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By 25,000 BC there were cave-dwellers in Brazil. By 15,000 BC cave art began in the shelter of Toca do Boqueirao de Pedra Furada.

In 1494, by the Treaty of Tordesillas, Spain and Portugal moved the pope's line of demarcation farther west. This would eventually give Portugal territory in eastern Brazil.

In 1500, blown off course on his way to India, Pedro Cabral landed on the coast of Brazil and claimed the country for Portugal. The following year Amerigo Vespucci explored the country's coast. In 1567 the Portuguese founded Rio de Janeiro. Around 1570, they set up Brazil's first sugar plantations after a slave revolt on Sao Tome, off the coast of West Africa.

Ever since the Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the rich new world between Portugal and Spain in 1494, they had both ruled vast colonies in Central and South America. Although there had been many disagreements between colonists and governments, the colonies had not managed to break free.

In 1807 Napoleon marched into Portugal and in 1808 he invaded Spain. For the next five years, Spain became a battleground, as British, Spanish and Portuguese troops fought against French soldiers. This period of confusion gave the colonies the chance they had been waiting for. They began their fight for independence in 1808, by refusing to accept Napoleon's brother Joseph as the new king of Spain.

Argentina declared itself free from Spanish rule in 1810, followed by Paraguay in 1811. Peru became independent from Spain in 1821, as did Mexico, and Brazil broke free from Portugal in 1822. The Brazilians invited Dom Pedro, son of the Portuguese king, to be their first emperor. But life was not always easy for ordinary people in these states. The wealthy colonial settlers still owned most of the land, and governed it for their own profit.

Pedro II began to rule Brazil in 1840. Capable, liberal, and scholarly, he spent the first years dealing with rebellions, but by 1850 had established his authority throughout the country. Over the next 40 years agriculture, business, and industry expanded rapidly. With government encouragement railways were built, and coffee, sugar, and rubber production greatly increased. Brazil was the world's biggest rubber exporter and workers flocked to the Amazon forest to tap the rubber trees. The population grew from about eight million in 1850 to over 14 million by 1889.

In 1854 Pedro II sent a force to Uruguay to support the ruling party and increase Brazil's influence abroad. The War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70) broke out when Paraguay attacked Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in an unsuccessful attempt to force the Brazilians to evacuate Uruguay. Many Paraguayan men were killed in the fighting.

Pedro abolished slavery over the years 1870-88. In the last years, his freeing of remaining slaves without compensation to owners turned landlords against him, and they finally forced him to abdicate. The monarchy was abolished, and Brazil was proclaimed a republic in 1889. Pedro died in exile in 1891.

Brazil's domination of the world rubber trade was badly affected by Asian competition. Then world coffee prices slumped sharply during the late 1920s. Two bumper crops were grown between 1927 and 1929 and efforts of the Brazilian Coffee Institute to restrict sales failed. Coffee flooded world markets and prices plummeted. Population, however, was on the increase, and social unrest began to spread throughout the huge country as businesses foundered and food shortages followed. In 1930 a revolution broke out and Getulio Vargas (1883-1954), governor of the province of Rio Grande do Sul, seized power and was declared president. At first he acted with moderation, but gradually became more dictatorial. In 1938 he suspended elections and formally proclaimed a dictatorship which lasted until 1945. In that time, although he ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove, he did much to modernize Brazil and improve conditions for the poor. In 1942 he declared war against the Axis powers and in 1943 sent a Brazilian army to join the Allies in Italy. In 1930 right-wing dictatorships were set up in Argentina and Brazil. Vargas fell from power in 1945 but returned for a short inglorious term in 1950. The one-time idol of his people was condemned for corruption and his mishandling of the economy, and in 1954 he committed suicide.

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