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Pará and Belém - History
The Amazonic region, which includes, among others, the states of Amazonas and Pará, started to attract the world´s attention after the expedition of ; he sailed the river Amazonas from Peru to the Atlantic, and sent afterwards a report to Europe, relating the immense wealthiness he had come across.
Portugal and Spain, which by the Treaty of Tordesillas had dividided the new found lands (Americas) between them, had to combat the invasion of British, French, Dutch and others. From 1580 to 1640, Portugal and Spain became one single kingdom, under Spanish ruling; around this same epoch, the French had invaded the north of Brazil, and British and Dutch had settled on the northern extreme of South America.
So, it dates back to the early 1600s the first official attempts to populate the region. In 1616, after the French were expelled, an exploratory fleet left from São Luís and navigated the coast; in an stratetic spot, shortly after entering the delta of a large river (today called Guajará), a fortress was built; the fortress was called Nossa Senhora de Belém, and was the origin of the city of Belém.
Portugal and Spain knew that invasors were still around; the economic potential of the region, and the long distances from the administrative centers caused this region to be the most exposed to invasions.
In 1621, the metropolis determined the creation of the State of Maranhão and Grão-Pará, which comprehended the modern states of Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará e Pará; this state was subordinated directly to Europe, not to Brazilian government. The war against foreigners continued until 1647, when the last Dutch position were destroyed in Amapá.
Guaranteed the possession, it was time to develop the economy. The indians were fundamental in this process, both because of their workpower and their deep knowledge of the natural resources.
The jesuits were called, in an attempt to establish peaceful relations with the indians; the idea backfired: soon the jesuits were the main suppliers of the jungle products to Europe (bypassing Portuguese and Brazilian traders), often based on slavery of indians.
Portugal took measures to try to mitigate the (then) immense power of the jesuits. In 1667, it was decided that Portuguese convicts would be sent to Pará, to increase the availability of non-indian workforce. In 1682, Portugal created the Companhia do Comércio do Estado do Maranhão (an official trading company, in the molds of Eastern Indians), whose functions included commerce of jungle products and black slaves from Africa. In 1755, came the Companhia Geral do Comércio do Grão-Pará e Maranhão; this one expanded on the predecessor, with a much larger funding of credit; the Company indeed managed to gain a good share of tradings, but, instead of easing the anger against the jesuits, it only made the situation get worse.
In 1758, Portugal orders all jesuits out of the country, and frees all indian slaves. By the end of the 18th century, Grão-Pará had an economic impulse; the economic activities of the jesuits were overtaken by locals, and the local goverment was enpowered; the capital, Belém, was the most important regional center.
For as long as Brazil was a colony, Grão-Pará and Maranhão had an administration independent from the rest of Brazil; because Grão-Pará had a more direct contact with Europe, the movements for independence were not so strong as in other places (actually, the dominant class was composed mostly by Portuguese, who didn´t want the independence at all).
When D. Pedro declared independence, in 1822, he had to fight also the provinces of Grão-Pará and Maranhão. In 1823, a fleet commanded by British John Pascoe Grenfell arrived to the port of Belém, to combat rebels. Only in august of 1824 did the new governor swore loyalty to the Brazilian Emperor.
Until about 1840, most efforts of the administration were directed to combat rebellions. The largest rebel movement was Cabanagem, which ecloded in 1834; Cabanagem was driven mostly by the poor people (notably indians and blacks) who were fighting not only against Portugal, but also against their own subjugators; read more about Cabanagem (in Portuguese).
By 1850, the model of economy based on jungle products was ruined.
In the second half of the 19th century, the world started to pay close attention to the economic potential of the Amazon forest. United Kindgom and United States sent expeditions commanded by famous scientists, like Henry Walter Bates, Alfred Russel Wallace, Louis Agassiz and others.
These scientific researches had at least one major consequence: Pará and Amazonas became the largest suppliers of rubber to the world, thanks to the vast number of rubber trees existent in Amazon.
From 1870 to 1920, Amazonas and Pará saw an impressive growth. Rubber was in high world demand, and these States had a virtual monopoly. Belém had a fast development of urbanization, many buildings were constructed. Because the process of extration of rubber is essentially manual, hordes of Brazilians moved to the region, resulting in expressive demographic growth (counts indicated 18,000 inhabitants in 1851 and 192,000 in 1907).
The rubber cycle lasted short. Seeds of rubber trees were sent to the Far East (Malaysia, Sri Lanka and others), where they adapated well and had the advantage of being cultivated in farms (saving the efforts of struggling the jungle to extract the rubber). The prices of rubber, which reached peaks at the beginning of the century, saw a sharp drop after the end of World War I. The crash of the NYSE affected the entire country.
By 1930, Pará was entering a period of economic stagnation; other attempts to recover the rubber market failed. The basis of the economy turned to the exploration of natural resources.
In the second half of the 20th century, measures were taken by the Federal government to try to integrate the economy of Pará and neighbour States to the rest of the country.
Several roads were opened, having Belém as focal point: Belém-São Luís, Belém-Brasília and Transamazônica, among others. These roads were meant to facilitate traffic of people and goods between Belém and other large centers; actual results, however, were far from expected. The small market of the cities, the long distances, the lack of credit, among other factors, prevented the economic development of the region. Over time, roads were abandonned, and large parts were claimed back by the jungle.
In 1966, the federal government created SUDAM (Superintendência para Desenvolvimento da Amazônia), an institution aimed at funding economic projects in the north of Brazil; after several denounces of corruption, SUDAM was closed down in 2002.
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