How Brazil Benefited From Its 'Decolonization Stage'

Seminar Paper, 2018

8 Pages, Grade: 1.3


How Brazil Benefited From Its 'Decolonization Stage'


Brazil’s progress is attributable to its decolonization, which set altruistic economic and political systems. Its economic foundation is rooted to the colonial economy, whereas its political and social structure reflects exceptional autonomy from the other Latin American countries. It is believed that the Portugal colonization in Brazil opened the country to the international market for its economic expansion, leading to a rapid economic growth and development during the colonial era. However, it is worth noting that Portugal encountered numerous economic challenges owing to its territorial rivalry with the French and Dutch, as well as their Spanish counterparts who exercised dominance over Latin America. Despite the favorable impact of Brazil’s decolonization which has propelled the country to great heights, especially in regard to the global economy, historical events, which occurred prior to the decolonization stage had a significant impact to the country’s rapid growth and development.

It is believed that the Portugal rule in Latin America, primarily Brazil established sustainable social, political and economic structures which enabled Brazil to achieve regional prominence. Ordinarily, colonial administration influenced all aspects of development including political structures and economic strategies of their colonies. In most colonies such as Guatemala which was ruled by the Spaniards, colonial administration caused social fragmentation of the indigenous communities because their political structures were based on social hierarchies (Aylward, 2007). As a result, decolonization was characterized with poverty and social discrimination leading to ethnic tensions and perennial civil wars. In contrast, Portugal established a diverse version of administration in Brazil in which a centralized administration enhanced the unification of the colony which favored social and economic growth. It is believed that the monarchy republic contributed to Brazilian political sovereignty during the decolonization stage. Therefore, this paper will discuss the colonial benefits to Brazil which led to its decolonization stage. It will provide a comprehensive overview of Brazil’s expansion in the colonial era, political changes and economic advances towards decolonization.

Colonial Brazil

Colonial Brazil bears some of the most favorable impacts of the colonial era, unlike its Spanish-speaking neighbors who inherited poverty and political instability from their colonial masters. It is believed that the European expansion overseas, especially in the Latin America from the 19th century shaped Brazil significantly. There are numerous factors, which enabled Brazil to gain immense autonomy as a Portugal colony. First, Brazil colony formed a fundamental link to the Portuguese long-distance trade which connected Latin America with Africa and Europe through the so-called the Great Triangular Trade.

Consequently, Portugal maintained its commercial engagement with Venice and Genoa, as well as its territories in Africa. As such, it developed as a commercial colony, but not an administrative territory as it was the case with most colonial territories in the Americas. In addition, Portugal political structures which aimed at enhancing defense for national identity in Latin America, and this is probably the principal reason as to why it remained as a unified colony, even after it gained its independence in 1822. Thirdly, Portugal established reliable strategies for social unification to counter the impact of Islam in the Mediterranean and the Peninsula which threatened its control over trade networks across the region. Portugal had established commercial territories in the Atlantic region including Cape Verde, Madeira and the Azores, as well as Asia and Africa; thus, it experienced challenges of displacement from these regions by the British and Dutch. It is believed that these events placed Brazil at the central point of the Portugal colonization in Latin America, Asia and Africa leading to the establishment of major Brazilian institutions including the monarchy administration, landed estate, slavery and settler oligarchy (Fausto, 1999). In theory, these influences were responsible for racial tolerance and authoritarianism which characterized colonial Brazil.

Frontier Expansion and Brazil’s Orientation

Historically, frontier expansion under the Treaty of Tordesillas which enabled Portugal to harness commercial fortunes in the Atlantic islands and Asia oriented Brazil for political sovereignty and economic growth. In signing the treaty, the Portuguese sought to eliminate the Castilians from their trade route to the East because they wanted their vessels to gain access to Asia, primarily India around the southern end of Africa which was first identified by Vasco Da Gama during his voyage of 1497-99. In addition, this treaty enabled Portugal to exercise dominance over the western islands because they lay within their line.

One of the most significant factors which shaped Brazil, as a result of the impacts of the Treaty of Tordesillas, was the demarcation of Brazil territory along the river system which enhanced its defense from the penetration of the Castilians. In drawing the terms of the Treaty, Portuguese officials ensured that the estuaries of both the Rio de la Plata and Amazon were within their territorial sphere of influence demarcated by the Tordesillas Line for efficient control of Brazil. It is evident that the Portuguese believed in territorial demarcations based on the river systems as the most appropriate strategy to control their commercial networks, and this is probably the reason why Simon de Vasconcellos described the rivers as the ‘two keys that lock the land of Brazil’ (Hudson, 1997). Therefore, territorial aggrandizement formed a significant feature in Brazil’s orientation as a commercial colony.

Ideally, the Portuguese established a commercial empire in Brazil because Portugal did not have an adequate population of settlers, like Britain and Spain, to maintain colonial territories within its maritime empire. This aspect enabled Brazil to emerge as a trading center in the region in which Portugal accumulated its resources and wealth from the adjacent country although the Portugal was forced to shift to colonialism owing to the French competition (Hudson, 1997). As a result, colonialism in Brazil led to the establishment of sugar cane cultivation from trading and this influenced its control over land and slavery. Moreover, the shift to colonialism was facilitated by the early 1600s union of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns leading to the disruption of trade and travel controls which had been established by the Portuguese under the Tordesillas Line. These changes allowed slave hunters to traverse the territories in the Americas and Iberian Peninsula, and this led to the establishment of trade links between Brazil, Buenos Aires, Lima, Potosi and Quito.

Brazilian Economy Prior to Decolonization Stage

It is believed that the European commercial expansion during the 16th century prompted Portugal to compete with other European countries, primarily Italy, Spain and Britain in exploiting trade resources in the Far East. However, Portugal experienced enormous challenging in gaining access to Asia because it was already dominated by Italy. This meant that it had to search for other passage alternatives to establish its trade networks. Therefore, the discovery of America offered Portugal an opportune moment to access East Indies through the maritime passage which passed around the southern tip of Africa. This is probably the reason as to why Portugal established trade outpost networks along the southern and eastern coast of Africa and Asia to harness trade opportunities throughout the maritime region. In theory, Portugal created commercial colonies along its sea route to Asia to protect its trade network. This explains the reason as to why Portugal did not colonize African countries in the interior land, but rather concentrated along the maritime passage.

However, it is worth noting that Portugal experienced competition in occupying Latin America with Spain, that is why most countries in Latin America were colonized were its under its sphere of influence. Portugal was able to occupy Brazil as its operational base in the regional trade which connected Latin America with Europe and Africa where there were vast treasures of minerals for exploitation, as well as ready market for finished goods.

Therefore, the growth of Brazilian economy relied on trade network, but not necessarily the mineral riches because there was none to exploit in the new colony although some mineral resources were discovered a little bit later. Despite the absence of mineral riches in the colony, Portugal sought to build pioneer colonial enterprise so as to enable it to settle and defend Brazil from European intruders, primarily the French, Spain and Dutch. Ideally, the pioneer colonial enterprise aimed at establishing local economic platform to build economic strategies in the colony. As a result, the Portuguese established sugar production industry in the Northeastern parts of Brazil which produced sugarcane for commercial purposes. Shortly after the establishment of the sugar production industry, cattle industry emerged in 1531 and flourished rapidly owing to the advancement of the sugar industry where cattle were required for feeding sugarcane plantation workers and transportation. These two industries formed the backbone of the economy of colonial Brazil, in addition to returns from the international trade which harnessed wealth from Asia and Africa.

It is believed that the colonial enterprise established by the Portuguese in Brazil enabled it to emerge as an economic center in the region, far ahead of its neighbors including Chile and Uruguay who were under Spaniards. However, it is worth noting that the economy of the colonial Brazil experienced immense hindrance from the French and Dutch incursions of the 16th and 17th centuries although Portugal contained their threats. For instance, Portuguese mounted assaults against the French in 1565 to prevent them from obstructing its trade network in the colony by occupying Guanabara Bay. Consequently, it established Rio de Janeiro city as its second royal captaincy to control the key ports in the region.

Later on, Portugal’s former business associates, the Dutch, threatened its commercial market by interrupting shipping of Brazilian sugar to the market. Consequently, the Dutch captured a portion of Brazilian sugar lands in 1621 and established the Dutch West India Company. This incursion caused devastating economic consequences to Brazilian sugar economy although commercialization of the sugar industry was restored in 1654 when the Dutch were forced out of Brazilian sugar lands (Hudson, 1997).

The second factor which led to the flourishing of Brazilian economy before the decolonization stage was the gold mining of the 19th century which replaced the sugar industry. Gold mining was a labor-intensive activity; thus, it led to the diversion of slaves from sugar farms to the mines. In addition, there was an influx of settlers from different regions of the colony. As a result, regional connections developed owing to the gold rush, and this led to a uniform economic growth of the colony.

Political Changes that Shaped Brazil

It is also believed that political changes in colonial Brazil paved the way for its economic development, especially after its transition from a colony to an autonomous empire. This transition set Brazil on a different phase in which its political administration did not reflect the imperialism of European colonialism, but rather on ideological approaches, which were aimed at opening Brazil to the international economy for its minerals and agricultural resources.


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How Brazil Benefited From Its 'Decolonization Stage'
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Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, How Brazil Benefited From Its 'Decolonization Stage', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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