On the 22nd April 1500, the India Armada (India being its original destiny), lead by Pedro Alvares Cabral, accidentally arrived in Brazil. The place where they disembarked was named Porto Seguro (Safe Port). The famous Pau Brazil (a type of Brazilian wood, used as dye) was the main immediate export from Brazil. In fact, the name of this wood became the definitive name of this new-found territory. Originally named “Terra de Vera Cruz” (True Cross Land), it was then renamed Brasil Land, and finally Brasil (Brazil). It is also curious to note that back then, “brazilian” was just the name of the profession related to this Brazilian wood (Pau Brazil).
After more than 300 years of colonization, on 7th September 1822, Brazilian independence was finally proclaimed by the king Dom Pedro I of Brazil (Dom Pedro IV of Portugal), who would abdicate in favor of Dom Pedro II, his five year old son, on 7th April 1831.
From then on, Portuguese and Brazilian histories followed different paths, but kept strong bounds, namely in language, culture and immigration; these bounds are so strong that even today Portugal and Brazil consider each other brother-countries. The Portuguese rule left several lasting consequences that are still felt today.
a) Brazil is characterized by very wide disparities in income, wealth, education and economic opportunity. These are more extreme than in Asia, Europe or North America. The social structure still has strong echoes of the colonial period, when there was great inequality in access to landed property, and the bulk of the labor force were slaves. The continued neglect of popular education is very marked even by Latin American standards and has hampered the growth of labor productivity. Another aspect of inequality is regional. The per capita income disparity between the poorest state, Piaui, and the federal district is about 7:1. The only other countries with this degree of regional disparity are Mexico and China.
b) Inequalities of income and opportunity in Brazil are closely associated with ethnicity, but the heritage of slavery has produced less social tension than in the United States. Gilberto Freyre (1959) argued that Brazilians are more or less color blind, and that Brazil is a social continuum from rich to poor with no sharp social antagonisms.
c) Brazil has been favored by softer political transitions than other countries in Latin America. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) divided the Americas amicably between Portugal and Spain. Portugal got a slice extending 48 degrees West of the Greenwich meridian, but its present borders encompass nearly three times as much land — a situation peacefully endorsed by the Treaty of Madrid in 1750. Most of the territorial gains were made by frontiersmen. The only substantial invasion was the Dutch occupation of the Northeast (1630– 54). Conflicts to preserve boundaries against French or Spanish incursions were insignificant, and the last territorial acquisition, the Acre territory, was by purchase from Bolivia. The biggest foreign war was with Paraguay (1865–70). This is in stark contrast with Mexico, which lost half its territory in wars with the United States, or to European and Asian experience of wars over boundaries.
d) Another striking feature has been the ease of Brazil’s
domestic political transitions. Independence was gained with no significant struggle, the Portuguese crown prince becoming Emperor of Brazil in 1822. Slavery was abolished without a civil war in 1888. The Empire became a republic without a struggle in 1889. The Vargas dictatorship of 1930–45 began and ended with relatively little violence, and this was also true of military rule from 1964–85.
e) The combination of smooth political transitions, freedom from foreign conflicts and relative ease of social relations between ethnic groups permitted Brazil to assimilate a cosmopolitan mix of the original Portuguese settlers, the descendants of African slaves, later immigrants from Italy, Japan, Germany and the Lebanon. It is a frontier country with a high degree of self–confidence, without a chip–on–the–shoulder feeling of exploitation by powerful neighbors. It is a looser federation than many big countries and has an intellectual life that is multipolar.
On April 22nd, 2017 Brazil, still a very young country, celebrates 517 years of its “accidentally discovery” or, by another point of view, its “timely conquest” by the Portugueses.