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Modern day Brazil was inhabited as far back as 8,000 years ago by migrating hunters who traveled from Asia by land or coastal sea routes. The Portuguese, who eventually settled much of this land, did not arrive until the 15th century. Motivated by competition with Spain, and inspired by advances in navigation, Portugal first sailed toward Brazil in search of a path to the Far East. They were granted land rights below a north-south line through an agreement with Spain known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. An expedition commanded by Pedro Alvares Carbral then formally claimed the land on behalf of the King of Portugal. Brazil was finally settled in 1532 by São Vicente. Later, a system of twelve “captaincies” united it under Tome de Souza.
As the new colony began to prosper, interest grew from other European countries. In 1630, the Dutch occupied the northeast, and the city of Recife flourished under Count Maurits, but the Dutch were eventually driven out. Settlement in Brazil remained heavy on the east coast until a boom beckoned people from all over the country to move inland in search of gold and, later, diamonds. A group of bandeirantes (colonial scouts) pushed west in search of riches and slaves; they established outposts where many of today’s Brazilian cities still exist.
Throughout the next two centuries, Portugal benefited from Brazil's prosperity through a series of taxes and restrictions that were common for the time. In 1788, Jose da Silva Xavier led an unsuccessful movement for independence from these practices.
That independence came years later, after Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal and the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil. When the war was over and they returned home, their son, Pedro, declared independence and later became Emperor of Brazil. He later abdicated to his five-year-old son, Dom Pedro II, who officially took over at the age of 15 and led Brazil through a period of progress and expansion. After freeing all slaves in Brazil in 1888, Dom Pedro II was overthrown in favor of a new republican government.
The Republic saw Brazil through World War I and the Great Depression, but was overthrown by a military junta. Getúlio Vargas outlawed the elected government and replaced it with the Estado Novo. Vargas instituted nationalist policies, developing the countries vast resources and uniting Brazil with the Allies during World War II. He was later accused of corruption and asked to resign, but committed suicide in 1954. Military-appointed presidents followed until 1985, when a civilian was again elected to the presidency. Brazil then entered a period of economic prosperity and, in 1989, returned to a democratic government.