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Paulo Coelho, Brazil's greatest novelist, wrote of the history of his people, "They were seeking out the treasure of their destiny, without actually wanting to live out their destiny." Among former colonies, Brazil is unique in the Americas because, beyond gaining its independence through a relatively peaceful path, and even after dozens of failed separatist movements, it did not fragment into separate countries as did British and Spanish possessions. Brazil was a Portuguese colony from the time of the arrival of Pedro Álvares Cabral, who claimed it for his sovereign in 1500 AD, until the royal family in exile from their occupied homeland elevated it to the status of kingdom in 1815. Full independence was achieved in 1822 when the Empire of Brazil was created with a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government. With the overthrow of Pedro II, the second and last emperor, in 1889 AD it became a republic. Although the republic would suffer through dictatorships and military juntas over the next century, democracy returned in the 1980s when the first elected civilian government assumed power after a negotiated transition. Under a succession of able leaders, Brazil achieved political and economic stability, became a vital and influential member of the international community, and has at last achieved "the treasure of [its] destiny."

Climate and Terrain[]

Brazil is the world's fifth largest country, encompassing half of South America's landmass; it is one of 17 nations considered to have a "mega-diverse ecology," home to manifold flora and fauna, habitats, natural resources and terrain. Brazil contains most of the Amazon River basin, the world's largest river system as well as the world's largest virgin rainforest. Thus, the country has a wide range of tropical and subtropical landscapes, including wetlands, savannahs, jungle-covered plateaus, and low mountains. Along Brazil's 7500 km (4600 mile) coastline lie a number of archipelagos. The main upland area of Brazil occupies most of the southern half of the country, rising to a mass of low mountain ranges such as the Mantiqueira and Espinhaço, whose tallest peaks reach about 1200 m (3900 ft) high. Lying on the equator, most of the nation has a tropical climate, divided into five subtypes: equatorial, tropical, highland tropical, temperate and subtropical. Temperatures across Brazil average 25 degrees C (77 degrees F). Vegetation ranges from rainforests in the north to tropical savannahs in the center to coniferous forests in the south. As might be expected with such varied terrain and climate, Brazil's biodiversity is one of the richest in the world, with jaguar, ocelot, tapir, anteater, sloth, armadillo, deer, piranha, caiman, parrot, monkey and thousands of other species sharing the land and waters.

Portuguese Colonization[]

The origins of the native inhabitants (called indios by the Portuguese) of Brazil are unknown; the earliest human fossils date back 10,000 years to the highlands of Minas Gerais. When Portuguese explorers arrived on the coast, some 2000 native tribes existed; semi-nomadic, they subsisted on hunting, fishing, migrant agricultural, tribal warfare and cannibalism. The land was claimed by Pedro Cabral in April 1500 when the fleet he was leading around the Cape of Good Hope was borne so far westward that he made landfall in South America. The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 AD had divided the New World between Spain (west) and Portugal (east) along the longitude of 46 degrees. As the discovery fell well within the Portuguese zone, and spurred by reports of its riches, in 1532 the first Portuguese settlement was founded.

The discovery of brazilwood - a dense, orange-red hardwood highly prized in dye-making and in the making of musical instruments and furniture - incited the crown's interest; in 1534 AD King Dom Joao III encouraged private colonial ventures. In 1549 the king appointed a governor-general and Brazil officially became a Portuguese colony. In wars with the French, the Portuguese slowly expanded their holdings to the north and south, taking Rio de Janeiro in 1567 and Sao Luis in 1615. In 1680 AD they claimed the lands around the Rio de la Plata, which became their southernmost territory. In the meantime, British and Dutch strongholds in the Amazon were overrun; the native tribes were either assimilated, enslaved or exterminated.

By the end of the 17th Century, Brazil was the largest and most important of Portugal's scattered colonies. Besides brazilwood, sugar, dyes and spices were major exports. The Portuguese began their import of slaves from Africa to meet the growing international demand for these commodities; eventually Portugal would become one of the major slave-trading nations and slaves in Brazil would number in the hundreds of thousands. Concurrently, prospectors had sought in vain for gold in the jungles and hills of Brazil until extensive deposits were discovered in Minas Gerais. The subsequent gold rush brought such vast sums that the colonial capital was transferred from Salvador south to Rio de Janeiro in 1763 AD in order to better administer the new wealth. The treaties of Madrid (1750), Pardo (1761) and Ildefonso (1777) recognized Brazil's borders, while colonial reforms insured that it remained a placid, prosperous and profitable colony for Portugal.


In March 1808 AD, the Portuguese royal family and ministers arrived in Rio de Janeiro to take refuge in Brazil as Napoleon's forces overran their homeland. The prince regent João, ruling in the stead of his mother Maria I, who was incapacitated due to mental illness, re-established his capital in Rio and ruled the empire from there. While in residence, he put in place all the ministries of a sovereign capital, as well as founding a royal library, a military academy, a royal mint, a printing office, and medical and law schools. In 1815, João declared Brazil a kingdom, co-equal with Portugal in the empire. Following the defeat of France, he preferred to remain in Brazil until called back to Portugal to deal with radical revolts. In April 1821, João appointed his son Pedro to the regency. Pedro's ministers, many Brazilian born, urged independence. The young regent issued a declaration of independence for Brazil in September 1822 and was crowned as Emperor Pedro I within three months. In 1825 the Portuguese government officially recognized Brazil's sovereignty, and within the year most of the European nations followed suit.


Pedro I and his ministers sought to ensure that Brazil did not suffer the discord and revolutions that were plaguing Brazil's South American neighbors. To that end, he was the primary architect of a new constitution, one quite liberal and advanced for its time. But Pedro was increasingly involved in affairs in Portugal, and in 1831 AD abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son so he could return to Europe to reclaim the Portuguese crown for his daughter. To settle the political unrest and discord the abrupt departure left, Pedro's son was officially declared of age at 14 and crowned Emperor Pedro II within the year. The new emperor's five-decade reign was enlightened and progressive, and Brazil enjoyed a "golden age" in every realm - politically, economically, industrially, socially, culturally. Under Pedro II, Brazil won three wars, expanded its international reputation, modernized, reformed its legal and monetary systems, boosted its agricultural diversity, and abolished slavery. But the latter had eroded support among the landed gentry; moreover, as he aged Pedro II increasingly lost touch with the new urban middle class and liberal student movements his ideals and policies had fostered. Although still respected and beloved by his people, in November 1889 a bloodless military coup deposed Pedro in favor of a republic. Ever a patriot, when he departed into exile in Europe, Pedro II expressed his "ardent wishes for the greatness and prosperity of Brazil."


Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca, who had led the coup, became the provisional president of an increasingly military-dominated government. Supported primarily by the military and the increasingly prosperous coffee planters, he established the republic, separated church and state, and promulgated a new constitution. However, under its provisions, he was declared unable to hold office; when he attempted to dissolve the new legislature and rule by decree, he was forced to resign in the face of public outcry. He was replaced by his vice-president, also a general, who spent his time fending off several military and monarchist revolts but took on increasingly dictatorial powers.

In 1894 AD, amid general peace, General Peixoto reluctantly surrendered the presidency to the first civilian to hold the post, Prudente de Morais. He had been governor of the coffee-rich state of São Paulo, and has been deemed the first of the "coffee presidents." These presidents, primarily wealthy politicians and landowners from São Paulo and Minas Gerais, helped reform the economy, modernize the nation's infrastructure, keep the peace, and guide the nation through troubled international times through a policy of near isolationism. However, in doing so they offered little real democracy because only the landowning minority was allowed to vote, fraudulent elections were common, and regional political bosses operated with virtual impunity so long as they supported the president in power.

Two developments finally ended the period of the "coffee presidents." First, coffee prices fell precipitously during the world-wide depression of the 1930s. Second, a movement composed of junior officers (the tenentes) grew in influence. Espousing populism, the tenentes championed not democracy but reform and progress; they fervently believed that only the military could propel the nation into the modern age. To do so, the young officers planned to oust civilian politicians, expand the reach of the federal government, modernize the military, and eradicate regionalism through a strong, centralized government.

The depression and the general unrest led to Getúlio Vargas, a defeated presidential candidate, to seize control with support of the tenentes. Vargas was supposed to assume power temporarily for the duration of the economic crisis; instead he closed the Congress, dismissed the constitution, and replaced the Brazilian states' governors with his supporters, mostly military officers. Following a failed Communist coup in 1935 and a failed Fascist one in 1938, Vargas' regime evolved into a full dictatorship, noted for its brutality and censorship of the press. Brazil joined the Allies in 1942 as an active participant, committing both significant ground in Italy and naval forces in the Atlantic. Despite being a dictatorship, Vargas insisted that in recognition of its service in World War II , Brazil be one of the founding members of the United Nations.

But the economic boom brought by the war and international pressure had made Vargas' position untenable; in 1945 AD he was ousted by another military coup. Democracy was "reinstated" by the same cabal that had suspended it 15 years before. Ironically, Vargas would be elected president in 1950, but committed suicide in 1954 at the Catete Palace in the midst of a political crisis. Several brief governments followed Vargas' death, marked by various levels of accomplishment as well as corruption. In 1964, yet another military coup toppled the civilian government; in 1968, the military junta became a full dictatorship with the powers vested in it by the Fifth Institutional Act. Although its methods were harsh, the junta was less brutal than those in other parts of the continent. Moreover, it promoted capitalism, modernization, and international accords. Thus, the junta was highly popular with the lower and middle classes even during the years of repression.

Modern Brazil[]

General Ernesto Geisel assumed the presidency in 1974, and immediately launched into a "slow, gradual and safe" policy of returning rule to a democratic government. Over several years he ended the torture of political prisoners, censorship of the press, and finally the junta itself when he repealed the Fifth Institutional Act. His successor continued the process, and in 1985 the first free elections made Jose Sarney president. With a stable government and thriving economy, Brazil has since taken a leading role in regional affairs, being a founding member of organizations such as the Latin Union, Organization of American States, Mercosul, and Union of South American Nations. At the beginning of a new millennium, Brazil is poised to assume an equally influential role on the world stage.

Brazilian Trivia[]

Construction of Brasília, one of the few purposely-built capitals in the world, began in 1956 AD when President Juscelino Kubitschek activated an article in Brazil's first republican constitution dating back to 1891 stating that the country's capital should be centrally located; built in 41 months, the government was relocated to Brasília in April 1960.

Celebrated in cities across the country, the Carnival of Brazil accounts for 70% of the nation's annual tourist trade; punctuated by samba and axé music, the 4-day celebration preceding Lent is marked by parades, costume balls, street festivals, dances and the occasional religious ceremony.

From the 1500s through the 1700s, the bandeirantes - private expeditions led by Portuguese and Brazilian adventurers - explored and mapped much of the Amazon in their search for slaves, gold, gems and rare plants and, in the process, established bases deep in the rainforest, steadily pushing Brazil's western boundaries outward.

Pedro I[]


Pedro was born on Oct. 12, 1798, at the Queluz Palace in Lisbon, the son of the prince regent of Portugal (later João VI) and his wife, Carlota Joaquina, the daughter of the Spanish Bourbon king Charles IV. In 1807 the royal family fled to Brazil to escape Napoleon's invading armies. Pedro adapted well to the Brazilian milieu. He was an excellent horseman, enjoyed the military life, and could compete with common soldiers and officers equally. Also, he early demonstrated musical talents and later composed some music of creditable amateur quality. He was considered to be handsome, and women found him attractive.

In 1817 Pedro married Carolina Josefa Leopoldina, the daughter of Francis I of Austria. Her intelligence, consideration, and personality quickly earned her the respect and admiration of the Portuguese and Brazilians, as well as of her husband, but she was unable to distract him from his amorous affairs.

In 1816 Pedro's father became João VI, King of Portugal and Brazil, which had been elevated from the status of a colony to a kingdom in 1815. In 1821 João VI was forced to return to Portugal and leave Pedro as the prince regent. Recognizing the independence sentiments in Brazil, and observing what was occurring in the Spanish colonies of the New world, the King advised his son to declare Brazil independent and take the throne for himself rather than allow an adventurer to take over the country. On Sept. 7, 1822, supported by Brazilians who feared that the Portuguese would reduce the country to colonial status again, and following the advice of his wife and his chief counselor, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, Pedro declared the independence of Brazil and established the Empire of Brazil with himself as emperor.

In 1823 Pedro I called a constituent assembly to formulate a constitution but dissolved the body later that year. He promulgated a constitution on March 24, 1824, which remained Brazil's charter until 1889. The period was disturbed by dissension between native-born Brazilians and those born in Portugal. Pedro I was Portuguese and thus suspect to Brazilians, especially after he signed a treaty of peace with Portugal which left unresolved some basic issues concerning future relations between the two countries. When João VI died in 1826, Pedro I inherited the Portuguese crown, but the ruling of both countries by the Emperor was unacceptable to the Brazilians. Pedro I abdicated the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter Maria da Glória, who was betrothed to her uncle Miguel.

Although he accepted constitutional monarchy, Pedro I was an absolutist in his approach to government. With difficulty he accepted advice from the legislative branch of the government, and his attitudes led to conflict with liberal Brazilians.

Pedro's long-standing affair with Domitilia de Castro, upon whom he bestowed the title of Marquêsa de Santos, was a cause of much criticism and provoked opposition. The Empress, Leopoldina, had widespread public support when the Emperor moved his mistress into the palace. Leopoldina died in 1827, and Pedro I continued his relationship with the Marquêsa de Santos until 1829, when he married Amélia Augusta Eugénia Napoleona, daughter of Eugene of Litchenberg.

In April 1831 Pedro I unexpectedly abdicated in favor of his 5-year-old son, who became Pedro II. Returning to Portugal, Pedro took up the cause of his daughter Maria da Glória, whose position as Maria II of Portugal was being challenged by her uncle Miguel. Dom Pedro directed the political and military campaign which defeated his brother and, acting as regent, had his daughter declared of age, although she was less than 18 years old. A few days later, on Sept. 24, 1834, he died in the Queluz Palace.

Unique Components[]


The Brazilian ironclad Rio de Janeiro was an armored gunboat built for the Brazilian Navy during the Paraguayan War in the mid-1860s. Like the other two gunboats she was built in Brazil and was designed as a casemate ironclad. Commissioned in April 1866, the ship did not enter combat until September, when she bombarded Paraguayan fortifications at Curuzu. Rio de Janeiro hit two mines on 2 September and rapidly sank, taking 53 of her crew with her.

Independence Dragoon[]

After Portugal's Crown Prince Pedro had proclaimed the independence of Brazil from Portugal, on September 7, 1822, some troops remained loyal to Portugal. To guarantee national independence, these troops had to be defeated. To fight the troops in Bahia, Pedro established in 1823 the Emperor’s Battalion. In 1825, the Emperor's Battalion was sent to Montevideo to fight at Cisplatine War. After Pedro's abdication, the Emperor's Battalion was disbanded, as all other troops directly subordinated to them. On April 7, 1933, President Getúlio Vargas established the Guards Battalion to protect the government's palaces. The decree determined that this battalion was the heir to Emperor’s Battalion and its traditions and would use its uniforms - blue polo and white pants with a shako, boots and a brown belt - at special ceremonies and celebrations. On April 6, 1960, with the transfer of the national capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, the unit changed its name to today's Presidential Guard Battalion. The most important officer of the Presidential Guard Battalion was the 2nd Lieutenant Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, the Duke of Caxias and the Patron of the Army. Thus, its nickname is Battalion of the Duke of Caxias in his honor.