Latinamerica Collection
History of Brazil

Pre-Columbian Period
Indigenous populations are said to have existed in Brazil for some 30,000 years. Population calculations have estimated that upon the arrival of the colonists anywhere from 2.5 to 8.5 million people lived in what is now Brazil. Tribes were generally spread throughout the entire landmass and were eventually wiped out beginning in 1500 with the arrival of the Portuguese.


Colonial Period
The Portuguese arrived in 1500 led by Pedro Álvares Cabral and were welcomed with curiosity and kindness by the native tribes. However, the Portuguese brought along with them numerous European diseases that quickly began killing off the indigenous populations even when they made no direct contact with the Portuguese. This was because the disease spread through the natives' trade routes very quickly.


Initially, Brazil received little attention from the capital of Portugal as it was not as economically important as the countries in the East. Brazil was not inhabited for the first 30 years after the Portuguese first laid claim to the region. Instead, it was merely patrolled and protected by its investors to avoid takeover from other interested countries. Soon however, it became obvious that Brazil would need to be inhabited if Portugal would retain its claim to the region. For that reason, the first settlement was established in 1532 and was named Sao Vicente.


The Portuguese quickly took advantage of the internal struggle between the native tribes allowing them to kill each other while providing extra support. This was seen as helpful for the Portuguese as it further reduced the numbers of the native population without much expense to the settlers. The overthrowing of the native populations was not like those of the other Latin American settlements because of the vast size of Brazil. Therefore, these struggles took place over very large distances and with completely different groups of people.


Eventually, Portugal began imprisoning the indigenous people for slave labor. At first the settlers bargained with the natives to bring brazilwood from the forests for economic reasons, but eventually the natives lost interest. Therefore, the Portuguese resorted to force and violence. Eventually the Indians were used for much of the economic needs of the Portuguese in the area.


Independence to Present
The Brazilian colony was ruled from Lisbon, Portugal until 1808 when the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil to escape Napoleon's army. The royal family established the city of Rio de Janeiro as their seat of government and not long after came the declaration of independence of Brazil in 1822 under the leadership of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled until 1889 when a coup led to the establishment of a federal republic. The government remained a constitutional republic until 1930 when another coup led to the placement of a dictator for 15 years. Beginning in 1945 presidential elections took place normally until the resignation of Janio Quadros led to the succession of Joao Goulart in 1961. Goulart immediately startled the military with his radical views and opinions which led to yet another military coup.


At this point, the military was responsible for selecting the president until the mid 1970s when Ernesto Geisel began transforming the government into a democratic state. In 1985 an electoral college was assembled to select the president, and by 1989 the process was transformed into popular elections. For the most part since this time, presidencies have put into effect strong programs for economic reform. The current president, Luiz Inacio da Silva is the nation's first working-class president. His policies have led to strong economic growth and an increase in employment and wages.