In 1500, a fleet of Portuguese ships on its way to the East, commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral, was blown of course and sighted land. By accident, Brazil was “discovered” on April 22nd, 1500. The new land was named “Land of the True Cross” (Terra de Vera Cruz).
At first, the “discoverers” were disappointed: they had not seen any gold or silver, just lots of friendly natives, fruit and forests. The only commercially viable product was a reddish wood which they called cinderwood, “Pau Brasil” because of its colour. And so the new land became Brazil. A few trading posts were set up, but it was an inauspicious beginning to a country which would eventually supply the gold to finance Britain’s Industrial Revolution, the rubber that made possible the motorcar and which would feed the world with sugar and coffee.
In the next centuries, Portuguese colonists gradually pushed inland, bringing along large numbers of African slaves. Slavery was not abolished until 1888.
The King of Portugal, fleeing before Napoleon’s army, moved the seat of government to Brazil in 1808. Brazil there upon became a kingdom under Dom João VI.
After his return to Portugal, his son Pedro proclaimed the independence of Brazil on September 7th, 1822 and was acclaimed emperor. The second emperor, Dom Pedro II, was deposed in 1889 and a republic proclaimed on November 15th, 1889. The new country was called the United States of Brazil. In 1967 the country was renamed the Federative Republic of Brazil.
Military took control in 1930; Getulio Vargas assumed dictatorial power, until finally forced out by the military in 1945. A democratic regime prevailed from 1945 to 1964, during which time the capital was moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. The establishment of Brasilia in 1960 as the new capital was the juncture of several processed currents in 20th century Brazil: democracy, idealism and development.
The next five presidents were all military leaders. Censorship was imposed, and much of the opposition was suppressed amid charges of torture. In 1974 elections, the official opposition party made gains in the chamber of deputies; some relaxation of censorship occurred.
Since 1930, successive governments have pursued industrial and agricultural growth and the development of interior areas. Exploiting vast mineral resources, fertile soil in several regions and a huge labour force, Brazil became the leading industrial power of Latin America by the 1970s, while agricultural output soared. Democratic elections were held in 1985 as the nation returned to civilian rule.