In the 1600s the Portuguese continued to harvest Brazilwood,
but also diversified their economy. In the northeast the lands proved ideal for
the growth of sugarcane so plantations arose. In order to work these massive plantations,
the Portuguese turned to enslaving the indigenous people as well as
These plantations essentially failed in using the indigenous people as slaves, but
they did successfully push many of the native people inland, further into the forests.
They also brought in thousands of Africans as slaves to work
Many of these slaves also escaped the plantations and fled into the nearby forests.
There were enough of these escaped slaves to form settlements by themselves or with
the indigenous people. One of these settlements, near Palmares grew to a population
of nearly 30,000 people by the late 1600s.
Also in the 1600s other European powers tried to gain control
over parts of Brazil. The Spanish,
French, and Dutch were the most
active in this pursuit as they wanted the wealth the forests and fields could provide
or just the shipments from the mainland. At the same time Jesuit missionaries swarmed
the lands to convert the local people to Catholicism. These conversion efforts proved
quite successful in many areas, including in the region of Sao Paulo, which was
a base for the Jesuits.
From this point until the early 1800s there were two groups of people that substantially
changed the region: the missionaries, and the slaves. As the economy grew it also
shifted more towards sugarcane, the largest cash crop. However, since cultivating
sugarcane is a very manual process, it required labor so the Portuguese
landowners turned to Africa for slaves.
This change in the country's largest cash crop changed the economy and the culture
in Brazil. The culture began to change as influences from
African arrived with the slaves, including new foods, music, dress, and dance. It
also changed the language slightly and the ethnic make-up of the population substantially.
On the financial side sugarcane made the economy very reliant on this one good so
over time the economic situation fluctuated greatly depending on demand for this
single good. It also relied on the rest of the sugarcane producing world and Brazil's
successes were high as the Caribbean islands struggled and vice versa. Although
the economy was primarily reliant on sugarcane, there was one major exception. In
the late 1600s gold was discovered inland and many people sought wealth inland.
The profits from the gold helped boost the economy and also increased consumerism.
Despite the changes in supply of sugarcane, another factor on the Brazilian economy
was trade restrictions. Brazil could only trade legally with
Portugal or Portuguese colonies, meaning much of the money
and control of all of Brazil's industries remained in the hands of the ethnic
These restrictions also meant any political debate the Portuguese
government had got transferred to Brazil. In the late 1500s
the Dutch and Portuguese began arguments and this led to the banning of all trade
with the Netherlands. As numerous Dutch merchants had
lands and trade routes with Brazil, this argument in Europe
got transferred to Brazil, leading to battles and wars between these two ethnic
groups throughout much of the 1600s.
Through most of the 1600s and 1700s Brazil continued to develop
on the same path they had begun in the late 1500s. Sugarcane remained the focus
as slaves were brought in from Africa in greater numbers
as many of the indigenous people shifted inland, where few Europeans
moved, other than the missionaries. Over time, this growing slave population led
to escaped slaves and growing communities called mocambos or quilombos.
These communities were often further inland, generally in the forests and grew over
time as both African as well as indigenous people settled
In 1808 France invaded Portugal
during the Napoleonic Wars. During this time of takeover most of the American colonies
began declaring independence from Spain, which was also taken
over by France at the time, but Portugal's government actually went into exile
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In addition to the government's move to Brazil, the government
then remained in the country for 15 years, long after France
had left Portugal. During this time Brazil and Portugal
grew closer as they were united as one kingdom and Portuguese institutions and culture
were further incorporated in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro was only the seat of Portuguese power until 1821 when the king of
Portugal returned to Europe. However,
his son, Pedro remained behind to govern Brazil, however
at this time, in 1822, Brazil gained independence. Despite Pedro's move to separate
Brazil from Portugal, he remained in Brazil as he became king of the country in
a constitutional monarchy. However he proved incapable to rule and left the following
year, abdicating in 1831 as he left his son, Pedro II to rule the country at the
age of five.
Newly independent Brazil faced a number of challenges in
nearly every realm. There were political issues and instability, international conflicts,
economic struggles, and internal changes and demands. Politically, this new government
was controlled tightly by the elite as the military and a few groups of social elites
alternated power. During this time the government seemed more concerned about maintaining
power and control than they were with social or economic progress. It was a time
with decent stability, but isolation as the country put itself on an island from
its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries and with a fairly closed economy there
was little contact with other countries either. The country also got into armed
battles with both Uruguay and Paraguay
regarding their borders.
The struggles in international relations, the economy, and internal social demands
were all centered on slavery and the sugarcane industry. It was also in the early
1800s that most of the world banned the slave trade, but this was not the case with
Brazil as their economy was heavily reliant on slave labor
and the powerful land owners had no interest in losing their wealth. This led to
internal resistance and external demands, primarily originating with the
British who fought slavery from an ethical and economic perspective (slavery
in Brazil meant Brazilian sugarcane prices were significantly lower than sugarcane
British colonies could produce without slaves).
Eventually Brazil ended the domestic slave trade, but not
international slave trade. This only encouraged more slaves to be brought in from
Africa itself. This magnified the international political
conflicts Brazil had with the United Kingdom.
This time period also created a social wedge between the rich and poor in
Brazil. The landowners and elite held almost all of the money and power,
while many plantation workers, including the rapidly expanding slave population,
had little to no money. There became a very rich upper class and a very poor working
class, which divided the people and continues to divide the people today. Over time
this gap has widened, although a middle class has also developed more recently.
The widening gap was best seen between the landowners and slaves. However, the growing
middle class throughout the 1800s joined in the fight to end slavery and by 1888
slavery ended in Brazil, making them the last country in
the Americas to end this practice. However, this expanded time period when slavery
did exist also created a more ethnic African-heavy society.
Today this population continues to comprise a huge percentage of the population.
The changes in slavery and the economy, plus international conflicts also led to
a slowly collapsing economy, which led to a military coup in 1889. This coup established
the country as a republic, although over the next couple decades it was little more
than a military dictatorship.
In 1930 the government changed its focus due to another military coup, which led
to a shift in focus to economic growth and progress. This increased trade and opened
the country, as harvesting trees and other valuable resources from the rainforests
became a focus. This growth continued into the 1950s as elected rulers were chosen
over the military.
This time of slow, but regular growth ended in 1964 with another military coup.
The new government expedited economic reforms, but also refused numerous rights
to the people as censorship and political prisoners were on the rise. The economic
policies also later failed, leading to substantial government debt and a stagnant
economy at the best of times.
The military rulers were overthrown in 1985 with a democratically elected government.
This new government, and its successors, faced the same economic troubles that the
country faced in the previous decade. To try to remedy this, Brazil
privatized many sectors and created many free trade agreements to spark their economy.
In the 1990s and 2000s the focus of political campaigns has been on social programs
and getting the country out of poverty. This process has moved slowly, but does
seem to be helping.
Today, the divide between rich and poor in Brazil continues
to widen. Many people live in slums, while just a few miles away are mansions on
the ocean. The government is trying to address these concerns, but little progress
has been made. There is also the middle class, which makes up about a third to half
the population, and the indigenous people who live primarily in the rainforests,
fairly isolated from the people, making Brazil incredibly diverse.