With an area of over half a million square Kilometres, the state of Amazonas is (by far) the largest in Brazil. To put it into perspective, it is six times the size of Britain or more than three times that of France. However, with only about three and a half million people, Amazonas is very sparsely populated compared to either of those. Over a third of the entire state population lives in the area round Manaus the capital. The next largest settlement is the much smaller town of Parintins, rather less than one tenth the size.
Do these population figures mean that the Minha Casa Minha Vida social housing project will not be coming to Amazonas? Well, the demand for housing is not as big as it is in the over populated eastern states but President Dilma Rousseff insists that the scheme will roll out in all states. Critics say that this just isn’t possible as the eastern states still need millions of homes but with property giants such as the EcoHouse Group building homes in record time thanks to funding from international investors Dilma’s statement may turn out to be true after all.
The state is in the north-west of Brazil and (as its name suggests) includes a large part of the upper or western Amazon River basin. It also borders on Peru, Columbia and Venezuela. Another interesting fact is that Amazonas is the ninth largest sub-national division in the entire world.
Back in the late fifteenth century, the Amazon Basin was actually granted to Spain rather than Portugal and for many years the two colonial empires contested for control. Finally the latter achieved dominance. However, in 1822 Brazil became independent, first of all as an ‘Empire’ under an Emperor who was a member of the Portuguese royal family. At the same time the area was renamed as the Province of Amazonas and some 25 years later the city of Manaus was designated. It was formally made the capital of the province in 1851.
From then on in the 19th Century the population grew rapidly; the increase fuelled by immigrants from all over Brazil (and elsewhere) attracted by the rubber boom. Although much money was made by the plantation owners, it was often at the cost of great human suffering caused by the slave-labour system which was not in fact abolished in the country until 1888, twenty three years after the United states. In any case, the rubber boom declined seriously towards the end of the century, in the face of major competition from British and Dutch rubber planters in the East Indies whose product was both cheaper and better.
For many years the state was in a condition of economic decline. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that things started to improve as a result of central government help. Nowadays the main economic activities in this wet area (every month at least 6cm of rain with no dry season at all!) are about 70% manufacturing and 20% service industry occupations.
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