined by Collor’s acquittal on corruption charges. The crisis over Collor’s impeachment nevertheless had a positive side. As President Cardoso explained in an address given in New York on October 23, 1995, it “clearly signaled the political maturity of a civic culture undergoing rapid consolidation.”
Collor’s replacement, his vice president, Itamar Franco (president, 1992-94), a civil engineer by profession, was out of step with the short-lived Collor administration’s reform agenda. Initiatives to redress fiscal problems, privatize state enterprises, and liberalize trade and investment policies lost momentum. The Franco government continued timidly along a free-market course, while inflation soared to 50 percent a month. By the end of his first year in office, Franco nearly reached the índice vaia , or get-lost level, of unpopularity.
The same Congress that ousted Collor on corruption charges became engulfed in its own graft scandal in late 1993. Judges, lawyers, government officials, and politicians were accused of conspiring in a US$1.2 billion scheme to defraud the social security system through inflated labor court settlements. In a poll taken in Rio de Janeiro in June 1993, respondents ranked Congress near the bottom (15 percent) of a list of Brazilian institutions that earned their trust; political parties had the least credibility (5 percent), while the military ranked near the top, with 58 percent.
By the end of 1993, the National Accounting Court (Tribunal das Contas da Uniao–TCU) had investigated and found that 1,500 current and retired politicians were unfit to hold office, again because of corruption. A report produced by the Congressional Investigating Committee (Comissao Parlamentar de Inquérito–CPI) named nine firms that it said had defrauded the government systematically since 1985. The CPI claimed that fifty-five politicians were part of the secret cartel, as well as all the governors of the sixteen North and Northeast states, with the exception of Ceará’s governor, Ciro Gomes.
In December 1993, President Franco’s fourth minister of finance, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, unveiled his controversial stabilization plan (Brazil’s seventh since 1986), which caused a furor over its proposal to raise taxes. Nevertheless, Cardoso accomplished an essential first step in implementing this plan, restoring order to public finances, and eliminating the estimated US$22.2 billion budget deficit (5 percent of GDP). Cardoso pressured Congress in February 1994 to pass a constitutional amendment setting up a US$16 billion Social Emergency Fund (Fundo Social de Emergência–FSE), renamed the Fiscal Stabilization Fund (Fundo de Estabilizaçao Fiscal–FEF), to be financed by tax increases. Official figures show how skewed the economy had become, thanks to the unbridled growth of bureaucracy.
A few days after announcing his presidential candidacy on March 30, 1994, Minster of Finance Cardoso launched the third phase of his financial package, the Real Stabilization Plan (Plano Real ). It consisted of three stages: the introduction of an equilibrium budget mandated by Congress; a process of general indexation (prices, wages, taxes, contracts, and financial assets); and the introduction of a new currency, the real , pegged to the dollar, on July 1, 1994.
The legally enforced balanced budget would remove expectations of inflationary behavior by the vast public sector, which includes the national telephone company, many public utility companies, and several banks. By allowing a realignment of relative prices, general indexation would pave the way for monetary reform. Through monetary and fiscal adjustments, the Real Plan succeeded in reducing inflation, which was ascending at a stratospheric rate of 7,000 percent a year, to almost 2 percent by that October.
By September 1994, Cardoso had become the embodiment of Brazil’s economic transformation. Cardoso’s spectacularly successful Real Plan (which he coauthored with Pedro Malan, who later became his minister of finance) propelled him to a resounding presidential victory in the first round of the October 3, 1994, election. Voters were forced to choose between a social democratic, free-market model of modernization and a reworked model of corporatist or syndicalist socialism. The former was advocated by Cardoso of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democrácia Brasileira–PSDB) and the latter by Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores–PT). Striking alliances to the right of his own PSDB, Cardoso marginalized the previously favored Lula.
The 82.2 percent voter turnout for the 1994 presidential election was impressive (as compared with the United States). Cardoso, a former tucano (Sao Paulo) senator and minister of finance, placed first in every state except the Federal District and Rio Grande do Sul, where Lula, a grade-school dropout and long-time lathe operator, was victorious. Cardoso was aided by the support of not only the poor but also conservative parties, Sao Paulo industrialists, and the powerful media network of Rêde Globo. In the congressional and gubernatorial elections, all 513 seats in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), and fifty-four of the eighty-one Senate seats were up for reelection. However, Cardoso supporters were deprived of a first-round victory in Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro, where abstentions and spoilt or blank votes accounted for more than half the total.
One of the most academically qualified presidents in history and a brilliant intellectual, Cardoso is a world-renowned sociologist and the author of more than 100 monographs, including two dozen books, many of them written in English. In addition to Portuguese, Cardoso speaks English, French, Spanish, and several other foreign languages. His wife, Ruth Corrêa Leite Cardoso, is a leading Brazilian urban anthropologist who specializes in studying community movements by women and blacks in Sao Paulo’s favelas and who heads the Solidarity Community (Comunidade Solidária) social-action program.
For most of his life, Cardoso was a university professor. He taught at the USP until 1964, when the new military regime persecuted him and banned him from teaching. He then chose to go into exile in Santiago, Chile, from 1964 to 1968. During that period, he coauthored, with Chilean sociologist Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America , considered one of the most influential interpretations of twentieth-century Latin American structural dynamics. It attributes Latin America’s underdevelopment to the once-influential doctrine that Cardoso cofounded, dependency theory, and the region’s dependence on foreign capital and technology.
Cardoso also taught in France at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), Britain (Oxford), and the United States (University of California-Berkeley, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale). In the 1970s, he became the best-known critic of the Brazilian nationalistic developmental model, which was based on the now obsolete strategy of state-led import-substitution industrialization. In the early 1970s, when Cardoso distributed pamphlets outside factory gates, Brazilian business-men viewed him suspiciously as an unreliable leftist politician. Returning to Sao Paulo by the late 1970s, he established a think tank and entered politics in 1977. He served as a senator (1986-94), and, in 1988, helped to found the PSDB, a center-left party that opposed corruption.
As the son, grandson, and nephew of generals, Cardoso retains strong ties to the military. His father, General Leonidas Cardoso, was elected deputy by the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil–PC do B) in the 1940s and was persecuted by the military. President Cardoso’s grandfather, General Maurício Cardoso, was considered to have been the most brilliant officer of the Brazilian Army (Exército Brasileiro). Fernando Cardoso’s uncle, General Henrique Assunçao Cardoso, has been characterized as an extreme rightist. In 1969 Cardoso himself was arrested, blindfolded, and interrogated by the military.
After three civilian presidents of mediocre abilities, many Brazilians who had been despondent about their country’s economic future viewed Cardoso’s election as highly auspicious for Brazil, and most foreign observers agreed. Fellow sociologist Alain Touraine, a professor at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, commented to O Estado de Sao Paulo that Cardoso’s election represented a victory of the future over the past at a moment in which the entire world is engaged in economic “globalization,” a road that Brazil had rejected thirty years earlier. In addition to stabilizing the country economically, Cardoso was expected to stabilize Brazil’s erratic record of incomplete presidencies. Not a single democratically elected Brazilian president had completed his term of office since 1926; the presidents either resigned, were forced from office, or, in one case (Getúlio Dorneles Vargas, president, 1930-45, 1951-54), committed suicide.
By the time Cardoso assumed office on January 1, 1995, at age sixty-three, the monthly rate of inflation was less than 1 percent, unemployment was low (about 5 percent), and Brazil had a comfortable and unprecedented level of foreign-exchange reserves, at a record US$40.8 billion, thanks largely to the influx of foreign capital into the local financial market. The conditions were favorable for essential reforms of the statist economy, the bloated federal government, and the overgenerous pension system. The latter had allowed privileged groups–teachers, airline pilots, soldiers, judges, journalists, and politicians (politicians after only eight years)–to qualify for 100 percent pensions in their fifties (some at age forty-five on a pension 20 percent higher than their last wage). One governor complained in October 1995 about a retired Military Police colonel who had accumulated twenty-six personal pensions and was drawing the equivalent of US$80,400 a month. By January 1995, the pension system was running an estimated annual deficit of 10 percent of GDP, or US$3 billion.
Whereas the public sector’s wages accounted for only 3 percent of GDP in 1980, the government in 1993 employed one-third of the total workforce and paid 11 percent of GDP in wages. In 1995 the federal bureaucracy’s wage bill rose by 40 percent, and states were spending 80 to 90 percent of their income on running the bureaucracy. The bloated bureaucracy is filled with thousands of nominal workers who receive salaries but do no work. The state governors, desperate to get thousands of civil servants off the state payrolls, have been Cardoso’s most resolute allies in the battle for administrative reform and capping bureaucratic expenses at 60 percent of the government’s revenues. However, privatization of state-owned companies is opposed by associations of civil servants reluctant to lose their privileges, particularly the officers (maharajas) in charge of state companies who are paid salaries (up to US$19,000 a month) that are high by Latin American corporate standards. (In late 1995, there were 6,471 civil servants in seven states earning more than President Cardoso’s salary of US$8,800 a month.)
Cardoso’s election also marked an ethical backlash to institutionalized corruption by traditional politicians, a reversal that began with the ouster of Collor. A report by government investigators published on January 1, 1995, noted that corruption within the Brazilian government was costing the country about US$20 billion and accounting for 40 percent of the national investment budget. Cardoso refused to trade 20,000 to 30,000 patronage jobs for congressional support, vowing to fill the jobs with qualified nonpoliticians to avoid corruption and to control spending. Cardoso’s government sought to circumvent the corruption-ridden state and federal cronies by transferring most of the responsibility and funding of health, schools, and infrastructure to municipal authorities. Nevertheless, corruption has remained entrenched in the bureaucracy.
In his first 100 days in office, Cardoso was unable to deal effectively with the status quo forces in Congress, causing a further loss of public confidence in democracy. A poll conducted in April 1995 indicated that the percentage of Brazilians preferring democracy to any other form of government declined from 54 percent in the previous September to 46 percent, and the proportion regarding a dictatorship as better than democracy rose from 13 percent to 18 percent.
In 1996-97 President Cardoso attempted to further reform the constitution in order to reduce the state’s role in the economy, revamp the federal bureaucracy, reorganize the social security system, redefine the federal-state relationship, simplify the tax system, and strengthen political parties. He succeeded in getting some major economic and political reforms enacted. Discarding the anticapitalist, theoretical nostrums that he had espoused during his academic career, he called for the implementation of a sweeping market-oriented reform, including public-sector and fiscal reform, privatization, deregulation, and elimination of barriers to increased foreign investment.
Cardoso’s goals are to expand privatization measures, including elimination of constitutionally established monopolies. His initial economic reforms, adopted by the Congress in early 1995, permit the entry of foreign capital into previously exclusive areas, categorized as “strategic assets.” These may include the oil extraction, mining, and telecommunications, and the banking, electricity, health, insurance, and retirement-plan sectors. Privatization sales in 1996 may have reached US$10.2 billion. On May 21, 1996, a consortium of Brazilian, French, and United States companies purchased a 34 percent share of the state-owned Power Services, Inc. (Serviços de Eletricidade S.A.–Light) in a transaction valued at US$2.2 billion, Brazil’s then largest privatization. Cardoso administration officials hoped the sale of Light would revitalize Brazil’s often criticized, delay-prone privatization program.
By April 1997, the government had sold fifty-five of 135 state-owned companies for a total of at least US$15 billion, since the inception of the program in 1991, including all of its steel companies. Most of those sales attracted little attention.
In early May 1997, however, in Latin America’s largest, most historic privatization to date, the government sold its 45 percent controlling stake in the Rio Dôce Valley Company, Inc. (Companhia Vale do Rio Dôce S.A.–CVRD) to a consortium led by Brazil’s largest steelmaker, the already privatized National Iron and Steel Company (Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional–CSN), for US$3.1 billion. Vale, as the firm is known, is the world’s third largest mining company; it is the largest producer and exporter of iron ore (accounting for more than 18 percent of the global market, or 100 million tons annually, with reserves of 4 to 5 billion tons) and Latin America’s biggest producer of gold (eighteen tons a year). Vale is also Brazil’s largest exporter (US$1.2 billion in overseas sales in 1996) and a symbol of Brazilian nationalism. In addition to its railroad system, which carries almost two-thirds of Brazil’s rail freight, Vale owns two ports (Sao Luís and Vitória). The government planned to sell its remaining 31.5 percent of ordinary shares in Vale, a company valued at US$11.7 billion, in late 1997. Some Brazilians protested the expected loss of Vale’s tradition of providing jobs and grants for cultural and other activities.
Other giant state companies were slated for privatization, including Sao Paulo Power, Inc. (Eletricidade de Sao Paulo S.A.–Eletropaulo), which sells 15 percent of all of Latin America’s electricity, and Brazilian Electric Power Company, Inc. (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.–Eletrobrás), one of the world’s top five power companies. Brazil’s largest company, the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.–Petrobrás), with sales of US$18 billion, is the world’s fifteenth largest oil and natural gas company and a world leader in deep-sea drilling. Nevertheless, the inefficient Petrobrás faced a process of accelerated deregulation in 1997 that may open the country’s vast resources to joint exploration and development by foreign multinational oil companies.
The opening of the telecommunications sector to foreign private investment capital actually will not become effective until the next government takes office in 1999. Under the Cardoso government’s proposed new regulations, as approved by the Chamber of Deputies in May 1996, foreign private companies would be permitted to purchase up to 49 percent in voting shares of state-owned telecommunications companies. Thus, new international joint ventures are changing the face of Brazil’s long-introverted business world. The government expected to receive US$25 billion to US$30 billion from the privatization of telecommunications in 1997-99.
The telephone business is one of the largest Brazilian industries to be opened to foreign investors. In April 1997, in a move that was a precursor to the planned privatization in 1998 of the state-controlled telephone holding company, Brazilian Telecommunications, Inc. (Telecomunicações Brasileiras S.A.–Telebrás), which could establish Brazil as a major destination for foreign investment, the government auctioned off the regional cellular foreign investment concessions for minimum prices totaling US$3.6 billion. In addition to electrical generation and transmission companies, the government planned to sell banks, railroads, and the Rio de Janeiro Metrô in late 1997.
With its large and quite diversified economy, Brazil still has the potential to regain its former dynamism, despite the economy’s considerable structural and short-term problems. According to some economists, radical fiscal reforms are crucial to the consolidation of Brazilian economic stability and to lay the groundwork for self-sustained economic growth. The goals of these reforms are to redefine the scope of the Brazilian nation, its functional profile, and the extent of interaction with the private sector. Reducing the unsustainable disparities in income distribution is considered to be an essential component of overdue structural reforms. However, political factors have slowed the Cardoso administration’s progress on vital structural reform.
The Real Plan imposed a harsh new period of constricted profits and consolidation on Brazil’s banks. The banking sector, employing 960,000, began to downsize. In 1994-95 the Franco and Cardoso governments intervened in many banks and closed more than a dozen others. In August 1995, the Central Bank of Brazil was forced to take over the giant Economic Bank (Banco Econômico), Brazil’s first private bank, based in the Northeast state of Bahia, after it ran up debts of US$3.6 billion. After his approval ratings and Brazil’s stock market plummeted at the news of the federal bailout, Cardoso reversed course and instead sought to sell the bank to private investors. The Cardoso government also intervened to put the Sao Paulo State Bank (Banco do Estado de Sao Paulo–Banespa), which owed domestic and foreign lenders US$58 billion, under Central Bank control to save it from collapse and to put the Rio de Janeiro State Bank (Banco do Estado de Rio de Janeiro–Banerj) on the auction block. A US$12 billion government rescue package for private banks that was introduced in late 1995 laid the groundwork for a wave of mergers, privatizations, and liquidations.
By the end of 1995, President Cardoso, by employing pragmatic, free-market economics, had led Brazil’s inflation-prone economy to its greatest stability in a quarter century. Cardoso’s continued popularity resulted in large part from his ingenious handling of the economy. In the first twelve months of the new currency, the real and its associated fiscal measures brought strong growth, a flood of new investment, the creation of half a million new jobs, a temporary fall in unemployment, and an inflation rate of less than 25.9 percent a year. Nevertheless, the widening public deficit, combined with congressional resistance to the three reforms submitted by the Cardoso government in the second half of 1995–administrative, tax, and social security reform–threatened to undermine Cardoso’s Real Plan. In the view of Cardoso’s critics, he missed his chance for radical reform of the state by failing to move aggressively at the outset of his administration.
By 1996 Brazil’s high public deficit (4 percent of GDP) from a rising public payroll, high interest rates, the mounting foreign debt-service costs (US$15 billion in 1996) and amortisations (US$18 billion), and the high level of social security payments were of increasing concern to investors. The cost of social security payments rose from US$25.4 billion in 1994 to US$32.9 billion in 1995. Social security showed a deficit of R$5 billion in 1996. Some analysts have expressed concern that the deterioration of the fiscal situation at the same time that credit is being regenerated to restart the economy adds up to a dangerous combination, considering that the pace of structural reform has apparently slowed down. In this view, Brazil faces a volatile situation reminiscent of Mexico in 1994. Economist Sebastian Edwards contended in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on November 7, 1997, that “without immediate action on the fiscal side, the Real Plan may be unsustainable.” Other analysts believe that the deficit problem looks worse than it really is.
Cardoso’s Real Plan succeeded in reducing inflation to 16.5 percent in 1996, the lowest in nearly half a century, thanks to an overvalued currency. Brazilians began to take economic stability for granted. However, since early 1996 some economists have warned that Brazil’s exchange rate is too high. In June 1996, economist Rudiger Dornbusch, who predicted the 1994 Mexican peso crash, suggested that the real was overvalued by about 40 percent. In his analysis, which angered Brazilian officials and instigated a debate, Brazil has been controlling inflation by means of a highly overvalued currency and high interest rates. Conservative economists led by Deputy Antônio Delfim Netto (PPB), a former minister of planning, called for accelerated devaluation. In the view of these skeptical economists, the Cardoso government’s economic policy dooms Brazil to remaining the country of the future. By some estimates, the real in early 1998 was overvalued by 15 percent. Whether Brazil can continue to sustain a monetary and exchange-rate policy that is inconsistent with its large and growing budget deficits without a major devaluation remains to be seen. Some economists expect a devaluation in 1998.
For much of 1997, Brazil continued to enjoy its greatest stability in three decades, with foreign reserves totaling US$57.5 billion by May. However, the growing trade deficit, which reached US$10.93 billion in 1997, had become a top concern of the government. In 1997 the current account deficit rose to US$32.3 billion. Of the main Latin American economies, only Brazil in 1997 had a fiscal deficit as high as 3.4 percent of its GDP.
Forced to choose between lower economic growth (estimated to be 3.2 percent in 1997) and a quick currency devaluation, which might aggravate inflation, Brazil’s economic policy makers chose the former. In early November 1997, President Cardoso staved off financial speculators, who tried to force Brazil to devalue the real , by quickly raising interest rates and propping up the real with billions of dollars in reserves. He then unveiled an economic austerity package that will include higher taxes and reduced government spending. By announcing a series of fifty-one drastic measures to bolster revenues by as much as US$18 billion, Cardoso demonstrated decisive leadership and a willingness to take tough measures to maintain confidence in the real . To that end, his government won an important legislative victory on November 20 with the approval by the Chamber of Deputies of a key constitutional reform proposal to dismantle job protection for most civil service workers by giving the government new powers to dismiss them. The bill, which was expected to win approval in the Senate, would eventually cost about 280,000 of 537,053 public servants their jobs, thereby eliminating a major impediment to the country’s fiscal health.
As a result of the 1996 municipal elections and strong opposition by powerful vested interest groups, the Cardoso administration’s more challenging reforms–administrative, social security, and fiscal–languished in Congress and awaited passage in 1997. The opposition that Cardoso’s bill to reform the deficit-ridden social security and pension systems encountered in Congress, among the state governors, and even in the Supreme Court has highlighted the constraints under which a Brazilian president operates. In January 1998, the Cardoso administration estimated that Congress would approve the social security bill by April. In addition to the social security bill and a new labor reform proposal, the Cardoso government resubmitted its proposed administrative and fiscal reforms to Congress. The lower house approved the basic text of the administrative reform on November 19, 1997.
Despite congressional resistance to his reform proposals, President Cardoso further consolidated his power in early February 1997 when his candidates for the positions of speaker in both houses of Congress were elected. This led some observers to wonder whether the presidency was entering a de facto imperial era. Referring to “Emperor Cardoso,” political analyst Villas-Boas Correia argued in a Jornal do Brasil article that no democratically elected president had ever accumulated so much power in Brazilian history.
In January 1997, the Chamber of Deputies passed an amendment allowing for immediate reelection of presidents, governors, and mayors. As a result of the Senate’s approval of the amendment in June 1997, President Cardoso may stand for reelection in October 1998. His main opponent was Paulo Maluf, a right-wing populist and erstwhile presidential candidate of the Brazilian Progressive Party (Partido Progressista Brasileiro–PPB), as well as the largest party in Congress, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro–PMDB). However, Maluf decided that Cardoso was still too popular to run against, so he entered the race for governor of Sao Paulo State instead. On November 30, 1997, Luis Inácio da Silva announced officially that he will run for president on the Workers’ Party ticket. But Cardoso’s efforts to maintain a low rate of inflation, expand the economy, make progress in solving major socioeconomic problems, and reduce corruption and congressional immunity have lowered the left’s chances of being elected to power in the October-November 1998 presidential, congressional, and state elections. Cardoso’s reelection is generally considered likely.
Brazilian diplomacy had a landmark year in 1995 with Cardoso’s assumption of office. The first former minister of foreign affairs to be elected president of Brazil, Cardoso personally led Brazil’s most important diplomatic initiatives in 1995, bringing new credibility and respect to Brazilian foreign policy and the country’s international relations profile. Having redefined Brazil’s foreign policy objectives, the Cardoso government improved Brazil’s relations with the United States and adopted a more assertive role within the South American region.
Brazil’s priority in 1995-97 was to consolidate Mercosul (Common Market of the South) among Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In the four years before Mercosul took effect on January 1, 1995, regional trade almost tripled, reaching US$10 billion by the end of 1994, as compared with only US$3.6 billion in trade among the four full member countries in 1990. Exports to Mercosul countries accounted for 15 percent of Brazil’s total in 1995, as compared with 13 percent in 1994. Mean tariff rates were cut back from 32.2 percent in 1990 to 14.0 percent in 1994, while at the same time the tariff ceiling was brought down from 105 percent to 40 percent. Trade between Brazil and Argentina in 1995 was US$10 billion, amounting to 80 percent of all trade within Mercosul and making Argentina Brazil’s second largest trading partner, after the United States.
In addition to removing trade barriers, Mercosul commits members to the coordination of policies on agriculture, industry, transport, finance, and monetary affairs. Argentina and Brazil see Mercosul primarily as a means of attracting foreign investment. Although Brazil’s Mercosul partners were shocked when Brazil announced on March 25, 1997, its unilateral decision to impose restrictions on imports, Brazil alleviated fears of a trade shutdown by allowing an exemption for Mercosul goods.
Cardoso made a very successful state visit to Washington in April 1995. The Clinton administration welcomed Brazil’s constitutional amendments opening up the Brazilian economy to increased international participation, especially the breaking up of state monopolies in the areas of petroleum and telecommunications, but intellectual property rights remained at issue. Veja reported in mid-April 1995 that United States firms were losing US$800 million a year as a result of piracy by Brazilian companies. However, the Cardoso government subsequently modified Brazil’s intellectual property rights law to coincide with stricter trademark and patent provisions. The new Patents Law, enacted in 1996, meets international standards. Nevertheless, Brazil’s software piracy rate was about 68 percent, accounting for nearly seven of every ten computer software programs sold in the country, according to a Price Waterhouse study released in May 1997. During his official visit to Brasília and Rio de Janeiro in mid-October 1977, President Clinton emphasized trade, education, and environmental issues and succeeded in improving Brazilian-United States relations.
Brazil’s history has been relatively free from major conflict with its ten contiguous neighbors, with the main exception of the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70) with Paraguay. In the twentieth century, Brazil has been a gentle giant; the only major power with which Brazil has fought a war was Germany in World War II. After the war, however, 1,500 Nazis, including the infamous Josef Mengele, moved to Brazil, according to the World Jewish Congress. Moreover, Rio de Janeiro’s O Globo reported in early 1997 that President Vargas, a Nazi sympathizer, confiscated US$46 million in assets from Brazilian Jews in 1947. In April 1997, President Cardoso created a special commission charged with investigating Nazi assets.
In the first half of the 1990s, Brazil’s national security interests were reshaped not only by the new, post-regime civil-military relationship, but also by Brazil’s greatly improved integration with Argentina and other South American countries through various security accords and a regional trade agreement, Mercosul. One of the Collor administration’s most important national security actions aimed at the Brazilian Armed Forces (Forças Armadas Brasileiras) was to expose the military’s secret nuclear bomb program, the so-called Parallel Program (Programa Paralelo), and bring it under civilian oversight and international monitoring. On December 13, 1991, Brazil reached a nuclear cooperation accord with Argentina, thereby accepting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
President Collor also implemented other significant national security measures. He continued to reduce defense spending to the lowest level in decades and allowed the country’s arms industry to collapse without any state intervention to sustain it. For example, the Collor administration announced that the Brazilian Aeronautics Company (Empresa Brasileira Aeronáutica–Embraer), the producer of planes such as the Tucano trainer and the subsonic AMX jet, would be privatized. In an attempt to demilitarize the government and institute a more democratic governmental structure more likely to help improve relations with the United States, Collor abolished the military-dominated National Intelligence Service (Serviço Nacional de Informações–SNI) and the National Security Council (Conselho de Segurança Nacional–CSN) and formed the civilian-headed SAE (Strategic Affairs Secretariat).
However, the Collor government’s policies soon reverted to a more pragmatic approach that was more independent of the United States. Prior to Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in January 1991, Brazil found itself aiding the wrong side, with controversial arms sales, construction contracts, and transfer of missile technology to Iraq. Brazil subsequently altered its close commercial relationship with Iraq.
In the second half of the 1990s, Brazil, strengthened by Mercosul, is evolving into a major intermediate regional power. Under Cardoso, Brazil has sought a more active international role, both in the UN and in bilateral relations. Traditionally, Brazil has played a leading role in collective security efforts and economic cooperation in the Western Hemisphere. For example, in early 1995 Brazil negotiated a cessation of border fighting between Ecuador and Peru. Cardoso believes that Brazil’s international influence will be shaped by the extent to which regional cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly the South Atlantic, is strengthened.
The Brazilian proposal for the creation of the South American Free Trade Association (Área de Livre Comércio Sul-Americana–ALCSA, or SAFTA), also known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), by 2005 is also an important step in Brazil’s efforts to promote regional integration. At a May 13-15, 1997, meeting in Belo Horizonte of the thirty-four countries participating in the FTAA, Brazil opposed the United States preference for a faster timetable than 2005 and bilateral negotiations instead of discussions among trading blocs, such as Mercosul and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Cardoso also sees a need for Brazil to develop alliances, coalitions, and partnerships on a global level, as distinct from a merely hemispheric level, be it with Asia, Europe, Africa, or the Middle East. The Cardoso government has focused on developing dynamic trade partnerships with the European Union, Japan, and China as a counterweight to United States dominance. Brazilian exports to China of agricultural products and byproducts grew by 46 percent in 1995. In dollar terms, the figures rose from US$226.4 million in 1991 to US$1.2 billion in 1995, an increase of 430 percent.
In other national security areas, the Brazilian Armed Forces have been seeking a new role in the 1990s in the absence of any external threat to national security. They no longer have their two traditional “enemies”: Argentina and communism. Since ending their regime in March 1985, the armed forces have continued to assert themselves politically under civilian rule. Their political influence, however, has diminished under the 1988 constitution, which places them under presidential authority, while the policy-making influence of the presidency, Congress, and civilian ministries has grown. In the absence of a defined security policy and a common project, the armed forces have been mired in bureaucratic rivalry.
Brazil’s defense budget in 1997 totaled US$12 billion. The IBGE reported that investment in the armed forces as a percentage of the government budget declined sharply from 9.03 percent in 1985 to 1.70 percent in 1995. Not only is Brazil spending proportionately little on the military, some critics have argued, but the money is being spent badly and is being used to maintain an archaic and top-heavy bureaucracy. In the early 1990s, the army proportionately had more generals (164, of whom 141 were on active duty) than the United States Army. Critics have also singled out as “wasteful” the funds spent for the construction of a nuclear submarine, scheduled to be launched by 2007 at a cost of US$2.2 billion.
Brazil’s new National Defense Plan (Plano de Defesa Nacional–PDN), approved on November 7, 1996, rules out “all possibilities” of conflict with Argentina. The PDN states that areas of future possible conflict are linked with “drug trafficking, narcoterrorism, and the presence of armed groups in Amazon regions bordering other countries.” However, the “security and development” school of military thinking of a new generation of military strategists at the War College (Escola Superior de Guerra–ESG) disagrees with this threat assessment. It sees poverty and inequality as the main destabilizing influences.
The Clinton administration hoped that Brazil would significantly improve its efforts to stem international drug smuggling across its territory from Andean neighbors. The Amazon has become an international drug-trafficking route in the 1990s, and Brazil has become a major cocaine exporter. Increasingly, smugglers have been sending small shipments hidden in luggage or riverboat cargo. Under a new cooperation agreement signed in April 1995, the Clinton administration expected Brazil to improve coordination with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Stressing the threat posed by drug trafficking to Brazilian national security, President Cardoso announced on April 17, 1996, that the armed forces would join the drug enforcement effort in border areas, in the Northeast, and in the Amazon region. Mafia groups are gaining strength in Brazil. Nearly fifty Mafia kingpins were living in Brazil by mid-1997, either in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. Brazil had become the Italian Mafia’s third area of activity, after Italy itself and the United States.
Brazil is becoming the largest market for money laundering in the world, according to the Federal Police (Polícia Federal) and Ministry of Justice. The Cardoso government calculated in 1996 that some US$490 billion evade taxes every year as a result of money laundering. In mid-1996 the government submitted a bill to Congress containing measures to combat money laundering.
Within Brazil, national sovereignty over the Amazon region has been a continuing security concern of the military, as evidenced by two projects: the Amazon Region Surveillance System (Sistema de Vigilância da Amazônia–Sivam) and the Amazon Region Protection System (Sistema de Proteçao da Amazônia–Sipam). The Sipam and its sensor component, Sivam, involve superimposing a state-of-the-art surveillance system that will, by 2000, monitor 5 million square kilometers of the Amazon. It will transmit digital data from satellites, fixed and airborne radars, and other high-tech sensors (to be built under the Massachusetts-based Raytheon Company’s US$1.4 billion contract with the Brazilian government) to computerized processing centers and hundreds of “user-nodes” dispersed throughout the Amazon region.
The concept of ecological security in regions such as the Amazon has become a major national security interest for Brazil. In the Cardoso government’s view, the Sivam and Sipam projects are examples of how technology can be applied to rescue neglected regions. Sivam, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Aeronautics and the SAE (Strategic Affairs Secretariat), is promoted as an environmental initiative, with emphasis on the protection of the Amazon region, such as the monitoring of illegal logging and mining, forest burning, and even incursions into indigenous reserves. The system will be used to demarcate boundaries and monitor the use of Indian reservations, national parks, and other preserves. In addition to collecting ecological data, Sivam will monitor migration and settlement.
However, Sivam was conceived as a military project related to the development of an air traffic control network. Thus, Sivam will eliminate a radar blind spot for commercial airlines and facilitate the policing of illegal flights, estimated at as many as 3,000 daily. These illegal flights involve the smuggling not only of drugs, but also of consumer goods and ores. Most attention is focused on the 722 kilometers of the Brazilian-Colombian border, an area where most clandestine flights by drug traffickers take place.
The Sivam, which was signed in May 1995, was bogged down in the Senate throughout 1995 and much of 1996 amid objections over the cost, United States involvement, and allegations of influence peddling by a top aide to President Cardoso, whom the president subsequently fired. Ultimately, thanks to the personal intervention of President Cardoso and lobbying by the United States, the Raytheon Company’s first financial contract with the Brazilian government to build Sivam was signed in October 1996. Raytheon signed Sivam contracts with two Brazilian firms on March 14, 1997.
Despite its efforts to monitor the Amazon region, one record set by the Cardoso administration has been in destruction of the Amazon rain forest. Deforestation in the first three years of the Cardoso administration reached 60,257 square kilometers, an area almost twice the size of Belgium. On January 26, 1998, Brazil’s INPE (National Institute of Space Research), which is headquartered in Sao José dos Campos, released its report on deforestation of the Legal Amazon (the nine states in the North and Center-West regions), showing a declining trend in 1996-97 from a record level set in 1995. The new INPE figures, based on Landsat satellite images, show that, contrary to the government’s claims that deforestation had slowed during 1992-97, the destroyed area in 1995 was 29,059 square kilometers of rain forest, the largest annual deforestation total recorded since the satellite monitoring began. The 1995 figure represented more than a doubling of the deforestation recorded in 1994 (14,896 square kilometers) and a rate even greater than that during the 1970s. The 1996 figure was well below the 1995 rate, but still a total of 18,161 square kilometers, an area almost as large as Israel, disappeared that year. The projection for 1997 is 13,037 square kilometers destroyed.
Another significant study, entitled The Use of Fire in Amazônia: Case Studies Along the Arc of Deforestation , was released in October 1997 by the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachussets and its newly established research center, the Institute of Environmental Research on Amazônia (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia–IPAM), based at the Federal University of Pará (Universidade Federal do Pará–UFPa) in Belém. This report found that cutting and burning have dried out the forest to the point that it could burn out of control.
On January 28, 1998, the Chamber of Deputies approved an environmental crimes bill to grant the “federal environmental agency” legal authority to enforce environmental protection laws. The “federal environmental agency” refers to the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio-Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis–Ibama), which is under the Environmental Affairs Coordinating Secretariat (Secretaria de Coordenaçao dos Assuntos do Meio Ambiente–SMA) of the Ministry of Environment, Hydraulic Resources, and the Legal Amazon. The bill, which had languished in Congress for seven years, provides criminal penalties for damaging the environment and grants the “federal environmental agency” the right to levy fines, prosecute polluters, and order companies to correct environmental hazards.
Environmentalists supported the legislation, which includes significant provisions requiring companies to pay the cost of cleaning up environmental damage that they are proven to have caused (up to R$50 million), prohibiting proven polluters from signing government contracts, and setting daily fines for companies that refuse to clean up their damage. Although President Cardoso on January 30 disputed the results of the INPE’s Brazilian Amazon Deforestation Appraisal Program (Programa de Avaliaçao do Desflorestamento da Amazônia Brasileira–Prodes), he signed the new Environmental Crimes Law on February 12. The president vetoed ten articles, including penalties for noise pollution, traditional slash-and-burn agricultural burnings, and automatic liability of companies to clean up their environmental damage and compensate victims. The watered-down law takes effect in April 1998.
Since the early 1990s, Brazil has actively sought to develop nonproliferation credentials. In September 1991, it signed the Mendoza Declaration prohibiting chemical and biological weapons. On February 9, 1994, Brazil began addressing international missile proliferation concerns by establishing a civilian space agency, thus ensuring that Brazil’s space projects are exclusively peaceful. In addition, on May 30, 1994, Brazil finally ratified the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco). Brazil was one of a half-dozen countries in the world that had not signed the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, on June 20, 1997, President Cardoso submitted a request to Congress asking it to approve Brazil’s adherence to the NPT.
In an attempt to overcome its reputation for transferring missile and nuclear technology to countries such as Iraq, Brazil signed the Missile Technology Control Regime in October 1995, committing itself to abide by the MTCR guidelines. Brazil hoped to convince MTCR members–such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany–that Brazil can be trusted with sensitive technology.
Brazil’s space program since 1991 has been restricted to creating satellite launchers for scientific and commercial purposes. Unlike Argentina, Brazil was able to join the MTCR without having to abandon its program for the development and construction of its Satellite Launch Vehicle (Veículo Lançador de Satélite–VLS). Production of the VLS got underway in May 1996. With MTCR membership, Brazil could reach new agreements with Germany, for example, in the field of space and nuclear technology cooperation and produce and export long-range rocket equipment and technology. However, Brazil’s fledgling space program suffered a setback on November 2, 1997, when controllers were forced to destroy the rocket that was to carry the nation’s second Data Gathering Satellite into Earth’s orbit to collect information on the environment.
During then United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s visit to Brazil on March 1, 1996, the Cardoso government reaffirmed Brazil’s new attitude of partnership and cooperation with the United States. On that occasion, United States and Brazilian officials signed a new bilateral agreement for cooperation in space that emphasized the use of space technology for environmental research and analysis. Officials of both countries also pledged to cooperate in protecting the Amazon rain forest. In addition, a United States-Brazil Agreement for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy was adopted.
The Cardoso government articulated a strategic vision of Brazil’s future. This vision, as explained by Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, secretary of the SAE, recognizes that the new world order is based on knowledge, communications technology, and services; Brazil must insert itself into the international community and South America by reducing social inequalities, increasing national integration, and emphasizing science and technology. Thus, the Cardoso government sees strategy as a long-term socioeconomic concept to overcome underdevelopment. It believes that Brazil will not maintain its status as a middle-income nation, much less climb into the developed world, if a large proportion of its population is excluded and entire regions of the country continue to be underdeveloped.
To better prepare Brazil for the strategic information needs of the twenty-first century, President Cardoso charged the SAE with collecting economic and political information and focusing on detecting social conflicts that could occur during his presidency. Cardoso also proposed the establishment of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira da Inteligência Nacional–ABIN), an autonomous organization also under the Office of the Presidency. The ABIN is expected to replace the former SNI apparatus in 1998.
The new ministry of defense to be established by Cardoso in 1998 will merge the four military ministries. The current military ministries will be reduced to commands. The commanders of the army, air force, and navy will be directly subordinate to the minister of defense. The new ministry’s budget for 1998 totalled 2.9 billion reais , almost US$3 billion, making it the third largest budget in the government. Sardenberg was expected to become the supervisor of the incumbent military ministers, thereby undermining the decision-making power of the military.
Cardoso succeeded in repairing Brazil’s international image to reflect an economically and politically stable and reliable country that can achieve its development potential, compete for new markets, attract productive investment, and acquire foreign technology. He also appeared to have restored Brazilians’ self-esteem and national pride. According to the results of a Vox Populi poll, reported in January 1996, a majority of people (2,000) questioned said they believed Brazil was well on its way to becoming a great power. In addition, 84 percent expressed pride in being Brazilian, and 79 percent said they had no wish to emigrate.
Brazil’s 160 million inhabitants and rich resources make it a country of tremendous potential. Realization of Brazil’s potential, however, will depend on implementation of the needed administrative, social, and tax reforms. According to a 1997 study by the University of Sao Paulo, their passage would result in annual GDP growth of 7 percent. By late 1997, little real progress had been made in the areas of health, education, homelessness, land squatting by rural peasants, transportation, and so forth. Nevertheless, Cardoso’s Plano Real has aided the poor more than any other social class, raising their standards of living and their spirits by giving them greater purchasing power (as well as debts) and a sense of upward mobility. Although Brazil, with annual inflation of 7.2 percent in 1997, is clearly on a steadier course than it was in the first half of the 1990s, the country still has a long way to go in reversing the ever-widening socioeconomic inequities between rich and poor. Many regard Cardoso as the last, best hope for Brazil (at least in this century) to take the actions needed to get the country to realize its enormous potential and its destiny in the twenty-first century.
In the early months of 1998, rampant drug-trafficking and destruction of the Amazon rain forest rose to the forefront of threats facing Brazil. The country’s drug trafficking and other drug-related crime have expanded much more rapidly and insidiously than the capability of Brazilian society to perceive the threat. Three laws enacted in late February 1998 demonstrate the higher priority to be accorded by the Cardoso government to drug enforcement. First, President Cardoso ordered the creation of the Special Secretariat for National Drug-Control Policy (Secretaria Especial da Política Nacional do Contrôle de Drogas–SEPNCD), directly subordinate to the presidency of the republic. The SEPNCD will give priority to border surveillance and control and coordinate the activities of state and local security agencies with fourteen federal agencies that combat drugs. It will also develop strategies and national policy on drug control. Second, Cardoso signed a newly passed money-laundering law, which will create mechanisms to identify “dirty money” and set prison terms of three to five years for money laundering. And third, Cardoso signed a law authorizing government agencies to shoot down hostile aircraft.
In the second half of March 1998, fires brought on by the worst drought in memory and queimadas (burnings) by slash-and-burn farmers swept Roraima, destroying vast swaths of savanna and the rain forests that were home to the Yanomami Indians. Roraima is the state with the lowest population density in Brazil (one inhabitant per square kilometer), but it has the largest indigenous community in the country, with about 14 percent of the nation’s native American population. The conflagration was the worst in the history of the Amazon Region, according to the National Institute of Amazon Region Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia–INPA). Indeed, in the assessment of the United Nations (UN) representative in Brazil, Walter Franco, the fires constituted an environmental disaster unprecedented on the planet. They consumed more than 36 million hectares, or 33,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Belgium and constituting 15 percent of Roraima’s territory. Although the Brazilian military rejected a UN offer to help combat the fire as an intrusion into Brazil’s sovereignty, the Cardoso government accepted it.
In the largest conservation step ever in the Amazon, on April 29, 1998, President Cardoso committed Brazil to tripling the area of Amazon forests under formal government protection by 2000. The agreement, to be carried out with the financial and technical assistance of the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund, would turn 10 percent of the Brazilian Amazon, or 25 million hectares, into parks and preserves.
EXPORTS, SLAVERY, AND PATRIARCHY have been the three constants of Brazilian history. The export orientation of the colonial economy shaped Brazil’s society. Even the name “Brazil,” like the country itself, is suggestive of commerce and the pursuit of wealth. Brazil’s name derives from the brazilwood trees from which Europeans sought in the sixteenth century to make valuable red dyes. However, the central fact of the country’s history was the exploitation of cheap labor, first as slaves, then as wage-earners. Indeed, Brazil’s history is the story not only of conquest but also of the enslavement of its native peoples and of millions of imported African slaves.
Brazil’s history can be divided into five economic periods, each characterized by a dominant export product. The first period, from 1500 to 1550, involved the logging of brazilwood along the coast of the Northeast (Nordeste). Brazilwood was the source of a red dye important to the expanding textile industry of sixteenth-century northern Europe, particularly Normandy and Flanders. The trees and the ready labor of the natives, who were eager to acquire metal products in return for cutting and hauling logs to the coast, attracted Portuguese and French ships. The French were quite successful because they sent young men to reside among the natives, to learn their languages, and to get them to bring the timber to the nearest bay or estuary. By contrast, the Portuguese, in the first few decades, traded from their ships or haphazard outposts. The Portuguese attempted to use the factory system that they were then employing along the African, South Asian, and Asian coasts. This system consisted of fortified trading posts that had minimal contact with the local population. The French, with deeper roots among the native peoples and more knowledge of their cultures, filled their waiting ships more quickly. France’s activity convinced the Portuguese crown to undertake sustained settlement to protect its claim.
The Europeans struggled among themselves for control of the beachheads, anchorages, and bays. The Portuguese effort to gain effective control of the coast coincided with the onset of the sugar era, which extended from 1530 to 1650. Sugarcane cultivation was carried out in widely separated tidewater enclaves from São Vicente in the South (Sul–the present-day states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul) to Pernambuco in the Northeast; it became most successful around the Bahian Recôncavo and in Pernambuco. Enslaved natives and increasingly, after the 1560s, imported African slaves provided the labor for the mills (engenhos ) and fields.
Sugar tied Brazil into the developing system of European capitalism, imposed a patriarchal social system on the country, and prompted Dutch attacks on Portugal’s South Atlantic empire. The sugar economy’s need for oxen and meat led to the accompanying growth of cattle raising in the dry interior hinterlands, known as the sertão . Cattle raising became so important to the economy and to the development of the interior as to almost constitute a phase in its own right. However, although cattle raising provided hides for export, it supplied principally local markets. The Dutch seizure of Recife in 1630 and their subsequent capture of Luanda on the Angolan coast, a principal source of slaves imported into Brazil, disrupted the Portuguese dominance over sugar. When the Hollanders (holandeses ) withdrew from Brazil in 1654, they stimulated cane growing on the Caribbean islands and used their control of distribution in Europe to reduce Portuguese access.
The third period–mining of gold and diamonds from the 1690s to the 1750s–carried Portugal’s effective occupation of the land far into the interior of what are now the states of Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso. The discoveries of alluvial gold on the Rio das Velhas in about 1693, throughout central Minas Gerais in the next years, and out into Mato Grosso in 1718 and Goiás in 1725, and then the growth of diamond mining along the Rio Jequitinhonha in Minas Gerais after 1730, shifted the colonial center away from the Northeast coast into the interior. Minas Gerais became the new jewel in Portugal’s crown, although one that was difficult to keep in place. As more people spread to the distant interior, many of them were living beyond the reach of royal officials. Indeed, one of Brazil’s distinctive features has always been the existence of people who live within the boundaries of the country but outside the limits of the society and the controls of the state.
The Northeast and the South were tied to Minas Gerais via the livestock trade. The mineiro (Minas Gerais) towns needed beef, as well as a seemingly endless supply of mules. Without good roads, mule trains became characteristic of the region, which was soon tied together by an extensive web of trails. The cattle came south from ranches along the Rio São Francisco, thereby linking the mines to the Northeast. The mules came from the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul via the market at Sorocaba in São Paulo, tying the South to the mining region. Because Paulistas (residents of the state of São Paulo) made most of the initial gold strikes, São Paulo was connected to all the mining areas. The importance of Minas Gerais and the mines farther inland led the crown to transfer the viceregal capital from Salvador, Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro in 1763.
Gold production declined in the later decades of the eighteenth century, and from about 1820 coffee cultivation provided a fourth period that lasted to the end of the 1920s. It began in the mountains behind Rio de Janeiro, moved along the Rio Paraíba Valley to the west across São Paulo State and out into Paraná. Coffee powered the rise of São Paulo and its port of Santos, and although it gradually took a secondary position to industrialization after the late 1930s, Brazil remained the world’s major coffee producer.
The Amazon had an important era of its own from the 1880s to 1919, when it was the world’s major source of rubber. The rubber boom drew world attention to the region, prompted Brazil to secure its boundaries, and lured thousands of rubber tappers from the drought-plagued sertão of the Northeast to the forests of Acre. It turned into a bust when the helter-skelter collection of wild rubber lost out to the massive production methods of British, Dutch, and French plantations in Southeast Asia.
The fifth period began in the 1930s with import-substitution industrialization and extended into the 1990s. Industry’s initial and heaviest concentration was in the triangle of São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro-Belo Horizonte. The period was perhaps best symbolized by the steel mills of Volta Redonda, built in 1944, and São Paulo’s integrated industrial zone. Industrialization and its parallel urbanization attracted rural migrants from throughout the country, but especially from the drought-plagued Northeast. In the space of a generation after 1940, Brazil leaped from the age of the bull-cart to that of the internal combustion engine, changing the national map in the process.
Before the 1930s, despite the earlier incursions into the interior, Brazil still consisted of a series of enclaves connected by sealanes rather than by railroads or paved highways. Pan American Airway’s introduction of the DC-3 on its run from Belém to Rio de Janeiro in 1940 vaulted Brazil directly into the air age. By the 1970s, it had the world’s third largest commercial air fleet after the United States and the Soviet Union. The 1950s push to develop an automotive industry was followed in later decades by large-scale construction of long-distance highways, which by the 1980s made it possible to travel to all regions of the country on paved roads. Symbolic of this era was the building of Brazil’s third capital at Brasília (1955-60) on the plains of Goiás. The internal combustion engine and the coinciding growth of the petroleum industry also made possible the mechanization of agriculture, which changed rapidly the face of the Brazilian west and made Brazil the second largest exporter of food in the 1980s. The combination of highways and automotive transport opened up Amazônia for the first time. The construction of the highway corridors from Brasília to Belém and from Cuiabá to Porto Velho to Manaus triggered large-scale migration, mining and agricultural development, timbering, land disputes, displacement of native peoples, and massive deforestation. The latter made Brazil’s Amazon policies the subject of world debate, which in turn made Brazilians worry about the security of their immense North region (Amazônia).
The Indigenous Population
In 1500 Pedro Álvares Cabral’s fleet, which was en route to India, landed at Porto Seguro in what is now the state of Bahia. The territory that comprises modern Brazil had a native population in the millions, divided among hundreds of tribes and language groups. Their ancestors had lived in this land for as long as 30,000 years. There is no way to be certain of the exact size of the population or its distribution. Many areas that were inhabited in 1500 were later stripped bare by epidemics or slave hunters. But scholars have attempted to make estimates based on contemporary reports and the supposed carrying capacity of the land. For Brazil’s Amazon Basin alone, demographer William M. Denevan has suggested 3,625,000 people, with another 4,800,000 in other regions. Other estimates place 5 million inhabitants in Amazônia alone. More conservatively, British historian John Hemming estimated 2,431,000 people for Brazil as a whole. These figures are based on known tribes, although many unknown ones probably died out in the devastating epidemics of the colonial era.
Certainly, the indigenous population exceeded that of Portugal itself. The early European chroniclers wrote of multitudes along the coast and of dense populations in the Amazon Basin. Far from being awed by the newcomers, the indigenous inhabitants displayed curiosity and hospitality, a willingness to exchange goods, and a distinct ability at aggressive defense. However, they could not prevent the devastation caused by the diseases carried by the Europeans and Africans. Tens of thousands succumbed to smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid, dysentery, and influenza. Whole peoples were likely annihilated without having had direct contact with Europeans as disease was carried along the indigenous trade routes.
The Indians spoke languages that scholars have classified into four families: the Gê speakers, originally spread along the coast and into the central plateau and scrub lands; the Tupí speakers, who displaced the Gê on the coast and hence were the first met by the Portuguese; the Carib speakers in the north and in Amazônia, who were related distantly to the people who gave their name to the Caribbean; the Arawak (or Aruak) speakers in Amazônia, whose linguistic relatives ranged up through Central America to Florida; and, according to sociologist Donald Sawyer, the Nambicuara in northwestern Mato Grosso. These were not tribes but language families that comprised many language groups. Numerous tribes also spoke languages unrelated to any of the above. Warfare and migrations carried peoples from these linguistic families to various parts of Brazil. The Europeans took advantage of the cultural differences among the Indian peoples to pit one against the other and to form alliances that provided auxiliary troops in their colonial wars.
Portugal viewed the Indians as slave labor from the outset. When Portugal began its imperial ventures, it had a population of about 1 million. Indeed, in the mid-sixteenth century Portugal’s population was so sparse that much of its territory was uncultivated and abandoned. African and native Brazilian slaves were common on the streets of Lisbon. Portugal’s colonial economy in Brazil was based on slavery. Initially, the Portuguese bartered with the natives to bring brazilwood and other forest items to the coast. However, when the natives had accumulated all the tools and pots that they needed, they showed a lack of interest in continuing the arrangement. Consequently, the Portuguese turned to violent persuasion. The enslavement of the natives shaped much of the history that followed.
Just as Indian unrest had aided the Spanish conquerors of Mexico and Peru, so too did the Portuguese profit from arriving at a time of turmoil. The Tupí speakers had been shifting steadily from the south in a massive migration to coastal areas, displacing the resident Gê speakers, many of whom moved into the interior. This population shift had triggered continuous warfare against non-Tupí peoples and against Tupí subsets. It involved set battles that arrayed hundreds and, in some reports, thousands of warriors in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Some of the fighting went beyond struggles over control of land or resources to vendettas in which captives were sought and in some cases reportedly cannibalized. The Portuguese used these vendettas to keep the Indians from uniting against them and subsequently to obtain slaves. The conquest of Brazil was not a simple toppling of an organized empire as in Peru, but a drawn out, complicated process that spread over huge distances, different peoples, and centuries. Thus, it is not surprising that the Brazilian elites developed myths about racial harmony, peaceful change, and compromise that often have colored the interpretations of historians, thereby distorting understanding of Brazil’s past.
Just as Portugal was different from the rest of Europe, so too would Brazil be different from the rest of the Americas. Portugal was both an agrarian and a maritime monarchy that used its control over land grants to discipline the nobility and its issuance of trading licenses to attract local and foreign investment in its overseas ventures. As merchant-king, the monarch supervised an economic system that imported timber, sugar, and wine from Madeira and the Azores, gold from the Guinea coast, spices from India, and dyewood and forest products, then sugar, gold, gems, and hides from Brazil. These products were then reexported to Europe.
The Portuguese established themselves on the Brazilian coast in their drive to control Europe’s trade with India and East Asia. They secured “title” to what became eastern Brazil in their attempted division of the world with Spain in the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494. During the next centuries, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and Dutch changed the South American continent’s trade patterns, which previously had been focused internally. Seeking profits, the Portuguese marshaled Indian labor to provide exportable products. The commercial objective that initially had prompted overseas operations became the first principle of Portuguese colonization. Brazil was not to be a place where Europe’s religious dissidents sought freedom of conscience. Rather, to paraphrase historian Caio Prado Júnior, the colonization of tropical Brazil would be “one vast commercial enterprise.” Colonial Brazil’s reason for being was to supply dyewood, sugar, tobacco, eventually gold and diamonds, cotton, coffee, and later rubber for the European and then world markets. The externally oriented colonial economy consisted of enclaves that faced seaward and that considered only their own commercial interests.
In his 1843 essay, “How the History of Brazil Should Be Written,” Karl Friederich Philipp von Martius urged the study of the three basic racial groups–indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans–to obtain a clear understanding of the country’s history. Yet when he discussed the interactions between the Indians and the Portuguese, he wrote that the former were only a few primitive tribes and that the “colonies developed and expanded almost without caring about these Indians.” Although he could not have been more wrong, historians have echoed his attitude repeatedly. The natives, rather than being few, were in the millions, and the Portuguese determination to exploit their labor shaped frontier expansion and set Brazil’s modern boundaries.
The Colonial Era, 1500-1815
Frontier Expansion That Shaped Brazil
Under the Treaty of Tordesillas, everything to the east of the line that ran from pole to pole 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands was to be Portugal’s to exploit. The exact reason for Portugal’s interest in having the line so far to the west is debatable, but the Portuguese may have been trying to keep the Castilians away from the sure route to the East. Very practically, the line’s placement gave Portuguese vessels en route to India ample room to pick up winds and currents that took them around the southern end of Africa, a feat carried out by Vasco da Gama on his voyage of 1497-99. The Portuguese also may have known that western lands or islands lay on their side of the line. On the modern map of Brazil, in the north the line cuts across the eastern end of the Ilha de Marajó, and in the south it passes through Laguna on the coast of Santa Catarina. Because most of present-day Brazil lies to the west of the line, clearly the Portuguese expanded successfully on this initial division.
The territorial aggrandizement, which is one of the main themes of Brazilian history, was both accidental and a matter of state policy. Uncertainty as to the detailed geography of South America persisted into the twentieth century, so it is understandable that Portuguese officials professed to believe into the eighteenth century that the estuaries of both the Amazon and the Río de la Plata were on their side of the Tordesillas Line. The two river systems were, in the words of the Jesuit Father Simão de Vasconcellos, “two keys that lock the land of Brazil . . . two giants that defend it and demarcate between us [Portuguese] and Castille.” Several centuries of penetration along these river systems gave Brazil its distinctive shape. It could be said that today’s Brazil owes its vast territory to the native Indians who served as skilled trackers, warriors, porters, food suppliers, and paddlers for the Portuguese expeditions, and to the Indians whose potential as slaves lured the Portuguese inland.
The Portuguese empire at the outset was a commercial rather than a colonial one. Portugal lacked sufficient population to establish colonies of settlers throughout its maritime empire. The Portuguese practice was to conquer enough space for a trading fort and a surrounding enclave from which to draw on the wealth and resources of the adjacent country. A map of this maritime commercial domain would show a series of dots connected by sealanes rather than continuous stretches of territory. French competition forced the Portuguese shift to colonialism in Brazil. This shift involved the gradual move from trading for brazilwood to cultivating sugarcane, which required control of great expanses of land and increasing numbers of slaves. The first to burst past the Tordesillas Line were the slave hunters. The shift to colonialism was also facilitated by the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns between 1580 and 1640. Although the two governments on the Iberian Peninsula and in the Americas were kept separate, trade and travel controls became lax. An active contraband trade developed between Brazilian settlements and Buenos Aires, and Portuguese moving overland appeared in Asunción, Potosí, Lima, and even Quito.
Expansion along the Atlantic coast had been gradual. Using the model of the Atlantic islands, the crown in 1536 divided the Brazilian coast into fifteen donatory captaincies (donatários ). To induce settlement, the crown offered ten leagues of coastline as personal property, a percentage of the dyewood trade, control over trade of enslaved natives, as well as the exclusive right to build mills. In 1580 Brazil comprised the area from Pernambuco in the north to São Vicente in the south. With Spanish assistance thereafter, the Portuguese expanded north to Paraíba, then west through Ceará and Maranhão against the natives and the French, until they founded Belém in 1616. Beginning in 1621, these possessions were divided into the state of Maranhão (embracing the crown captaincies of Ceará, Maranhão, and Pará) and the state of Brazil, centering on Salvador, Bahia. The reassertion of Portuguese independence under the Braganças in 1640 led to sporadic conflict in frontier areas and to policies seeking to hold back Spanish advances. In the Amazon and Río de la Plata river basins, the Spanish rather than the Portuguese had been first on the scene. The Spaniards included Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who journeyed from the coast of Santa Catarina to Asunción in 1540, and Francisco de Orellana, who descended the Amazon in 1542.
The most important Spanish advances were the mission settlements, where the Jesuits Christianized native peoples. Two areas of particular importance lay adjacent to the river systems that delimit Brazil in the south and in the north: the Paraná-Paraguay Basin in the south and the Mamoré-Guaporé Basin in the north. From 1609 to 1628, the Jesuits founded eight missions among the Guaraní peoples between the Paraná and Paraguai rivers in what is now southern Paraguay. They pressed deep into what is today the state of Paraná, between the Ivaí and Paranapanema rivers, to establish fifteen more in what was called Guairá Province.
From 1629 to 1631, the Guairá missions were attacked by slave hunters, known as bandeirantes, from the Portuguese town of São Paulo. According to the governor of Buenos Aires, these attacks resulted in the enslavement of more than 70,000 Guaraní. Consequently, the Jesuits decided to evacuate some 10,000 survivors downriver and overland to sites between the Rio Uruguai and the Atlantic, in what became the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Other Jesuits fleeing the Guairá missions set up missions among the Itatín people on the eastern bank of the Rio Paraguai in what is now Mato Grosso do Sul, only to be destroyed brutally by bandeirantes in the 1630s and 1640s. By 1650 only twenty-two of forty-eight missions remained in the whole region. The Jesuits stopped the slave hunters in the south by arming and training the Guaraní, who dealt a significant blow to their oppressors in the Battle of Mbororé in 1641. This victory ensured the continued existence of the southern Spanish missions for another century, although they became a focal point of Portuguese-Spanish conflict in the 1750s. Broadly speaking, the Battle of Mbororé stabilized the general boundary lines between the Portuguese and the Spanish in the south.
In the north, the Spanish had established the town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in 1561 and from there planted missions in the Mamoré-Guaporé Basin in about 1682. Called the Mojos and Chiquitos, these mission provinces were in what is now lowland Bolivia fronting on the states of Mato Grosso and Rondônia. By 1746 there were twenty-four mission towns in the Mojos and ten in Chiquitos. The bandeirantes again carried the flag of Portugal into the region, first attacking the Chiquitos missions for slaves and then discovering gold in Mato Grosso (1718-36). Unsure where these gold discoveries were in relation to the Spanish territories, the members of the Lisbon-based Overseas Council, which administered the colonies, ordered a comprehensive reconnaissance and the drawing of accurate maps. In 1723 Francisco de Melo Palhêta led an expedition from Belém to the Guaporé, reporting to Lisbon the startling news about the numerous prosperous Jesuit missions. Moreover, the question of fixing borders had become more urgent in 1722, when a respected French cartographer placed the mouths of the Amazon and the Río de la Plata on the Spanish side of the Tordesillas Line.
Because the Guaporé rises in Mato Grosso and flows into the Mamoré, which enters the Madeira, and then into the Amazon, these rivers formed a natural border. Moreover, the headwaters of the Paraguai were close and offered the possibility of linking the Amazonian and La Plata systems. In 1748 Lisbon created the Captaincy of Mato Grosso as its rampart on the Peruvian side and later in the century erected Fort Príncipe de Beira on the Guaporé. In northern Amazônia, in what were then the royal states of Maranhão and Pará, the Portuguese, worried about Dutch traders from Guiana (modern Suriname) and Spaniards from Venezuela, built fortifications at Óbidos, Manaus, Tabatinga, and on the Rio Branco and Rio Negro during the eighteenth century, thereby solidifying their claims. As it turned out, it was easier to secure the vast North region than it was the South.
In 1680 the Portuguese had built a fort at Colônia do Sacramento on the eastern La Plata shore opposite Buenos Aires to guard their claim and to capture a share of the contraband trade with silver-rich Potosí. According to the Overseas Council, Lisbon adopted the policy of fortifying and settling the coast below Santa Catarina, because “the continuation of these settlements will be the best means of deciding the question of limits . . . between the two crowns.”
By the mid-eighteenth century, the Iberian powers were ready to admit the fiction of Tordesillas and to redraw their lines in South America on the basis of uti possidetis (that is, ownership by occupation rather than by claim). The Portuguese gave up Colônia do Sacramento, and in return received the lands of the Jesuit order’s seven missions in western Rio Grande. This exchange led to the Guaraní War of 1756, which destroyed the missions and contributed to the Jesuit expulsion from Portuguese (1759) and Spanish (1763) possessions. With the Treaties of 1750, 1761, and 1777, Brazil took on its modern shape. The lines were drawn for the nineteenth-century struggles over the East Bank (Banda Oriental, or present-day Uruguay) of the Rio Uruguai and the Río de la Plata, the war with the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (1825-28), and the Paraguayan War, also known as the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70).
Thus, as a result of slave hunting, gold prospecting, and Portuguese royal policy, the Tordesillas Line became obsolete, and Portugal obtained more than half of South America. When Brazil became independent in 1822, its huge territory was comparable in size with the Russian and Chinese empires.
On April 22, 1500, the thirteen-ship fleet under Pedro Álvares Cabral anchored off the mouth of the Rio Buranhém (sweet bark in Tupí) on the Bahian coast. The chronicler of the discovery, Pêro Vaz de Caminha, wrote that immediately they saw men walking on the beach, and by the time a longboat reached the shore twenty or so had assembled. Entirely naked and dark skinned, they laid down their bows and arrows as a sign of peace, while responding to offers of Portuguese hats by giving over a parrot-feathered headdress and a long string of white seed pearls. Thus did the cultural exchange begin that would evolve over the next five centuries into the distinctive Brazilian culture.
In the nine days that the Portuguese stayed at the anchorage they called Porto Seguro, the natives were fascinated by the Catholic Mass, the iron tools, and alcoholic drink. Their seeming receptivity and lack of religious symbols that the Portuguese could understand caused Caminha to predict that these people quickly would turn Christian.
The natives helped fill a ship with fine-grained timber, dyewood, and presumably some of the buranhém wood or bark that gave the river its name. Cabral sent the ship back to Lisbon with Caminha’s oft-quoted letter to the king, the first report on Brazil to reach Europe. As the rest of the fleet set sail from what Cabral called the Island of Vera Cruz for the Cape of Good Hope, two male convicts were left on the shore. Rather than execute such degredados (outcasts; see Glossary), the Portuguese were instinctively creating an advance guard that would learn the local language and via intermarriage would give them in another generation the means to penetrate both the indigenous societies and the Brazilian land mass.
After so many years of remarkable contacts with newly discovered lands, the Portuguese were a bit blasé about the news of this land of parrots, naked people, and brazilwood. At that time, peppers, spices, and silks were worth more than such exotica, and those products came from India and lands farther east.
With the exception of the New Christian (Jewish converts) investors, Brazil received little attention from Lisbon for three decades. The investors scouted and defended the coast and shared with the crown their monopoly contracts to harvest the brazilwood. The Portuguese monarchs followed the practice of holding legal title to lands and to certain commodities but issuing to others licenses to profit from these lands and commodities at their own expense, or with the backing of other investors. The custom was akin to the Castilian practice of adelantado that developed during the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, whereby the crown commissioned an agent to conquer a certain area at his own expense in return for rights to land, booty, and labor. The combination of royal licenses and private initiative that worked so well for Portugal along the African coast and in India was reshaped for Brazil.
But soon other Europeans were challenging Portugal’s claims to exclusivity. Spanish captains edged their ships down the coast and up the Río de la Plata. From 1504 onward, French vessels from Brittany, Flanders, and Normandy were active in the dyewood trade. The reddish-purple dyes made from the wood brought good prices from tapestry and textile makers, and the French court ignored Portuguese protests. The Portuguese sent out naval expeditions to destroy French vessels and outposts, but by 1530 it was clear that mounting an effective coast guard along thousands of kilometers with countless coves, anchorages, and bays would be impossible; Portugal either had to take active possession or lose out to more interested rivals. Portugal took two steps, one immediate and the other long term. It dispatched a strong fleet under the command of Martim Afonso de Sousa, who was instructed to clear the coast of interlopers and to establish a permanent settlement. The result was Brazil’s first European town, São Vicente, established in 1532.
The crown also may have wanted to follow up on the adventure in 1524 of Aleixo Garcia, a Portuguese shipwrecked on the southern coast who led about 2,000 Guaraní on a raid against Inca border towns in what is now Bolivia. Sousa sent a government-sponsored expedition (entrada ) back over Garcia’s route, only to meet death at the hands of the Carijó tribe of Indians. Such feeble results did little to attract investors, so the crown turned to the hereditary donatory captaincy system that had succeeded on the islands of Madeira and the Azores. Under this system, each donee was responsible for colonizing his own captaincy at his own expense. To help the lord proprietor attract settlers, he was given permission to issue land grants (sesmarias ). This step was significant because it twisted a medieval Portuguese practice that placed conquered lands in the hands of peasants into one that gave some families holdings larger than Portugal’s provinces. This practice in part led to the establishment of latifundia in Brazil.
Nonetheless, the nobles were not interested in risking their lives or fortunes in a land of “naked savages,” and most of those who received the grants were too ill-prepared, ill-financed, and ill-connected to succeed. The northern four captaincies never went beyond the planning stage, and the rest flourished or failed depending on the management skills and competence of the donatário in dealing with the native Brazilians. Sousa, who obtained the grant to São Vicente, prospered because he took advantage of João Ramalho, a castaway who had married the daughter of the chief of the Goiana Tupiniquin. Because of Ramalho, who lived until 1580, the Portuguese were able to obtain Indian labor, foodstuffs, and women. With his help, it was possible to establish a town at the village of Piratininga, which in time would grow into the metropolis of São Paulo. He was the key player in the Portuguese alliance with the Tupiniquin, who protected the colony from other Indians and who formed the basis for the future military power of the bandeirantes . The lack of European women facilitated assimilation and acculturation with the Indians. With the steady miscegenation, a substantial population of Tupí-speaking mestizos came into being.
Also important for São Vicente’s success was Sousa’s ability to attract investors for sugar mills, including an investor from Antwerp, which became the center of the European sugar market. Although Pernambuco in later years surpassed São Vicente in sugar production, its early success fixed Portuguese control on what centuries later would be the agricultural and industrial core of Brazil.
Similarly, the affluence of Pernambuco Province centering on Olinda resulted from successful interaction with the natives, the ability to draw investment capital (often from Italian merchants), and capable settlers. The donatário , Duarte Coelho Pereira, had married into the well-connected Albuquerque family, which helped him attract colonists and financial support to set up sugar mills. But he was especially fortunate because his brother-in-law, Jerônimo de Albuquerque, had married the daughter of chief Arcoverde (Green Bow) of the Tobajara, thereby sealing an alliance that gave the Portuguese supplies of food and workers. The alliance also gave Coelho Pereira the military superiority to eventually defeat the French and their Indian allies. As the brazilwood stands were cut down, they were replaced with sugarcane plantations, which by 1585 were served by more than sixty mills or engenhos . The captaincy was so successful that there was reputedly more luxury in Pernambuco than in Lisbon. This strong beginning would make it the northern focal point of Portuguese America.
Porto Seguro failed to prosper as a captaincy. The constant fighting with the local Aimoré people may have been related to the presence of many married Portuguese couples and, consequently, little intermarriage with the natives. Likewise, Bahia failed at this stage because its donatário lacked managerial skills. Many of the Portuguese there were veterans of India, where abuse of the natives was routine. The Tupinambá finally tired of the mistreatment, and many of the Portuguese at Bahia, including the donatário , were captured and ceremonially killed and eaten. Ilhéus, Espírito Santo, São Tomé, Santo Amaro, and Santa Anna also failed because of poor management and hostile relations with the natives. The coast was now exposed to French incursions.
Such an outcome was not what the crown had in mind, and it decided wisely to listen to warnings. Rather than replace inept donatários with others, the king established direct royal control, except over Pernambuco and São Vicente. The crown may have acted at this juncture for several reasons: the Spanish discovery of the famed silver mountain at Potosí (1545), the decline of the Asian spice trade, and the crown’s practice of reclaiming royal control after some years of leasing its rights. The enhancement of royal power was part of the general Iberian pattern of establishing royal control over the sprawling colonial ventures. In a larger sense, renewed royal control appears to have been linked to a new conservatism in Catholic Europe. The Council of Trent (1545-63) defined church dogma and practice, religious tolerance faded, and the Inquisition was emplaced in Portugal in 1547.
The king named Tomé de Sousa the first governor general of Brazil (1549-53). He ordered Sousa to create a capital city, Salvador, on the Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) and to spread the royal mantle over the captaincies, defending the weaker ones and reestablishing the failed ones. Because Indian attacks were blamed for the failures, Sousa’s orders amounted to a declaration of war on the indigenous peoples of Brazil. If they could be defeated, the French would have no allies and so would be less of a threat. In addition, Sousa was to increase royal revenues. The twin objectives of control and revenue were characteristic of royal policy for the rest of the colonial era.
Bahia, as the city and province would be known, was selected for its central location and its fine bay, and because the crown had purchased it from the heirs of the donatário . Sousa built fortifications, a town, and sugar mills. His knottiest task was forming a policy on the Indians, whose status remained unclear. Although he had treasury and coast guard officials with him, their roles were oriented toward Portuguese colonists and European interlopers.
As early as 1511, the crown had placed the Indians under its “protection,” and it ordered Sousa to treat them well, as long as they were peaceful, so that they could be converted. Conversion was essential because Portugal’s legal claims to Brazil were based on papal bulls requiring Christianization of the Indians. However, those who resisted conversion were likened to Muslims and could be enslaved. In fact, as historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda showed, by identifying Brazil as a destination of the wandering Apostle St. Thomas the Portuguese settlers were able to argue that all natives had their chance to convert and had rejected it, so they could be conquered and taken captive legitimately. Thus, a distinction was made between peaceful, pliable natives who as wards deserved crown protection and those resisters who wanted to keep their independence and on whom “just war” could be made and slavery imposed.
The dual mission of the governors was contradictory; how could they stimulate the economy using slave labor while converting the natives? To carry out the pacification and conversion of the natives, the crown chose the new Jesuit order of the Society of Jesus, which was international in membership and military in structure and which had the task of defending and spreading the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The Jesuits had a major impact on Brazil, despite their small numbers–128 by 1598. The Indians responded to the Jesuits with initial acceptance, then regression, evasion, and enmity. The objective of the Jesuits was to Europeanize the Indians by resettling them in Indian villages (aldeias) . In a recurring pattern, the first aldeia near Bahia (1552) soon disintegrated as the Indians who survived the European-born diseases faded into the interior beyond the Jesuits’ reach.
Europeanization was overcome by a sort of Brazilianization, as the Jesuits blended Indian songs, dances, and language into the liturgy and as the colonists adopted native foods, women, language, and customs. However, the first bishop of Brazil (1551), Dom Pêro Fernandes Sardinha, objected to the Jesuit accommodation with indigenous culture. He threw the weight of his authority behind subjugation and enslavement. At issue was the nature of the future of Brazilian society. The bishop, who had served in Goa and ironically had taught Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, insisted that Europeanization must precede baptism. He believed Brazil, like India, should have a dual society made up of heathen natives ruled by a small number of Portuguese.
The conflict between the Jesuits and the bishop had far-reaching significance for Brazil’s future. To get away from his direct grasp, the Jesuits shifted their attention to the south, where they formed, in 1554, the aldeia of São Paulo de Piratininga on the plateau at the headwaters of the Rio Tietê high above São Vicente. Father José de Anchieta’s mission village later became known as the city of São Paulo. The crown seemingly favored the Jesuit approach because it recalled Bishop Sardinha. En route back, Sardinha was shipwrecked and then killed and reportedly eaten by Caeté people.
In 1557 the crown sent out a new bishop and a new governor to consolidate royal control and to bring organization to the far-flung settlements on the verge of collapse. The new crown representatives supported Jesuit methods and returned the Jesuits to Bahia. By protecting the Indians who lived in aldeias from enslavement, the crown representatives made the Jesuit towns more attractive. The pool of slaves available to the colonists dwindled, causing such protests that Mem de Sá (governor, 1558-72) approved a “just war” against the Caeté to punish them for killing Brazil’s first bishop. However, the “just war” soon got out of hand as the closer and undefended aldeias were raided for slaves. The conflict damaged native trust in the missions, and the epidemics of influenza, smallpox, and measles in 1562 and 1563 decimated the Indian population and increased colonist competition for laborers. The famine that followed the waves of disease prompted starving Indians to sell themselves or their relatives in order to survive.
This situation led to a policy under which the Indians were considered free but could be enslaved in a sanctioned “just war,” or for cannibalism, or if rescued from being eaten or enslaved by other natives. Government-sponsored expeditions (entradas ) into the interior, sometimes ironically called rescues (resgates ), became slave hunts under the guise of “just war.” The Paulista expeditions (bandeiras ), one of the major themes of Brazilian history in the 1600s and 1700s, would develop out of this practice. The eventual exploitation of the interior and the development of gold and gem mining in Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso have roots in the voracious appetite of coastal plantations for slave labor.
As Indian resistance, social disintegration, and flight into the interior increased in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese began to import more African slaves. In 1570 there were 2,000 to 3,000 such slaves in Brazil; by 1587 there were 14,000. Considering that the European population in 1570 was 20,760 and in 1585 was 29,400, the growth of African slaves from 14 percent of the number of whites to 47 percent is striking. Much of the commentary on native slavery holds that the Indians were unfit physically to be slaves, when actually it was their strong resistance to slavery and the colonial competition for their labor that led to the African slave trade. Also, the focus of many historians on Bahia and Pernambuco has left readers with the impression that Indian slavery gave way to African slavery throughout Brazil by 1600. This was not the case. Indians continued to be enslaved in Pará, which caused the depopulation of much of Amazônia by the mid-eighteenth century.
French and Dutch Incursions
In addition to dealing with labor supply, Mem de Sá, who was the consolidator of Portuguese Brazil, dealt successfully with the French threat. The French had continued to attack Portuguese shipping and to maintain interest in a permanent colony. Noting that Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay had not been occupied, Vice Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, a French navigator, led a mix of Huguenots and Catholics there in 1555 to establish a colony, France Antarctique, on Ilha de Sergipe. After a decade, his utopian dream of finding a religious refuge for Protestants and Catholics failed. Despite their good relations with the Indians, the French could not withstand the Portuguese assaults that began in 1565. That year, to ensure future control of the bay, Mem de Sá founded the city of Rio de Janeiro, which became the second royal captaincy. Expelled from Guanabara Bay in 1567, the French turned their efforts to the northern coast. They made alliances with the Indians and settled themselves on Ilha São Luís do Maranhão in 1612, where fierce fighting led to their expulsion in 1615. They kept active north of the Amazon delta, maintaining claims to Amapá.
By 1580 the Portuguese had overcome French threats and most indigenous resistance to their command of key ports. At this point, a more profound Spanish threat appeared with the passing of the crown of Portugal to King Philip II of Spain. This event had immediate and long-range consequences. Now Europe’s two greatest empires were united under a single ruler and could well have been joined permanently, save for the determination of the Portuguese to maintain their identity. The Iberian union gave the Portuguese easier access to the Spanish domains. For Brazil, however, the most important result was that it made enemies of Portugal’s former business associates, the Dutch. Portugal’s commerce was more open than Spain’s and perhaps more practical. Portugal recognized its need for shipping and for access to markets, both of which the Dutch provided for Brazilian sugar. The spirit of cooperation faded with the union of the crowns as the Dutch, long struggling for independence from the Spanish Habsburgs, were shut out officially from the Portuguese domains. This exclusion led to the formation of the Dutch West India Company in 1621 and the seizure of Brazilian sugar lands. After being unsuccessful in holding Salvador in 1624-25, the Dutch captured Pernambuco in 1630 and eventually extended their sway from the Rio São Francisco to São Luís do Maranhão until finally being forced out in 1654.
The Dutch incursion was the longest and most serious challenge to Portuguese control by a major maritime power. The struggle to drive out the Dutch had devastating effects on the sugar plantations and sugar mills. The Dutch, particularly Governor Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau, had worked to build good relations with the Portuguese planters in the interior, supplying them with credit, slaves, merchandise, and European markets. Nassau encouraged religious tolerance, constructed buildings and canals in the style of Amsterdam, and brought in artists, engineers, and scientists to embellish, record, and study the local flora, fauna, and peoples.
Portugal and its Brazilian subjects had divergent interests in responding to the Dutch. When the Duke of Bragança took the throne as João IV in 1640, his government faced the determination of Philip IV to reconquer Portugal, and he therefore needed to maintain peace with the rest of Europe. As much as the Portuguese economy needed the revenues from the sugar trade, the court had to face the reality that in Europe the Dutch dominated a good portion of that trade. Thus, if Por-tugal attacked Dutch-held Pernambuco, it would earn an enemy in Europe and lose access to the market. At the same time, the king understood the importance of Brazil when he called it his milk cow (vaca de leite ). Indeed, historian Charles Boxer asserted that Portugal’s independence depended chiefly on the Brazil trade, which centered on sugar and slavery.
The Dutch did not show the same hesitation. In 1641 they seized Luanda, an important source of African slaves, in violation of a truce with Portugal. Holland now held sugar and slave ports in the South Atlantic and the distribution system in Europe. Although Lisbon could not merely abandon its subjects in Brazil, it realized that it would be foolhardy to fight for the sugar area without also regaining the source of African slaves.
The colonists in the Dutch-occupied area played their own game of deception. They borrowed Dutch money to restore their war-torn plantations and engenhos and to buy slaves, but they realized that their long-term interests lay in expelling the Dutch and with them their indebtedness. After 1645, together with the governor general in Bahia, they conspired, rebelled, and fought against the Dutch. Their victories of 1648 and 1649 at the Battle of Guararapes in the Recife area of Pernambuco are commemorated today. However, after nine years of war the scorched-earth tactics had ravaged the region. Although sugar prices rose in Europe, Brazilian planters could not respond and permanently lost their leading market position. The Dutch and English set up plantations in Suriname and Barbados, taking advantage of the techniques developed in Brazil and their better access to capital, merchant fleets, and the northern European market. Although there were years of recovery (1665-80, 1698-1710), sugar was no longer the foundation of the Brazilian economy. Northeastern Brazil entered into a long stagnation, and Portugal, which now depended heavily on Brazil after its losses to the Dutch in the East Indies, watched its economy deteriorate.
Gold Mining Displaces Cane Farming
The decline in the sugar economy cut off the smaller Northeastern cane farmers from the customary paths to higher socioeconomic status, producing a situation in which this potentially powerful segment of the population no longer had reasons to support the traditional colonial society. The cane farmers had the same social origins as the wealthier planter and mill-owner class but generally were less independent financially, and now their future was darkened. As sugar prices fell, the planters and mill owners’ response was vertical integration; stages of production were consolidated under the control of fewer firms. Purchases from independent cane farmers were reduced and their lands acquired. The situation was potentially explosive. Historian Stuart Schwartz commented that “at no time in Brazilian history had the conditions for a profound social upheaval been more suitable.” But it did not occur for two reasons: the cane farmers did not rebel against the sugar barons for fear of encouraging a slave rebellion, and in addition, newly discovered gold fields to the south soon beckoned to free and slave populations. The removal of pressures for change solidified the hold of the great landowners on the coastal plantations.
Small deposits of alluvial gold had been exploited quietly for decades in São Paulo and to the south. The Paulistas likely found more than they revealed, fearing that the greed of the Portuguese authorities would soon strip them of their semi-independence. The discovery of gold by Paulistas in various parts of what is now Minas Gerais (General Mines), between the Serra de Mantiqueira and the headwaters of the Rio São Francisco, probably occurred between 1693 and 1695, but word filtered out slowly. The greatest concentration of deposits was along Brazil’s oldest geological formation, the Serra do Espinhaço, lying in a north-south direction, throughout which it seemed that every river, stream, and brook glittered with gold. Mining camps that turned into the cities of Ouro Prêto, Mariana, and Sabará soon located in its southern end, and by 1730 diamonds were coming out of the northern reaches around Diamantina.
Word of the discoveries set off an unprecedented rush, the likes of which would not be seen again until the California gold rush of 1849. The Paulistas soon found themselves competing for control with adventurers from the Northeast who streamed down the Vale São Francisco, from Portugal, and from elsewhere. By 1709-10 the Vale São Francisco had become a lawless region filled with the dregs of the Portuguese world. Considerable violence broke out between the original Paulista bandeirantes , who considered the mines theirs, and the outsiders (emboabas ). This fighting gave the crown authorities a reason for asserting royal control and arranging a settlement of the War of the Outsiders (Guerra dos Emboabas, 1708-09). Many Paulistas moved on to new gold discoveries in Goiás and Mato Grosso.
The discoveries shifted Brazil’s center of gravity away from the Northeastern coast and toward the South and West. The loser would be Bahia, which in 1763 lost the viceregal capital to Rio de Janeiro, as power followed wealth. The population also shifted, as would-be miners and those who would profit from the mines arrived with their native or African slaves. The Jesuit Father André João Antonil (whose Italian name was Giovanni Antonio Andreoni) wrote the best contemporary study of Brazilian economic and social conditions. He said that by 1709 some 30,000 people were in Minas Gerais. In the next decades, the population swelled. The 1735 tax records showed a total of 100,141 slaves, among whom there were numerous natives. By 1782 Minas Gerais’s population of 319,769 included 166,995 blacks, 82,110 mulattoes, and 70,664 whites. The state had the largest concentration of population in the viceroyalty of Brazil: 20.5 percent of Brazil’s 1,555,200 people.
The early population consisted predominantly of unruly males, who knew no law but their own whims and who drove their slaves hard in an existence that historian Charles Boxer tagged as “nasty, brutish, and short.” Many African slaves reacted by running away to form hiding places called quilombos and were pursued by roughneck “bushwhacking captains” (capitães do mato ). However, during the first decades life could not have been easy for anyone. Items such as meat, corn, flour, and rum were rare and costly. The first local supply of hogs and chickens appeared only in 1723, and a flask of salt could cost as much as half a pound of gold.
By the last decades of the eighteenth century, however, the cities of Minas Gerais were graced with impressive baroque and rococo churches, multistoried homes and shops, and grand public buildings. Poets and musicians enlivened the cultural scene. Some 3,000 musicians, mostly mulattoes, played fine baroque pieces, often in churches built by architect Antonio Francisco Lisboa (also known as “O Aleijadinho”) and under ceilings painted by Manuel da Costa Ataíde.
The overland trails from São Paulo and from Paratí were superseded by ones connecting to Rio de Janeiro. The new viceregal capital sent African slaves and European merchandise to Minas Gerais and received the heavily laden chests of gold and diamonds en route to Lisbon. Rio de Janeiro also served as the supply base for the newly created captaincies of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande de São Pedro, passing their livestock products on to Portugal. Those captaincies were linked overland to São Paulo and Minas Gerais via the livestock trails that ran northeast from the pampas of what was later called Rio Grande do Sul to Sorocaba in São Paulo Province.
Ranching had developed in the Northeastern interior as an adjunct to the sugar economy and in the South as the legacy of the Jesuit missions. In the eighteenth century, ranching was an increasingly important part of the overall colonial economy. The moving frontiers that it created drew the interior into effective relationships with European-oriented Brazil. From the interior of Maranhão, southeast through Piauí, Ceará, Pernambuco, and Bahia, then west into Goiás, and on down to Rio Grande do Sul, a set of cowboy (vaqueiro ) subcultures evolved that still mark local traditions. It was an age of leather in which the horse was the center of life. Many, perhaps most, of the vaqueiros were native Indians, mestizos, African slaves, and mulattoes. In the northern and central areas, slaves and free men worked together unsupervised for months at a time. In the South, the gaucho culture, mixing native, Spanish, and Portuguese bloodlines and traditions, took hold throughout the pampas of the Río de la Plata up into Rio Grande do Sul. In the latter state, by the mid-1820s cattle had driven out wheat farming, and the mounted gaucho with his bolas, knife, maté tea, and open-fire barbecued beef became characteristic.
Although gold mining weakened the dominance of sugar and seemingly stimulated the cattle industry, it did not totally supersede export agriculture. It displaced sugar as the colony’s leading economic activity, but during the eighteenth century the value of gold exports never surpassed the value of sugar-led agricultural exports. Even so, gold did have serious long-term effects on Portugal. The fall in the value of Portugal’s colonial products in the seventeenth century had made it difficult to obtain sufficient currency to purchase merchandise from northern Europe. In response, Portugal had begun to develop industries to meet its local and colonial requirements. The discovery of gold provided needed currency.
In 1703 Portugal signed the Methuen Treaty with England, giving English woolens preference in Portuguese markets in return for a favorable tariff on Portuguese wines. This seemingly simple arrangement ended the move toward industrial development, drained Brazilian gold out of Portugal, and gave England its increasing dominance over Portugal and Brazil. The gold and diamond chests arriving at the royal treasury in Lisbon immediately were dispatched north to pay for imported cloth and manufactured goods. Local Portuguese producers could not compete with cheaper foreign prices. Furthermore, English vessels anchored in the Tagus River in the Iberian Peninsula snatched large quantities of gold from under the noses of Portuguese authorities. Instead of Brazil’s wealth being used to develop Portugal and its colonies, it helped finance the English industrial revolution and Portugal’s eighteenth-century struggles to secure Brazilian boundaries.
Even though an immense amount of wealth was sent abroad, much stayed in Brazil to build urban public works, such as fountains, bridges, buildings, and churches; to endow some charitable foundations, such as hospitals; and to finance the elaborate contraband trade with the Río de la Plata and Alto Perú (Upper Peru, or present-day Bolivia). However, it did not improve the condition of the poor; generate a prosperous middle class; improve agriculture, education, or industry; or produce lasting reform.
In 1732 António Rodrigues da Costa, a member of the Overseas Council, warned the crown that the heavy colonial taxes would one day lead the colonists to cast off their loyalty. It was obvious to Rodrigues da Costa that the “larger and richer” would not accept forever being ruled by the “smaller and poorer.” In 1738 royal adviser Dom Luís da Cunha suggested secretly to King João V that he take the title “emperor of the west” and move his court to Rio de Janeiro, which he argued was better situated than Lisbon to control the Portuguese maritime and commercial empire. Rather than heed such advice, however, the monarchy tried at mid-century to gain more control, stop the massive outflow of gold, and contain the British. Beginning in 1755, Marquês de Pombal (Count Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo), as secretary of state for overseas dominions, shaped a series of reforms that gave chartered companies a monopoly of the Brazil trade, encouraged national manufacturers, and worked to make commercial relations with Britain less dependent and more reciprocal. His goal was to revitalize the state and to break the stranglehold of British credit. He closed Brazilian ports to all foreign ships and hired foreign military experts to organize Brazil’s defenses. To promote agricultural growth, Pombal distributed coffee and mulberry seedlings and also advocated production of indigo, flax, cotton, cocoa, and rice. Iron mining and smelting got underway in São Paulo, and shipbuilding and its attendant trades in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro increased. With the British seizure of Havana and Manila during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), the Portuguese wondered if Rio de Janeiro would be next. The crown responded with four goals: secure the borders, populate them for self-defense, defend the ports, and make the mines profitable.
Pombal distrusted the Jesuits, who controlled vast areas in the interior of South America. He suspected commercial links between their prosperous missions and the British, and in September 1759 expelled them from Brazil. The expulsion of the Jesuits caused the missions to fall to ruin and eliminated the strongest educational institutions in Brazil. Crown policy forbade any university or even a printing press in the colony, and modern Brazilian universities date only from the 1930s.
The crown’s education policy was based on the idea that colonial and metropolitan elites would blend to shape an imperial elite united by ideology in support of the crown. During the colonial era, 3,000 Brazilians studied at Portugal’s University of Coimbra, which in 1772 Pombal reformed with Enlightenment perspectives. Between 1772 and 1785, 300 Brazilians, many from Minas Gerais, were at Coimbra. Pombal placed these graduates and other members of the colonial plutocracy in judicial, administrative, and military posts. However, policy intention and outcome often clashed. Some of these students and officials would begin to think in terms of independence.
The production of gold began to decline about 1750 as the Minas Gerais society was solidifying and as the international situation was becoming more complicated. The more the Portuguese squeezed and tried to reduce the contraband in gold and diamonds, the more the divergence of interests grew. In the 1770s, as less gold reached royal coffers, the crown reacted by imposing a per capita tax (derrama ) to make up the difference between the amounts expected and those received. Meanwhile, competition from British, French, and Dutch colonies pushed the price of Brazilian sugar down lower on the Amsterdam market, reducing still more Portuguese revenues. Moreover, the decline in available gold affected the contraband trade that the Brazilians had carried on with the Río de la Plata area, where they exchanged their illicit gold for Andean silver. The Brazilians then used the silver to buy illegal British goods, which they smuggled back into the Spanish domains. The elimination of the Jesuit missions, Spain’s creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (1776), and the opening of direct trade between Spain and Buenos Aires further reduced the profitable trade in smuggled goods. The decline in smuggling reduced transshipments of British goods through Portugal, reducing that country’s overall level of trade with Britain catastrophically. The ensuing recession made it difficult to pay for the military expeditions sent to the southern borders during the 1770s, and the crown was unable to adjust expenditures in the face of declining revenues.
In Minas Gerais, landowners had manufacturing establishments on their properties turning out cotton, linen, and woolen items, and most of the other captaincies had “workshops and manufactories” that lessened the need to import from Portugal. The basis for a more complex textile industry was being laid.
Then, in February 1777, José I (king of Portugal, 1750-77) died, and with him went Pombal’s hold on power and his common sense approach of encouraging industrial development. Pombal’s successor as secretary of state for overseas dominions, Martinho de Melo e Castro, was alarmed that the nascent Brazilian factories could make the colony independent and warned that “Portugal without Brazil is an insignificant power.” In January 1785, he ordered that they all be “closed and abolished.”
In the early 1780s, Brazilian students at Coimbra had pledged themselves to seek independence. They were influenced greatly by the success of the North American British colonies in forming the United States of America. In 1786 and 1787, José Joaquim Maia e Barbalho of Rio de Janeiro, a Coimbra graduate studying medicine at Montpelier and a critic of the colonial relationship, approached Ambassador Thomas Jefferson in France. He told Jefferson that the students intended to break with Portugal and requested the aid of the United States. One of the Coimbra graduates was José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, the patriarch of Brazilian independence.
The failed Minas Conspiracy (Inconfidência Mineira) of 1789 involved some of the leading figures of the captaincy: tax collectors, priests, military officers, judges, government officials, and mine owners and landowners. Some had been born in Portugal, several had their early education with the Jesuits and later studied at Coimbra, a number wrote poetry that is still read and studied. But what they had most in common were financial problems caused by crown policies that required them to pay their debts, or that cut them out of lucrative gold and diamond contraband trade. They argued that Brazil had all it needed to survive and prosper and that Portugal was a parasite. They pledged to lift restrictions on mining; exploit iron ore; set up factories; create a university, a citizens’ militia, and a Parliament; pardon debts to the royal treasury; free slaves born in Brazil; and form a union with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro similar to that of the United States.
The history of the Minas Conspiracy is full of heavy drama. Revelation of the conspiracy turned brothers, friends, clients, and patrons against each other in an unseemly scramble to escape punishment. In one sense, the affair foreshadowed the nature of future Brazilian revolutionary movements in that it was a conspiracy of oligarchs seeking their own advantage, while claiming to act for the people. In the end, Lisbon decided to make an example of only one person, a low-ranked second lieutenant (alferes ) of the Royal Mineiro Dragoons named Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (“Tiradentes”). His execution in 1792 in Rio de Janeiro might well have been forgotten if the nineteenth-century republicans had not embraced him as a symbolic counterpoise to Dom Pedro I, who declared Brazilian independence from Portugal in 1822. Later, with the establishment of the republic in 1889, every town and city in Brazil built a Tiradentes square, and the day of his execution, April 21, became a well-commemorated national holiday. Nonetheless, because the Minas Conspiracy was marked more by skulduggery than nobility and clarity, its value as a national symbol required selective interpretation and presentation.
Portugal resolved to watch Brazilians more carefully and reacted forcefully to a nonexistent but suspected plot in Rio de Janeiro in 1794, and to a real, mulatto-led one in Bahia in 1798. Meanwhile, the French Revolution, the resulting slave rebellion in Haiti, and the fear of similar revolts in Brazil convinced the Brazilian elites that the dream of a United States-style conservative revolution that would leave the slave-based socioeconomic structure intact and in their hands was impossible. The crown separated the residents of Minas Gerais from the revived coastal sugar producers through policies that set their interests at odds. Lisbon diverted Brazilian nationalism with greater imperial involvement.
The Transition to Kingdom Status
With the onset of the Napoleonic Wars, some Portuguese officials again raised the idea of moving the crown to the safety of Brazil. Dom Luís da Cunha’s prophetic suggestion in 1738 that Rio de Janeiro was “safer and more convenient” made great sense as the French army approached Lisbon in November 1807. The British in 1801 had recommended transfer to Brazil in the event of an invasion and had promised to provide protection for the voyage and assistance in extending and consolidating Portuguese territory in South America. In 1803 the Lisbon government, faced with the increasingly deadly struggle between France and Britain, had reconsidered the idea. The choice was between losing Portugal to the French and having the British seize Brazil, or moving the crown to Brazil, from which the struggle for Portugal could be resumed. In any case, the royal government did not move until Portugal was actually invaded in late 1807.
At the time, the monarch was Queen Maria I, but because of mental illness triggered by her horror at the regicide in Paris, her son Dom João ruled as regent. His wife was Dona Carlota Joaquina, a Spanish princess and mother to their nine children, among whom the most important for Brazilian history was Pedro de Alcântara de Bragança e Bourbon. Dom João opened Brazilian ports to world commerce, allowing British goods to stream in, and eliminating the Portuguese middlemen. Rio de Janeiro substituted for Lisbon in a centralized system that placed the various captaincies in subservient positions to the new center. For the Brazilian elites, the transfer of the court meant that they could have conservative political change without social disorder. And best of all, depending on their proximity to the court, they had the chance to obtain the titles and honors that they felt their wealth had earned them. However, the pleasure of the elites was mixed with some frustration because now the monarch was close enough to keep an attentive watch on how they conducted their affairs. And with the court in Rio de Janeiro, the demands of international politics were more keenly felt.
Portugal and the Bragança dynasty were obligated deeply to the British. The British not only saved the royal family and some 15,000 courtiers but also lent US$3 million in 1809 to keep the government functioning. The British also liberated Portugal from the French and reorganized the Portuguese army. In addition, one of their officers ruled as regent in Lisbon. The Portuguese therefore had little with which to bargain when negotiating treaties. In 1810 Dom João signed agreements not only giving the British trade preferences and allowing them privileges of extraterritoriality but also promising to abolish the African slave trade. The last cut directly at the interests of the propertied classes, on whom the crown depended.
The crown had to duplicate, mostly from scratch, the government institutions it had left behind in Lisbon. It set up a Supreme Military Council (Conselho Militar Superior); boards of treasury, trade, agriculture, and industry; a Court of Appeals; a royal printing press and official newspaper; and the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil). It created medical schools in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, a school of fine arts, a museum of natural history, a public library, and the Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) in Rio de Janeiro. It also set up specialized courses of study in the Minas Gerais towns of Ouro Prêto and Paracatu. Most of the fleet had been transferred, but a new army was organized, naval and military academies were established, and arsenals created. The crown built a powder factory and an ironworks. It dealt with public safety by forming the Royal Police Guard, which brutalized slaves, sailors, drunks, gamblers, and prostitutes into submission. The crown also opened Brazil to European travelers, naturalists, scientists, and artists, who left a detailed picture of its life and landscape.
Curiously, by staying in Brazil after the British liberated Portugal from the French in 1811, the crown was keeping British influence under some control, because here it was removed both from Britain and the British-commanded Portuguese army. In 1815 the crown, determined to set its own course, raised Brazil to a kingdom equal with Portugal and acclaimed João as king when his mother died in 1816. The crown gained further maneuverability by arranging marriages between the two princesses and the Spanish King Fernando VII and his brother, and more important, between Crown Prince Pedro and the daughter of Franz I of Austria, the Archduchess Leopoldina.
The Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil, 1815-21
Portuguese businessmen who invested locally in Brazil, nobles and government officials who built expensive homes there, and those who married into provincial wealth shared a common interest in remaining. Indeed, what took shape was a new concept of a dual monarchy of Brazil and Portugal, which even under the best of circumstances would have been difficult to make work. It was an expedient idea that would founder because of resistance by those in Portugal who saw their status and that of the kingdom endangered; by the British, who wanted the king back in Lisbon, where he was more vulnerable; and by the unwillingness of Brazilians to suffer the indignity of being returned to colonial rank.
The centralization of power in Rio de Janeiro met with violent resistance in the Northeast. When Pernambuco raised the banner of republican rebellion in 1817, it was followed by Paraíba do Norte, Rio Grande do Norte, and the south of Ceará, each of which acted to defend local interests without thought of federating. They resented their loss of autonomy to Rio de Janeiro and the Portuguese who had settled in the Northeast since 1808. Significantly, although they sent envoys to secure recognition from Britain and the United States and to spread the revolt to Bahia, they did not send agents to central or southern Brazil. The revolt was crushed brutally. Although unsuccessful, the 1817 “Pernambuccan revolution” shook the monarchy’s foundations because it had pushed aside authority and tarnished the crown’s aura of invincibility. In desperation, the monarchy responded by banning all secret societies and by garrisoning Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife with fresh troops from Portugal.
Meanwhile, the monarchy was waging war in the Río de la Plata. King João regarded the East Bank of the Río de la Plata (present-day Uruguay) as the proper and true boundary of Brazil. Over British objections, he brought veteran troops from Portugal to seize Montevideo and to wage a wearing campaign (1816-20) against the forces of independence-minded José Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguay. The region was incorporated into the United Kingdom as the Cisplatine Province in 1821. Nonetheless, even as it was expanding, the United Kingdom, as the Rio de Janeiro royalists termed it, was suffering from pressures in Portugal itself.
The Pernambuccan revolution in 1817 encouraged army officers in Portugal to conspire against the regency of British Marshal William Carr Beresford. Twelve of the conspirators, including a general officer, were tried secretly and hanged. Anti-British sentiment deepened. In 1820, when a military revolt in Spain forced the revived absolutist regime of Fer-nando VII (1784-1833) to restore the liberal constitution of 1812, the Portuguese military followed suit by expelling the British officers and forming revolutionary juntas. The military petitioned the king’s return and summoned a Côrtes (the Portuguese Parliament), the first since 1697 when the crown had dispensed with such bodies.
Unable to do more, João pardoned the juntas’ usurpation of his prerogative to summon a Côrtes and acknowledged that a Côrtes could be useful in making proposals to him on how best to govern the United Kingdom. Then, in January 1821, Portuguese officers and troops, as well as Brazilian liberals, took over provincial governments in Bahia and Belém, and in late February, troops in Rio de Janeiro threw in with the movement and forced the king to take an oath to accept any constitution the Côrtes might write. In effect, Brazil was again being ruled from Portugal. A few days later, a royal decree announced that the king would return to Lisbon, leaving his twenty-four-year-old son Dom Pedro as regent in Brazil.
On April 25, 1821, twelve ships carrying the king and queen, 4,000 officials, diplomats, and families, as well as purloined funds and jewels from the Bank of Brazil, set course for Lisbon. The city and country that they left behind no longer constituted the closed colony of thirteen years before. Thanks to the surveys, expeditions, and studies that João had encouraged, Brazil’s resources would be exploited at a steadily increasing pace, but in a fashion that tied the country more closely to the rapidly expanding industrial capitalism of the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, João VI and Queen Carlota exemplified the fading absolutist regime; their son Pedro would seek to be more modern by embracing the new ideas of liberal constitutionalism.
During the thirteen years that João resided in Rio de Janeiro, international trade expanded as reflected by the growing number of foreign ships anchoring in the bay: from ninety in 1808 to 354 in 1820. By 1820 Rio de Janeiro had more than 3,000 foreigners among its 113,000 inhabitants.
Rio de Janeiro also had coffee houses serving the product that would become the backbone of the economy. Expanding from seedlings nurtured in the Jardim Botânico, coffee cultivation spread from the Rio de Janeiro area over the Serra do Mar into the fertile upland valley, through which the Rio Paraíba flows from São Paulo easterly to the sea, dividing the provinces of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. On both sides of the river, the tropical forests were cut to make way for the coffee groves. Mule trains that once brought gold from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro now carried coffee in quantities that swelled from 2,304 kilos in 1792 to 7,761,600 kilos in 1820, and would reach 82,178,395 kilos in 1850.
São Paulo’s entry into the coffee age lay in the future, but in 1821 it was providing herds of mules and horses for the coffee pack trains. The Cisplatine and Rio Grande do Sul were shipping abroad hides, tallow, and dried meat. In contrast, the Northeast and North were in decline because an 1815 treaty between Brazil and Britain forbade the African slave trade north of the equator, thereby reducing the demand for Bahian molasses-soaked rolled tobacco, and because Cuban competition slashed deeply into the Northeast’s sugar market in the United States and Europe. Even cotton, which a few years before seemed a secure export for Maranhão, was overwhelmed by the post-War of 1812 expansion in the southern United States. The world demand for Amazonian nuts, cocoa, skins, herbs, spices, and rubber was still weak in 1821. Finally, in the Brazilian west (Mato Grosso and Goiás) gold mining had all but ended, and subsistence farming and livestock raising were predominant. Throughout the country, but more so from Bahia through Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the labor force was made up of African or locally born black slaves. The native heritage lived on in the substantial number of Tupí-speaking races and mixtures that lived in the tropical forest region.
The Empire, 1822-89
Emperor Pedro I, 1822-31
Dom Pedro meant to rule frugally and started by cutting his own salary, centralizing scattered government offices, and selling off most of the royal horses and mules. He issued decrees that eliminated the royal salt tax to spur output of hides and dried beef, forbade arbitrary seizure of private property, required a judge’s warrant for arrests of freemen, and banned secret trials, torture, and other indignities. He also sent elected deputies to the Côrtes in Portugal. However, slaves continued to be bought and sold and disciplined with force, despite his assertion that their blood was the same color as his. In September 1821, the Côrtes, with only a portion of the Brazilian delegates present, voted to abolish the Kingdom of Brazil and the royal agencies in Rio de Janeiro and to make all the provinces subordinate directly to Lisbon. Portugal sent troops to Brazil and placed all Brazilian units under Portuguese command. In January 1822, tension between Portuguese troops and the Luso-Brazilians (Brazilians born in Portugal) turned violent when Pedro accepted petitions from Brazilian towns begging him to refuse the Côrtes’s order to return to Lisbon. Responding to their pressure and to the argument that his departure and the dismantling of the central government would trigger separatist movements, he vowed to stay. The Portuguese “lead feet,” as the Brazilians called the troops, rioted before concentrating their forces on Cerro Castello, which was soon surrounded by thousands of armed Brazilians. Dom Pedro “dismissed” the Portuguese commanding general and ordered him to remove his soldiers across the bay to Niteroi, where they awaited transport to Portugal. Pedro formed a new government headed by José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva of São Paulo. This former royal official and professor of science at Coimbra was crucial to the subsequent direction of events and is regarded as one of the formative figures of Brazilian nationalism, indeed, as the patriarch of independence.
The atmosphere was so charged that Dom Pedro sought assurances of asylum on a British ship in case he lost the looming confrontation; he also sent his family to safety out of the city. In the following days, the Portuguese commander delayed embarcation, hoping that expected reinforcements would arrive. However, the reinforcements that arrived off Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1822, were not allowed to land. Instead, they were given supplies for the voyage back to Portugal. This round had been won without bloodshed.
Blood had been shed in Recife in the Province of Pernambuco, when the Portuguese garrison there had been forced to depart in November 1821. In mid-February 1822, Bahians revolted against the Portuguese forces there but were driven into the countryside, where they began guerrilla operations, signaling that the struggle in the north would not be without loss of life and property. To secure Minas Gerais and São Paulo, where there were no Portuguese troops but where there were doubts about independence, Dom Pedro engaged in some royal populism.
Towns in Minas Gerais had expressed their loyalty at the time of Pedro’s vow to remain, save for the junta in Ouro Prêto, the provincial capital. Pedro realized that unless Minas Gerais were solidly with him, he would be unable to broaden his authority to other provinces. With only a few companions and no ceremony or pomp, Pedro plunged into Minas Gerais on horseback in late March 1822, receiving enthusiastic welcomes and allegiances everywhere. Back in Rio de Janeiro on May 13, he proclaimed himself the “perpetual defender of Brazil” and shortly thereafter called a Constituent Assembly (Assembléia Constituinte) for the next year. To deepen his base of support, he joined the freemasons, who, led by José Bonifácio Andrada e Silva, were pressing for parliamentary government and independence. More confident, in early August he called on the Brazilian deputies in Lisbon to return, decreed that Portuguese forces in Brazil should be treated as enemies, and issued a manifesto to “friendly nations.” The manifeso read like a declaration of independence.
Seeking to duplicate his triumph in Minas Gerais, Pedro rode to São Paulo in August to assure himself of support there and began a disastrous affair with Domitila de Castro that would later weaken his government. Returning from an excursion to Santos, Pedro received messages from his wife and from Andrada e Silva that the Côrtes considered his government traitorous and was dispatching more troops. In a famous scene at Ipiranga on September 7, 1822, he had to choose between returning to Portugal in disgrace or opting for independence. He tore the Portuguese blue and white insignia from his uniform, drew his sword, and swore: “By my blood, by my honor, and by God: I will make Brazil free.” Their motto, he said, would be “Independence or Death!”
Pedro’s government employed Admiral Thomas Alexander Cochrane, one of Britain’s most successful naval commanders in the Napoleonic Wars and recently commander of the Chilean naval forces against Spain. Pedro’s government also hired a number of Admiral Cochrane’s officers and French General Pierre Labatut, who had fought in Colombia. These men were to lead the fight to drive the Portuguese out of Bahia, Maranhão, and Pará, and to force those areas to replace Lisbon’s rule with that of Rio de Janeiro. Money from customs at Rio de Janeiro’s port and local donations outfitted the army and the nine-vessel fleet. The use of foreign mercenaries brought needed military skills. The much-feared Cochrane secured Maranhão with a single warship, despite the Portuguese military’s attempt to disrupt the economy and society with a scorched-earth campaign and with promises of freedom for the slaves. By mid-1823 the contending forces numbered between 10,000 and 20,000 Portuguese, some of whom were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, versus 12,000 to 14,000 Brazilians, mostly in militia units from the Northeast.
Some historians have erred in supporting historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima’s contention that independence came without bloodshed. In fact, although both sides avoided massive set battles, they did engage in guerrilla tactics, demonstrations, and countermoves. There is little information on casualties, but the fighting provided a female martyr in Mother Joana Angélica, who was bayoneted to death by Portuguese troops invading her convent in Bahia; and an example of female grit in Maria Quitéria de Jesus, who, masquerading as a man, joined the imperial army and achieved distinction in several battles.
Britain and Portugal recognized Brazilian independence by signing a treaty on August 29, 1825. Until then, the Brazilians feared that Portugal would resume its attack. Portuguese retribution, however, came in a financial form. Secret codicils of the treaty with Portugal required that Brazil assume payment of 1.4 million pounds sterling owed to Britain and indemnify Dom João VI and other Portuguese for losses totaling 600,000 pounds sterling. Brazil also renounced future annexation of Portuguese African colonies, and in a side treaty with Britain promised to end the slave trade. Neither of these measures pleased the slave-holding planters.
Organizing the new government quickly brought the differences between the emperor and his leading subjects to the fore. In 1824 Pedro closed the Constituent Assembly that he had convened because he believed that body was endangering liberty. As assembly members, his advisers, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva and Dom Pedro’s brothers, had written a draft constitution that would have limited the monarch by making him equal to the legislature and judiciary, similar to the president of the United States. They wanted the emperor to push the draft through without discussion, which Pedro refused to do. Troops surrounded the assembly as he ordered it dissolved. He then produced a constitution modeled on that of Portugal (1822) and France (1814). It specified indirect elections and created the usual three branches of government but also added a fourth, the moderating power, to be held by the emperor. The moderating power would give the emperor authority to name senators and judges and to break deadlocks by summoning and dismissing parliaments and cabinets. He also had treaty-making and treaty-ratifying power. Pedro’s constitution was more liberal than the assembly’s in its religious toleration and definition of individual and property rights, but less so in its concentration of power in the emperor.
The constitution was more acceptable in the flourishing, coffee-driven Southeastern provinces than in the Northeastern sugar and cotton areas, where low export prices and the high cost of imported slaves were blamed on the coffee-oriented government. In mid-1824, with Pernambuco and Ceará leading, five Northeastern provinces declared independence as the Confederation of the Equator, but by year’s end the short-lived separation had been crushed by Admiral Cochrane. With the Northeast pacified, violence now imperiled the South.
In 1825 war flared again over the Cisplatine Province, this time with Buenos Aires determined to annex the East Bank. The empire could little afford the troops, some of whom were recruited in Ireland and Germany, or the sixty warships needed to blockade the Río de la Plata. A loan from London bankers was expended by 1826, and Pedro had to call the General Assembly to finance the war. The blockade raised objections from the United States and Britain, and reverses on land in 1827 made it necessary to negotiate an end to the US$30 million Cisplatine War. The war at least left Uruguay independent instead of an Argentine province. In June 1828, harsh discipline and xenophobia provoked a mutiny of mercenary troops in Rio de Janeiro; the Irish were shipped home and the Germans sent to the South. The army was reduced to 15,000 members, and the antislavery Pedro, now without military muscle, faced a Parliament controlled by slaveowners and their allies.
As coffee exports rose steadily, so did the numbers of imported slaves; in Rio de Janeiro alone they soared from 26,254 in 1825 to 43,555 in 1828. In 1822 about 30 percent, or 1 million, of Brazil’s population were African-born or -descended slaves. Slavery was so pervasive that beggars had slaves, and naval volunteers took theirs aboard ship.
Pedro had written that slavery was a “cancer that is gnawing away at Brazil” and that no one had the right to enslave another. He wanted to abolish slavery, but his own liberal constitution gave the law-making authority to the slavocrat-controlled Parliament. In Brazil liberal principles and political formulas were given special meaning. The language of social contract, popular sovereignty, supremacy of law, universal rights, division of powers, and representative government was stripped of its revolutionary content and applied only to a select, privileged minority.
After 1826 the slavocrat agenda was to control the court system; to provide harsh punishments for slave rebellion but mild ones for white revolt; to reduce the armed forces, cleansing them of foreigners unsympathetic to slavery; to keep tariffs low and eliminate the Bank of Brazil in order to deny the central government the ability to stimulate a rival, finance-based industrial capitalism; and to shape immigration policy in such a way as to encourage servile labor instead of independent farmers or craftsmen. Led by Bernardo Pereira de Vasconcelos of Minas Gerais in the assembly, slavocrats argued that slavery was not demoralizing, that foreign capital and technology would not help Brazil, and that railroads would only rust. Others, such as Nicolau de Campos Vergueiro of São Paulo, argued in favor of replacing slavery with free European immigrants. In the end, the Parliament established a contract system that was little better than slavery. There would be no liberal empire. Laws and decrees unacceptable to the slavocrats simply would not take effect, such as the order in 1829 forbidding slave ships to sail for Africa. These items of the slavocrat agenda were the roots of the regional rebellions of the nineteenth century.
After Dom João’s death in 1826, despite Pedro’s renunciation of his right to the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter, Brazilian nativist radicals falsely accused the emperor of plotting to overthrow the constitution and to proclaim himself the ruler of a reunited Brazil and Portugal. They raised tensions by provoking street violence against the Portuguese of Rio de Janeiro and agitated for a federalist monarchy that would give the provinces self-government and administrative autonomy. Brazil’s fate was in the hands of a few people concentrated in the capital who spread false stories and undermined discipline in the army and police. It would not be the last time that events in Rio de Janeiro would shape the future. When Pedro dismissed his cabinet in April 1831, street and military demonstrators demanded its reinstatement in violation of his constitutional prerogatives. He refused, saying: “I will do anything for the people but nothing [forced] by the people.” With military units assembled on the Campo Santana, an assembly ground in Rio de Janeiro, and people in the streets shouting “death to the tyrant,” he backed down. Failing to form a new cabinet, he abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son Pedro II, boarded a British warship, and left Brazil as he had arrived, under the Union Jack.
The Regency Era, 1831-40
The three regents that ruled in the young emperor’s name from 1831 to 1840 witnessed a period of turmoil as local factions struggled to gain control of their provinces and to keep the masses in line. Out of desperation to weaken the radical appeals for federalism, republicanism, and hostility toward the Portuguese, and to protect against contrary calls for Pedro I’s restoration, the regency in Rio de Janeiro gave considerable power to the provinces in 1834. Brazil took on the appearance of a federation of local pátrias (autonomous centers of regional power) with loose allegiance to the Rio de Janeiro government, whose function was to defend them from external attack and to maintain order and balance among them. The government’s ability to carry out that function was impaired, however, by the low budgets allowed the army and navy, and by the creation of a National Guard, whose officers were local notables determined to protect their private and regional interests. The rebellions, riots, and popular movements that marked the next years did not spring as much from economic misery as from attempts to share in the prosperity stemming from North Atlantic demand for Brazil’s exports.
Many of the disturbances were so fleeting they were all but forgotten. For example, in Rio de Janeiro alone there were five uprisings in 1831 and 1832. Another eight of the more famous revolts in the 1834-49 period included the participation of lower-class people, Indians, free and runaway blacks, and slaves, which accounts for their often fierce suppression. Republican objectives were apparent in some of these revolts, such as the War of the Farrapos (ragamuffins), also known as the Farroupilha Rebellion (1835-45), in Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Others, such as the Cabanagem in Pará in 1835-37, the Sabinada in Salvador in 1837-38, the Balaiada Rebellion in Maranhao in 1838-41, and the ones in Minas Gerais and São Paulo in 1842, were propelled simultaneously by antiregency and promonarchial sentiments. Such unrest dispels the notion that the history of state formation in Brazil was peaceful. Instead, it shows the confrontation between the national government and the splintering pátrias , which would continue in varying degrees for the next century.
Pedro I’s death from tuberculosis in 1834 had sapped the restorationist impulse and removed the glue that held uneasy political allies together. With the regency attempting to suppress simultaneous revolts in the South and North, it could not easily reassert its supremacy over the remaining provinces. Brazil could well have split apart in those years. It did not for three reasons. First, the military was reorganized as an instrument of national unity under the leadership of Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, who was ennobled as the Duke of Caxias (Duque de Caxias) and who would later be proclaimed Patron of the Brazilian Army. Second, the specter of slave revolt and social disintegration had become all too real. And third, the “vision of Brazil as a union of autonomous pátrias ,” in Roderick J. Barman’s phrase, was replaced by the vision of Brazil as a nation-state. Rather than risk their fortunes and lives, the elites, longing for a focus of loyalty, identity, and authority, rallied around the boy-emperor, who ascended the throne on July 18, 1841, at age fifteen instead of the constitutionally specified age of eighteen. Thus, the second empire was born in the hope that it would be an instrument of national unity, peace, and prosperity.
The Second Empire, 1840-89
In the 1840s, the Brazilian nation-state coalesced as authorities suppressed revolts and rewrote Brazilian law. These laws, however, did not bode well for democracy because they shaped an electoral system based on government-controlled fraud. In 1842, on the advice of conservative courtiers, Pedro II used his constitutional moderating power to dismiss the newly elected liberal Chamber of Deputies and called new elections, which the conservatives won by stuffing the ballot boxes. In so doing, he set a pattern of favoring conservatives over liberals.
The constitution of 1824 had created the usual three governmental powers–executive, legislative, and judicial–and a fourth, the moderating power. The emperor held this power, which gave him the right to name senators, to dismiss the legislature, and to shift control of the government from one party to the other. In theory, he was to act as the political balance wheel. It should be noted that the parties were more groupings of members of Parliament than ideologically based movements dependent on distinct electorates. Historian Richard Graham observed that “No particular political philosophy distinguished one group from another.” Then, as now, the political system had an artificial aspect to it; it did not relate openly to the real power structure of the country–the “lords of the land” (senhores da terra ) who ran local affairs.
A good example of how the real power holders manipulated the system to protect their narrow interests to the detriment of the national interest was the Land Law of 1850, which set the pattern for modern landholding. The Land Law ended the colonial practice of obtaining land through squatting or royal grants and limited acquisition to purchase, thereby restricting the number of people who could become owners. By creating obstacles to landownership, the law’s framers hoped to force free labor to work for existing landlords. However, proprietors sabotaged the law by not surveying their lands and not resolving their conflicting claims in order to keep titles cloudy and hence in their hands. One result of the uncertain titles was that slaves were used as collateral.
Also in 1850, British pressure finally forced the Brazilian government to outlaw the African slave trade. London, tiring of Brazilian subterfuge, authorized its navy to seize slave ships in Brazilian waters, even in ports. Rather than risk open war with Britain, paralyzation of commerce, widespread slave unrest, and destabilization of the empire, the government outlawed the African slave trade. It deported a number of Portuguese slavers and instructed the provincial presidents, police, judges, and military to crack down. Over the next five years, even clandestine landings stopped, and despite the tempting rise of slave prices in the coffee districts of Rio de Janeiro Province, the trans-Atlantic trade ended. Although the British claimed credit, it should be noted that for the first time a Brazilian government had the power to enforce a law along the length of the coast. Also, internal support for the trade had weakened. Most slave importers were Portuguese, who had been selling the ever more expensive Africans to landowners on credit at climbing interest rates, in some cases forcing the latter into insolvency and loss of property. Xenophobia and the debts of the landed classes combined to support the government action.
Ending the slave trade had a number of consequences. First, because labor needs increased in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as the world demand for coffee rose, Northeastern planters sold their surplus slaves to Southern growers. In addition, Parliament passed laws encouraging European immigration, as well as the Land Law of 1850. Second, ending the slave trade freed capital that could then be used for investment in transport and industrial enterprises. Third, it ensured that Britain did not interfere in Brazil’s military intervention to end the rule in Buenos Aires of Juan Manuel de Rosas (president of Argentina, 1829-33, 1835-52).
Coffee dominated exports in the last half of the nineteenth century, going from 50 percent of exports in 1841-50 to 59.5 percent in 1871-80. But sugar exports also increased, and cotton, tobacco, cocoa, rubber, and maté were important. The vast cattle herds that grazed the Northeastern sertão , the plains (cerrado ) of Minas Gerais, and the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul foreshadowed Brazil’s status in 1990 as the world’s second largest meat exporter. Meat-salting plants (saladeros ) in Rio Grande do Sul shipped sun-dried beef to the expanding coffee-growing region to feed its slaves and freed tenant farmers (colonos ). In addition to beef, Brazilians ate protein-rich beans, rice, and corn, much of which came from Minas Gerais or the immigrant colonies of Rio Grande do Sul. Interregional trade was budding, but for the most part local self-sufficiency was the norm. Indeed, more people produced food for the domestic market than labored on export crops.
Expanding coffee production in the 1850s and 1860s attracted British investment in railroads to speed transport of the beans to the coast. The Santos-São Paulo Railroad (1868) was the first major breach of the coastal escarpment, which had slowed development of the Southern plateau. Similarly, in the Northeast railroads began to cut into the interior from the coast. But generally the pattern was to connect a port with its export-oriented hinterland, creating a series of enclaves that were connected with each other by sea. Well into the twentieth century, Brazil lacked railroads and highways linking its major regions, urban areas, and economic zones. The country was laced together by intricate networks of mule trails that moved goods and people throughout the vast interior. Viewed as archaic by modern observers, the mule train trails nonetheless were important in Brazil’s formation, tying the various regions together and spreading a common language and culture.
The empire had lost the East Bank of the Río de la Plata with the founding of Uruguay in 1828, but it continued to meddle in that republic’s affairs. Brazil’s most important businessman, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, the Visconde de Mauá, had such heavy financial interests there that his company was effectively the Uruguayan government’s bank. Other Brazilians owned about 400 large estates (estancias ) that took up nearly a third of the country’s territory. They objected to the taxes the Uruguayans imposed when they drove their cattle back and forth to Rio Grande do Sul, and they took sides in the constant fighting between Uruguay’s Colorado and Blanco political factions, which later became the Colorado Party and the National Party (Blancos). Some of Rio Grande do Sul’s gauchos did not accept Uruguayan independence in 1828 and continually sought intervention.
In the mid-1860s, the imperial government conspired with Buenos Aires authorities to replace the Blanco regime in Montevideo with a Colorado one. The Blancos appealed to Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López (president, 1862-70), who harbored his own fears of the two larger countries and who regarded a threat to Uruguay as a menace to Paraguay. A small landlocked country, Paraguay had the largest army in the region: 64,000 soldiers compared with Brazil’s standing army of 18,000. In 1864 Brazil and Argentina agreed to act together should Solano López attempt to save the Blancos. In September 1864, wrongly convinced that he would not be so foolish, the Brazilians sent troops into Uruguay to put the Colorados in power. Each side miscalculated the intentions, capabilities, and will of the other. Paraguay reacted by seizing Brazilian vessels on the Rio Paraguai and by attacking the province of Mato Grosso. Solano López, mistakenly expecting help from anti-Buenos Aires caudillos, sent his forces into Corrientes to get at Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay and found himself at war with both Argentina and Brazil. In May 1865, those two countries and Colorado-led Uruguay signed an alliance that aimed to transfer contested Paraguayan territory to the larger countries, to open Paraguayan rivers to international trade, and to remove Solano López. By September 1865, the allies had driven the Paraguayans out of Rio Grande do Sul, and they took the war into Paraguay when that country spurned their peace overtures.
Fiercely defending their homeland, the Guaraní-speaking Paraguayans defeated the allies at Curupaití in September 1866. The Argentine president, General Bartolomé Mitre (1861-68), took the bulk of his troops home to quell opposition to his war policy, leaving the Brazilians to soldier on. The famed General Lima e Silva, Marquis and later Duke of Caxias, took command of the allied forces and led them until the fall of Asunción in early 1869. With stubborn determination, the Brazilians pursued Solano López until they cornered and killed him. They then occupied Paraguay until 1878.
The war dragged on for several reasons. First, the Paraguayans were better prepared at the outset and conducted an effective offensive into the territories of their adversaries, immediately handing them defeats. Even later, when pushed back onto their own land, they had the advantages of knowing the ground, of having prepared defenses, and of fielding stubbornly loyal troops. Second, it took the Brazilians considerable time to marshal their forces and considerable effort and cost to keep them supplied. Third, the Argentines, hoping to improve their postwar situation in relation to Brazil, delayed operations partly to force the empire to weaken itself by expending its resources. Fourth, this was the era of “unconditional surrender.” It was militarily fashionable to pursue Solano López to the bitter end.
The war had important consequences for Brazil and the Río de la Plata region. It left Brazil and Argentina facing each other over a prostrate Paraguay and a dependent Uruguay, a situation that would soon turn into a tense rivalry that repeatedly assumed warlike postures. Historians debate the number of Paraguayan casualties, some asserting that 50 percent of Paraguayans were killed, others arguing that it was much less, possibly 8 to 9 percent of the prewar population total. Nonetheless, the losses from battle, disease, and starvation were severe and disrupted the development of the republic. In Brazil the war contributed to the growth of manufacturing, to the professionalization of the armed forces and their concentration in Rio Grande do Sul, to the building of roads and the settling of European immigrants in the southern provinces, and to the increased power of the central government. Most important for the future, the war brought the military firmly into the political arena. Military officers were keenly aware that the war had exposed the military’s lack of equipment, training, and organization. Officers blamed these shortcomings on civilian officials. In the next decades, reformist officers seeking to modernize the army would criticize the Brazilian political structure and its peculiar culture as obstacles to modernization.
The end of the war coincided with the resurgence of republicanism as disenchanted liberals cast about for a new route to power. The 1867 collapse of the short-lived, French-sponsored Mexican monarchy of Maximilian left Brazil as the hemisphere’s only monarchial regime. And because Argentina appeared to prosper in the 1870s and 1880s, it served as a powerful advertisement for republican government. The republican ideology spread in urban areas and in provinces, such as São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, where the people did not believe they benefited from imperial economic policies. The republican manifesto of 1870 proclaimed that “We are in America and we want to be Americans.” Monarchy was, the writers asserted, hostile to the interests of the American states and would be a continuous source of conflict with Brazil’s neighbors. The republicans embraced the abolition of slavery to remove the stigma of Brazil’s being the only remaining slaveholding country (save for Spanish Cuba) in the hemisphere. It was not so much that they believed that slavery was wrong as that it gave the country an image distasteful to Europeans. Abolition, which would come in 1888, did not imply that liberals wanted deep social reform or desired a democratic society. Indeed, their arguments against slavery were weighted toward efficiency rather than morality. Once in power, the republicans looked to discipline the legally free work force with various systems of social control.
The Brazilian social system functioned through intertwined networks of patronage, familial relationships, and friendships. The state, capitalist economy, and institutions such as the church and the army developed within what historian Emília Viotti da Costa has called, “the web of patronage.” Contacts and favor rather than ability determined success in virtually all occupations. Brazilian society was, and still is, one in which a person could not advance without friends and family; hence, the continued importance of kinship networks (parentelas ), godfathers (compadres ) and godmothers (comadres ), and military school classes (turmas ). Such a social system did not lend itself to reform.
The 1870s and 1880s saw a crisis in each of the three pillars of the imperial regime–the church, the military, and the slaveholding system. Together, these crises represented the failure of the regime to adapt without alienating its base. In the 1870s, Rome pressured Brazil’s Roman Catholic Church to conform to the conservative reforms of Vatican Council I, which strengthened the power of the pontiff by declaring him infallible in matters of faith and morals. This effort by Rome to unify doctrine and practice worldwide conflicted with royal control of the church in Brazil. The crown had inherited the padroado , or right of ecclesiastical patronage, from its Portuguese predecessor. This right gave the crown control over the church, which imperial authorities treated as an arm of the state. Although some clerics had displayed republican sentiments earlier in the century, a church-state crisis exploded in the mid-1870s over efforts to Europeanize the church.
The importance of the military crisis is clearer because it removed the armed prop of the regime. After the Paraguayan War (1864-70), the monarchy was indifferent to the army, which the civilian elite did not perceive as a threat. The fiscal problems of the 1870s slowed promotions to a crawl, salaries were frozen, and officers complained about having to contribute to a widows’ fund from their meager salaries. Moreover, the soldiers in the ranks were considered the dregs of society, discipline was based on the lash, and training seemed pointless. The gulf between the military and the civilian oligarchies broadened. The political parties were as indifferent as the government to demands for military reform, for obligatory military service, for better armament, and for higher pay and status. During the 1870s, the discontent was checked by the National Guard’s reduced role; by an unsuccessful but welcomed attempt to improve the recruitment system; and, especially, by the cabinet service of war heroes, including the Duke of Caxias as prime minister (1875-78) and Marshal Manuel Luís Osório, the Marquis of Herval, as minister of war (1878). But the latter died in 1879 and Caxias the year after, leaving leadership to officers less committed to the throne. The junior officer ranks were filled with men from the middle sectors who had entered the army to obtain an education rather than to follow a military career. They were more concerned than their predecessors with social changes that would open opportunities to the lower middle class.
The officer corps was split into three generations. The oldest group had helped suppress the regional revolts of the 1830s and 1840s, had fought in Argentina in 1852, and had survived the Paraguayan War. The numerous mid-level officers were better schooled than their seniors and had been tested in combat in Paraguay. The junior officers had missed the war but had the most education of the three groups and had experienced the empire only when its defects had become clearly apparent. They were the least attached to the old regime and the most frustrated by the lack of advancement in a peacetime army cluttered with veterans of the great war.
Brazilian political tradition permitted officers to hold political office and to serve as cabinet ministers, thereby blurring the civil-military roles. As parliamentary deputies and senators, officers could criticize the government, including their military superiors, with impunity. In the 1880s, officers participated in provincial politics, debated in the press, and spoke in public forums. In 1884 a civilian minister of war attempted to impose order by forbidding officers to write or speak publicly about governmental matters. The subsequent punishments of offending officers led Field Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca and General José Antônio Correia de Câmara (Visconde de Pelotas) to head protests that eventually forced the minister to resign in February 1887 and the cabinet to fall in March 1888.
Even as the church and military crises were unfolding, the slavery issue shook the support of the landed elite. Members of the Liberal and Conservative Parties came from the same social groups: plantation owners (fazendeiros ) made up half of both, and the rest were bureaucrats and professionals. The ideological differences between the parties were trivial, but factional and personal rivalries within them made it difficult for the parties to adjust to changing social and economic circumstances. As a result, the last decade of the empire was marked by considerable political instability. Between 1880 and 1889, there were ten cabinets (seven in the first five years) and three parliamentary elections, with no Parliament able to complete its term. The repeated use of the moderating power provoked alienation, even among traditional monarchists.
Attitudes toward slavery had shifted gradually. Pedro II favored abolition, and during the Paraguayan War slaves serving in the military were emancipated. In 1871 the Rio Branco cabinet approved a law freeing newborns and requiring masters to care for them until age eight, at which time they would either be turned over to the government for compensation or the owner would have use of their labor until age twenty-one. In 1884 a law freed slaves over sixty years of age. By the 1880s, the geography of slavery had also changed, and the economy was less dependent on it. Because of manumissions (many on condition of remaining on the plantations) and the massive flight of slaves, the overall numbers declined from 1,240,806 in 1884 to 723,419 in 1887, with most slaves having shifted from the sugar plantations in the Northeast to the south-central coffee groves. But even planters in São Paulo, where the slave percentage of the total population had fallen from 28.2 percent in 1854 to 8.7 percent in 1886, understood that to continue expansion they needed a different labor system. The provincial government therefore actively began subsidizing and recruiting immigrants. Between 1875 and 1887, about 156,000 arrived in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the demand for cheap sugarcane workers in the Northeast was satisfied by sertanejos (inhabitants of the sertão ) fleeing the devastating droughts of the 1870s in the sertão .
The economic picture was also changing. Slavery immobilized capital invested in the purchase and maintenance of slaves. By turning to free labor, planter capital was freed for investment in railroads, streetcar lines, and shipping and manufacturing enterprises. To some extent, these investments offered a degree of protection from the caprices of agriculture.
Meanwhile, slaves left the plantations in great numbers, and an active underground supported runaways. Army officers petitioned the Regent Princess Isabel to relieve them of the duty of pursuing runaway slaves. Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, commander in Rio Grande do Sul, declared in early 1887 that the military “had the obligation to be abolitionist.” The São Paulo assembly petitioned the Parliament for immediate abolition. The agitation reached such a pitch that to foreign travelers, Brazil appeared on the verge of social revolution. The system was coming apart, and even planters realized that abolition was the way to prevent chaos.
The so-called Golden Law of May 13, 1888, which ended slavery, was not an act of great bravery but a recognition that slavery was no longer viable. The economy revived rapidly after a few lost harvests, and only a small number of planters went bankrupt. Slavery ended, but the plantation survived and so did the basic attitudes of a class society. The abolitionists quickly abandoned those they had struggled to free. Many former slaves stayed on the plantations in the same quarters, receiving paltry wages. They were joined by waves of immigrants, who often found conditions so unbearable that they soon moved to the cities or returned to Europe. No freedmen’s bureaus or schools were established to improve the lives of the former slaves; they were left at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, where their descendants remain in the 1990s. New prisons built after 1888 were soon filled with former slaves as society imposed other forms of social control, in part by redefining crime.
In the end, the empire fell because the elites did not need it to protect their interests. Indeed, imperial centralization ran counter to their desires for local autonomy. The republicans embraced federalism, which some saw as a way to counter the oligarchies, which used patronage and clientage to stay in power. In the early republic, however, they would find that the oligarchies adapted easily and used their accumulated power and skills to control the new governmental system. Taking advantage of cabinet crises in 1888 and 1889 and of rising frustration among military officers, republicans favoring change by revolution rather than by evolution drew military officers, led by Field Marshal Fonseca, into a conspiracy to replace the cabinet in November 1889. What started as an armed demonstration demanding replacement of a cabinet turned within hours into a coup d’état deposing Emperor Pedro II.
The Republican Era, 1889-1985
The history of the republic has been a search for a viable form of government to replace the monarchy. That search has lurched back and forth between state autonomy and centralization. The constitution of 1891, establishing the United States of Brazil (Estados Unidos do Brasil), restored autonomy to the provinces, now called states. It recognized that the central government did not rule at the local level, that it exercised control only through the local oligarchies. The empire had not absorbed fully the regional pátrias , and now they reasserted themselves. Into the 1920s, the federal government in Rio de Janeiro would be dominated and managed by a combination of the more powerful pátrias (São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, and to a lesser extent Pernambuco and Bahia). After the revolution of 1930, the trend would be strongly toward absorption of the pátrias , reaching a peak in the New State (Estado Novo) of 1937-45. Centralization extended into the smallest remote villages as the nation-state’s bureaucracy and power grew to previously unknown levels. Renewed autonomy would come with the constitution of 1946 but would disappear under the military regime. The constitution of 1988 once again restored a degree of state autonomy but in the context of a powerful, all-embracing nation-state. In the 1990s, the pátrias are more folkloric vestiges than autonomous centers of power.
The history of the republic is also the story of the development of the army as a national institution. The elimination of the monarchy had reduced the number of national institutions to one, the army. Although the Roman Catholic Church continued its presence throughout the country, it was not national but rather international in its personnel, doctrine, liturgy, and purposes. By the time of the 1964 coup, the political parties were not national parties; they were oriented more along regional, personalist, and special-interest lines. Only in the struggle to reestablish civilian rule in the 1980s did a fitful process of creating national parties take shape. Thus, the army was the core of the developing Brazilian state, a marked change from the marginal role that it had played during the empire. The army assumed this new position almost haphazardly, filling part of the vacuum left by the collapse of the monarchy and gradually acquiring a doctrine and vision to support its de facto role. Although it had more units and men in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul than elsewhere, its presence was felt throughout the country. Its personnel, its interests, its ideology, and its commitments were national in scope.
The republic’s first decade was one of turmoil. It appears to be a pattern of Brazilian history that seemingly peaceful regime changes are followed by long periods of adjustment, often scarred by violence. Years of “regime change” in 1889, 1930, and 1964 introduced protracted adjustment that involved some authoritarian rule. Curiously, because the violence occurred over long periods, usually without overturning the government in Rio de Janeiro or Brasília, Brazil acquired an undeserved reputation for having a nonviolent history of political and social compromise.
The Old or First Republic, 1889-1930
The founders of the Brazilian republic faced a serious question of legitimacy. How could an illegal, treasonous act establish a legal political order? The officers who joined Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca in ending the empire were violating solemn oaths to uphold emperor and empire. The officer corps would eventually resolve the contradiction by linking its duty and destiny to Brazil, the motherland, rather than to transitory governments. In addition, the republic was born rather accidentally: Deodoro had intended only to replace the cabinet, but the republicans manipulated him into fathering a republic.
The Brazilian republic was not a spiritual offspring of the republics born of the French or American revolutions, even though the Brazilian regime would attempt to associate itself with both. The republic did not have enough popular support to risk open elections. It was a regime born of a coup d’état that maintained itself by force. The republicans made Deodoro president (1889-91) and, after a financial crisis, appointed Field Marshal Floriano Vieira Peixoto minister of war to ensure the allegiance of the military. Indeed, the Brazilian people were bystanders to the events shaping their history. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the United States, much of Europe, and neighboring Argentina expanded the right to vote. Brazil, however, moved to restrict access to the polls. In 1874, in a population of about 10 million, the franchise was held by about 1 million, but in 1881 this had been cut to 145,296. This reduction was one reason the empire’s legitimacy foundered, but the republic did not move to correct the situation. By 1910 there were only 627,000 voters in a population of 22 million. Throughout the 1920s, only between 2.3 percent and 3.4 percent of the total population voted.
The instability and violence of the 1890s were related to the absence of consensus among the elites regarding a governmental model; and the armed forces were divided over their status, relationship to the political regime, and institutional goals. The lack of military unity and the disagreement among civilian elites about the military’s role in society explain partially why a long-term military dictatorship was not established, as some officers advocating positivism wanted. However, military men were very active in politics; early in the decade, ten of the twenty state governors were officers.
The Constituent Assembly that drew up the constitution of 1891 was a battleground between those seeking to limit executive power, which was dictatorial under President Deodoro da Fonseca, and the Jacobins, radical authoritarians who opposed the Paulista coffee oligarchy and who wanted to preserve and intensify presidential authority. The new charter established a federation governed supposedly by a president, a bicameral National Congress (Congresso Nacional; hereafter, Congress), and a judiciary. However, real power was in the regional pátrias and in the hands of local potentates, called “colonels”. Thus, the constitutional system did not work as that document had envisaged. It would take until the end of the decade for an informal but real distribution of power, the so-called politics of the governors, to take shape as the result of armed struggles and bargaining.
Article 14 on the military was particularly important for the future. It declared the army and navy to be permanent national institutions responsible for maintaining law and order and for ensuring the continuance of the three constitutional powers. Officers insisted on the statement of permanent status because they feared that the elites would disband their services. The armed forces were to be the moderator of the system, and military officers were Brazil’s only constitutionally mandated elite. The article also required the military to be obedient to the president but “within the limits of the law.” Thus, the armed forces were to obey only if they determined a presidential order to be legal. Oddly, military officials were less than enthusiastic about discretionary obedience, which they saw as subversive; the civilian politicians, however, wanted it as a check on presidential power. Interestingly, the constitutions of 1934 and 1946 kept the discretionary clause unaltered. However, the 1937 constitution of the dictatorial Estado Novo, which was a military regime in civilian dress, put the military securely under obedience to the president.
In the election that followed the adoption of the new constitution in 1891, Deodoro da Fonseca and Floriano Peixoto were elected president and vice president, respectively, but with the former gaining only 129 votes and the latter 153. The first president, Deodoro da Fonseca, had difficulty adjusting to sharing power with Congress and, in imperial fashion, dissolved it in November 1891, provoking rebellions in the navy and in Rio Grande do Sul. To mollify the opposition, he resigned in favor of Vice President Peixoto (acting president, 1891-94). Peixoto, known as the “Iron Marshal” (marechal de ferro ), ousted all the state governors who had supported Deodoro, provoking violence in many parts of the country. One of the bloodiest of these struggles was the civil war that exploded in Rio Grande do Sul in 1893 and soon spread into Santa Catarina and Paraná, pitting former monarchist liberals against republicans. Concurrently, the fleet in Guanabara Bay at Rio de Janeiro challenged Peixoto, and the naval revolt quickly became linked to the struggle in the South. Peixoto’s diplomat in Washington, Salvador de Mendonça, with the help of New York businessman Charles Flint, was able to assemble a squadron of ships with American crews, which proved decisive in ending the standoff in Guanabara Bay. The United States government, interested in Brazilian commerce and in the republic’s survival, permitted this mercenary effort to occur and sent several cruisers to provide a barely concealed escort. This was the first documented American intervention in Brazil’s internal affairs, and significantly it was organized privately.
Deodoro da Fonseca’s dissolution of Congress, his resignation, Peixoto’s assumption of power, and the outbreak of civil war split the officer corps and led to the arrest and expulsion of several senior officers. Although the power struggles that produced the fighting in Rio Grande do Sul during 1893-95 were local in origin, Peixoto made them national by siding with republican Governor Julio de Castilhos. The savage combat and the execution of prisoners and suspected sympathizers, in what historian José Maria Bello called the “cruelest of Brazil’s civil wars,” was shameful on both sides. Peixoto’s fierce defense of the republic made him the darling of the Jacobins and from then on a symbol of Brazilian nationalism. In November 1894, because of his ill health (he died in 1895) and the military’s disunity, Peixoto turned the government over to a spokesman for the agrarian coffee elite, São Paulo native Prudente José de Morais Barros, also known as Prudente de Morais, the first civilian president (1894-98). Prudente de Morais negotiated an end to the war in the South and granted amnesty to the rebels and the expelled officers. He weakened the army’s staunchest republicans and sought to lower the military’s political weight. He promoted officers committed to creating a professional force that would be at the disposal of the national authorities, who would determine how it was to be employed. A General Staff (Estado Geral), established in 1896 on the German model, was to shape this new army.
However, before the new army could take shape, it was used in 1897 to destroy the religious community of Canudos in the sertão of Bahia, which the Jacobins thought mistakenly was a hot-bed of monarchist sedition. The Rio de Janeiro government, which saw monarchists everywhere, threw a force of 9,500 against a population of perhaps 30,000. Some 4,193 soldiers were wounded between July and October 1897, and the townspeople were killed, taken prisoner, or fled. Canudos was erased in the same fashion that Indian villages had been and continued to be erased. Although the campaign’s symbolic value as a defense of the republic faded as the reality became known, it remained a powerful warning to marginal folk throughout Brazil that they would not be permitted to challenge the hierarchical order of society. In this sense, Canudos was a step in creating mechanisms of social control in the postslavery era.
Canudos affected the political scene immediately when a returning soldier, the foil in a high-level Jacobin conspiracy, attempted to assassinate President Prudente de Morais but killed the minister of war instead, thereby acting as a catalyst for rallying support for the government. The abortive assassination made possible the election of Manuel Ferraz de Campos Sales (president, 1898-1902). In the army, the attempt consolidated the hold of generals who opposed Floriano Peixoto and were interested in professionalizing the institution.
The turmoil of the 1890s and particularly Canudos suspended the military’s capability to exercise the moderating role that it supposedly inherited from the monarchy. By 1898 the rural-based regional oligarchies had regained command of the political system. Their fiscal policies reflected their belief that Brazil was an agricultural country whose strength was in supplying Europe and North America with coffee, rubber, sugar, tobacco, and many natural resources. Brazil produced 75 percent of the world’s coffee. With competition increasing, however, prices fell continually, causing the government to devalue the currency against the British pound. This devaluation forced up the price of imported goods, thus lowering consumption and government tax revenues from imports. Those shortfalls led to suspension of payments on the foreign debt, and the generally poor economy caused half of the banks to collapse. The oligarchy responded to the situation by attempting to preserve its own position and by limiting national industry and infrastructure to that necessary to support the agricultural economy. The society that the economy underlay was one in which the elites regarded the majority of the people merely as cheap labor. The elites encouraged immigration to keep labor plentiful and inexpensive, although they also wanted to “whiten” the population. They considered public education of little use and potentially subversive.
The political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century had apparent and real aspects. There was the constitutional system, and there was the real system of unwritten agreements (coronelismo ) among local bosses, the colonels. Coronelismo , which supported state autonomy, was called the “politics of the governors.” Under it, the local oligarchies chose the state governors, who in turn selected the president.
The populous and prosperous states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo dominated the system and swapped the presidency between them for many years. The system consolidated the state oligarchies around families that had been members of the old monarchial elite. And to check the nationalizing tendencies of the army, this oligarchic republic and its state components strengthened the navy and the state police. In the larger states, the state police were soon turned into small armies; in the extreme case of São Paulo, French military advisers were employed after 1906.
The “politics of the governors” kept a relative peace until the end of World War I. Urban Brazil, the one foreigners saw from the decks of ships, prospered. But there was no integrated national economy. Rather, Brazil had a grouping of regional economies that exported their own specialty products to European and North American markets. The absence of overland transportation, except for the mule trains, impeded internal economic integration, political cohesion, and military efficiency. The regions, “the Brazils” as the British called them, moved to their own rhythms. The Northeast exported its surplus cheap labor and saw its political influence decline as its sugar lost foreign markets to Caribbean producers. The wild rubber boom in Amazônia lost its world primacy to efficient Southeast Asian colonial plantations after 1912. The national-oriented market economies of the South were not dramatic, but their growth was steady and by the 1920s allowed Rio Grande do Sul to exercise considerable political leverage. Real power resided in the coffee-growing states of the Southeast (Sudeste)–São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro–which produced the most export revenue. Those three and Rio Grande do Sul harvested 60 percent of Brazil’s crops, turned out 75 percent of its industrial and meat products, and held 80 percent of its banking resources.
One factor that eventually would draw “the Brazils” closer together was the heightened sense of nationalism that developed among the urban middle and upper classes before World War I. This sense of nationalism can be explained partially by the Brazilian elite’s focus on Rio de Janeiro as the center of their world. Although the national government was weak, it was still the source of prestige and patronage. Rio’s sanitation projects and its remodeled downtown (1903-04) were soon copied by state capitals and ports.
The elites had reason to think that Brazil’s status in the world was rising. In 1905 the archbishop of Rio de Janeiro received Latin America’s first cardinalate. Brazil hosted the Third Pan-American Conference, raised its Washington legation to an embassy (1904), sent a notable delegation to the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907), gained possession via arbitration of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of disputed territory, established the Indian Protective Service, tied together the far reaches of the country via telegraph, and purchased two of the world’s largest dreadnoughts for its navy. Many cheered writer Afonso Celso when he asserted that the era was “the dawn of our greatness . . . . We will be the second or first power of the world.”
However, the enthusiasm was not sufficient to overcome the resistance of Brazilians of all levels to military service. When an Obligatory Military Service Law was enacted in 1908, it went unenforced until 1916. Military service was unappealing because members were called on continually to take up arms. During the presidency of Marshal Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca (1910-14), nephew of Deodoro da Fonseca, turmoil spread across Brazil. In 1910 sailors protesting extreme physical punishments in the navy seized the new dreadnoughts São Paulo and Minas Gerais and some smaller vessels in the bay at Rio de Janeiro and threatened to bombard the city. Hermes da Fonseca was forced to grant the rebels their demands and to give them amnesty.
The image of national stability with which the earlier Campos Sales administration had tried to dazzle foreign bankers also was shattered by a series of military interventions, known as the Salvations, that replaced a number of state governments. The national government, somewhat against Hermes da Fonseca’s inclination, sponsored what amounted to coups d’état against state governments in Sergipe, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Pará, Piauí, Bahia, and Ceará. In disorderly fashion, one oligarchic alliance substituted for another, often with an army officer in charge. In the disastrous case of Bahia, the local army commander bombarded the governor’s palace and surrounding buildings. In 1911 São Paulo’s French-trained Public Force (Força Pública) and civilian Patriotic Battalions saved the city from similar federal intervention.
Struggling to keep control of the army, Hermes da Fonseca replaced the minister of war three times in sixteen months and forced the retirement of about 100 colonels and generals. But to keep them from rebelling, they were all retired at higher ranks and salaries. The Brazilian political system was not so much one of compromise as of co-optation. With this internal army purge, the Salvationist Movement spent itself, and the tide turned away from federal military interventions to replace dominant regional oligarchies toward neutrality or preserving the status quo. The movement can be seen as a messy attempt to reduce state autonomy and to heighten the power of the central government.
Meanwhile, the vision of Brazilian order and progress as seen by the urban elite, intellectuals, and newspaper editorials was challenged again by the supposedly anarchic sertão , this time in the South. In August 1914, as world attention focused on the outbreak of war in Europe, a very different conflict burst forth in the Contestado region of Santa Catarina. A popular rebellion, also known as the Contestado, confronted the “colonel”-dominated socioeconomic and political system. Where the Salvationist Movement aimed at substituting one oligarchy for another, the Contestado rebels rejected the national system and wanted to remake their part of the Brazilian reality. As with Canudos, the response of state and federal authorities was pulverizing violence.
The region’s economy was based on livestock, the collection of maté, and lumbering. Its social structure concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a few “colonels,” around whom lesser landowners were arrayed. Most families lived at the sufferance of those men or had shaky land titles. A jurisdictional dispute between Santa Catarina and Paraná arose because each state issued deeds to the same land. The no-man’s-land attracted fugitives from throughout Brazil. The construction of the São Paulo-Rio Grande do Sul Railroad and the timbering and colonization operations of United States capitalist Percival Farquhar added foreign elements to the already volatile mix. The Brazil Railroad and the Southern Brazil Lumber and Colonization Company forced Brazilians off their expropriated lands, imported European immigrants, and sawed away at virgin pine, cedar, and walnut trees. People whose families had lived in the region for a century suddenly saw their lands rented or sold to others. As if that were not enough, in 1910 the threat of war with Argentina loomed, and authorities speeded the railroad’s construction and expanded labor crews to about 8,000. In this environment of tumultuous destruction of the forests, social tensions rose with evictions and the sudden introduction of foreigners and modern technology. The local “colonels” secured their own interests, abandoning their customary paternalism and leaving the mass of people adrift. The Contestado was afflicted with a collective identity crisis, which caused many to turn to messianic religion as solace.
The people of the Contestado followed a local healer, Miguel Lucena Boaventura, known as José Maria, who soon died in a confrontation with Paraná Military Police. His followers refused to accept his death, however, and believed that he was either alive or would rise again. His story mixed with the Luso-Brazilian belief in supernatural assistance in desperate times. This phenomenon, called Sebastianism, transformed the submissive population, accustomed to acting only with the “colonel’s” approval, into a resolute fighting force. Their attacks on the railway and lumbering operations and the failure of negotiations with federal authorities led to an escalation of hostilities in 1912 and a fierce military campaign that in 1915 involved 6,000 troops, modern artillery and machine guns, field telephones and telegraph, and the first use of aircraft in a Brazilian conflict. The fighting was spread over a wide area, and the many redoubts of about 20,000 “fanatics,” as the army called them, made suppression slow and difficult and also revealed the military’s weaknesses. The number of casualties was uncertain but sizeable, and henceforth the army maintained a garrison in the region. The Contestado was subdued by the end of 1917.
Army reformers, a key group of whom returned from training in Germany by the end of 1913, wrote commentaries on the campaign in the new military monthly, A Defesa Nacional . They regarded the Contestado as “an inglorious conflict that discredited our arms.” They blamed the republic for its “lack of elevated political norms, the abandonment of thousands of Brazilians . . . segregated from national society by the lack of instruction, by the scarcity of easy means of communication, by the want of energy, and by the poverty of initiative that, unhappily, has characterized the administrations generally since the time of the monarchy.” They warned military leaders that “the lesson of the Contestado” was that the army’s passivity in accepting poorly conceived political measures would only damage it “morally” and would bring Brazil “the most funereal consequences.”
The Contestado joined Canudos as an important component in the army’s institutional memory. Veterans played meaningful roles in military and national affairs in the next decades. Within a few years, the reformist critique would be part of the thinking that underlay the tenente or lieutenants’ revolts of the 1920s, beginning with the Copacabana Revolt in 1922. The Salvationist Movement and the Contestado drew the army and the central government deeply into the internal affairs of the states, thereby whittling away at their coveted autonomy. The era’s legacy of political intervention and suppression of dissent muddied the army’s mission and self-image, but it amplified the power of the central government (Rio de Janeiro).
The growing power of Rio de Janeiro was reflected in Brazilian foreign affairs under the guidance of José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Baron of Rio Branco, who served as foreign minister from 1902 to 1912, under presidents Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves (acting president, 1902-3; president, 1903-6), and Afonso Pena (1906-9), Acting President Nilo Peçanha (1909-10), and President Hermes da Fonseca. His vision shaped both the boundaries of the country and the traditions of Brazilian foreign relations. In the heyday of international imperialism, he was instrumental in negotiating limits over which the great powers were not to intrude. He argued for military reform to back up energetic diplomacy, and he began the process of moving Brazil out of the British orbit and into that of the United States. The latter was taking half of Brazil’s total exports by 1926, but Brazil still owed Britain over US$100 million in the mid-1920s. British banks financed the country’s international commercial exchange, and British investors provided 53 percent of the total foreign investment until 1930. But by the late 1920s, United States banks held nearly 35 percent of the foreign debt. Rio Branco’s goal, which was pursued by his successors, was to diffuse the country’s dependency among the powers so that none could intervene without being checked by another. Trade and financial ties with the United States were increased at British expense, and these would be balanced by military links with Germany and then France. France would continue for decades to provide a cultural model for the elites.
The Rio Branco years were the basis for what became known as the Itamaraty tradition (named after the building that housed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rio de Janeiro), but not every administration grasped its purpose. Some confused its tactical aspects–reliance on foreign loans and investments, Pan-Americanism, and alliance with the United States–with its essential substance, the quest for independence and national greatness.
World War I found Brazil with nearly half of its army committed in the Contestado. The war in Europe was traumatic for the army, which was then beginning a reorganization under the influence of thirty-two officers who had recently returned from service in German army units. A German military mission had been expected, but pressure from São Paulo and from Paris resulted in a mission contract with France instead. Economics, Washington’s decision to enter the war, and German submarine attacks on Brazilian merchant ships pulled Brazil into the conflict on the Allied side. The military mobilized, but the generals, feeling over-committed and ill-prepared, declined to send troops to Europe.
Pan-Americanism provided some outlet for Brazil’s international status pretensions, but the period between the world wars often found its neighbor Argentina suspicious of harmless improvements in Brazil’s armed forces. Brazil’s obligatory military service, its construction of new barracks, its purchases of modern weapons, and its contracts for a French military mission and a United States naval mission were viewed by military officials in Buenos Aires as threatening. Brazilian leaders wanted their country regarded as the most powerful in South America but understood that the public would not accept, and the constitution outlawed, a war of aggression. Regardless of what the Argentines thought, the military was not prepared to wage a foreign war. Tension between Argentina and Brazil and maneuvering for greater influence in Paraguay and Uruguay have been characteristic of their relations since the War of the Triple Alliance.
The interwar years in Brazil saw an increase in labor agitation as the economy expanded, industrialization and urbanization stepped up, and immigrants flowed into the country. Coffee overproduction by the turn of the century had provoked subsidization programs at the state and national levels that helped the planters but could not prevent the decline in the economy’s capacity to pay for imported manufactured goods. Local industry began to fill the gap. World War I restricted trade further, and Brazilian industrial production increased substantially. The government stressed the need for more industrial independence from foreign producers and stimulated import substitution, particularly in textiles. Many of the factories were small, with an average of twenty-one workers. In 1920 about a million urban workers were concentrated in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazil was just beginning to develop its industrial base, but it was still mainly an agricultural country with 6.3 million people working the soil.
The living conditions of urban workers were bad. Housing, transportation, sewerage, and water supply trailed far behind the rapid population growth and produced serious public health problems. The clean-up campaigns at the beginning of the century struck at the high incidence of yellow fever, malaria, and smallpox in Rio de Janeiro, Santos, and Northeastern seaports. The city centers were made safer, but the workers who crowded into sordid “beehives” (cortiços –small crowded houses) and favelas (shantytowns) suffered all sorts of ailments.
The federal and state governments subsidized immigration from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Japan to provide workers for the coffee plantations. However, many immigrants soon fled the rough conditions in the countryside for better opportunities in the cities. They flooded the labor pools, making it difficult for unions to force factory owners to pay better wages. Women, who were the majority of workers in the textile and clothing industries, were frequently active in organizing factory commissions to agitate for improved conditions, freedom from sexual abuse, and higher pay. Strikes had occurred in 1903, 1906, and 1912, and in 1917 general strikes broke out in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Santos, and Porto Alegre. Because the mentality of the industrialists was rooted in the slavery era and emphasized their well-being over that of the commonwealth and because they functioned on a thin profit margin, they tended to fire workers for striking or joining unions. The industrialists also blacklisted troublemakers, employed armed thugs to keep control inside and outside the factories, and called on the government to repress any sign of labor organization. There were no large massacres of strikers, as occurred in Mexico and Chile, but the physical violence was marked.
Some advocates of reform were heard. For example, economic nationalists like Roberto Simonsen argued for improved pay incentives to prevent individual workers from unionizing. During the 1920s, the Roman Catholic Church, as part of its effort to revive its status, organized the Young Catholic Workers and preached the example of the Holy Family accepting “the will of Providence, in pain and in happiness.” By 1930 church societies, private charities, factory-sponsored recreational clubs, and government agencies strove for more control over workers’ organizations and leisure time.
During the Old Republic, Brazil changed at a frightening rate. As its population increased 162 percent between 1890 and 1930, it became more urbanized and industrialized, and its political system was stretched beyond tolerance. Concern over the resurgence of labor activity in the late 1920s was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Old Republic in 1930 and to the subsequent significant change in labor and social policy.
The Era of Getúlio Vargas, 1930-54
Just as the 1889 regime change led to a decade of unrest and painful adjustment, so too did the revolts of 1930. 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. During those years, the preeminence of the agricultural elites ended, new urban industrial leaders acquired more influence nationally, and the middle class began to show some strength.
Tenentismo , or the lieutenants’ rebellion against the army and governmental hierarchies, faded as a distinctive movement after 1931, in part because its adherents promoted the preservation of state autonomy when the trend toward increased centralization was strong. Individual lieutenants continued to exercise important roles, but they made their peace with the traditional political forces. In 1932 São Paulo, whose interests and pride suffered under the new regime, rose in revolt. The three-month civil war saw many officers who had lost out in 1930 or were otherwise disgruntled join the Paulistas, but federal forces defeated them.
A new constitution in 1934 reorganized the political system by creating a legislature with both state and social-sector representatives. It contained some electoral reforms, including women’s suffrage, a secret ballot, and special courts to supervise elections. The Constituent Assembly elected Vargas president for a four-year term. However, the attempt to harness the revolution to the old system, somewhat remodeled, would soon fail completely and take Brazil into prolonged dictatorship. The left helped in that process by becoming a creditable threat. On misguided instructions from Moscow based on misinformation from Brazil, the Brazilian communists, led by a former tenente, staged a revolt in 1935, but it was rapidly suppressed.
In the 1930s, the civilian elites feared that Brazil would suffer a civil war similar to Spain’s, and so for the first time in Brazilian history they supported a strong, unified military. The Estado Novo gave the army its long-held desire for control over the states’ Military Police (Policia Militar) units. The elites of the old state pátrias gave up their independent military power in return for federal protection of their interests. This process was not always a willing one, as the Paulista revolt of 1932 showed, but federal monopoly of military force escalated the power of the central government to levels previously unknown. A significant turning point in the history of Brazil had been reached.
Under the Estado Novo, state autonomy ended, appointed federal officials replaced governors, and patronage flowed from the president downward. All political parties were dissolved until 1944, thus limiting opportunities for an opposition to organize. In the process, Vargas eliminated threats from the left and the right. At the local level, “colonels” survived by declaring their loyalty and accepting their share of patronage for distribution to their own underlings. The Vargas years had their greatest impact on national politics and economics and their least impact at the local level where the older forms of power continued well into the 1950s. Even in the 1990s, local political bosses were tagged “colonels.” Vargas took care to absorb the rural and commercial elites into his power base. He had the ability to make former enemies supporters, or at least neutrals.
The Vargas years saw the reorganization of the armed forces, the economy, international trade, and foreign relations. The government restored the old imperial palace in Petrópolis and encouraged the preservation of historic buildings and towns. The average annual rise in the gross domestic product was nearly 4 percent. Brazil’s first steel mill at Volta Redonda (1944) was the start of the great industrial output of the second half of the century. The 1930-45 era added corporatism to the Brazilian political lexicon.
Even as it channeled investment into industry, the Estado Novo classified strikes as crimes and grouped the government-controlled unions into separate sector federations that were not allowed to form across-the-board national organizations. The idea was to keep the lines of control vertical. The government decreed regular wage and benefits increases and slowly expanded an incomplete social security system. Its minimum wage levels were never satisfactory. The regime’s propaganda touted state paternalism and protection and depicted Vargas as the benefactor of the working classes. He also was the benefactor of the factory owners, who saw industry expand 11.2 percent a year throughout the 1930s, which meant that it more than doubled during the decade. Indeed, growth and repression were the twin orders of the day. Journalists and novelists were censored, jailed, and discouraged. The army restricted access to the military schools to those with acceptable racial, familial, religious, educational, and political characteristics.
As a result of these repressive measures, the suspension of political activities, and the government’s support of rearming and modernizing the military, the army gained a coherence and unity that it had not experienced since before 1922. The popular status that the army won by participating in the Italian campaign (1944-45) of World War II also permitted the High Command, under General Pedro Aurélio de Góes Monteiro, a long-time supporter of Vargas, to step into the successionist crisis of October 1945 to depose Vargas and to cut short the political mobilization of the masses that the generals believed would upset the social order. Not to have acted would have violated the implicit agreement made with the elites when the latter surrendered their independent state military forces to federal control.
The elected government over which President Eurico Gaspar Dutra presided from 1946 to 1951 opened under the decree laws of the Estado Novo and continued under the new constitution of 1946. This charter reflected the strong conservative tendency in Brazilian politics by incorporating ideas from the constitution of 1934 and the social legislation of the Estado Novo. Over the next years, the various cabinet changes traced the government’s steady movement toward the right. The Dutra administration was supported by the same conservative interventionist army that had backed the previous regime. Indeed, Dutra, who though retired from active duty, was inaugurated in his dress uniform and was promoted to general of the army and then to marshal while in office, made the point that he still belonged to the military class (classe militar ), that he would not neglect its needs, and that he would guide the army politically.
More dispassionate observers see the ending of Vargas’s productive leadership–during which the average annual rise in the GDP was nearly 4 percent–as the reaction of the landowning and business elite allied with the urban middle class against the processes of change. Dutra’s years in office displayed a minimal level of state participation and intervention in the economy. It was indeed ironic that the man who led Brazil through the first steps of its “experiment with democracy” was a general who, in the early years of World War II, was so antiliberal that he had opposed aligning Brazil with the democratic countries against Nazi Germany. He was a fervent anticommunist, who quickly broke the diplomatic ties Vargas had established with the Soviet Union, outlawed the Brazilian Communist Party, and supported the United States in the opening phases of the Cold War. He exchanged official visits with President Harry S. Truman and sought American aid for continued economic development.
Dutra’s government improved the railways, completed construction of roads that connected Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and São Paulo, and expanded the electrical generating and transmission systems. It also cooperated with the states in building more than 4,000 new rural schools and supported construction of new university buildings in various states. In 1951 it also created the National Research Council (Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas–CNPq), which would be important in developing capabilities and university faculties in coming decades. His mandate was marked by heated disputes over the nationalization of oil and plans for an international institute to study Amazônia. The latter were shelved amidst emotional charges that they would lead to the loss of half of the national territory; and the campaign for the former was suppressed violently.
Dutra’s military program included domestic arms production, sending many officers for training in the United States, expanding air force and naval schools and modernizing their equipment, and establishing the War College (Escola Superior de Guerra–ESG), which played such an important role in the political crises of the 1960s. Although Dutra could be criticized for not containing inflation and for allowing an importing frenzy that soon exhausted the savings of the war years, he managed to govern without declaring a state of siege, and he was the first elected president since 1926 to pass the office to his elected successor.
As a candidate for president in the 1950 elections, Vargas advocated accelerating industrialization and expanding social legislation, and he was rewarded with a sizeable 49 percent of the vote. Vargas’s attempts to base his elected government (1951-54) firmly on populism induced military, elite, and United States fears of nationalism. Even so, it was a period of deepening political polarization. Anticommunist military officers saw red in every attempt to expand labor’s influence and objected to wage increases for workers when the value of their own salaries was eroding steadily. The United States refused economic assistance that Brazilian leaders believed they deserved for providing bases, natural resources, and troops during World War II. The lack of postwar benefits, especially for the service of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira–FEB), caused Vargas and part of the military to reject the idea of sending troops to fight in Korea.
Although the United States government did not want to provide economic aid, it also did not want the Brazilian government to take an active role in developing the country’s resources. Washington’s desire to secure Brazil as a safe place for private United States investment clashed with Brazil’s treatment of foreign-owned utilities. Foreign interests had been too slow in developing energy resources, so the Vargas government created the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.–Petrobrás) in 1953 and the Brazilian Electric Power Company (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.–Eletrobrás) in 1961. The “Petroleum is Ours!” campaign of the nationalists caused arguments within the military over what was best to do. Some officers embraced the antistatist attitude that Washington was sponsoring. The bitterly fought, emotional debate over the creation of Petrobrás poisoned political life and contributed to the subsequent military interventions. The Vargas administration dissolved in frustration and charges of corruption; faced with military demands for his resignation, Vargas shot himself on August 24, 1954. His death produced considerable public sympathy, which in turn strengthened his reputation as “father of the poor.” His influence in Brazilian politics was felt for decades.
The Post-Vargas Republic, 1954-64
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. At the core of the crisis was the continued unwillingness of the elite to share the benefits of Brazil’s wealth with the majority of the people. By the early 1960s, the crisis was boiling in reverse, from the top down. The crisis had much more to do with elite fears of a mass uprising, supposedly instigated by international communism, than with the reality of social revolution. They, rather than the masses, believed the fiery rhetoric of leftist-populist politicians. What elites elsewhere might have seen as popular democratic mobilization, the Brazilian elites saw as revolutionary change that threatened their well-being. Because they portrayed their well-being as the same as the national well-being, and because they controlled the state and the instruments of power, they responded with a counterrevolution, what historian Joseph Page labeled “the revolution that never was.”
Labor became more active in seeking to improve the status of the working class, and the population continued to grow beyond the state’s ability to expand educational and social services. As a result, conservative elites feared that they were losing control of politics and of the state. The elites had opposed Vargas because he sought to use the state to spread benefits more broadly. The middle classes tended to identify with elite visions of society and to see the lower classes as a threat. Curiously, the term povo (people), which had meant the lowest class, the destitute, the squatters, the rural poor, had changed by the early 1950s to mean the politically active and economically mobile urban lower classes. Further, politicians appealed to the povo during election campaigns but once elected directed government benefits principally to the middle and upper classes.
Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-61), the only post-Vargas elected president to serve a full term, soothed opponents by avoiding the emotional appeals of the populists. Even so, his common touch reached millions, and his developmentalist and nationalist visions stirred the Brazilian imagination. Kubitschek co-opted the military by involving it in the decision-making process and by adequately funding it. He pushed the creation of an automotive industry, which in a generation would result in Brazil’s leaping from the bull cart and mule train era into that of the internal combustion engine. The new factories turned out 321,000 vehicles in 1960. The great highway network of the late twentieth century and the world’s eighth-largest automobile production are his legacies. And he yanked Brazil away from its fascination with the coast by moving the capital to Brasília in a new Federal District (Distrito Federal) carved out of then-distant Goiás. Thanks to the changes in transportation and the growing availability of motorized farm equipment, the vast countryside of Goiás and Mato Grosso would be cultivated in the next decades, and Brazil would become the world’s number-two food exporter. The overall economy would expand 8.3 percent a year. There was a lot of truth in his government’s motto: “Fifty Years’ Progress in Five.”
Brazil of 1960 was very different from that of 1930. The population, which had been 33.5 million in 1930, was now 70 million, with 44 percent in urban areas. A third of all Latin Americans were Brazilian. Life expectancy had improved noticeably. The number of industrial workers had more than doubled from a 1940 level of 1.6 million to 2.9 million, and the industrial share of GDP was higher (25.2 percent) than that of agriculture (22.5 percent). The underside of such progress was a continuous swelling of urban slums and inflation. The annual rate of inflation rose from 12 percent in 1949 to 26 percent in 1959, and then zoomed to a shocking 39.5 percent in 1960. Savings depreciated, lenders refused to offer long-term loans, interest rates soared, and the government refused to undertake orthodox, anti-inflationary programs styled after those of the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, the disparities between rich and poor remained, with 40 percent of national income enjoyed by 10 percent of the population, 36 percent going to the next 30 percent, and 24 percent being divided among the poorest 60 percent of Brazilians. Before national wealth could be redistributed, however, development had to be maintained.
Brazil had the potential, but it lacked the hard currency necessary to pay for the imports needed to sustain swift industrialization. Either it could cut imports, thereby paralyzing factories and transportation, or it could stop repayments on foreign loans and profit remittances from foreign investments. With such unpalatable alternatives, it is not surprising that Brazilian governments had difficulty formulating an economic plan that would both satisfy creditors and keep trade flowing.
The populist administrations of Jânio Quadros (January-August 1961) and João Goulart (1961-64) expanded the term povo once again to embrace the rural poor, thereby producing the image of a budding proletariat ready to join a reformist government against elite privilege and United States imperialism. Quadros, a former governor of São Paulo, could not keep his promise to sweep out corruption, because his bid for more presidential power ended with his sudden resignation on August 25, 1961. He had assembled a makeshift political coalition that gave him an impressive electoral margin but did not give him enough influence in Congress to get his legislation passed.
Frustrated, he planned to restructure the government, but before he could act, Carlos Lacerda, governor of Guanabara (the old Rio de Janeiro Federal District), revealed that Quadros intended to close Congress, decree reforms, and get the people’s blessing in a plebiscite. Quadros and Lacerda clashed over the issue of an independent foreign policy. Such a policy, which Quadros supported, emphasized new markets for Brazilian products and a strong stance in favor of the developing world, while maintaining relations with the United States but refusing to isolate Cuba. Lacerda was particularly critical of Quadros’s pro-Cuba policy. Quadros resigned believing that the military would be unwilling to allow Vice President João Goulart, a populist and former minister of labor under Vargas, to assume the presidency. Quadros hoped that his action would shock the povo into taking to the streets to demand his reimposition and would spur the military into pressuring Congress. He then flew to São Paulo, where he spent the next day at a military base waiting for the summons to return, but instead the head of the Chamber of Deputies was sworn in as acting president. People were shocked, but they tended to feel betrayed by Quadros rather than believe that “terrible forces” had risen against him. On that Friday in August 1961, the republic of 1945 began its painful death.
Instead of worrying how to restore Quadros, the politicians and military leaders focused on Goulart’s succession. An uneasy country awaited Goulart on his return from a trade mission to China. Congress refused to agree to the request of the military ministers that it disavow his right to the presidency. His brother-in-law, Leonel de Moura Brizola, the fiery governor of Rio Grande do Sul, and the regional army commander announced that their forces would defend the constitution. The threat of civil war was ominous. Instead, a compromise changed the constitutional system from a presidential to a parliamentary one (1961-63), with Goulart as president and Tancredo de Almeida Neves of Minas Gerais as prime minister. In the next months, Goulart, chafing at the attempt to turn him into a figurehead, made heated appeals to the masses to mobilize in his favor. Goulart secured victory in a 1962 plebiscite, which restored the presidential system in January 1963. Unhappily, Goulart interpreted the five-to-one margin as a personal mandate, as opposed to a mandate for the presidential system.
Goulart’s relations with the United States went from uneasy, when he visited President John F. Kennedy and gave a speech to the United States Congress in April 1963, to frigid, when President Lyndon B. Johnson took over in Washington in November 1963. The United States, smarting from Fidel Castro’s radicalization of Cuba, resented Brazilian unwillingness to isolate Havana and became obsessed with peasants organizing in the impoverished Northeast. Washington poured millions of dollars directly into that region’s states, bypassing Goulart’s government. The regional elites happily accepted United States aid to expand their autonomy vis-à-vis Brasília.
Goulart carried his populism too far when he backed proposals for noncommissioned officers to hold political office and when he appeared sympathetic to rebelling sergeants in September 1963. The officer corps believed that the president was undermining discipline, thereby threatening military institutions.
Minister of Army General Amaury Kruel complained that the army had been subjected to a “survival” budget since 1958 and that most of its armaments and equipment were either obsolete, beyond repair, or required replacement. In 1962 every regional army headquarters reported that it was not in condition to hold regular exercises, and many officers concluded that their efforts were useless because of a generalized “disbelief and lack of incentive.” General Kruel alerted President Goulart that inadequate funding was creating a “calamitous situation” in which the army was being “economically and financially asphyxiated.”
The right and the military charged that Goulart’s call for reforming legislation was merely a cover for a radical nationalist takeover. Publicly, they organized study groups, formed a shadow government, orchestrated an intense press campaign, and staged street marches. Secretly, they armed large landowners (fazendeiros ) in the countryside, developed plans to neutralize opposition and to topple the government, and sought help from the United States. The military was again about to break the bonds of obedience to a national government. The argument was that the armed forces should support any government as long as it was democratic.
Such logic grew more persuasive as political mobilization gripped the society. Peasant land seizures and urban food riots contributed to a sense of impending chaos. Brizola bragged foolishly that he had a 200,000-strong peoples’ militia organized in groups of eleven. The opposition charged the government with arousing a “state of revolutionary war.” In the months before March 1964, the staff and student officers of the Army General Staff School (Escola de Comando de Estado-Maior do Exército–ECEME) played a key role in convincing officers that they should support a move against Goulart. Even the highly respected chief of staff, Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, joined the conspiracy. Castelo Branco had served as FEB operations officer in Italy, director of studies at ECEME, and long-time head of the War College. The officers believed that rational economic development, internal security, and institutional well-being would occur only if economic and political structures were altered, and that the civilian leaders were unwilling to make the necessary changes. They believed that the left was so well-organized that the conspiracy might fail. They had plans to flee Brazil in that case, and United States officers had promised that they would receive training and logistical support to return to wage a guerrilla war.
Struggling to keep the impatient left on his side and to stave off the right, Goulart opted for a series of public rallies to mobilize pressure for basic reforms. In a huge rally in Rio de Janeiro on March 13, 1964, Goulart decreed agrarian reform and rent controls and promised more. A counter rally against the government, held six days later in São Paulo, put 500,000 people marching in the streets. Sailors and marines in Rio de Janeiro, led by an agent provocateur of the anti-Goulart conspiracy, mutinied in support of Goulart. However, Goulart mishandled the incident by agreeing that they would not be punished and that the navy minister would be changed. The uproar was immediate. Rio de Janeiro’s Correio da Manhã published an unusual Easter Sunday edition with the headline “Enough!” It was followed the next day, March 30, with one saying “Out!” In the next two days, the military moved to secure the country, and Goulart fled to Uruguay. Brizola’s resistance groups proved an illusion, as did the supposed arms caches of the unions and the readiness of favela residents to attack the wealthy. The period of the military republic had begun.
The Military Republic, 1964-85
The military held power from 1964 until March 1985 not by design but because of political struggles within the new regime. Just as the regime changes of 1889, 1930, and 1945 unleashed competing political forces and caused splits in the military, so too did the regime change of 1964. Because no civilian politician was acceptable to all the revolutionary factions, the army chief of staff, Marshal Humberto Castelo Branco (president, 1964-67), became president with the intention of overseeing a reform of the political-economic system. He refused to stay beyond the term of deposed João Goulart or to institutionalize the military in power. However, competing demands radicalized the situation; military hard-liners wanted a complete purge of left-wing and populist influences, while civilian politicians obstructed Castelo Branco’s reforms. The latter accused him of dictatorial methods, and the former criticized him for not going far enough. To satisfy the military hard-liners, he recessed and purged Congress, removed objectionable state governors, and decreed expansion of the president’s (and thereby the military’s) arbitrary powers at the expense of the legislature and judiciary. His gamble succeeded in curbing the populist left but provided the successor governments of Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva (1967-69) and General Emílio Garrastazú Médici (1969-74) with a basis for authoritarian rule. Anti-Goulart politicians understood too late the forces they had helped unleash.
Castelo Branco tried to maintain a degree of democracy. His economic reforms prepared the way for the Brazilian economic “miracle” of the next decade, and his restructuring of the party system that had existed since 1945 shaped the contours of government-opposition relations for the next two decades. He preserved presidential supremacy over the military and kept potential coup-makers in check, but in the process he had to expand presidential powers in the infamous Second Institutional Act of October 1965, and he had to accept the succession of Minister of Army Costa e Silva.
As in earlier regime changes, the armed forces’ officer corps was divided between those who believed that they should confine themselves to their professional duties and the hard-liners who regarded politicians as scoundrels ready to betray Brazil to communism or some other menace. The victory of the hard-liners dragged Brazil into what political scientist Juan J. Linz called “an authoritarian situation.” However, because the hard-liners could not ignore the counterweight opinions of their colleagues or the resistance of society, they were unable to institutionalize their agenda politically. In addition, they did not attempt to eliminate the trappings of liberal constitutionalism because they feared disapproval of international opinion and damage to the alliance with the United States. As the citadel of anticommunism, the United States provided the ideology that the authoritarians used to justify their hold on power. But Washington also preached liberal democracy, which forced the authoritarians to assume the contradictory position of defending democracy by destroying it. Their concern for appearances caused them to abstain from personalist dictatorship by requiring each successive general-president to pass power to his replacement.
The role of the United States in these events was complex and at times contradictory. An anti-Goulart press campaign was conducted throughout 1963, and in 1964 the Johnson administration gave moral support to the campaign. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon later admitted that the embassy had given money to anti-Goulart candidates in the 1962 municipal elections and had encouraged the plotters; that many extra United States military and intelligence personnel were operating in Brazil; and that four United States Navy oil tankers and the carrier Forrestal , in an operation code-named Brother Sam, had stood off the coast in case of need during the 1964 coup. Washington immediately recognized the new government in 1964 and joined the chorus chanting that the coup d’état of the “democratic forces” had staved off the hand of international communism. In retrospect, it appears that the only foreign hand involved was Washington’s, although the United States was not the principal actor in these events. Indeed, the hard-liners in the Brazilian military pressured Costa e Silva into promulgating the Fifth Institutional Act on December 13, 1968. This act gave the president dictatorial powers, dissolved Congress and state legislatures, suspended the constitution, and imposed censorship.
In October 1969, when President Costa e Silva died unexpectedly, the democratic mask fell off as the officer corps of the three services consulted among themselves to pick General Garrastazú Médici for the presidency. Costa e Silva and Médici represented the hard-line, antipolitics segment of the military, which seemingly was content to hold authority as long as necessary to turn Brazil into a great power. The Médici government illustrated how it was possible to remain in power without popular support, without a political party, and without a well-defined program. It was the era of terrorist actions in the cities, replete with kidnappings of diplomats, including the United States ambassador, and an extensive antiguerrilla campaign in northern Goiás. The repressive apparatus expanded into various agencies, which spied on political opponents and engaged in dirty tricks, torture, and “disappearings”. Those operations caused an open break between the government and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for the first time in Brazilian history. They also produced a deterioration in relations with the United States, whose leaders had expected the Castelo Branco vision of the revolution to win out.
The Médici administration wrapped itself in the green and gold flag when Brazil won the World Cup in soccer in 1970, began to build the Trans-Amazonian Highway through the northern rain forests, and dammed the Rio Paraná, creating the world’s largest hydroelectric dam at Itaipu. From 1968 to 1974, parallel with the darkest days of the dictatorship, the military-civil technocratic alliance took shape as the economy boomed, reaching annual GDP growth rates of 12 percent. It looked as if Brazil’s dreams of full industrialization and great-power status were possible. Sadly, in those years of the supposed “economic miracles,” criticism and labor unrest were suppressed with arrests, torture, and censorship. Moreover, this apparent success of mixing authoritarian rule and economic growth encouraged officers in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Uruguay to seize power in their countries.
It was in this atmosphere that retired General Ernesto Geisel (1974-79) came to the presidency with Médici’s approval. There had been intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the hard-liners against him and by the more moderate supporters of Castelo Branco for him. Fortunately for Geisel, his brother, Orlando Geisel, was the minister of army, and his close ally, General João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, was chief of Médici’s military staff.
Although not immediately understood by civilians, Ernesto Geisel’s accession signaled a move away from repression toward democratic rule. Geisel replaced several regional commanders with trusted officers and labeled his political program distensão , meaning a gradual relaxation of authoritarian rule. It would be, in his words, “the maximum of development possible with the minimum of indispensable security.”
President Geisel sought to maintain high economic growth rates, even while seeking to deal with the effects of the oil shocks. He kept up massive investments in infrastructure–highways, telecommunications, hydroelectric dams, mineral extraction, factories, and atomic energy. Fending off nationalist objections, he opened Brazil to oil prospecting by foreign firms for the first time since the early 1950s. His government borrowed billions of dollars to see Brazil through the oil crisis.
Brazil shifted its foreign policy to meet its economic needs. “Responsible pragmatism” replaced strict alignment with the United States and a worldview based on ideological frontiers and blocs of nations. Because Brazil was 80 percent dependent on imported oil, Geisel shifted the country from a pro-Israeli stance to closer ties with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iraq. His government also recognized China, Angola, and Mozambique and moved closer to Spanish America, Europe, and Japan. The 1975 agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to build nuclear reactors produced confrontation with the Carter administration, which was also scolding the Geisel government for the human rights abuses that it was fighting to stop. Frustrated with what he saw as United States highhandedness and lack of understanding, Geisel renounced the military alliance with the United States in April 1977.
In 1977 and 1978, the succession issue caused further confrontations with the hard-liners. Noting that Brazil was only a “relative democracy,” Geisel attempted in April 1977 to restrain the growing strength of the opposition parties by creating an electoral college that would approve his selected replacement. In October he dismissed the far-right minister of army, General Sylvio Cueto Coelho da Frota. In 1978 Geisel maneuvered through the first labor strikes since 1964 and through the repeated electoral victories of the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro–MDB). He allowed the return of exiles, restored habeas corpus, repealed the extraordinary powers decreed by the Fifth Institutional Act, and imposed General João Figueiredo (1979-85) as his successor in March 1979.
The last military president, João Figueiredo, said that he took over the presidency more out of a sense of duty than political ambition. He signed a general amnesty into law and turned Geisel’s distensão into a gradual abertura (the opening of the political system), saying that his goal was “to make this country a democracy.” The hard-liners reacted to the opening with a series of terrorist bombings. An April 1981 bombing incident confirmed direct military involvement in terrorism, but Figueiredo proved too weak to punish the guilty. The incident and the regime’s inaction strengthened the public’s resolve to end military rule. Moreover, Figueiredo faced other significant problems, such as soaring inflation, declining productivity, and a mounting foreign debt.
Political liberalization and the declining world economy contributed to Brazil’s economic and social problems. In 1978 and 1980, huge strikes took place in the industrial ring around São Paulo. Protesters asserted that wage increases indexed to the inflation rate were far below a livable level. Union leaders, including the future 1990 presidential candidate Luis “Lula” Inácio da Silva, were arrested for violation of national security laws. The IMF imposed a painful austerity program on Brazil. Under that program, Brazil was required to hold down wages to fight inflation. In the North, Northeast, and even in relatively prosperous Rio Grande do Sul, rural people seized unused, private land, forcing the government to create a new land reform ministry. Tension with the Roman Catholic Church, the major voice for societal change, peaked in the early 1980s with the expulsion of foreign priests involved in political and land reform issues.
To attack the soaring debt, Figueiredo’s administration stressed exports–food, natural resources, automobiles, arms, clothing, shoes, even electricity–and expanded petroleum exploration by foreign companies. In foreign relations, the objective was to establish ties with any country that would contribute to Brazilian economic development. Washington was kept at a certain distance, and the North-South dialogue was emphasized.
In 1983 the economy leaped ahead with 5.4 percent GDP growth, but it was lost in the rising inflation and the failure of political leadership. Figueiredo’s heart condition led to bypass surgery in the United States, removing him from control of the situation. In an impressive display, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in all the major cities demanding a direct vote (diretas já! ) in the choice of the next president. In April 1984, Congress failed to achieve the necessary numbers to give the people their wish, and the choice was left to an electoral college. Figueiredo did not act forcefully to back a preference, so it became a scramble as candidates pursued the collegial votes.
On January 15, 1985, the electoral college elected Tancredo Neves of Minas Gerais, Vargas’s minister of justice in the 1950s, and former federal deputy, senator, and prime minister. Neves was a sensible politician with a reputation for honesty. However, he collapsed the night before his inaugural, and the presidency passed to Vice President José Sarney (president, 1985-90), long-time supporter of the military regime. Neves died on April 21. The hopes that 1985 would be a quick transition to a new regime faded as Brazilians watched this turn of events in a state of shock. Like the regime changes of 1822, 1889, 1930, 1946, and 1964, the 1985 change also proved to be long and difficult.
Economy – overview: Possessing large and well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors, Brazil’s economy outweighs that of all other South American countries and is expanding its presence in world markets. In the late eighties and early nineties, high inflation hindered economic activity and investment. “The Real Plan”, instituted in the spring of 1994, sought to break inflationary expectations by pegging the real to the US dollar. Inflation was brought down to single digit annual figures, but not fast enough to avoid substantial real exchange rate appreciation during the transition phase of the “Real Plan”. This appreciation meant that Brazilian goods were now more expensive relative to goods from other countries, which contributed to large current account deficits. However, no shortage of foreign currency ensued because of the financial community’s renewed interest in Brazilian markets as inflation rates stabilized and the debt crisis of the eighties faded from memory. The maintenance of large current account deficits via capital account surpluses became problematic as investors became more risk averse to emerging market exposure as a consequence of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the Russian bond default in August 1998. After crafting a fiscal adjustment program and pledging progress on structural reform, Brazil received a $41.5 billion IMF-led international support program in November 1998. In January 1999, the Brazilian Central Bank announced that the real would no longer be pegged to the US dollar. This devaluation helped moderate the downturn in economic growth in 1999 that investors had expressed concerns about over the summer of 1998. Brazil’s debt to GDP ratio for 1999 beat the IMF target and helped reassure investors that Brazil will maintain tight fiscal and monetary policy even with a floating currency. The economy continued to recover in 2000, with inflation remaining in the single digits and expected growth for 2001 of 4.5%. Foreign direct investment set a record of more than $30 billion in 2000.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $1.13 trillion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 0.8% (1999 est.), 4.2% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $6,500 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
services: 62% (1999 est.)
Population below poverty line: 17.4% (1990 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 1%
highest 10%: 47.6% (1996)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 5% (1999), 6% (2000)
Labor force: 79 million (1999 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: services 53.2%, agriculture 23.1%, industry 23.7%
Unemployment rate: 7.5% (1999 est.), 7.1% (2000 est.)
revenues: $151 billion
expenditures: $149 billion, including capital expenditures of $36 billion (1998)
Industries: textiles, shoes, chemicals, cement, lumber, iron ore, tin, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, other machinery and equipment
Industrial production growth rate: -2.6% (1999 est.), 6.9% (2000 est.)
Electricity – production: 337.44 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 5.28%
other: 2.94% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 353.674 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – exports: 5 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – imports: 39.86 billion kWh
note: imports electricity from Paraguay (1999)
Agriculture – products: coffee, soybeans, wheat, rice, corn, sugarcane, cocoa, citrus; beef
Exports: $46.9 billion (f.o.b., 1999), $55.1 billion (f.o.b., 2000)
Exports – commodities: manufactures, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, coffee
Exports – partners: US 23%, Argentina 11%, Germany 5%, Netherlands 5%, Japan 5% (1999)
Imports: $48.7 billion (f.o.b., 1999), $55.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000)
Imports – commodities: machinery and equipment, chemical products, oil, electricity
Imports – partners: US 24%, Argentina 12%, Germany 10%, Japan 5%, Italy 5% (1999)
Debt – external: $200 billion (1999), $232 billion (2000)
Currency: 1 real (R$) = 100 centavos