Brazil's relations with Africa date from the beginning of the slave trade in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth century, many former slaves had returned to West Africa and had become prosperous merchants and entrepreneurs, and regular shipping lines and commerce flourished from Bahia. After 1945 Brazil maintained a low-profile position in the anticolonialism debate in the UN, but supported the positions of Portugal, Belgium, France, and Britain. In 1961 President Jânio Quadros's new independent foreign policy made some timid advances in favor of independence for the remaining colonies in Africa. During the Goulart period (1961-64), Brazil took contradictory positions, especially regarding Portugal. Brazil's main contacts with the newly independent nations of West Africa involved price-fixing attempts within the International Coffee Organization. The Castelo Branco administration (1964-67) sent two commercial missions to Africa, the Costa e Silva administration (1967-69) opened an embassy in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) and one in Kinshasa (Zaire).
Nonetheless, the opening to Africa really began during the presidency of Emílio Garrastazú Médici (1969-74). In November 1972, Foreign Minister Mário Gibson Barbosa visited nine West African countries. In 1973 Brazil voted in favor of anticolonialism measures in the UN. This vote and follow-up trade missions resulted in numerous bilateral agreements and Brazil's participation in the ADB (African Development Bank). South African companies made considerable investments in Brazil, especially in mining. Brazil's exports to Africa jumped from US$90.4 million in 1972 to US$1.96 billion in 1981, and its imports from US$152.9 million to US$1.98 billion.
Brazil's opening to Africa was consolidated during the Geisel period (1974-79), which coincided with the emancipation of the five Portuguese colonies in Africa. Brazil recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in July 1974, before it was conceded by Portugal. In November 1975, Brazil became the first Western nation to recognize the independence of Angola, under the revolutionary government of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola--MPLA), and to establish an embassy in Luanda. Brazil's stance caused much consternation for the United States because the MPLA government in Angola was socialist and dependent on the communist bloc and Cuba at that time. That same month, Brazil established relations with the government in Mozambique because of its strategic importance in southern East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Within the context of the Cold War and Brazil's anticommunist military government, this decision was a bold move on the part of the Geisel government. However, Brazil placed considerable importance on establishing relations with African countries. It was hard hit by the 1973-74 petroleum crisis and desired access to West African oil exports in particular. The petrodollars thus earned were used to buy Brazilian exports of manufactured goods through Petrobrás International Trade, Inc. (Petrobrás Comércio Internacional S.A.--Interbrás).
Over the next twenty years, Brazil established very close relations with the lusophone or Portuguese-Speaking African Countries (Paises Africanos de Lingua Oficial Portuguêsa--PALOPs). In addition to Angola and Mozambique, these included São Tomé e Príncipe, Cabo Verde, and Guinea-Bissau. The Rio Grande do Sul Airline (Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense do Sul--Varig) established regular flights to Lagos, Nigeria; Abidjan; Luanda, Angola; and Maputo, Mozambique. However, in the early 1990s flights were suspended to Lagos (to control drug traffic) and Maputo. President Figueiredo (1974-85) was the first Brazilian president to visit Africa (five countries in November 1983). Brazilian construction companies undertook hydroelectric and infrastructure projects, and Petrobrás signed risk contracts for oil exploration.
By 1986 Brazil had twenty-two embassies in the region, and President Sarney continued the expansion of relations with Africa, visiting Cape Verde in 1986 and Angola in 1989. African heads of state from Algeria, Zaire, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, as well as Sam Nujoma of the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), also visited Brasília. By 1985 commerce between Africa and Brazil had grown to US$3.3 billion.
In the context of the independence of Namibia in 1990, the UN requested a Brazilian battalion to participate in peacekeeping operations, but Brazil refused, saying that the army was not prepared and the government lacked resources for such a venture. However, when the UN asked for Brazilian army and police participants in peacekeeping operations during the October 1994 election in Mozambique, the Itamar Franco government was quick to oblige. In 1995 the Cardoso government sent a full engineering battalion to Angola to participate in UN operations (minesweeping and infrastructure rebuilding). In 1996 President Cardoso made a short visit to Angola en route to a longer state visit to South Africa.
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