Brazil And Its History

What is the history of the largest nation in South America?Today, Brazil is the leader when it comes to Latin America. It has the largest and most diverse South American economy, and has the most potential heading into the new millineum.

Portuguese Admiral Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500, becoming the first European to step on Brazilian shores. He found a land with a sparse, but diversified Native population. This land was named Brazil. Brazil was named after a type of wood, brazilwood. (This brazilwood would become Brazil's main export in the coming years). The Portuguese at first saw little in its South American colony. Gold was not found immediately, like in the Spanish American colonies, and there were no other readily accessible commodities apparent. Slowly, Brazil began to export brazilwood, which the Portuguese used to make high-quality furniture, and also a red dye. However, the market for these products quickly declined, as cheaper ways of making dye and furniture were discovered and exploited.

Sugarcane, a product that was being grown and exported by other Latin American colonies, became Brazil's second cash crop. Huge plantations were created in northern Brazil. Because there was not a huge Native population at the time to work the sugar fields, a huge slave market opened up in Brazil. During the colonial years millions of African slaves were forcibly transported to the sugar fields of Brazil. Brazil by far had the largest slave population in South America. Gold was discovered in the 17th century. Hundreds of thousands of people came to mine it. However, there was not a large supply as in Mexico or Peru. Thus, gold never became a large export to Brazil. As sugar became less and less profitable, coffee began to be grown in large quantities. Coffee became the leading export and to this day remains Brazil's most important cash crop.

Brazil gained its independence from Portugal in 1822 in a bloodless revolt. Dom Pedro I assumed the monarchy and became Brazil's first king. He ruled until 1831 when he was forced to abdicate. His son, who was only five years old, assumed the throne. Ten years later, Dom Pedro II, was officially named King of Brazil. In 1865 Brazil joined Uruguay and Argentina in a war against Paraguay. Paraguay held out for five years, but eventually lost. In 1888 slavery was officially abolished. However, many of the African slaves continued to work the fields, as there was little other financial options open to them. Dom Pedro II ruled until 1889, a bloodless revolution taking power away from him.

When Dom Pedro II left, the monarchy in Brazil was over. In 1889 a republic was established. This republic consisted of a weak central government, but strong state governments (there were twenty states in Brazil). Brazil was lead by an elected president. However, fewer than five percent of the population had the right to vote. This time was generally stable politically. In the First World War, Brazil sided with the Allied powers and sent incredible amounts of raw materials to Europe and the United States. However, this growth was followed by severe economic decline. In 1929 the economy crumbled as the Stock Market crashed in the United States marking the beginning of the Great Depression.

In 1930, Getulio Vargas led a military coup that ended the First Republic. Vargas, though a vicious authoritarian ruler, did a lot to improve Brazil. He wrote a constitution in which the freedom of assembly, religion, and the right to vote was guaranteed. He also helped to stabilize the fluctuating coffee market, which threatened to undermine the growing coffee industry. However, due to growing concerns over the economy and rising inflation, Vargas was overthrown in another bloodless coup in 1945.

In 1946 the Second Republic began. The concerns for this time period were chiefly economic in nature. President after president was replaced as the economy continued to suffer. In 1950 Vargas was elected president. He, however, killed himself in 1954 as it once again looked like he would be replaced. The Second Republic lasted until 1964 when the military rose up and took power. From 1964 to 1985 Brazil was ruled by a series of military generals who were violent and abusive. The 1960 and 1970's were periods of dramatic economic growth. The Brazilian economy grew on an average of seven percent per year, making it the fastest growing economy in the world. However, soaring oil prices and falling coffee prices drew Brazil back into economic despair in the late 1970's and 1980's.

Sensing a change in the political current, President Joao Figueiredo instituted state elections to elect state governors. In 1989 Fernando Collor de Mello was elected President of Brazil. He was elected on the platform of reversing the trend of run-away inflation. However, it was an uphill battle. In 1994 Brazil had over a 2000 percent inflation rate. In the mid 1990's the Real Plan was instituted to help control inflation. It worked amazingly well, bringing inflation rates down to five percent a year. However in the late 1990's Brazil currency plummeted, bringing the Brazilian economy to the brink of collapse.

Toady, Brazil has found away to stabilize its currency and control inflation. It is the world's ninth largest economy, and is by far South America's most diverse economy. A strong industrial sector has grown, becoming more important than Brazil's agrarian sector. However, Brazil is still plagued by a weak central government and an unserviceable foreign debt.

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