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The Eighteenth Century: The Brazilian Gold rush



The conflict with the bandeiras cemented the alliance between the Jesuit missionaries and an array of Guaraní leaders, with the Guaraní missions becoming the preeminent military force in the Rio de la Plata basin by the start of the eighteenth century. From São Paulo, Guaraní-descendant Carijó workers travelled to Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso, playing a frontline role in the initial discovery and exploitation of Brazil’s gold mines. Having beaten off Spain and Holland, Portugal now fell into a dependent relationship with England to maintain its independence. The subsequent flow of gold from Brazil to Britain through the highly unequal trade deals of the Methuen treaties (1703) assisted in the monetisation of the economy and the expansion of waged labour in England. As such, enslaved Indigenous and African labour in Brazil was one of many factors contributing to the development of English capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. This process flowed, in part, out of the Atlantic rainforest into Europe, with the next industrial stage of capitalism then expanding from Europe, via local vectors, back into the Atlantic rainforest.

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In the western tracts of the rainforest, some Guaraní leaders chose to dance with the state, negotiating with Jesuit missionaries to try and take control of the yerba mate trade, while others rejected the colonial order entirely, keeping their cosmologies alive as they expelled yerba mate collectors from the forest. The invading Spanish colonists found themselves entangled in Guaraní social systems and conflicts that impeded the expansion of commodity frontiers, capitalist labour relations and deforestation in the region until late in the nineteenth century, with Guaraní land rights campaigns continuing to the present day in Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Brazil.

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