Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Brazil 3: Provincial Empire

1. At first…….

Brazil’s history as an emerging nation is determined by its existence of a refuge, first and last, for empire. The trading “empire” established by the Portuguese monarchy was circumscribed at all points, home and abroad, by the weakness of relations between city and countryside. The monarchy itself was the compromise produced in the weakness of those relations. The rule of the monarchy was sustained not through convergence, integration, coherence of urban and rural economic interest, but through a dis-integration, an in-coherence, a domestic market impoverished, stunted with rural property circumscribed by subsidence production, and an international trade extracting, transferring wealth without reproducing value.

The mechanism of dis-integration in Brazil was the manor, the donataria, the captaincy, the great house, the plantation, the landed estate. Empire was tethered to backwardness in its fractal reproduction of semi-feudal relations of land and labor. Wealth is organized as a province, literally, unto itself and is always restricted, defined by the petty self-sufficiency of the estate, the glorified sub-sistence production of the slave based economy.

Transplanting the slave relations of land and labor from Sao Tome off the coast of Africa, the Portuguese introduced the sugar plantation into Brazil. Cultivation spread from Pernambuco to the Rio Grande do Norte through Bahia. Landholdings, issued as rewards, were large. Cultivated areas themselves were small. The plantations were called engenhos, “mills,” as each estate contained its own crushing mill and refinery.

The cane needed the slave trade, and the trade needed tobacco. Brazil’s tobacco was inferior to that grown in the Caribbean and the North American slave colonies, so its quality was masked by soaking the tobacco in molasses produced by the cane itself.

Feeding the slaves led to the growth in cattle raising in the interior regions, the sertao. Cattle raising, and the movement of cattle from the ranches along the Rio Sao Francisco became the critical domestic trade. Brazil never exactly went down the road to nationhood, but it did follow a trail.

Nothing produced poverty like the wealth obtained from the cultivation of sugarcane. Northeast Brazil, where the most intensive cultivation was practiced, still suffers from the economic depletion essential for sugarcane plantation production. Land and labor were extinguished in the cultivation of the cane. Northeast Brazil still suffers from the legacy of the sugarcane, the great house, the slave trade, with a per capita GDP below the national average.

Tenant farming and share-cropping were practiced, with share-croppers and tenants also holding slaves. As the land was exhausted, as more advanced techniques in cultivation and refining spread throughout the Caribbean, production in Brazil declined. Tenants and share-croppers, lacking resources in land, technique, and capital were driven into bankruptcy, their holdings absorbed into the great estates. The tenants were immobilized by the fear that their own rebellion might precipitate a general rebellion of slaves.

Here is the enduring theme of Brazil’s nationhood– everything done and not done was done or not done in response to the fears of a slave revolt.

2. Meanwhile…….
In the late 17th century, gold was discovered inland and south of the plantations of the Northeast. The area witness, victim, hostage to the pillaging and slave hunting expeditions of the bandeirantes became the economic center of the pauper’s empire.

Mining gained in importance through the first half of the 18th century. The population of Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Goias climbed. Capital, economic and political, moved out of the Northeast, by mule, oxen, and crown. The viceregal capital was transferred to Rio de Janeiro from Salvador in Bahia.

Meanwhile, in 1703 Portugal signed the Methuean Treaty with England. English woolens were given preference over all others, including those produced domestically, in Portugal’s markets. In exchange, Portugal got… a favorable tariff on its wines in the English markets. Gentry and trader, manor and merchant had united, throttling nascent industrial development. Gold was mined in Minas Gerais; gold was shipped to Portugal; gold was transferred to England as English capitalism reproduced as expanded value.

S. Artesian 032507

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