Brazil. Settlement, immigration and urbanization

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2014 45 Pages

Ethnology / Cultural Anthropology


Renaldo is a 49-year-old construction worker that migrated to Salvador to find work. Previously, he lived in a small city in the rural area of Bahia and worked as a bricklayer building small one-story homes. Many of his clients were people that knew him from the community whose financial situation enabled them to purchase, build, or renovate property, and who needed someone that could perform work at a reasonable price. The quality of his workmanship is excellent and he had a reputation for being a reliable worker.

Many of Renaldo's fellow co-workers are friends from his hometown and they have worked together on a number of different projects throughout the years. After work and sometimes on weekends, they would get together at neighborhood bars to have a few beers, exchange stories, and provide each other with leads for additional work. Each day, Renaldo would ride a bicycle to work because he could not afford an automobile - even a used automobile. His wife would pack his lunch; he would take along a bottle of fresh water, and make the journey to his work site. Renaldo has been doing this kind of work for over thirty years.

As more and more people began to make the migration to the larger metropolitan cities, the demand for work in Renaldo's town began to dry up. It became increasingly more difficult to find sufficient work to provide for his family of five people. His wife makes a living by hand washing the clothes of neighbors. The work is hard and pays very little. Together, they were able to make enough money to support their children, buy food and pay bills. However, over the last few years, work has become scarce and hard to find.

Renaldo is a good man, generous and kind, always willing to help his fellow neighbors and friends. At times, he has done jobs for neighbors and charged only what they could afford. There has even been occasions when he used small portions of his own earnings to help out his clients with construction materials.

The decision to move to Salvador was a difficult one for Renaldo and his family. First, the cost of transportation to a city eight hours away would be expensive. He needed to save for the passage, which meant that they would have to neglect some other necessity. Second, he would have to make the trip alone and leave his family behind. Once he settled and could find work, he would send money back to his family for their support. He could not say how long it would take him to find work or how much money he would be able to send to his family on a monthly basis. In addition, he would have to set aside a certain portion of his earnings to provide for food and shelter in Salvador. Not to mention, his wife would have to care for their three children alone. She feared that being away from him for a long period would increase the possibility of Renaldo getting involved with another woman and abandoning his family altogether. All these considerations represented a major domestic change for Renaldo and his family.

Renaldo has been living in Salvador for ten years and still he has not earned enough money to send for his family or buy a house.

The history of settlement, immigration and urbanization in Brazil is very closely linked to political, economic, and demographic developments of the country. Many of the problems in this area are the result of polices that have historically favored the promotion of class interests. In addition, a system of disconnected regional markets constituted an obstacle to Brazil's overall economic growth. Although some of the government’s first attempts at investments in public health, social welfare, education and the regulation of labor were the result of immigration and urbanization trends, policymakers on a number of occasions have implicitly influenced this development in socially disruptive ways and failed to take egalitarian measures in dealing with landed property issues and intense migrations.

The early history of Brazil reveals that early Portuguese colonists came to Brazil with the intention of exploiting the natural resources of the land. It was not the intention of the early colonists to develop Brazil as a territory but to extract as much of the natural resources of the country as possible. After 1530, the Portuguese Crown organized hereditary captaincies to occupy and organize its new colony. Their economy operated on producing agricultural goods for export to Europe. Sugar was by far the most important product due to its high quality. By the middle of the 16th century, early settlers began to import African slaves as a labor force. Many of these early settlements and small cities remained near the coastal and port regions. Usually, they worked independently of each other. As the "bandeirantes”, 1 began to spread further into the inlands, the regions of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais were settled. By the 18th century, private explorers found gold in Minas Gerais. However, the manner in which the colonial government established a system of abusive taxation inspired some of the first popular movements supporting independence.

Another important and somewhat ignored part of the history of settlement in Brazil is the socio-economic situation that developed during the final phases of slavery. Although Brazil declared the end of slavery in 1850, it was not until 1888 that the practice actually ended. At that time, the Southeast region of the country, particularly São Paulo and Minas Gerais, was undergoing an economic boom due to the expansion of the coffee and dairy industries. (Levy 1974) In the Northeast, a patron-client political system in the rural areas known as "the rule of the Colonels" or "Coronelismo" 2 enabled agrarian oligarchs (i.e., local and regional strong men and their armed followers) to exercise political and social authority. (Domingos 2004; Guedes 2008) These men controlled a significant amount of land, money, influence and used violence and fraud to maintain their power. (Singlemann 1975) They had the power to hire workers, lend money, influence judges and police, legalize land rights, grant fiscal exemptions and settle disputes. In effect, they acted as godfathers in the exercise of regional power and authority. (Roniger 1987) The area of São Paulo needed increased amounts of labor to sustain its coffee cultivation. As a result of the economic retraction of the Northeast due to the end of slavery, the Coronels of the Northeast began selling their slaves to the coffee barons of the Southeast at inflated prices. The effect of this was the replacement of the international slave trade with a form of interprovincial slave trade within Brazil. (Levy 1974) By 1870, however, the Paulista coffee barons began to realize the financial advantage derived by the Northeast Coronels and began taking measures against interprovincial slave trading by seeking workers from abroad, influencing the passing of provincial legislation against this practice, and calling for the government to re-organize the system of immigration. (Levy 1974)

Currently, Brazil consists of five regions (also called macro regions). These regions are the North, Northeast, Central-West, Southeast, and South. Each division shares similar economic, social, cultural, historical and geographic characteristics. The North region is comprised of seven different states, the Northeast is made up of nine, the Central-West is composed of three while the Southeast four, and finally the South region is made up of just three states. A particularly notable characteristic is that the Southeast region of Brazil is the most socially and technologically advanced area responsible for almost fifty percent of the Brazilian economy and with almost forty percent of the entire population of Brazil. (Wikipedia 2010) In addition, each region has its own particular characteristics in reference to population density, agricultural production, industrial development, livestock breeding and standards of living. Over the years, the government made numerous efforts to stimulate settlement in the interior portions of the country. This included settlements in the Amazon region for the purpose of limiting the growth of large cities and attempting to strengthen middle-sized cities. Despite these efforts, public policymakers continued to favor concentration in the South and Southwest regions of Brazil by promoting industry, benefits, and quality services to residents of metropolitan cities over other areas of Brazil.

With all of its impact to society, culture and composition, immigration has by far been one of the most important factors in the history of Brazil. However, this immigration does not include the indigenous people of Brazil nor the forcible transportation of Africans as slaves. On the contrary, this immigration was almost exclusively European beginning with the Italians and later with migrations from Portugal, Spain, Germany and the Middle East. However, immigrants also came from countries such as the Ukraine, Poland, Russia and Korea. From the first settlements in the 16th century until the Second World War, more than 4 million people migrated to Brazil. (Focus Migration: Brazil 2007) Most of these people were European migrates that came to Brazil to find work.

Since the early settlement of Brazil, there have been several periods of intense internal migration for economic reasons. For instance, when sugar cane production began to slow down in the 17th century, large portions of the population began to migrate to Minas Gerais to work in the gold and diamond mines. Also, when the coffee trade of the Southeast began to develop, thousands of people began to move there in search of work. When industrialization began to develop in the 1960s and 1970s, a mass exodus began from the rural or "interior" 3 parts of the country to the big cities. This situation worsened by strong population growth, intensified poverty of the migrant population, and the lack of job opportunities for people with only farming skills. Because of the large cities inability to absorb huge amounts of job seekers, high levels of unemployment developed and large slums or favelas 4 began to appear across the country. (Kohlhepp 2003) Due to the lack of infrastructure and the establishment of rich agricultural companies, the struggle by subsistence-oriented peasant farmers in the interior regions worsened. The hopelessness of acquiring a piece of land by these farmers motivated thousands of them to establish the "Landless Movement" 5 in 1984 which continues to fight for land reform even today. (Focus Migration: Brazil 2007)

Irregular regional migration has also played a major role in the dynamics of Brazil's settlement. Irregular labor migrants or those that do not possess legitimate papers, migrate between border regions daily. Migration between Argentina and Paraguay is relatively high and thousands of migrant workers and irregular migrants cross the border regions in search of work. Other South American countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Chile find many migrating to metropolitan regions such as São Paulo in search of work mostly in the garment industries. Consequently, it is very difficult to estimate their exact numbers because many of them enter the country illegally. A series of legislative measures such as Mercosur 6 (Mercado Común del Sur), the Agreement on the Freedom of Movement and Establishment of 2002, and measures to grant automatic visa and free choice of domicile similar to the European Union's Schengen Agreement improved the situation. (CEPAL 2007)

Although Brazil has only received a small number of refugees and asylum seekers, it reviews hundreds of applications each year. The office of CONARE (Comitê Nacional para os Refugiados) works in conjunction with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to grant asylum to refugees. In fact, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice together with the UNHCR has drafted legislation that includes some measures as outlined in the terms of the Geneva Convention and some very specific policies in refugee law. For example, in addition to provisions regarding generalized violation of human rights, Brazilian refugee policy recognizes gender-specific persecution and establishes emergency procedures for refugees. The law also provides for refugees that have already lived in the country for six years or more to apply for permanent residence. If granted, asylum seekers and refugees obtain access to social and economic rights, health provisions, education and work permits.

Early History

The early history of Brazil reveals that the Portuguese colonizers were more interested in exploiting the riches of their newly occupied land rather than in settling and developing a new territory. On the other hand, the Spanish explorers arrived in the New World and set up early settlement systems designed to facilitate their economic objectives by restructuring systems that had already existed. This was not the case in Brazil, the Portuguese colonists exploited areas where the native population had not established important centers of settlement. The first settlement by the Portuguese in Brazil was at São Vicente in 1532. This was followed by Salvador in 1549 and a Jesuit mission in 1554 that later became São Paulo. Later, the cities of Rio de Janeiro in 1565 and São Luis do Maranhão in 1612 were discovered. (Martine and McGranahan 2010) Also, they established an agricultural-extractive economy with small, relatively isolated settlements designed to serve as base camps for further exploration and exploitation as well as ports of call to channel produce back to Europe, and to serve as defensive positions against other colonizing European powers such as the Dutch and French. As a result, they produced a smattering of towns and cities spread out mostly along the coastline to organize the exploitation of natural resources. (Diniz 2005)

Further, the early Portuguese colonizer's extraction of natural resources was subject to cycles of expansion and contraction. For instance, the success of exported goods such as brazilwood, gold, diamonds, rubber and the agricultural production of cattle, sugar and coffee fluctuated in international markets. Each of these cycles was depended upon factors such as changes in colonial power, the exhaustion of raw materials and the amount of international competition. (Martine and McGranahan 2010) As the factors of economic production changed, so did the products. In turn, this prompted the construction of new towns and settlements. However, much of the labor force left behind after a given cycle change eventually turned to subsistence agriculture as a means of survival leading to the growth of minifundios 7 as opposed to the large latifundios 8 that were created by large land grants from the Portuguese royal family. (Martine and McGranahan 2010)



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Title: Brazil. Settlement, immigration and urbanization