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Rubber boom

Rubber boom

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The rubber boom was an important part of the economic and social history of Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and Amazonian regions of neighboring countries, being related with the extraction and commercialization of rubber
Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the sticky, milk colored latex sap collected and refined...

. This boom was centered in the Amazon
Amazon Basin
The Amazon Basin is the part of South America drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries that drains an area of about , or roughly 40 percent of South America. The basin is located in the countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela...

, facilitating a large expansion of colonization, attracting wealth and causing cultural and social transformations, along with encouraging the growth of Manaus
Manaus is a city in Brazil, the capital of the state of Amazonas. It is situated at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It is the most populous city of Amazonas, according to the statistics of Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, and is a popular ecotourist destination....

, Porto Velho
Porto Velho
Porto Velho is the capital of the Brazilian state of Rondônia, in the upper Amazon River basin. The population is estimated to be 426,558 people...

, and Belém
Belém is a Brazilian city, the capital and largest city of state of Pará, in the country's north region. It is the entrance gate to the Amazon with a busy port, airport and bus/coach station...

, which today remain major cities and the capitals of their respective Brazilian states, Amazonas, Rondônia
Rondônia is a state in Brazil, located in the north-western part of the country. To the west is a short border with the state of Acre, to the north is the state of Amazonas, in the east is Mato Grosso, and in the south is Bolivia. Its capital is Porto Velho. The state was named after Candido Rondon...

 and Pará
Pará is a state in the north of Brazil. It borders the Brazilian states of Amapá, Maranhão, Tocantins, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Roraima. To the northwest it also borders Guyana and Suriname, and to the northeast it borders the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is Belém.Pará is the most populous state...

, as well as Iquitos in Peru, for example. The rubber boom occurred largely between 1879 to 1912, and afterwards experienced a revival from 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...



Natural rubber is an elastomer
An elastomer is a polymer with the property of viscoelasticity , generally having notably low Young's modulus and high yield strain compared with other materials. The term, which is derived from elastic polymer, is often used interchangeably with the term rubber, although the latter is preferred...

, also known as tree gum, India rubber, and caoutchouc, which comes from the rubber tree in tropical regions. Christopher Columbus was the one of the first Europeans to bring news of this odd substance back to Europe, but he was not the only one to encounter this substance. In fact around 1736, a French astronomer recalled how Indians used rubber to waterproof shoes and cloaks. He then brought several samples of rubber back to France.Rubber was then used as an eraser by Joseph Priestly in England. It wasn’t until the 1800s that practical uses of rubber were known and the demand for rubber began. The first factory for rubber products (suspenders
Suspenders or braces are fabric or leather straps worn over the shoulders to hold up trousers. Straps may be elasticated, either entirely or only at attachment ends and most straps are of woven cloth forming an X or Y shape at the back. Braces are typically attached to trousers with buttons...

 (US) or braces (UK)) was in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, in the year 1803. However, the material still had disadvantages: at room temperature, it was sticky. At higher temperatures, the rubber became softer and stickier, while at lower temperatures it became hard and rigid.

It was the South American Indians who first discovered rubber; sometime dating back to 1600BC. They had first used rubber as a ball in a game they called Tlachtlic. Thus, it was in the Amazon rainforest
Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest , also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America...

 that rubber extraction developed, using the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), a member of the Euphorbiaceae
Euphorbiaceae, the Spurge family are a large family of flowering plants with 300 genera and around 7,500 species. Most are herbs, but some, especially in the tropics, are also shrubs or trees. Some are succulent and resemble cacti....


A white liquid called latex
Latex is the stable dispersion of polymer microparticles in an aqueous medium. Latexes may be natural or synthetic.Latex as found in nature is a milky fluid found in 10% of all flowering plants . It is a complex emulsion consisting of proteins, alkaloids, starches, sugars, oils, tannins, resins,...

 is extracted from the stem of the rubber tree, which contains on average 35% hydrocarbon
In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons from which one hydrogen atom has been removed are functional groups, called hydrocarbyls....

s, in particular 2-methylbuta-1,3-diene (C5H8), commercially known as isoprene
Isoprene , or 2-methyl-1,3-butadiene, is a common organic compound with the formula CH2=CCH=CH2. Under standard conditions it is a colorless liquid...

, the monomer
A monomer is an atom or a small molecule that may bind chemically to other monomers to form a polymer; the term "monomeric protein" may also be used to describe one of the proteins making up a multiprotein complex...

 of rubber.

Latex is a practically neutral substance, with a pH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...

 of 7.0 to 7.2. However, when it is exposed to the air for 12 to 24 hours, its pH falls to 5.0 and it spontaneously coagulates to form the polymer
A polymer is a large molecule composed of repeating structural units. These subunits are typically connected by covalent chemical bonds...

 rubber, represented by (C5H8)n, where "n" is of the order of 10,000 and gives a molecular mass
Molecular mass
The molecular mass of a substance is the mass of one molecule of that substance, in unified atomic mass unit u...

 of 600,000 to 950,000 g/mol.

Rubber produced in this fashion has disadvantages. For example, exposure to air causes it to mix with various materials, which is perceptible and can cause rot, as well as a temperature-dependent stickiness. With an industrial treatment, the impurities are removed and the rubber is exposed to a process of vulcanization
Vulcanization or vulcanisation is a chemical process for converting rubber or related polymers into more durable materials via the addition of sulfur or other equivalent "curatives." These additives modify the polymer by forming crosslinks between individual polymer chains. Vulcanized material is...

, eliminating the undesirable qualities. It acquires superior mechanical properties, loses its sticky character, and becomes stable and resistant to solvents and variations in temperature.

Effects on indigenous population

The rubber boom and the associated need for a large workforce had a significant negative effect on the indigenous population across Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. As rubber plantations grew, labor shortages increased. The owners of the plantations or rubber barons were rich, but those who collected the rubber made very little as a large amount of rubber was needed to be profitable. The rubber barons rounded up all the Indians and forced them to tap rubber out of the trees. One plantation started with 50,000 Indians and when discovered of the killings, only 8,000 were still alive. This was nothing more than genocide as much culture was lost.Slavery and gross human rights abuses were widespread, and in some areas 90% of the Indian population was wiped out.These rubber plantations were part of the Brazilian rubber market which declined as rubber plantations in Southeast Asia became more effective.

Roger Casement
Roger Casement
Roger David Casement —Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours—was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist....

, an Irishman travelling the Putumayo region of Peru as a British consul during 1910-1911 documented the abuse, slavery, murder and use of stocks for torture against the native Indians:

"The crimes charged against many men now in the employ of the Peruvian Amazon Company are of the most atrocious kind, including murder, violation, and constant flogging."

According to Wade Davis
Wade Davis
Edmund Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants...

, author of One River:
"The horrendous atrocities that were unleashed on the Indian people of the Amazon during the height of the rubber boom were like nothing that had been seen since the first days of the Spanish Conquest."

The first rubber boom, 1879–1912

For the first four and a half centuries following the discovery of the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

, as no gold or precious stones were discovered in the Amazon, the native populations lived practically in isolation, as neither colonial Brazil
Colonial Brazil
In the history of Brazil, Colonial Brazil, officially the Viceroyalty of Brazil comprises the period from 1500, with the arrival of the Portuguese, until 1815, when Brazil was elevated to kingdom alongside Portugal as the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves.During the over 300 years...

 nor imperial Brazil was able to create incentives for development in the region. Living with an economy based on vegetable extraction, the regional economy developed for centuries, accompanied with the interest of the market of diverse natural resources in the region.

Rubber: sure wealth

The development of the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 in Europe was the fuse which made natural rubber, until then exclusively found in the Amazon, a desirable commodity, valued at a high price, and creating wealth and dividends for whoever would dare invest in the trade.

From the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, rubber began to exert a strong attraction to visionary entrepreneurs. The activity of latex extraction in the Amazon revealed its lucrative possibilities. Natural rubber soon achieved a place of distinction in the industries of Europe and North America, reaching a high price. This caused various people to travel to Brazil with the intention of learning more about the rubber tree and the process of latex extraction, with the end of achieving wealth.

Because of the growth of rubber extraction numerous cities and towns swelled. Belém and Manaus, which already existed, became transformed and urbanized. Manaus was the first Brazilian city to be urbanized and the second to be electrified (the first was Campos dos Goytacazes
Campos dos Goytacazes
Campos dos Goytacazes is a municipality and city located in the northern area of Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, with a population of 463,545 inhabitants. Its area is 4,031.910 km², which makes it the largest municipality in the state and its elevation is 14 m...

, in Rio de Janeiro). In 1855, over 2,100 tons was exported from the Amazon; a figure which reached 10,000 tons by 1879.

Development of railroads

The idea of constructing a railroad at the edge of the Madeira
Madeira River
The Madeira River is a major waterway in South America, approximately 3,250 km miles long The Madeira is the biggest tributary of the Amazon...

 and Mamoré Rivers arose in Bolivia in 1846. As the country did not have the territory to transport the rubber production, it was necessary to find an alternative that enabled export of the rubber across the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...


The initial idea was for river navigation, going up the Mamoré in Bolivia and then down the Madeira River, in Brazil. However, the river course had substantial obstacles: twenty cataracts obstructed navigation. As it was impractical, constructing a railroad to bypass the problematic stretches was the only solution.

In 1867, in Brazil, also trying to discover a simple way to transport the rubber, the engineers José and Francisco Keller organized a large expedition, exploring the rubber region of the Madeira River to find the most productive region and the most effective course for the railroad.

Although the idea of river navigation was complicated, in 1869, the North American engineer George Earl Church
George Earl Church
Colonel George Earl Church , was an American civil engineer and geographer, famous as an explorer of South America.-Early life:...

 obtained from the Bolivian government a concession to create and explore a navigation enterprise that linked the Mamoré and Madeira Rivers. However, shortly afterwards, he realized the real difficulty of this undertaking, and the plans were definitively changed to the construction of a railroad. Negotiations advanced and, by 1870, Church received permission from the Brazilian government to build a railroad along the rubber trees of the Madeira River.

The Acre question

However, the increase in uncontrolled extraction of rubber was on the road to provoking an international conflict. The Brazilian workers advanced further and further into the forests in the territory of Bolivia in search of new rubber trees to extract the precious latex, creating conflicts and skirmishes on the frontier towards the end of the 19th century, which required the presence of the army, led by José Plácido de Castro. The recently-proclaimed Brazilian republic drew considerable profit from the wealth of the rubber trade, but the "Acre question" (as the border conflicts caused by rubber extraction became known) preoccupied it.

It was then that a providential and intelligent intervention by the diplomat Barão do Rio Branco
Barão do Rio Branco
José Maria da Silva Paranhos, Jr., 1st Baron of Rio Branco was a Brazilian diplomat, geographer, historian, politician and professor, considered to be the "father of Brazilian diplomacy". He was the son of famous statesman José Maria da Silva Paranhos, Sr....

 and the ambassador Joaquim Francisco de Assis Brasil, in part financed by the "rubber barons," culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Petropolis, signed November 17, 1903 during the government of president Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves
Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves
Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves, PC was a Brazilian politician who first served as governor of the State of São Paulo in 1887, and as Treasury minister in the 1890s. Rodrigues Alves was elected president of Brazil in 1902 and served until 1906....

. This treaty halted the conflict with Bolivia, guaranteeing effective control of the forests of Acre by Brazil.

Brazil received definitive possession of the region in exchange for territories in Mato Grosso
Mato Grosso
Mato Grosso is one of the states of Brazil, the third largest in area, located in the western part of the country.Neighboring states are Rondônia, Amazonas, Pará, Tocantins, Goiás and Mato Grosso do Sul. It also borders Bolivia to the southwest...

, a payment of two million pounds sterling, and the compromise of constructing the railroad which passed over the rubber tree-rich Madeira River and gave Bolivian goods (of which rubber was the principal) access to the Brazilian ports of the Atlantic (initially Belém in Pará
Pará is a state in the north of Brazil. It borders the Brazilian states of Amapá, Maranhão, Tocantins, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Roraima. To the northwest it also borders Guyana and Suriname, and to the northeast it borders the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is Belém.Pará is the most populous state...

, at the mouth of the Amazon River
Amazon River
The Amazon of South America is the second longest river in the world and by far the largest by waterflow with an average discharge greater than the next seven largest rivers combined...


Because of this historic episode, peacefully resolved, the capital of Acre received the name Rio Branco
Rio Branco
Rio Branco is a Brazilian city, capital of Acre. Located in the Valley of Acre in northern Brazil, it is the most populous county in the state, with 305,954 inhabitants, according to a 2009 estimate - almost half the state population....

 and two of the municipalities in the state received names of two other important people: Assis Brasil
Assis Brasil
Assis Brasil is a municipality located in the south of the Brazilian state of Acre. Its population is 5351 and its area is 2,876 km².-Towns and villages:*Abismo*Assis Brasil - capital*Maloca*Reserva Extrema*São Francisco, Acre...

 and Plácido de Castro
Plácido de Castro
Plácido de Castro is a municipality located in the east of the Brazilian state of Acre. It has a population of 17,258 and its area is 2,047 km²....


Madeira-Mamoré completed, but falls into disuse

The Madeira Mamoré Railway, also known as the "Devil's Railroad" on account of having caused the death of around six thousand workers (in legends said to be one dead worker per railroad tie attached to the rails) was canceled by the United States corporation Percival Farquhar. The construction of the railroad began in 1907 during the government of Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena
Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena
Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena was a Brazilian politician, and president between 1906 and 1909. Before his political career, Pena was a lawyer, jurist and member of the Brazilian Supreme Court....

 and was one of the most significant episodes in the history of the occupation of the Amazon, revealing the clear attempt to integrate it into the global marketplace via the commercialization of rubber.

On April 30, 1912, the final stretch of the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad was completed. The occasion was commemorated by the arrival of the first train to the city of Guajará-Mirim
Guajará-Mirim is a municipality in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. It is located at an altitude of 128 meters. Its population was 41,467 and its area is 24,856 km².It lies along the Mamoré River, just across the Bolivian border town of Guayaramerín...

, founded on that same day.

But the destiny of the railroad that was constructed with the principal purpose of transporting rubber and other products from the Amazon region, both in Bolivia and Brazil, to the Atlantic ports, and which came at a high human cost, was the worst possible.

First, the price of latex fell precipitously in the world market, making the trade of rubber from the Amazon unviable. Also, the transport of products that could have been transported by the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad were taken by two other railroads, one in Chile and the other in Argentina, and the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

, which became active on August 15, 1914.

Added to this, the natural factor, the Amazon forest, with its high level of rainfall, destroyed entire stretches of the rails, leveled ground, and bridges, reclaiming a large part of the way that people had insisted on clearing to construct the railroad.

The railroad was partially taken out of service in the 1930s and completely in 1972, the year in which the Trans-Amazonian highway
Trans-Amazonian highway
The Trans-Amazonian Highway , was inaugurated on August 30, 1972. It is 5,300 km long, making it the third longest highway in Brazil...

 (BR-230). Today, from a total of 364 km of length, about seven remain in active use, used for tourist purposes.

The people of Rondonia have fought for revitalization of the railroad, but as of December 1, 2006, the work remains unstarted.

Apogee, elegance, and luxury

Belém is a Brazilian city, the capital and largest city of state of Pará, in the country's north region. It is the entrance gate to the Amazon with a busy port, airport and bus/coach station...

, the capital of Pará
Pará is a state in the north of Brazil. It borders the Brazilian states of Amapá, Maranhão, Tocantins, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Roraima. To the northwest it also borders Guyana and Suriname, and to the northeast it borders the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is Belém.Pará is the most populous state...

 state, as well as Manaus
Manaus is a city in Brazil, the capital of the state of Amazonas. It is situated at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It is the most populous city of Amazonas, according to the statistics of Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, and is a popular ecotourist destination....

, the capital of Amazonas, were the most developed and prosperous cities in Brazil during the rubber boom, not only due to its strategic position, but also because a large number of residences for the rubber extractors was there. Both cities were electrified and given running water and sewers. Their apogee was reached between 1890 and 1920, due to technologies that other cities in the south and southeast of Brazil still didn't have, such as electric trams, avenues built on cleared gullies, as well as imposing and luxurious buildings, such as the polished Teatro Amazonas, the government palace, the municipal market, and the customs house, in the case of Manaus, and the fish market, the iron market, Teatro da Paz, corridors of mango trees, and various residential palaces in the case of Belém, constructed in large part by the intendant Antônio Lemos.

The European influence later became notable in Manaus and Belém, in the architecture and the way of life, making the 19th century the best economic phase endured by the two cities. The Amazon was responsible in the era for nearly 40% of all Brazil's exports. The new riches of Manaus made the city the world capital in the sale of diamond
In mineralogy, diamond is an allotrope of carbon, where the carbon atoms are arranged in a variation of the face-centered cubic crystal structure called a diamond lattice. Diamond is less stable than graphite, but the conversion rate from diamond to graphite is negligible at ambient conditions...

s. Thanks to rubber, the per capita income
Per capita income
Per capita income or income per person is a measure of mean income within an economic aggregate, such as a country or city. It is calculated by taking a measure of all sources of income in the aggregate and dividing it by the total population...

 of Manaus was twice as much as the coffee-producing region (São Paulo
São Paulo
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city in the southern hemisphere and South America, and the world's seventh largest city by population. The metropolis is anchor to the São Paulo metropolitan area, ranked as the second-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas and among...

, Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro , commonly referred to simply as Rio, is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan area and agglomeration in South America, boasting approximately 6.3 million people within the city proper, making it the 6th...

 and Espírito Santo
Espírito Santo
Espírito Santo is one of the states of southeastern Brazil, often referred to by the abbreviation "ES". Its capital is Vitória and the largest city is Vila Velha. The name of the state means literally "holy spirit" after the Holy Ghost of Christianity...


As payment for the export of rubber, the workers were paid in pounds sterling
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

 (£), the currency of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, which circulated in Manaus and Belém during this period.

The end of the Amazon's rubber monopoly

However, the Madeira–Mamoré Railroad, finished in 1912, arrived too late. The Amazon was already losing primacy in rubber production due to rubber trees planted by the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in Malaysia, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, and tropical Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. These rubber trees were planted from seeds that Henry Wickham
Henry Wickham
Sir Henry Alexander Wickham was a British bio-pirate and explorer. He later claimed in self-aggrandising publicity that he was responsible for "stealing" about 70,000 seeds from the rubber-bearing tree, Hevea brasiliensis, in the Santarém area of Brazil in 1876...

 had smuggled out of Brazil in 1876. These plantations were able to produce latex with greater efficiency and productivity. Consequently, with lower costs and a lower final price, the British Empire assumed control of the world rubber market.

The natural rubber from the Amazon came to have a prohibitively expensive price in the world market, having as an immediate effect the stagnation of the regional economy. The rubber crisis grew worse due to the lack of entrepreneurial or governmental vision in finding alternatives which would make possible regional development, and had as an immediate consequence the stagnation of the cities. The fault lies not only with the enterprises taken as the "rubber barons" and the economic elite in general, but also the government and politicians who could provide incentives for the creation of administrative projects which would generate economic planning and sustainable development of rubber extraction.

Although the railroad and the cities of Porto Velho and Guajará-Mirim remained as a legacy to this bright economic period, the recession caused by the end of the rubber boom left profound scars on the Amazon region: loss of state tax income, high levels of unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

, rural and urban emigration, abandoned and unneeded housing, and, primarily, a complete lack of expectations in relation to the future for those who chose to remain in the region.

The rubber workers, now deprived of their income, remained in the periphery of Manaus in search of ways to ameliorate their condition. There, because of lack of housing, they began in the 1920s the construction of the cidade flutuante ("floating city"), a type of residence that was consolidated in the 1960s.

The central government of Brazil even created an organ with the objective of stemming the crisis, named the Superintendência de Defesa da Borracha ("Superintendency of Defence of Rubber"), but the organization was inefficient and was not able to effect real changes, and, for this reason, was eliminated soon after its creation.

In the 1930s, Henry Ford
Henry Ford
Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry...

, the United States automobile pioneer, undertook the cultivation of rubber trees in the Amazon region, and established the city of Fordlândia
Fordlândia is a now-abandoned, prefabricated industrial town established in the Amazon Rainforest in 1928 by American industrialist Henry Ford to secure a source of cultivated rubber for the automobile manufacturing operations of the Ford Motor Company in the United States...

, in the west part of Pará state, specifically for this end, but the initiative was not successful because the plantation suffered from a leaf pest.

The second rubber boom, 1942-1945

The Amazon again experienced a rubber boom during the Second World War, although it was of brief duration. As Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 dominated the eastern Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 from the beginning of 1942 and invaded Malaysia, the rubber plantations there came under their control, which resulted in the loss of 97% of Asiatic rubber production.

This resulted in the implementation of new elements, including infrastructure, in Belém and Manaus, this time on the behalf of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. An example of this is the Grande Hotel, a luxurious hotel constructed in Belém in only three years, which today is the Hilton Hotel.

The rubber battle

With the enlisting of the northeastern Brazilians, Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the most for any President, and second in Brazilian history to Emperor Pedro II...

 reduced the problem of the economic blight and at the same time gave new impetus to the colonization of the Amazon Basin.

Anxious to find a way to resolve this impasse and, at the same time, supply the Allied Forces with the rubber needed for war equipment, the Brazilian government made and agreement with the United States government (the Washington Accords), which resulted in the large-scale extraction of Amazon latex, an operation which became known as the Batalha da borracha ("rubber battle").

As the rubber forests had been abandoned and no more than 35,000 workers remained in the region, the great challenge of Brazil was to increase the annual production of latex from 18,000 to 45,000 tons, as set in the agreement. For this, 100,000 men were needed.

The Estado Novo
Estado Novo (Brazil)
Vargas Era is the period in the history of Brazil that lasted from 1930 to 1945, when the country was under the leadership of Getúlio Dornelles Vargas....

 in 1943 ordered the compulsory enlisting of workers in the Serviço Especial de Mobilização de Trabalhadores para a Amazônia (SEMTA; "Special Service of Mobilization of Workers for the Amazon"), based in the northeast, in Fortaleza
Fortaleza is the state capital of Ceará, located in Northeastern Brazil. With a population close to 2.5 million , Fortaleza is the 5th largest city in Brazil. It has an area of and one of the highest demographic densities in the country...

. The choice of the Northeast as the center was a response to a devastating drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

 in the region and to the unprecedented crisis that the farmers in the region confronted.

In addition to SEMTA, the government created other organizations to support the rubber battle: the Superintendência para o Abastecimento do Vale da Amazônia (Sava: the Superintendency for the Provisioning of the Amazon Valley), the Serviço Especial de Saúde Pública (Sesp: the Special Service of Public Health), and the Serviço de Navegação da Amazônia e de Administração do Porto do Pará (Snapp: Navigation Service of the Amazon and Administration of the Port of Pará). The Banco de Crédito da Borracha (Rubber Credit Bank) was also created, which later in 1950 became the Banco de Crédito da Amazônia (Amazon Credit Bank).

The international organization Rubber Development Corporation (RDC), financed with capital from United States industries, covered the expenses of relocating the migrants (known at the time as brabos). The United States government paid the Brazilian government $100 for every worker delivered to the Amazon.

Thousands of workers from various regions of Brazil were transported under force to obligatory servitude and death by diseases against which they had no immunity. The northeast region sent 54,000 workers to the Amazon alone, 30,000 of which were from Ceará
Ceará is one of the 27 states of Brazil, located in the northeastern part of the country, on the Atlantic coast. It is currently the 8th largest Brazilian State by population and the 17th by area. It is also one of the main touristic destinations in Brazil. The state capital is the city of...

. These new rubber workers were called soldados da borracha ("rubber soldiers") in a clear allusion to the role of the latex in supplying the U.S. factories with the rubber necessary to fight the war.

Manaus had, in 1849, 5,000 inhabitants, and, in a half-century, grew to 70,000. During World War II the region again experienced prosperity. Money began to circulate in Manaus, Belém, and other cities and towns nearby and the regional economy gained strength.

Each migrant signed a contract with SEMTA which offered a small salary for the worker during their transport to the Amazon region. Upon arrival, they received a payment of 60% of the total profit which had been obtained with the rubber. The basic kit they received included basic clothing, eating equipment, a net, and a carton of Colomy cigarettes. After being recruited, the volunteers were placed in specially-built housing, under strict military watch, and then sent into the Amazon, on trips which could last two to three months.

Meanwhile, for many workers, it was a one-way journey. About 30,000 rubber workers died abandoned in the Amazon, after having exhausted their energies extracting the "white gold." They died of malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

, and hepatitis
Hepatitis is a medical condition defined by the inflammation of the liver and characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the tissue of the organ. The name is from the Greek hepar , the root being hepat- , meaning liver, and suffix -itis, meaning "inflammation"...

, and were attacked by animals such as panther
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

s, serpent
Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales...

s, and scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

s. The Brazilian government also did not fulfill its promise to return the "rubber soldiers" to their homes at the end of the war as hero
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

es and with housing comparable to that of the military.. It is calculated that only about 6,000 workers managed to return to their homes, at their own expense.


The abrupt end of the first and second rubber boom demonstrate the entrepreneurial incapacity and the lack of vision of the dominant class and politicians of the region. The end of the war brought the loss of the chance to correct the mistakes made after the first rubber boom. No effective plan of regional sustainable development was made, which had the result that as soon as the war ended, the economies of both the winners and losers reorganized in Europe and Asia, and brought to an end the production of the old and inefficient rubber workers in the Amazon.

See also

  • Peru: Abuses against the Putumayo Indians
  • Euclides da Cunha
    Euclides da Cunha
    Euclides da Cunha was a Brazilian writer, sociologist and engineer. His most important work is Os Sertões , a non-fictional account of the military expeditions promoted by the Brazilian government against the rebellious village of Canudos, known as the War of Canudos...

External links

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The Portuguese Wikipedia is a Portuguese language edition of Wikipedia , the free encyclopedia. It was the fifth edition of Wikipedia, started in June 2001. It is currently the tenth largest Wikipedia by article count, containing articles.From late 2004, the edition grew rapidly...