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They were worked to death after a few years of service, and fed on a crude diet of beans and jerked beef. The most prosperous area was around the new capital, Rio de Janeiro.
A privileged fraction of the white population enjoyed high incomes but the rest of the population (free blacks, mulattos, Indians and large numbers of the whites) were poor. Independence came to Brazil very smoothly by Latin American standards.
When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500, their situation as colonialists was very different from that of Spain in Mexico and Peru.
They did not find an advanced civilisation with hoards of precious metals for plunder, or a social discipline and organisation geared to provide steady tribute which they could appropriate.
At independence in 1822, the three main exports were cotton, sugar and coffee.
Coffee production started at the beginning of the nineteenth century after the slave revolt cut output in Haiti.
Coffee was grown in the Southeast, whereas sugar and cotton were typical Northeast products.
The ultimate fate of Brazilian Indians was rather like that of North American Indians.
Cattle ranching in the dry backlands area (the sertão) provided food for those working in sugar production. Earnings fell thereafter because of lower prices and competition from the rapidly growing output in the Caribbean (see Table 2–4).
The setback in sugar caused large parts of the Northeast to lapse into a subsistence economy.
With independence, Brazil ceased remitting official tribute to Portugal, but the large imperial ruling establishment meant a higher internal tax burden.
The British, the new protectors of Brazil, took out their growing commercial profits.