Overview of Sao Paulo

History of Sao Paulo

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Indigenous people first cultivated this area, arriving over 8,000 years ago by crossing the Bering land bridge into Alaska and then spreading across North and Central America. At one point, there were as many as 2,000 nations and tribes seven million people. The indigenous of Brazil were mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture.

The Portuguese arrived in 1500 with Pedro Cabral leading the colonization. The Portuguese were first interested in the Amazonian brazilwood (for which the country was named). The Europeans had little respect for the native people and infighting between the tribes and with the European population, plus disease, decimated the indigenous population. Today, fewer than 200,000 of Brazil's indigenous people survive with just a few tribes in remote corners of the Amazon rain forest.

The territory was only loosely guarded at first and there were several invasions by other European powers. This changed in the 17th century as the production of sugarcane developed. Grown in plantation's called engenhos along the northeast coast of the country, Portuguese originally tried using the indigenous as slaves. This practice was not successful and so began the import of black slaves from Africa. This mixing of races and cultural, including the European frequently intermarrying with both the Indians and the African slaves, led to the unique variety in Brazilian culture.

In 1808, the Portuguese court fled Napoleon's invasion and established their government in their colony of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro. It was from here that the Portuguese king, João VI, ruled his empire for 13 years. Issues in Portugal eventually called the crown back and the King's eldest son, Pedro, stayed in Brazil. Pedro was an advocate for the secession of Brazil from Portugal but was eventually removed in 1831. Pedro's five-year-old son Pedro II, was left to succeed him which he eventually did in 1840. During Pedro II's rule, he oversaw the abolition of slavery in 1888 with his daughter, Princess Isabel, signing the Aurea Law.

Pedro II was ousted by a Republican military coup. Coffee production had become the dominant industry in the 19th century and brought in around one million European immigrants, changing the face of Brazil. Tired of an emperor's rule, wealthy coffee businessmen backed the coup which was the end of Brazil's imperial history. The coup was led by General Deodoro da Fonseca who became the country's first de facto president. From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy. This period, known as the "Old Republic", ended in 1930 with another military coup that placed Getúlio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency.

An unstable time of military and egotictical governmental leaders and a fragile economy, Getúlio Dorneles Vargas actually ruled as dictator (1930-34), congressionally elected president (1934-37), dictator (1937-45), senator (1946-51) and the first popularly elected president (1951-54). Fernando Collor de Mello was the first elected president by popular vote after the military regime in December 1989. Collor was eventually impeached, but democratic elections continued.

Brazil's struggles today with a highly unequal distribution of wealth. By the 1990s, one out of four Brazilians continued to survive on less than one dollar a day. This social and economic issues led the 2002 election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the first working-class president. He has worked to increase to the minimum wage, to cut retirement benefits for public servants, and to establish the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program. Since 2005, Lula's government has dealt with allegations of corruption misuse of authority. Despite this, Lula was re-elected President in the general elections of October, 2006.

A sign of Brazil's development has been its successful bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Sao Paulo

On January 20th, 1532 Martin Afonso de Sousa founded the first city in Brazil, São Vicente, on the coast of what is today Sao Paulo state, in order to assure Portuguese hegemony in the region. Sugar cane was the first economic activity, but production couldn’t compete with the more favourable conditions to the northeast.

On January 25th 1554 Jesuits, whose mission was to convert the indigenous population to Christianity, walked up the Serra do Mar and founded a college, which would later become the city of São Paulo. After the Jesuits came the bandeirantes, who enslaved the local Indian population and put them to work on the cane plantations. The bandeirantes would later explore the hitherto unknown regions of western Brazil in search of gold. The presence of the Jesuits marked the region in many ways – indeed no other state in Brazil has so many cities and rivers named after saints. The Jesuits offered the only means of access to education for ordinary people (Indians and non-Indians) during colonial times. The bandeirantes and their enterprises had no official support but the isolation of the city of São Paulo at that time gave them greater freedom than the Portuguese administrators. These two groups were therefore of fundamental importance in shaping early colonial society, and paved the way for the later the prosperity of São Paulo.

By the end of the 17th century the trade in African slaves had become well established and caused the bandeirantes to shift their activities to prospecting gold. No gold was found in the region of Sao Paulo however, and the need to control the production and commerce of gold led to Rio de Janeiro becoming the administrative centre of Brazil and Sao Paulo losing much of its former independence. By the early 19th century the adventurous bandeirantes were giving way to the cane farmers and sugar producers. In contrast to the northeast, where an almost feudal society existed, in Sao Paulo the prosperity of the farmers was accompanied by urban progress. Soon the cane farmers realized the much better market potential of the coffee culture, and by the middle of the 19th century São Paulo was the largest producer of coffee in Brazil.

In 1888 slavery was finally abolished in Brazil. Aware of his inevitability the São Paulo coffee farmers had been contracting Italian migrant workers since the 1870’s. Indeed São Paulo’s evolution was marked by the large influx of many different immigrant groups during the second half of the 19th century. Sao Paulo relied far less on a slave workforce than other regions of Brazil however, so the abolition of slavery - the Golden Law – had less effect here than in other areas, and even today the influence of black culture is far weaker here than elsewhere in the country.

Brazil became a republic in 1889. Brazil’s first two presidents were military commanders. After this presidents were voted into office. From 1902 to 1930, a period known as the Republica Velha (Old Republic), there was a power-sharing government between the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. During the Old Republic, Sao Paulo consolidated its economic supremacy. By 1930, about 2,5 million immigrants had entered São Paulo (more than half of the total number of immigrants to Brazil), most of them with crafts learnt in their native countries. The progressive industrialization of Brazil was also being felt in Sao Paulo: the coffee barons and entrepreneurs (often immigrants with specialized skills) started investing in small factories in the first decades of the 20th century to supply goods for this growing internal market. The First World War created an even greater demand for Brazil’s manufactured goods and raw materials.

Despite this industrial growth the economy was still heavily dependent on coffee, and the great stock market crash of 1929 came as a great blow to the economy of Sao Paulo. The economic crisis triggered political changes: the Revolution of 1930 weakened the political influence of São Paulo. After the partial collapse of the coffee trade, farmers and the Government looked for agricultural alternatives. Meanwhile immigration continued, this time with a predominance of Japanese migrants. Most Japanese went to work in agricultural sectors and applied their experience to the preparation of the soil and the experimentation of new products.

Getulio Vargas, president during the World War II period, maintained a nationalist policy focused on the creation of heavy industry and the substitution of importations. By 1950, industrial production represented 80% of the economy of São Paulo. The basic industries (steel, oil refineries), the large consumer market and the educated labour force kept attracting foreign investment and foreign car makers set up shop in the region. Factors like the chaotic traffic, the growth of markets in other cities, the cost of land, and the strength of the unions, pushed many new businesses to the interior of Brazil during the 1980’s.

After the influx of foreign immigrants which characterised the first decades of the 20th century, internal immigration later became an important phenomenon. Indeed many of Sao Paulo’s sky-scrapers were built by the Nordestinos (migrant workers form the North-eastern Brazilian states).

Today São Paulo remains the most affluent and multicultural state of Brazil.

Update 13/12/2010

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