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Rondônia and Porto Velho - History

The History of Rondônia is closely related to the History of Acre.
For several centuries, neither Spanish nor Portuguese had interest in exploring an area so deep into the jungle; only the bandeirantes and the jesuits visited the region, in search of gold and indians.
In the 18th century, a fortress was built in what today is Guajará-Mirim; the fortress, however, was meant to establish borders, not to develop the region.
Only late in the 19th century, with the cycle of the rubber, did the area see some progress; however, as most of the rubber trees were concentrated further to the north (where today is Acre, Amazonas and Pará), not much was done in Rondônia.
In the beggining of the 20th century, the dispute between Bolívia and Brazil over the territories of Acre had reflexes in Rondônia. As part of the Treaty of Petropolis, which defined the borders between the two countries, Brazil commited to build a railway between Santo Antônio do Madeira and Vila Bela, this one near the river Mamoré. Bolivia would have the rights to use the railway to move their products to the river Amazonas and the Atlantic Ocean, shortening the distance to Europe and US east coast.
The railway became known as Madeira-Mamoré. It was 366 km long, and many men died during the construction (many were foreigners, not capable to stand malaria). However, the economy benefited from the massives amounts of money injected by the government. A small village was built, to accommodate the workers of the railway; the village today is Porto Velho, capital of the State.
The railway was inaugurated in 1912, but the trains never transported more than 10% of their full capacity. Commercial operations were closed down in 1972, but in 1981 a small part of the road was reopened, for touristic purposes only. This site (in English) tells more about the Madeira Mamoré railway.

In 1943, part of the territories of the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso were dismembered, giving origin to the Territory of Guaporé; in Brazil, a Territory is a member of the Federation which is subordinated to the central government; central government nominates the governants, collects the taxes and funds the budgets of the territories. In 1956, the name of the Guaporé was changed to Territory of Rondônia, a tribute do Marshall Cândido Rondon, the Brazilian who early in the 1900s explored and laid telegraph lines until the western border of Brazil.
In 1961, the federal government finished the construction of the BR-364, a road which integrated Rondônia to the center of Brazil. This road gave a large impulse to the economy of the State; through this road, thousands of Brazilians could migrate to Rondônia, and later on export their production to the rest of the country. Read more about this in the section Economy of Rondônia.

In the 1970s, as a consequence of the populational and economic growth of Rondônia, talks about turning the Territory into a State started to appear. The then Territory had economic potential to live on their on taxes, and the increasing number of social problems caused by the massive influx of immigrants demanded a government closer to the action. So, in 1981, the Brazilian Congress elevated Rondônia to the status of Brazilian State.

Today, Rondônia is having to deal with the good and bad of economic prosperity.
Several products adapted well to the soil of cerrados, making Rondônia an exporter of, among others, soy beans and rice. The potential of the forests (in Rondônia as well as other Amazonic states) is far from being fully explored. Rondônia still atracts many migrants.
On the other hand, the environment preservation became a major issue. In 1990s, it was estimated that about one third of the forest of Rondônia had been destroyed (in 1950s, the entire State was covered by natural vegetation). The destruction of the forest is usually caused by people looking for more space, either to sell the trees or raise cattle; governments, both State and federal, are taking measures to try to combine progress with conservation.

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