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Paraiba - History

The first group of Portuguese to set foot on lands of Paraíba were apparently welcomed by the indians, but ended up killed and eaten; the region, near the border with Pernambuco, preserves until today the name of Baía da Traição (Bay of Traison).
In the first decades of the 1500s, when Brazil was found, the region of Paraíba was more often visited by Frenchmen (who became friends with the indians) than the Portuguese; the reason was that while the latter wanted to occupy the lands (imposing authority), the former only wanted to have commercial relationships (giving away gadgets in exchange of valuable brazil-wood).
Portuguese and French (these ones, with support of the indians) fought all along the 16th century. Because of this war, only on November 4th 1585 didthe Portuguese found the first village in the region, which was called Filipéia, and today is João Pessoa; the following years, the French were expelled from their positions in Mamanguape and the Baía da Traição.
During the last years of the 16th century, an epidemy of variola killed many Portuguese, but had a much more devastating effect among the indians; many indians who survived the disease were killed by Portuguese troops; in 1599, the few indians left declared to cease hostilities against the Portuguese.
Paraíba lived a very short period of prosperity; besides exploring the brazil-wood, the Portuguese introduced the culture of sugar cane, which was already thriving in Pernambuco; cattle was also brought to the region, and, shortly (animals reproduced at a much faster pace than the few settlers could eat them), the herds were all over the place. In the first decades of the 1600s, Paraíba was the third richest capitany in Brazil (behind Bahia and Pernambuco); sugar was the main product, but brazil-wood and leather were also significant.

Gone the French, came the Dutch. The first attempt of a Dutch invasion occurred in 1624, but it was frustratred by the locals; in 1630, Olinda was taken, and the Dutch gained a bridgehead in Brazil; in 1633, the Dutch take Natal, in Rio Grande do Norte; in December of 1634, despite a heroic battle, a fleet of 29 Dutch ships attacked and conquered Paraíba.
The resistance against the Dutch was commanded by a Paraiban, André Vidal de Negreiros; based in Pernambuco, he organized the resistance forces in all States occupied by the invasors. The Dutch period was particularly bad to the economy of Paraíba; in Pernambuco, the Dutch governor Mauritius de Nassau promoted an urbanization process which left Recife with a good infrastructure, and Natal, which was very poor and abandoned before the invasion, received investments from Portugal, to guarantee the possession. In the prosperous Paraíba, however, the strategy of Vidal de Negreiros included burning down all the farms (he burned the farm which belonged to his family); when the Dutch were expelled, in 1654, much of the sugar production of the State were affected.
Besides the rebuilding of the engenhos, the second half of the 17th century was marked by the march towards the west; expeditions were organized to explore new lands and capture indians. Several villages were founded, including one which today is Campina Grande; the vast extensions of land, western of the Borborema (see Geography of Paraiba), started to be occupied by cattle farms.
In the 18th century, gold was found in Minas Gerais, and the administrative attention of the colony was shifted to the south of Brazil. Paraíba, still suffering the sequels of the Dutch occupation, had to face, during that century: a growing taxation from Portugal, a sequence of drought periods, and a loss of business because the exportation of sugar now was through the port of Recife, instead of Cabedelo. On top of this, because of political divergences, the jesuits were expelled from Paraíba; as they were the main means of education in colonial Brazil, the economy of the State suffered another drawback.

The stagnation helped the spreading of liberal ideas in the province. Paraíba actively engaged in the Revolution of 1817, a movement which ecloded in Recife and proclaimed independence and democracy; the capital and the interior took in arms, but were crushed by the official troops. Shortly after the Independence, in 1822, the region had some improvements (the capital gained public ilumination, schools were opened), but soon the dissatisfaction returned: in 1848, again Paraíba joined a movement initiated in Pernambuco, the Revolução Praieira, which claimed for free elections, free press and a Republic regime; again, the official repression was violent.
In the first half of the 19th century, cotton became the most important product of the region (first, when Industrial Revolution in England massified the textile industry, and later, when the Secession War caused the American production of cotton to drop); however, towards the end of the century, cane was again the economic protagonist. In 1882, a British usine was established; because it was more efficient than all engenhos, and because the railroads now permitted an easier transportation of the cane (which started to be processed by the Usine), many of the old cane farms faced deep financial troubles.
After Brazil became a Republic, in 1889, little changed in the economy of Paraíba, but the State gained some national political projection. Epitácio Pessoa, born in Umbuzeiro, was successfully Minister of Justice, Justice of the Supreme Court, governor or Paraíba and, in 1919, he was elected President of Republic; rather than fighting the oligarchies of the Old Republic, he was, during his term as Minister, one of its main articulators. By irony, however, his nephew, João Pessoa, whom he indicated to be candidate to Presidency in 1930, was one of the main participants of the Aliança Liberal, which would end the Old Republic (read the biography of Getulio Vargas, leader of the Liberal Alliance); the killing of João Pessoa was one of the factors which triggered the Revolution of 1930.

With Vargas, Brazilians began to have a concern about the development of the poorer regions of the country; the coffee and the industrialization had created an over-concentration of economic power in a few States; besides the potential political implications, the massive migration of Brazilians towards the South was causing social concerns.
In 1959, President Juscelino Kubitscheck creates SUDENE - Superintendencia para Desenvolvimento do Nordeste, an agency for development of the Northeast, and similar agencies for North and Center-West regions. With funds from the Federal Treasury, the agency funded several infrastructure projects (roads, electricity, water and sewage), fomented researchs on agriculture and industrial projects, loaned subsidized money for many private enterprises; Paraíba, like all States of Northeast, benefited from the SUDENE projects, but the lack of natural and human resources prevented the State from a full development. After 1964, with the military government, the national priorities were changed, and SUDENE lost much of their economic power; projects stopped being generic (education and urbanization became duties of the State governments) and became specific (the funding to build a factory, for example; approval of such projects usually depended on political influence); the agency was closed down in 2001, after several denounces of corruption.

In recent decades, Paraíba has been developing their touristic potential; the culture and natural beauties of João Pessoa, Campina Grande and other cities attract more and more tourists. However, the drought remain a serious issue in the interior; the low levels of income and education make it difficult to break with the archaic economic and political structures.

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