Brazilian history starts on April 22nd of 1500, when the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral 'accidentally' landed in southern Bahia. The name "Brazil" came from "Pau-Brasil", a tropical redwood used as dyeing of fabric that became the export product of the country. The initial colonization was located in the border of the continent, close to the ocean where it was easier to ship the wood. Initially, the "run to the west" was made by the "bandeirantes", the name given to the indigenous slave­hunters. It can be said that these groups effectively secured the massive interior for the Portuguese. Regions like Chapada Diamantina, Goiás and Mato Grosso were annexed in this period.

    During the XVII and XVIII centuries, many attempts of colonization were made by the European powers competing for the region. French and Holland tried many times to establish colonies in the country, and invade the cities of Rio and Fortaleza, in the north, being expulsed by the Portuguese afterwards. Some of their culture and ethnical characteristics can still be noticed in these regions.

    The sugar cane plantations became the most important economic activity in the XVII century. This new activity demanded a lot of workers. However, Indians were uninterested in the repetitive drudgery of cutting cane. Hence, African slaves were introduced in the end of 1500's, also because the diseases that the colonizers brought with them were killing the Indians.

    Brazil was soon one leg on a lucrative maritime trade triangle: guns and supplies from Portugal to Africa, slaves from Africa to Brazil, sugar from Brazil back to Europe. Within a few decades, colonial cities such as Salvador and Olinda were fabulously rich. These offspring of mixed Black, Indian and European heritage formed a rapidly emerging mulatto population. Slavery was only abolished in 1888, but these three centuries have left a considerable impact on the country; today some 38% of the Brazilian population is composed by mulattos. In the beginning of the XIX century, Napoleon conquested Lisbon and forced the Portuguese king to move to Brazil declaring Rio de Janeiro the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal. That made Brazil the only New World colony to serve as the seat of an European monarchy.

    The base of the economy turned to be the gold mining, mostly in the natural deposits discovered in the southern central part of what is today the state of Minas Gerais. The gold mining instigated the first attempts of real settlers moving into the interior.

    In 1822, Brazil gained independence, supported by the British. The independence was an agreement between the components of the dominant elite. The son of the Portuguese king, Don Pedro I, was named Emperor of Brazil without any bloodshed. The changes brought by the royal presence were enormous: palaces, parks, and gardens were built all over the capital, Rio de Janeiro. The monarchy collapsed in 1889, a year after the emancipation of the slaves. By that time, the coffee and rubber industries boomed, bringing richness to regions like São Paulo and Amazon. The beauty of the public theaters in Manaus and São Paulo are good examples of that time.

    The first half of the XX century was marked by the beginning of the Brazilian industrialization. When the Great Depression took hold of the economy, riots against the corruption of old elites broke out and Pres. Getúlio Vargas became the constructor of a modern country. He was immensely popular with the Brazilian people until he declared himself dictator, calling his regime the 'New State'. After 20 years on government, seeing his enemies gaining power, he killed himself in the Government Palace, to "became history", as said on his last letter.

    After some good and bad Presidents between 1950 and 1964, a military coup ended democracy period, initiating a dictatorship where torture and social restrictions were the order of the day. On the other hand, Brazil prospered economically, with a lot of Government investments as the construction of the new capital, Brasília and numerous highways built to link far regions, like the Amazon. This policy developed the interior of the country but started the destruction of the rainforest and the invasion of Indian land. In the early '80s, however, it became clear that much of the economic "miracle" had been financed on easy international loans, much of that invested in dubious development projects. In 1985 the militaries left the government and a new democratic period initiated, bringing with it problems with the economy. The hyper-inflation took place, reaching over 8.000% a year in 1989.

    It was only in 1994, after the election of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, that this drain from corruption and uncertainty could be brought to a halt with the introduction of the 'Plano Real' and a new team of good politics in the government.

    The actual President is Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, elected in 2002. Consistently described as "leftist", his election has been billed as a victory for the left. But his policies and those of the PT, his party, are now, after the election, widely reported to have become more centrist. Lula pledged to maintain Brazil's financial commitments while working to alleviate the serious poverty of the country.


 
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