The Rubber Battle
With the enlisting of the northeastern Brazilians, Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas reduced the problem of the economic blight and at the same time gave new impetus to the colonization of the Amazon Basin.
Anxious to find a way to resolve this impasse and, at the same time, supply the Allied Forces with the rubber needed for war equipment, the Brazilian government made an agreement with the United States government (the Washington Accords), which resulted in the large-scale extraction of Amazon latex, an operation which became known as the Batalha da borracha ("rubber battle").
As the rubber forests had been abandoned and no more than 35,000 workers remained in the region, the great challenge of Brazil was to increase the annual production of latex from 18,000 to 45,000 tons, as set in the agreement. For this, 100,000 men were needed.
The Estado Novo in 1943 ordered the compulsory enlisting of workers in the Serviço Especial de Mobilização de Trabalhadores para a Amazônia (SEMTA; "Special Service of Mobilization of Workers for the Amazon"), based in the northeast, in Fortaleza. The choice of the Northeast as the center was a response to a devastating drought in the region and to the unprecedented crisis that the farmers in the region confronted.
In addition to SEMTA, the government created other organizations to support the rubber battle: the Superintendência para o Abastecimento do Vale da Amazônia (Sava: the Superintendency for the Provisioning of the Amazon Valley), the Serviço Especial de Saúde Pública (Sesp: the Special Service of Public Health), and the Serviço de Navegação da Amazônia e de Administração do Porto do Pará (Snapp: Navigation Service of the Amazon and Administration of the Port of Pará). The Banco de Crédito da Borracha (Rubber Credit Bank) was also created, which later in 1950 became the Banco de Crédito da Amazônia (Amazon Credit Bank).
The international organization Rubber Development Corporation (RDC), financed with capital from United States industries, covered the expenses of relocating the migrants (known at the time as brabos). The United States government paid the Brazilian government $100 for every worker delivered to the Amazon.
Thousands of workers from various regions of Brazil were transported under force to obligatory servitude and death by diseases against which they had no immunity. The northeast region sent 54,000 workers to the Amazon alone, 30,000 of which were from Ceará. These new rubber workers were called soldados da borracha ("rubber soldiers") in a clear allusion to the role of the latex in supplying the U.S. factories with the rubber necessary to fight the war.
Manaus had, in 1849, 5,000 inhabitants, and, in a half-century, grew to 70,000. During World War II the region again experienced prosperity. Money began to circulate in Manaus, Belém, and other cities and towns nearby and the regional economy gained strength.
For many workers, it was a one-way journey. About 30,000 rubber workers died abandoned in the Amazon, after having exhausted their energies extracting the "white gold." They died of malaria, yellow fever, and hepatitis, and were attacked by animals such as panthers, serpents, and scorpions. The Brazilian government also did not fulfill its promise to return the "rubber soldiers" to their homes at the end of the war as heroes and with housing comparable to that of the military. It is calculated that only about 6,000 workers managed to return to their homes, at their own expense.
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Famous quotes containing the words battle and/or rubber:
“That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,”
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