“Dear President Vargas”: The Making of Brazil's Cane Farmer Class, 1880s–1970s

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Gillian McGillivray, Glendon College, York University
Protected by their national governments, European beet sugar producers developed techniques that allowed them to claim 50 percent of the world sugar market in 1881, up from only five percent in 1840. Brazilians applied technologies from Europe to try to regain more of the market share: steam power allowed mills—formerly pushed by people or animals—to vastly increase the amount of cane they could grind, and railroads allowed factories to promptly grind cane from farther afield. The need for expensive technology and more cane, coupled with slave emancipation (1888), led Brazilians to separate the industrial process of sugar making in larger factories (usinas) from the agricultural process of (fornecedores) growing cane. At first, cane farmers contracted individually with mill owners. Largely from the same elite class, many felt it best to remain united to gain protection for their sugar in the new Brazilian Republic. But during the mid-twentieth century booms and busts, cane farmers began to see themselves as a community and forged “fornecedor” associations that were antagonistic to usineiro groups. The Brazilian state’s Institute of Sugar and Alcohol (IAA) was created in 1941 in part to protect cane farmers, who succeeded in making a case that they were the agrarian middle class families that could protect the country from revolution. Using records from fornecedor and usineiro association meetings from the 1890s through 1930s, letters to Getúlio Vargas, and trials from the Institute of Sugar and Alcohol (1940s-1970s), this paper will explore some of the battles that emerged over who should weigh the cane; what price/portion of sugar farmers should get from the final product; whether to pay according to weight or quality, and how to protect Northeastern and Rio de Janeiro producers from São Paulo’s booming industry.
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