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The Shape of South America



     Look at a map of South America. The Spanish-speaking countries are like a necklace strung around the neck of Brazil. This is not the way it was supposed to be. By the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), Spain and Portugal divided the world between them, Spain getting the half of the world west of a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Then Portuguese navigators discovered that the bulge of Brazil was east of that line, giving them a foothold in South America, which they kept secret from the Spaniards. Since then Brazil has expanded relentlessly westward until it reached the size if has today.
     However, Brazil has a psychological problem, a mixture of a sense of guilt and a paranoia that there is an international intrigue to take Amazonia from it. Hence a long effort to pin down its claim to that huge valley. The latest effort has been to establish a tax-free manufacturing area at Manaus, which once flourished as the center of the rubber boom. Whether it makes sense to have a manufacturing center in the middle of the jungle has been heatedly discussed by Brazilians.
     Look at the map of South America again. You will notice that the 40% of Colombia controlled by the guerrillas has a common border with Brazil. There is traffic across it (what goes across it we do not know), and a Brazilian TV crew has taken films of the guerrilla camps. The FARC guerrillas have two representatives in Brasília, the capital of Brazil. As Brazil fills in its empty western territory, its trade with the FARC area will increase, with unforeseeable consequences. The ultimate hope of Brazil is to have a port on the Pacific, just as the United States has. It may be just a dream, but Brazil's living neck is expanding. Let us hope that the string of the necklace does not break.

Ronald Hilton - 3/2/00


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