Brazil Marks the Spot – Two Barons of Industry


(Baron of Mauá & Eike Batista)

Brazil has seen its share of dreams built upon dreams. Some, whether foreign or Brazilian-born, have proven too good to be true while others have found varying degrees of success (often depending on who you ask).

One of the failures that comes to mind is the prefabricated town of Fordlândia, which was to be used to generate latex, replacing Henry Ford’s dependency on Malaysian rubber. Situated near the northern city of Santarém, in Pará, it was a flop before it even begun as the land on which the rubber trees were planted was infertile and none of the Ford people had experience in equatorial agriculture.

Among the successes, one might think of the Capital city of Brasília or perhaps even the Curitiba of Jaime Lerner. Such accomplishments, though, aren’t solely feats of architectural prowess, backed by billions in investment. Sometimes, a mix of perfect timing, economic conditions and strategic positioning brew up the best opportunities. Below, you’ll learn about two men who came upon such a scenario.

Mauá Era

In the midst of the 19th century, when developed capitalist countries were experiencing the second Industrial Revolution, Brazil was having some advancements of its own as it went from a monarchy to a republic. The abolitionist process and the growth of urban activities made the monarchist regime less and less important. Coffee, Brazil’s economic saviour, on one hand preserved parts of the colonial past (masters and slaves), but on the other hand its profits stimulated the construction of railways and ports as well as helped the growth of banks and internal trade.

One of the most important business leaders of this growth period was the Baron of Mauá, who was heavily involved in the industrialization of Brazil. He built shipyards, foundries and railroads, heading 17 companies at one point. The baron also founded the Banco do Brasil, in its second incarnation (the previous one was ultimately a failure after it was sacked by the royal family on their return to Portugal), and offered lower lending rates to stimulate more national growth. Among other endeavors, he created a company whose goal was to keep the US from internationalizing the Amazon and he brought electricity to Rio de Janeiro.

The baron found good fortune in two acts of legislation of the time. The first was known as the Alves Branco tariff which increased taxes on imported materials, thereby favoring Brazilian businesses. The second was the Eusébio de Queirós law which abolished the trafficking of slaves (but not the use of them). Both acts allowed the liberal and abolitionist baron to be successful, if only for a while.

Despite all the good he did, the old guard wasn’t too happy with him seizing so much of their power and wealth and thus he encountered a barrage of obstacles at almost every turn. Most of his problems were directly or indirectly British in nature as the British were highly favored trade partners with Brazil yet were being pushed out by the baron’s businesses and their patriotic leanings. The enemies he made in the Brazilian government and with British businessmen soon led him to cave in and sell his companies at reduced prices, thus the Mauá era came to a quick end.

Eike Era

Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista, founder of grupo EBX, may just be the next ‘Baron of Mauá’. While the times have changed, the idea that Brazil needs powerful people to look after Brazilian interests is just as important as it ever was. Enter: Cidade X (X City), one of Batista’s big ideas.

The self-made magnate wants to build Cidade X in São João da Barra, a city in the north of Rio where his other project, Porto do Açu (Açu Super-port), is scheduled to be built, starting in 2012. The undertaking looks to bring a real estate boom to the city and generate 50 thousand jobs.

Eike chose the famous architect and urban planner Jaime Lerner to plan Cidade X, which will be able to house 250 thousand people, quite a bit more than São João da Barra’s current population of 30 thousand. According to Eike, the idea is to build an ecologically correct city to take advantage of the migration that should occur once the Açu Super-port is operational.

The complex where the future city will reside is one of the ventures of LLX, the logistics company within grupo EBX. The new city will help develop the pre-salt industry with suppliers setting up shop along the 19,275 acres set for construction. The super-port, said to be on par with that of Shanghai, will boost commerce with Brazil’s main trading partners, mainly China. As of last year, 66 companies signed memorandums showing interest in having a presence at the port.

Will the Eike Era be as short-lived as that of the Baron of Mauá or is he operating under more favorable conditions? Do his big ideas hold as much weight as investing in education or other initiatives that might improve Brazil’s poorest regions? The next decade will be telling and many will be watching Brazil’s progress. Of course, I’ll be watching, too, but I’ll also be looking at how progress is being defined, and according to whom.

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

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