History of Brazil

Portuguese conquistador, Pedro Álvares Cabral, led his fleet to the shores of the country now called Brazil in 1500. The Europeans saw great potential in a land inhabited by intransigent tribes but rich in natural resources.

Despite French and Spanish resistance, the Portuguese slowly expanded their territory in Brazil, finally setting the borders of modern Brazil in 1777. In 1808, the Portuguese royal family fled the Napoleonic wars and declared Brazil the centre of the Portuguese Empire. When King João VI returned to Europe, his elder son, Pedro was crowned the first Emperor of Brazil in 1822.

The tribespeople were happy to trade with the settlers, but they balked at the intensive labour imposed on them by the new plantations, especially when forced into slavery. Instead, the Portuguese brought slaves over from Africa, a trade that totalled up to 13 million over a period of 300 years, until its abolition in 1888.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the monarchy was overthrown and a period of political instability began. After a number of rebellions, coups and changes of power, a brutal military dictatorship led by Getúlio Vargas, gained power in 1937. After WWII, Vargas was overthrown and the country enjoyed a period of remarkable economic growth before a democratic government was finally re-established in 1985.

It was also this period that saw a further wave of immigration, begun in the 19th century, with arrivals from Europe, Japan and the Middle East. The diverse and largely harmonious cultural and racial mix that characterises Brazil today is the result of its history of settlement and integration.

In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) became president, running a widely celebrated left-wing government. He helped establish Brazil as a major international economic power whilst investing in social welfare for its poorer citizens.

Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, became Brazil’s first elected female president in 2011. Rousseff maintained economic stability and continued her predecessor’s socially inclusive programmes until her impeachment and removal from office in August 2016. Rousseff’s Vice President Michel Temer was named her successor and is now serving as the 37th President of Brazil.

One of the BRIC countries (newly emerging economic powerhouses, with Russia, India and China), Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

Did You Know?
• Before the European conquest, there were approximately 10 million indigenous inhabitants in Brazil; today they number some 896,000.
• The geographic centre of South America is in Mato Grosso state, near the town of Santa Carmem; odd magnetic phenomena have been reported here, such as driverless cars rolling uphill.
• The Amazon River carries nearly one-fifth of all the world’s surface water.