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Race and Fantasy

Race and

By Brazzil Magazine

Today Brazil has the largest single population of African-Americans outside of the
United States. It is, according to some, a population in which at least 60 percent is of
African descent. Statistics on the number of slaves imported into Brazil range from 1025
million: for the rest of South America the figure runs at approximately 400,000. In some
parts of colonial Latin America, the ratio of African to European populations was 151, and
in some cities, nearly half of the populations were of partial African descent. By
independence, two thirds of the population of Brazil’s total population of four million
were of African descent. Brazilian society, like a few of the other plantation-dependent
colonies of Latin America and the Caribbean could not have existed without the constant
supply of slaves.

Throughout history, Africans and Afro-Hispanics have been a major force in the
development of the cultures, political systems, societies, and economies of the nations of
the Iberian peninsula—Spain and Portugal—and Latin America. Iberian-African relations
did not begin with the transatlantic slave trade, nor did it begin in the Americas.
African Muslims were involved in the historical development of the political, economic,
intellectual, and social structures of the Iberian peninsula, as rulers and conquerors,
centuries before their eventual defeat by the emerging monarchical powers of Spain and
Portugal. That experience left long and enduring marks on the course of historical events
that led to the emergence of the modern nation-states of Spain and Portugal, and their
imperial "conquest" and colonization of the "New World."

Before the "New World":
African-Iberian Relations

The overthrow of the Visigoths in 711 AD by Africans converted to Islam began the era
of eight hundred years of Muslim rule in Iberia. Moors are often inaccurately described as
racially distinct from black Africans, therefore, Moorish domination is recorded as a
period of Arabic rather than African influence. This misconception developed because of
the belief that Arab refers to a race of people. However, racially, they were of black
African descent, and some scholars assert that Moors were the North African ancestors of
the present day peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel.

Africans were important actors in the historic spread of Islam. The eighth century
invasion of Iberia was successful because of the military skills and leadership of
Africans. Tarik, an African general, led the 711 AD invasion of Spain. His army captured
the cities of Toledo, Cordoba, Elvira, and Archidona. The victory set the stage for the
occupation of two successive Moorish dynasties, the Almahords and Almoravids.

Competition for the political and military control of Iberia encouraged warfare between
the Islamic rulers and the Catholic kingdoms of the north. Intra-Moorish conflicts led to
the succession of Moorish dynasties. The predominantly Catholic forces of Castile,
Portugal, and Aragon eventually weakened Moorish political and military security. Valencia
fell to the Christians in 1238, Cordova in 1239, and Seville in 1260. By 1492, the
marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella united the Christian kingdoms of the north, and
eventually the Moors lost control of most of the peninsula, except for Gibraltar. Some
Africans and people of Moorish descent were allowed to remain in communities that were
vital to the new rulers. Moors maintained basic economic resources and other skills that
proved invaluable to the development and stabilization of the new kingdoms.

Columbus sailed to the Americas in the same year that the last African Moorish generals
of Granada surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It was a major turning point
in the historical relations between Europe and Africa. Trade between the new
kingdoms—Spain and Portugal—and Western African kingdoms also expanded. The
demand for African slaves increased as both Spain and Portugal began to explore and expand
into the "New World". "The initial period of conquest relied upon Africans
residing on the peninsula to supplement the limited number of Europeans in their effort to
reduce the native population of the New World to the altered economic and political
order." (Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995) By the end of
the 15th century, Portugal was the leading colonial power and dominated the African slave
trade. Portuguese reliance on African labor was great at the initial stages of its
colonial expansion. Some African labor was not enslaved.

They took much from Africa to South America: artisans, soldiers, and agricultural
workers; cash crops; and institutions. Soon they began importing slaves as well. In
exchange, Brazil supplied trade goods, money, and services of many sorts to West Africa.
For over three centuries Africa and Brazil were intimately linked together as Portuguese
colonies. Brazil became the more profitable of the colonies, but Africa supplied the
people and cultures that thoroughly Africanized eastern South America. Thus, for four
centuries Brazil belonged more to the South Atlantic than to the North Atlantic sphere.

(Michael L. Conniff and Thomas J. Davis, Africans in the Americas: A History of the
Black Diaspora, St. Martin’s Press, 1994

Throughout South America, African slaves and free Africans provided labor for
agricultural plantations and mines. In the Andean nations of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina,
plantation slavery was not considered profitable. The African slave trade was condoned by
the papal bulls of Popes Martin V (1454) and Calixtus (1456). Goree Island, off the coast
of Senegal, was occupied by Portugal in 1444. Over the course of three centuries, nearly
20 million slaves were brought to the island for transport to the Americas. Slightly more
than 20 million others were transported directly from Benin, Dahomey, Ghana, Guinea,
Mozambique, and Angola. Yorubas from Nigeria, Mandinkas, Fulani, Wolofs and other ethnic
groups were sold in large numbers.

Africans in the Americas became a part of the creation of new cultures, traditions and
peoples. Their contributions were immense and not limited to relations with Europeans;
relations also developed between Africans and Amerindians. The development of the colonial
plantation-based economic systems throughout Latin America drove up the demand for African
slaves, who were viewed to be much more productive and skilled than Amerindian slave
labor. The Brazilian slave trade lasted for four centuries. Brazilian slavery, like most
institutions of slavery throughout Latin America, was predicated on an elaborate system of
laws that unlike the North American system, gave some lip service to the protection of
slave rights. Laws and actual practice, however, were quite different. For the most part,
African slaves were given the legal right to purchase their freedom, if possible; however,
the laws of manumission were not frequently enforced.

The strict laws prohibiting interracial marriage were never fully enforced, and
miscegenation became a practice promoted by Spanish and Portuguese authorities as a means
of erasing the African presence in society. The practice of miscegenation resulted in a
rigid caste system based on color based in turn upon the ideology of White racial
superiority. Blacks—or those with the darkest complexions—remained at the bottom
of the socioeconomic pyramid. Social status, therefore, came to depend upon how
"Caucasian" one appeared. Many Blacks were and have been able to effectively
disappear into the larger "white" or "near white" societies of Latin
America. The practice of color casting, is often thought to have developed from the unique
experiences of race mixing in the "New World," however, the practice of
classifying populations by color and mixture was also practiced in Spain and Portugal.
Categories of Black and White Saracen, loros, moor, moreno, and other terms
were commonly used in the Iberian peninsula.

Blacks became essential to the nineteenth century independence movements in Latin
America. Throughout the region, Blacks, slave and free, in large numbers enlisted in the
national militaries and fought against Spain and Portugal for the independence of the new
nation-states in the hemisphere. The military was one of the few institutions that allowed
for upward mobility for Blacks. Argentina’s military depended heavily upon the enlistment
of Black Argentines during the nineteenth century. The promise of freedom was one of the
major inducements for Blacks to enlist in the independence struggles throughout the
region—South and Central America—and in the armed forces of the new nations
after independence was won.

The presence of Africans and people of African descent in the Americas, transformed all
levels of society. Despite the lack of historical political and economic power,
increasingly the governments of Latin America are recognizing the political importance of
Afro-Hispanic populations that have traditionally been ignored. The recent trend toward
democratization in the region has highlighted the potential political impact of
Afro-Hispanics. As a potential force of organized interests, Afro-Hispanics could be
crucial to the successful stabilization of democratic institutions and processes.
Afro-Brazilians have historically been one of the few politically active
populations in the region. As a group of organized interests, Afro-Brazilians have played a
major role in the political development of Brazil and Brazilian democratization. The
politics of race and race-related issues have been at the core of politics in Brazil.
However, Brazilian political elites have preferred to mask the role of race in their
nation, by focusing on economic development issues rather than directly confronting the
problems of race and race-relations.

The Rise and Fall of
Brazilian Democracy

Brazilian political history and development can be viewed from two perspectives: One
view is of mixed success in which some democratic traditions have been practiced and
preserved in Brazil’s political development, despite the many interruptions of
authoritarian rule. Historically, Brazil’s elite were exposed to the ideals of the liberal
democratic revolution that occurred in Europe. Recently, the existence of liberal
democratic traditions allowed for transition to democracy after twenty years of military
domination. The second view is that democracy has never been the dominant pattern of
Brazilian political development—Brazil has for most of its history had an
authoritarian and patrimonial society and political culture and, therefore, the
governments to match. Democratic ideals may be accepted by some, but stable and effective
democratic institutions have not developed in Brazil.

Truth is in both views; authoritarianism and democracy have coexisted in Brazil.
Brazilian political development has involved two often contradictory goals—state
building and democratization. Brazilian political history has been a series of steps
toward both. Brazil has never developed a stable democratic system or stable democratic
institutions. It has had a long tradition of authoritarian rule and state-centered
political development in which power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals,
groups, or institutions. On the other hand, Brazil has had a tradition and history of
attempting to establish democratic rule and to consolidate democratic institutions.
Authoritarian rule has successfully been challenged and replaced by civilian rule. But,
democracy in Brazil cannot be simply associated with civilian rule. While military
governments have been overtly more repressive, civilian regimes have typically used
repressive measures to weaken and limit the political activities of their opposition,
especially from the political left.

Civilian rule was very often authoritarian and characterized by the personal rule of a
single charismatic individual—a strong, nearly aristocratic president—or an
alliance of civilian elites—urban industrialists, rural plantation owners, and
bureaucrats, for example. The prospect for democracy has always been highly dependent upon
the balance of power and the coalition among the forces of the political right, those of
the political left, and popular forces. Opportunities for redemocratization have often
been the result of unmanageable divisions among factions of the ruling elite, in which
antistatus quo elites ally themselves with the popular pro-democracy mood among the masses.

Democratization in Brazil has not meant in the past and possibly will not mean in the
future the incorporation of diverse interests among the masses of citizens, in a pluralist
political system. Mass political participation and interest-group formation and
participation in the political process have often been forfeited for the sake of political
stability and state-controlled economic development. The expansion of basic political
freedoms has historically been forfeited to strengthen the development of institutions,
bureaucracies, administrative, and economic infrastructures, and to consolidate the
authority and power of the state. The argument has been that without economic development,
the consolidation of democracy would be impossible; economic inequality would lead to
civil war unless adequate state institutions could provide for the expression of
competitive group political and economic interests.

Brazil has undergone eight distinct phases of political development: Colonization
(15001822), Empire (18221889), the first Republic (1889 1930), the 1930 revolution (1930
1937), Estado Novo (19371945), the democratic regime of 19461964, the military regime
(19641985), and the New Republic (1985 to present). Each of these phases impacted the
position of Afro-Brazilians in every aspect of national life, the role of race and
race-related issues in the development of the political order, and the politicization of

Since 1822, the year of independence, the political system has evolved from a patronage
authoritarian system in which the power of the central government was controlled by a
coalition of powerful landowners and plantation owners to a system of military
dictatorship between 19641985 to a multiparty, elected-presidential system of 1989. For
most of Brazilian history, the authoritarian forms of government has stifled public
discussion of race and the growth and effectiveness of Afro-Brazilian political or civic
organizations. The slow progress toward democracy has stimulated many hopes about the
prospects for development of Afro-Brazilian political movement. It is hoped that
"[t]his new ‘movement’ or ‘protomovement’ which has been germinating for several
years gives evidence of the emergence of a new stage in the political development of Black
people in Brazil." (Ronald Walters, Pan-Africanism in the African Diaspora,
Wayne State University Press, 1993, p. 273)

From Colonization to
Slavery and the
Slave Trade

Portugal claimed Brazil after its "discovery" by the merchant fleet of
Portugal’s Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. The claim was based on a 1494 treaty with Spain
granting it jurisdiction over Africa and the South Atlantic islands. Brazil was in essence
treated as an extension of Portugal’s African territories. Portuguese colonization of
Brazil began in the 1530s. In Brazil, just as in most of Spain’s South American colonies,
authoritarian traditions and institutions quickly took root. These traditions and
institutions developed over time to include, for example, corruptible government and
systems of patronage, a patriarchical patron-client social system, local and regional
strong men (caudillos), and a state organization that controlled and regulated
access to government and policy makers for large groups within society (corporatism).

An export-oriented economy based upon timber developed in the sixteenth century, on
sugar in the seventeenth century, and on sugar, cotton, gold, and diamonds in the
eighteenth century. As a result of these newfound sources of wealth, a system of large
plantations and a large landholding oligarchy— the fazendeiros (large estate
owners)—emerged. From the sixteenth until the nineteenth century, every sector of
Brazil’s economy was built upon African labor, and the slave trade itself became a
profitable area of business, in both Europe and the colonies.

The number of slaves, freed Blacks, and mulattos had profound effects on the evolution
of Brazil’s national social structure and its regional cultures. By the early nineteenth
century, distinctive Afro-Brazilian cultures emerged in various regions of the nation. The
diverse ethnic origins of the African slaves and the pattern of regional economic
development formed a pattern of settlement in which, for example, the Northeast was
dominated by the Yoruba culture. Afro-Brazilians were able to preserve their cultures to a
greater degree than African slaves in North America, although as a general rule, efforts
were made throughout Latin America to de-Africanize the slaves through the banning of the
drum, prohibitions against the speaking of African languages, and the practice of African
rituals. However, in Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the retention of African-based
religions (non-Islamic) and rituals was extraordinary. The Afro-Brazilian religions such as
Candomblé and Santeria are practiced throughout Latin America by Blacks and Whites. The
Afro-Brazilian derived celebration, Carnaval, became a national symbol of Brazilian

Slaves were not passive, nor were they entirely defeated. They struggled to improve
their circumstances individually and collectively. "Many slaves resisted their
European oppressors through suicide, escape, sabotage, and the defiance of the laws of
social conduct and religion. Others sought to preserve their own culture while
accommodating themselves to the new social and cultural order." (Darien Davis, Slavery
and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995) Two major Afro-Brazilian organizations developed
during the colonial era and during slavery—the series of Brotherhood organizations (Irmandades)
that provided a cushion for Blacks and mulattos, slave and free, from racial
oppression, and the network of runaway slave communities (quilombos). In part
because of the quilombos, Afro-Brazilians were able to preserve their original
languages, cultures and traditions.

The function of the Irmandades was to provide freed slaves—mostly older and
sick slaves who were emancipated when they were no longer useful to their
masters—with some means of survival:

Without trade or skill, healthy young slaves also discovered that freedom was of
little value. For many Blacks, the only alternatives were vagabondage or reabsorption into
the slave systems as the worst exploited day workers. Irmandades, therefore, sprang
up as a response of a common desire on the part of Afro-Brazilians to form an officially
recognized corporate entity to help each other and those still in bondage… Their
meager funds came from four chief sources: subscriptions, pledges, rents, alms and
bequests… These Irmandades looked after the welfare of their members, gave
them medical and legal help, and helped those still in bondage to buy their freedom.

(Yusef A. Nzibo, Afro-Brazilian Resistance Against Slave Oppression," Afro-Diaspora—Volume 2, no. 4, 1984, p. 73)

The quilombos, on the other hand, were settlements established by runaway slaves
in various parts of Brazil. The common view is that Brazilian slavery was less brutal than
North American slavery. However, because of the harsh treatment that slaves
received—the average life expectancy of an African slave was seven years after
arriving in Brazilmany escaped to form independent communities called quilombos. The
most famous and the largest of these was Palmares in northeast Brazil, which the
Portuguese destroyed at the end of the seventeenth century.

From the beginning of slavery, escapes were frequent… these movements were most
marked during the seventeenth century when Palmares Republic was formed and to a more or
less equal extent in the nineteenth century when the famed holy war of the Moslem Negroes
broke out in Bahia. From the beginning, the owners complained of the frequent escapes of
slaves, demanding protection and security from the public authorities. Later, the
situations was met by employment of bush captains and notices in the press publicizing the
loss of slaves and urging collective action for their recapture…

Yusef A. Nzibo

In mainstream Brazilian society, the elites were Whites whose dominant cultural and
institutional references were European. The leading families of the elite—some
descendants of Portuguese nobility—monopolized power in all forms and were the least
affected by African cultural influences. The large strata beneath the elite included the
majority of Blacks, Native Americans, and the various groups of racially mixed
populations. In some instances, those racially mixed persons who assimilated European
culture and behavior were allowed to pass as White. The complex racial social structure
impacted the level of participation of the various groups in anti-colonial and
insurrectionist movements during the colonial period.

Black Brazilian slaves, white peasants, and workers rebelled against plantation owners,
mining, and trading elites. The immense power of these elites, however, allowed them to
successfully subdue revolts. Slaves who rebelled were sold to other plantations, and white
peasants who rebelled were usually shipped off to other colonies. The most serious
anticolonial revolt occurred in 1788 in the mining area of Minas Gerais, a region known
for the large population of freed Blacks, slaves and racially mixed groups. The revolt was
supported by miners and tradesmen who began to also demand the abolition of slavery. The
colonial elite were able to squelch the revolt, however, their fear of more revolts
increased, especially as anti-colonialist sentiments increased in the cities.

In the province of Bahia, slave insurrections occurred among urban slaves who were
mostly Muslim. The rebellions were combined with the desire to return to Africa.
Eventually, a number of ex-slaves and free Blacks in the city of Salvador returned to
Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The slave rebellions and insurrections
from 1807 to 1835 were very often organized by Yoruba and Fulani urban Muslim slaves and
were led by religious leaders. The rebellion of 1807 forced the colonial government to
pass legislation in the city of Salvador prohibiting slaves from walking in the city
streets after nine in the evening without the permission of their masters, because the
city became an important communications center and a place for the organization for those
planning rebellions. Insurrections occurred in Salvador in 1808 and 1826 and in Bahia in
1814 and 1816. Eventually the colonial authorities completely outlawed slave religious
congregations and religious services. Rebellions continued well into the nineteenth

The Imperial Era

In 1822, Brazil achieved independence from Portugal and established a constitutional
monarchical system of government. Emperor Pedro I was crowned in 1822 and the constitution
was ratified in 1824. The constitutional role of the monarchy was designed to be the
source of moderation in government to control conflicts among the legislative, judicial,
and executive branches of government. Power was centralized and controlled by elites.
Liberal and Conservative political parties were formally established, but they were
controlled by the plantation and mine owners and other elites.

Independence was accompanied by a boom in the sugar and coffee trade. The Haitian
revolution (1804) created a vacuum in the sugar market that Brazilian growers quickly
filled. The demand for slaves in Brazil increased and it brought in unprecedented numbers
of Africans. In 1827, Brazil signed a treaty with Britain pledging to outlaw the slave
trade and later in 1830 passed anti-slave-trade legislation. The law was not enforced until
much later in the century. The system of slavery continued long after formal declarations
to end the trade were made.

In January 1835, the largest urban slave revolt broke out in Salvador, and in the same
year, slaves joined an Indian revolt in the city of Belém. Upheavals continued throughout
the 1830s in Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia, and Maranhão. The elites in each of the regions
reacted by demanding public or governmental protection. In many ways, the slave revolts
helped the emperor pursue his goals of national unification and state consolidation. With
the support of the planter and merchant elites, Emperor Pedro II was able to strengthen
and centralize governmental power and authority. The authority of the state was eventually
threatened by Brazilian involvement in intraregional military conflicts.

The 1865-1870 War of the Triple Alliance in which Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay joined
forces against Paraguay cost Brazil 50,000 lives and $300 million. The war was funded by
the British and left Brazilian government in debt and facing a series of new contenders
for political power, the most formidable of which was a newly empowered and victorious
military establishment. The emperor faced challenges from the Church, from the army and
landowners, and from a growing antimonarchical, pro-republicanism movement. The war also
heightened awareness of the need to address the future of slavery. Slave revolts during
the war forced the government to promise to implement measures to bring slavery to an end.

Thousands of slaves were sent to fight in the war. In 1866, the emperor offered freedom
to all slaves who enlisted in the armed forces, and some landowners sold slaves to the
government to protect their sons from conscription. At the end of the war, many of the
same slave owners went to court to force the return of any escaped slaves, despite the
promise of freedom given to slaves in exchange for their military service. The
prolongation of the war and the demand for the slave manpower encouraged opposition to the
government and the emperor from an emerging abolitionist movement over the issue of
slavery. Abolitionists challenged government’s lack of a strong antislavery stance. In
response, the emperor in 1867 announced plans for gradual postwar emancipation of slaves.
Groups of abolitionists issued three manifestos before government between 1869 and 1870
that demanded immediate emancipation, greater provincial authority, direct elections, and
religious freedom. The abolitionist and republican—antimonarchical—movements
became allied during the era.

Brazilian slaves who were conscripted in the army came into contact with and were
exposed to the ideas of emancipated and free Black soldiers from Argentina and Uruguay,
who more than likely spoke to them about freedom. In the aftermath of the war, slaves
experienced hardships caused by the decaying economic conditions resulting from the war.
Slave revolts occurred in the provinces of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo,
and the region of Recôncavo. These revolts became a decisive factor in the final collapse
of the system of slavery.

During the war, urban antislavery societies were organized by groups of intellectuals,
businesspeople, professionals, and government officials who were not only opposed to
slavery, but to the constitutional monarchy. Afro-Brazilian participation in the
abolitionist movement was essential to its success, because White abolitionists opted for
a more gradual approach to emancipation. Afro-Brazilian abolitionists opted for more
radical solutions. White abolitionists were willing to, for example, accept the passage of
the 1871 Law of Free Birth supported by the emperor and his associates. From the
perspective of its elite White supporters, the law was a way to protect the property
rights of slaveholders while giving some hope to the abolitionists. The bill provided
freedom to the children of slaves at the age of eight or twenty-one, depending upon the
discretion of the slaveholder; created of an emancipation fund to free slaves and
compensate owners; allowed slaves to save money to buy their freedom, and established
records of slave rolls in the provinces. The first group of slaves would not be eligible
for freedom until 1879, thus the law had limited impact.

The most significant period of Afro-Brazilian involvement in the abolitionist movement
occurred during the 1880s. They were able to establish newspapers, write antislavery
material, organize antislavery meetings, and travel throughout the nation to spread the
word. One influential Afro-Brazilian owned newspaper was the Cidade do Rio, published
in Rio de Janeiro. In 1880, the publisher of the newspaper, José do Patrocínio, united
groups in the province and urban areas into an Abolitionist Confederation. The
organization took the abolitionist debate to the people. Through his efforts another
newspaper, The Emancipationist, was founded by an abolitionist society in Joao
Pessoa. The Gazeta da Tarde, Gazeta de Notícias, and Radical Paulistano are
other newspapers founded by Afro-Brazilians and abolitionists that used the power of the
press to build public support for the cause of emancipation.

Afro-Brazilian abolitionists were also concerned about the post-emancipation of prospects
for their people. Luís Gama, author and activist, operated night schools to offer
Afro-Brazilians some education. He and others stressed the need for
education, to prepare them to compete as freed persons in a "free society". Many
of the Afro-Brazilian abolitionists were mulattos or freed persons, middle or upper class,
who were educated, accomplished scholars and writers. Many received their educations
abroad, and therefore, like many of their White counterparts, had been exposed to liberal
ideals and advocated the development of a civil and free society in Brazil. Many sought
support from the abolitionist societies in Britain, France, and Italy.

The combination of the forces of the abolitionist movement, numerous slave revolts,
threats of increased violence, and the pro-republican movement led to the final collapse
of the slave system. The government and slaveholders were unable to withstand the pressure
for change. Hence, in 1888 the Princess Regent Isabel issued the emancipation decree, the Lei
Áurea, or Golden Law. The government did not, however, establish institutions
for the incorporation of former slaves into the larger Brazilian society.
were emancipated in a political environment in which access to any form of political
participation was nearly impossible, not only for them, but for virtually all Brazilians.

Afro-Brazilians, like their North American counterparts, emerged from slavery encumbered
by newer forms of enslavement or organized, legal, or institutionalized efforts to
re-enslave them. Landowners and the industrial elite began to enact policies that kept
Blacks in low-wage positions, while subsidizing the immigration of immigrants from Europe.
Emancipation was merely a beginning, not an end, to the Afro-Brazilian struggle for freedom
and equality.

The First Republic

The military seized power in 1889, exiled the monarchy, disbanded the Liberal and
Conservative parties, and began proceedings to draft a new constitution. The motto of the
new authoritarian government was "Order and Progress." The new regime was
influenced by the ideals of free trade and industrial economic growth that were prevalent
throughout Europe, at that time. The constitution of 1891 incorporated the ideals of a
republican form of government, however, in practice it continued the Brazilian
authoritarian tradition. It opened the way for the political domination by economic powers
and regional oligarchies. The presidency was rotated between the natives of São Paulo and
Minas Gerais, thus giving power to the coffee barons of São Paulo and the ranchers and
mine owners of Minas Gerais. The slave-dependent sugar, cotton, tobacco and coffee
plantations (fazendeiros) had lost power.

The republic was essentially dominated by state-level regional parties that controlled a
federal patronage system and eventually increased the power of the landholders (former
slaveowners) and the new export-oriented oligarchy. Democratic elections were controlled,
and less than three percent of Brazilians were enfranchised. Local political bosses (coronéis)
who were generally the heads of rural landowning families and officers in the state
militia allied themselves with state governors who were, in turn, controlled by federal
officials. The jagunços (hired guns) of the local coronéis kept peasants
and the lower classes in a state of near-feudal bondage. Essentially, the states became
relatively autonomous from the national government.

Brazilian elites began to put into action their basic attitudes toward race. White
elites were influenced by the attitudes of Count de Gobineau, author of the "Essay on
the Inequality of the Races" (1853). De Gobineau, in fact, spent thirteen months in
Brazil as representative of the French government. The doctrine of White racial
superiority affected the course of events that occurred during the First Republic to
ensure the political, economic, and military dominance of the White elite over Brazil’s
"darker masses" and former slaves. Former slaves were now free to negotiate
labor contracts and to work for wages; landowners and employers in many regions devised
plans to limit the ability of Afro-Brazilian laborers to organize.

Believing that white Europeans were superior to nonwhites, Brazil’s elite sought to
"Whiten" the nation. (Interestingly, the desire to eradicate or minimize the
African influence in Brazil, was reminiscent of the desire in Spain and Portugal, during
the Inquisition, to eliminate non-Catholic and non-Christian influences.) In the nineteenth
century, liberal elites were opposed to slavery, not for ethical, moral, or human rights
reasons, but because they believed that the institution stifled Brazilian economic
development and the country’s role in the Diaspora of European nations.

Thus, liberals such as Joaquim Nabuco advocated an end to slavery in Brazil, because,
among other factors, it repelled potential European immigration. Moreover, without
slavery, Nabuco believed that his country could have been another Canada or
Australia… [these] arguments are reflected in the writings of a wide range of Latin
American commentators, who ignored the contribution of the native Americans and the
African to the building of their societies. Their desire to modernize and attract
investment reinforced the prejudice toward the nonwhite sectors of the region.

(Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond)

The policy of whitening actually became official doctrine before the end of slavery.
Employers and government officials sponsored the immigration of European labor. Government
paid for the importation of millions of Europeans. Planters in São Paulo founded the
Society for the Promotion of Immigration in 1886 to recruit White immigrants from Europe,
pay their passage, and provide them with plantation work. In 1897, the minister of
finance, Rui Barbosa, issued an order to destroy all historical documents and files that
related to the slave trade and slavery. The massacre of 1897 of the rural religious
settlement of Canudos in the northeast backlands was abetted by the institutionalization
of white supremacist attitudes among the Brazilian elite. The military slaughtered as many
as 35,000 people who were classified as mixed-race.

The huge influx of immigrants from Europe peaked in 1913, increased the number of
Brazilian Whites. The policy of whitening was so widely accepted that it was not publicly
debated or discussed, and was reflected in all areas of public life. In 1921, the state of
Mato Grosso provided developers with a land concession. It was revealed that the
developers were associated with a group in the United States that was recruiting U.S.
Blacks for immigration to Brazil. The Catholic bishop and president of Mato Grosso
canceled the concession. In the national Chamber of Deputies, a bill was introduced to
prohibit "human beings of the black race" from entering Brazil. A major opponent
of the bill, Joaquim Osório, argued that it was tantamount to a "new Black
code" and an official policy of race prejudice that contradicted the Brazilian racial
myth. The bill died in committee, but a similar bill was introduced in 1923, and again it
failed. The prevailing attitude among the Brazilian elite was that the absence of legal
racial barriers would promote the disappearance of the Black population. Blacks, it was
projected, would disappear as a racial element in Brazil in seventy years.

During the years of the First Republic, a few Afro-Brazilian intellectuals made efforts
to mobilize Black political protest and movements. In 1925, São Paulo Blacks called for
the organization of a Black political pressure group. In 1927, the Palmares Civic Center
was founded. The organization began to campaign to change legislation prohibiting Blacks
from entering the São Paulo militia. The campaign and their efforts to develop as a
political force failed. Other efforts to begin the unionization of Black labor and other
forms of political dissent also failed. The political climate of the 1920s was one of
major social upheaval and political change. The period is marked by the unionization
movement and revolts led by the junior military officers. The junior officers’ movement
promoted the ideals of universal suffrage, labor unionism, antiforeigner nationalism, and
other types of reforms. The military snuffed out the junior officers’ movement and the
social upheaval of the era. In doing so, any hope of Black political mobilization was also

The Revolution of 1930
and the Estado Novo
(New State), 19301945

A civilian-military coalition overthrew the First Republic. Elections were outlawed. The
new governmental regime came into being as a result of a successful coalition of
industrialists, trade unionists, junior officers and nationalists that took advantage of
the discontent of among sharecroppers, farmers and unemployed workers seeing federal
relief from the Great Depression of 1929. The collapse of the coffee market weakened the
power of the oligarchs.

The new government was headed by Getúlio Vargas. As the new president, he surrounded
himself with liberal intellectuals, reformers and members of the junior officers’ movement
of the 1920s. Vargas’ leadership stimulated numerous social reforms: social security, a
minimum wage, legalization of trade unions and the right to strike, school construction,
and a civil-service meritocracy. His political reforms improved the situation of most
Brazilians. He was able to successfully eliminate political opposition from both the
political left—socialist, communist—and the political
right—fascist—movements in the 1930s.

Vargas’ leadership received Afro-Brazilians support because of the perception that the
new era would loosen the control of the rural oligarchs and produce new opportunities for
Afro-Brazilian political participation. But his leadership had a particular and long-lasting
effect on the political culture and ideology of race in Brazil. The idea of the Brazilian
"racial democracy" became the official doctrine of the Vargas regime and its
successors. Vargas hoped that Brazilian cultural nationalism would unify the diverse
political and economic interests among the various factions in Brazilian society. He
became a major proponent of the race-relations school of thought promoted by intellectuals
like Gilberto Freyre and others. Freyre and his colleagues argued that Brazilians formed a
"new race" in the tropics, a "new people" of mixed origins. Brazilian
nationalism of the 1920s attempted to put a positive spin the degree of racial
miscegenation in the population. Gilberto Freyre’s theory of Lusotropicalism and
Lusophonic exceptionalism maintained the idea that Portuguese culture and "racial
tolerance" were responsible for the development of a Brazilian racial paradise.

This official view of race relations in Brazil was common throughout Latin
American nations, like Cuba, for example. Jorge Dominguez calls the study of
race relations in Cuba, "a classic ‘nontopic.’" Carlos Moore, another Cuban scholar, contends that
in Cuba, the severe treatment of Afro-Cubans is as much the result of the severe nature of
Cuban authoritarianism as traditional white Cuban racism. The same may be said of Brazil.
The view that race is a "non-issue" or one that can be addressed through the
correction of class inequalities in Brazil is shared by members of all of the political
ideological spectrum in Brazil. The tendency to aggregate the various factors leading to
inequality in Brazil became a habit among the political, economic, cultural, religious and
social elite across the ideological spectrum—from those defined as liberals, leftists
and rightists to the Marxists and the reactionaries. National conformity to the idea of a
Brazilian "racial democracy," can be attributed to the long history of
authoritarian state-building, patron-clientelism, and the rigid social hierarchy. "In
the empire of racial democracy all are compulsorily Brazilian and equal before the law.
This myth has become one of the most deeply ingrained elements of the Brazilian social
consciousness, since the entire educational system, mass communications media, system of
justice and the other agents influencing public opinion all work to sustain it."
(Jorge Dominguez, foreword in Carlos Moore, Castro, the Blacks and Africa, Center
for Afro-American Studies, 1988)

Despite the officially endorsed doctrine of the racial democracy,
continued their efforts to develop a political presence and force in the early years of
the 1930s. The Frente Negra (Negro Front) was organized in September 1930 in São Paulo.

"The principal aim was to build and strengthen ties and to influence the
political process. Civil rights for the Frente meant equal treatment under the law and the
right to work free of discrimination." It should also be noted that the organization
was the first national civil rights organization, and the first to see, "…race
and gender rights as intimately related. As a result, a women’s department was created
within the movement… Women of the FNB opposed sexual discrimination, harassment, and

(Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995)

The organization’s newspaper, A Voz da Raça (The Voice of the Race) was
launched in 1933, but it did not survive. The Frente Negra won widespread support
throughout São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo provinces. In Bahia and Rio
Grande de Sul, other similar groups were organized. The Frente Negra and similar
organizations devoted their efforts toward addressing the racial injustices occurring in
Brazilian society, sponsoring literacy and vocational training, medical treatment, and
legal counseling for Afro-Brazilians. The Frente Negra, however, was unable to establish
itself as an effective political force or political party to run candidates for office. In
1933, Arlindo Veiga dos Santos, a major organizer of the Frente Negra in São Paulo, ran
for city council and was defeated. Between 19311937 the voter registration drives of the
organization could not register enough voters to elect candidates to of ice. In 1937, the
Frente Negra and all political parties were banned, and electoral politics in the nation
ended until 1946. The banning of the Frente Negra also meant a temporary end of the public
discussions of race. Vargas’ authoritarian rule culminated in a totalitarian constitution
that created the Estado Novo (New State). He effectively ruled by decree. The New State
curtailed states rights and favored regional oligarchies, banned strikes and lockouts and
centralized Vargas’ authoritarian system of government. To avert class conflicts, the New
State promised something for both workers and employers, incorporating them into
"sindicatos"—state-regulated-influenced interest groups. In this way, Vargas
was able to establish a pattern of leadership that claimed to place national interest
above regional or class based interests. Vargas was also able to increase the role of the
state in economic development and created a domestic environment meant to attract foreign
investors—an apparent climate of stability. One can assume that the suppression of
the Afro-Brazilian political movement and public discussions of race and race-related
issues were also viewed as necessary to stabilize the political environment to attract
foreign investment capital.

While promoting the public myth of the "racial democracy," the Vargas regime
projected the "white" image of Brazil to the world. The policy of whitening the
population through increased European immigration continued during this era. In 1945,
Vargas’ Decree No. 7967 was issued establishing a criteria for immigration in which
immigrants would be admitted only in conformity with the "necessity to preserve and
develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the more desirable characteristics
of its European ancestry." Vargas’ decree remained in force well into the
1980s—until the constitution of 1988 was ratified.

Afro-Brazilians did not respond openly to oppose the decree. During the period of the
Estado Novo, the Black movement leaned toward accommodation rather than confrontation. The
aversion to militant protest was also in part due to the emergence of an
middle class and professionals in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, who were inclined to
support strategies to "uplift the race, one at a time." "This understanding
of community uplift was based upon the existing realities of social ascension in an
increasingly competitive, market-oriented ethos that had already driven large segments of
the black labor force to Brazil’s economic periphery one generation earlier."
(Michael Hanchard, Orpheus and Power, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 106-107)

Excerpted from Democracy and Race in Brazil, Britain and the United
States, Walton L. Brown, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997, 290 pp

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