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In a culture famed for its flamboyance and self-expression, it is the vast natural resources from sugar cane to gold, coffee beans to timber, that fuel Brazilian growth.

Between democratic experiments and authoritarian counterrevolutions, the modern period in Brazil has been characterized by significant economic and demographic growth that was made possible through exploiting the country’s natural resources and farmland. Getúlio Vargas’s rise to power in 1930 signaled the end of the First Brazilian Republic that was founded in 1889 in place of the imperial system. Breaking away from the traditional alliance between the political and military elites and the coffee plantation bourgeouisie, Vargas instead relied on the support of the middle and working classes.

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After the Estado Novo was proclaimed in 1937, the Vargas government became a dictatorship wielding nearly all state powers until it was overthrown in 1945. Government policies focused on productivity and modernizing the country’s industrial infrastructure were continued under the new republican regime. This new regime was based on an alliance formed between the liberal opposition and the military, but it was quickly undermined by political tensions and an unstable economic climate and would be overthrown in turn in 1964. The officers behind the coup installed a military dictatorship that remained in power until 1985. Part of the network of authoritarian South American regimes supported by the CIA through Operation Condor, the junta fought hard against communist and democratic groups throughout the 21-year dictatorship. The country, which had followed nationalist economic doctrines since the 1930s, gradually began to cooperate with other South American countries after transitioning to democracy in 1985. From this point on, Brazil became involved in the creation, consolidation, and extension of the trade-bloc known as Mercosur. Brazilian agriculture, historically focused on the production of sugarcane and coffee for foreign markets, was modernized and mechanized to meet the needs of the country’s exploding population. Areas of forest were cleared to provide more arable farmland, which, together with the country’s immense water resources, allowed the country to diversify its production (fruit, soybean, and livestock) that was destined for the international market.

Did you know?

To support an agricultural sector in crisis, the Brazilian government bought and destroyed nearly 200,000 sacks of coffee between 1931 and 1944—three times the world’s total consumption at that time.