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Pernambuco - History


When Portugal instituted the capitanies in colonial Brazil, Pernambuco was one of the two which prospered (the other was São Vicente); one man was responsible for the success: the donatary, Duarte Coelho.
Despite the problems with indians and pirates, and the abandonment by the Portuguese King, Duarte Coelho introduced the culture of sugar cane in Pernambuco. The first village to be founded was Igaraçu, followed by Olinda, in 1536; in 1541, Duarte Coelho returned from a trip to Portugal, bringing the first engenho (rustic machinery, with animal - or slave - traction, used to produce sugar) to be installed in Brazil; the banks of the river Capiberibe were taken by cane farms; by 1600, there were over 100 engenhos in Pernambuco, and Olinda was the richest city in Brazil.
The richness of Olinda funded several expeditions, which set off in search of more lands to grow the sugar cane. Moving westwards, the pernambucanos occupied all the Zona da Mata, until the borders of Borborema. Northwards, the expeditioners founded João Pessoa, Natal, and Fortaleza (in these last two cities, the soil wasn´t very proper for the cane). Then, southward: around 1610, the pernambucanos had already reached the banks of the river São Francisco, founding villages Porto Calvo, Camaragibe and Maceió along the way. The expansion was temporarily interrupted by the Dutch invasion of Olinda.

The Dutch Invasion. Portugal and Holland had good relationship; the sugar was exported to Portugal, but the Dutch (with their Estern and Western Indians Companies) profited from distributing the product across Europe; in 1580, Spain and Portugal were unified under the rule of the Spanish King, who was at war with Holland.
In 1630, the Dutch invade and take over Olinda; from 1630 to 1637, bloody battles claim many lives and destroy the city almost completely (in 1631, the Dutch ordered the burning of all churches, in an attempt to impose Calvinism to the natives). In 1637, after the Dutch had consolidated their supremacy, count Mauritius de Nassau (German, serving the Dutch King) was sent to govern the area; Nassau rebuilt Olinda, instituted freedom of religion, brought scientists to study the new land, and developed the city and port of Recife. Read more about the Dutch in Brazil.
Despite all the freedom, the Dutch had to fight against Brazilians, Portuguese, black and indians. The hills of Guararapes, near Recife, was stage of two battles which became historic for Brazilians and heroic for pernambucanos. In January of 1654, the Dutch surrendered and left Brazil.

The war against the Dutch sparkled a sentiment of nativism among the pernambucanos which would last for centuries. Early on the 18th century, Recife and Olinda engaged on an episode known as War of Mascates; Olinda, after the expelling of the Dutch, had returned to its condition of home for the Portuguese administrators and the sugarcane lords; Recife, on the other hand, had become an important commercial center, with the busiest port in Brazil. The War of Mascates (mascates was the pejorative way that the Portuguese used to refer to the trademen) opposed the archaic aristocracy, based on power emanated from Portugal, against this new burgeoisie, which needed a more liberal environment to prosper; the mascates were led by Bernardo Vieira de Melo, who was arrested and sent to Portugal, were he died in prison; the hostilities ceased only in 1715, when, after Recife was declared independent from Olinda, the mascates surrendered.
The second half of the 18th century saw a decline in the economy of the region; the gold which had been found in Minas Gerais became the main interest of Portugal, and the administrative center of the Colony was moved to the south. This scenario favoured the spreading of the liberal ideas which were propagated by the American and French Revolutions; an important role was played by Manuel de Arruda Camara, a naturalist with education in Europe, who founded the Aerópago de Itambé, where he doctrinated several pernambucanos and paraibanos who would assume leadership in liberal movements.
In 1817, Pernambuco declared independence from Portugal; Alagoas, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará adhered; the upheaval was violently crushed by Portugal, and the leaders were beheaded.
The period after the Independence, in 1822, was also troublesome in Pernambuco; the province had openly defended the independence from Portugal, but the idea of the liberals was to establish a Republic, not an Empire. Pernambuco had objections to accept the governors indicated by Pedro I, and in February of 1824, Pernambuco led the Northern provinces to declare the Confederação do Equador, an independent republic.
To fight the rebels, Pedro I sent the same powerful fleet which had combated the Portuguese; by September of 1824, the official troops occupied Recife and Olinda. Many of the leaders were hung, but the government could not find anyone willing to execute the head of the movement, a charismatic carmelite religious known as Frei Caneca; the solution was to employ a small platoon to shoot him to death (so that nobody would know for sure who shot the fatal bullet).

In 1825, the Diario de Pernambuco is founded; this is the oldest newspaper in Brazil and Latin America still being published. In 1828, the School of Laws was created in Olinda (the first such school in Brazil); soon, the place became an important intellectual center of the country.
The Diário and the School contributed even further with the spreading of liberal ideas.
In 1831, Pedro I resigned, on behalf of his son Pedro II; to combat an unlikely restauration of Portuguese domination, in September of 1831 the pernambucanos started the Setembrada (in reference to the month), another Independence movement which was soon tamed. In April of 1832, it was the pernambucanos turn to fight an upheaval: in response to the Setembrada, the supporters of the return of Pedro I organized the Abrilada, which was quickly aborted by the recifenses.
From 1838 to 1844, a short period of tranquility. During those years, Pernambuco was governed by Francisco do Rego Barros, the Conde da Boa Vista (Count of Boa Vista); it was the longest term of a provincial government during the Brazilian Empire. Having lived in Paris, his European culture was fundamental on the reurbanization plans he executed in Recife; his achievements include: building of many historical palaces, opening of roads to the interior, laying of pipes to supply water to Recife.
In 1848, another rebellion: the Revolução Praieira (in Portuguese, the name means Revolution of the Beach; the mentors used to meet at Rua da Praia, in Recife). In their Manifest to the World, the leaders (journalists, politicians, middle-ranked militaries) exposed their aspirations: Republican regime, free elections, freedom of press, reforms of the Judiciary, tight control on interest rates and abolition of compulsory military enlistments. The rebels tried to take over Recife, but were defeated by the official forces; some of the leaders escaped to the interior of Pernambuco and other neighbour States (notably Paraíba), to launch guerilla attacks, but were soon captured or killed. Reports indicate that 814 people died during this revolution; in 1852, amnesty was granted to the surviving rebels.
The liberal ideas which fostered all the republican movements were also behind the Abolitionists actions, which became more and more ostensive towards the end of the 19th century. Despite the fact that sugarcane was still the main economic activity of Pernambuco, several organizations pro-abolition were created all around the State, and most of them joined to form the Clube do Cupim, an association which actively helped slaves to escape; in 1871, so strong was the libertarian sentiment, that a provincial law was approved allowing the government to buy freedom of slaves. From 1879, the figure of Joaquim Nabuco, a public figure born in Recife, gained national projection as one of the main vocals against slavery; Nabuco and other dignitaries from Pernambuco (including the editors of the Diario de Pernambuco) were important personages in the Abolition, which came in 1888.

In the first years of the Republic, Pernambuco had another turbulent period. There were divergences over the governors indicated by the central government; after elections were instituted, the fraud accusations were constant. Important figures of the period were Rosa e Silva (vice-President of Republic from 1898 to 1902), general Dantas Barreto (ex-Minister of War, elected governor in 1911) and Sérgio Loreto (took office in 1922); during his term, Loreto started two projects in Recife which left visible consequences to date: the opening of Avenida Boa Viagem (today, the most important touristic attraction of the State) and a complete overhaul of the health system (Recife is currently the second medical center of Brazil).
In 1930, candidate to vice-Presidency João Pessoa was killed in Recife, fact which triggered the Revolution of 1930; Pernambuco adhred promptly to the movement, which terminated with the Old Republic in Brazil (period dominated by São Paulo and Minas Gerais).
Governor like Agamenon Magalhães (1937 - 1944) and Barbosa Lima Sobrinho (1948 - 1951) implemented structural improvements to the State (highways, hospitals, Federal University). However, the economy remained strongly dependent on the culture of sugar cane; in 1959, when a new taxation bill was under study, the farmers called for a general strike which stopped the State for two days.
In 1959, SUDENE, an agency for development of the Northeast, was founded, with head office in Recife; taking advantage of official subsidies, many industries established in the State, mostly in Recife and in the industrial zone of Cabo.
Around 1960, the latifundium structure (concentration of large areas of land by few owners) led to social stress in Pernambuco; the Ligas Camponesas (Peasant Leagues) openly advocated the Agrarian Reform. The tension increased much when Miguel Arraes, a sympathizer of the movement, was elected mayor of Recife, in 1960. During the Military Dictatorship, and after the redemocratization of Brazil, in 1985, the agrarian reform has been discussed within legal boundaries, but the issue is still present in Brazil, and particularly in Pernambuco.
Over the recent decades, despite the quick development of neighbour States, Pernambuco has maintained the position of leader in Northeast. Recife is a major industrial and commercial city. In 1982, Olinda was declared World Heritage by Unesco, which gave an impulse to tourism in the State. Politicians from Pernambuco are still influent (Marco Maciel was vice-President from 1994 to 2002).


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