The population of Minas Gerais
The state of Minas Gerais has about 21 million inhabitants. In 2013, it occupied the ninth position in the ranking of the national HDI, with an index of 0.731. Life expectancy at birth was 77.7 years and the illiteracy rate reached 6% of the population in 2018.
Of the total inhabitants, about 90% live in urban areas. The capital, Belo Horizonte , founded in 1897, was born as a planned city. The transfer of the administrative headquarters of Ouro Preto to another city arose from a project forged by mining elites who wished to “break with the decadent past”, resulting from the depletion of gold production.
The white descendants of the Portuguese, and the blacks brought from Africa to work in gold extraction, are the two main groups that contributed to the ethnic background of the mining people and the miscegenation gave rise to a large number of mixed race . During the gold cycle the territory had the largest contingent of blacks in all of America.
According to Relationshipsplus.com, about one hundred different indigenous groups lived in mining lands. However, they were systematically wiped out during the land occupation process. Today, five more important groups remain: xacriabá, krenak, maxacali, pataxó and pankaran. The natives face numerous difficulties to survive ‘and are often ill, malnourished and under pressure on their lands.
The great presence of blacks
During the gold cycle, it is estimated that Minas Gerais received about five hundred thousand slaves, a number that placed the region among those that had the most population of African origin in the country – since the 18th century, the black population of Minas Gerais has been estimated 30% of the total. British historian Kenneth Maxwell defined mining society as “a complicated mosaic of groups and races, of new white immigrants and of second and third generations of native Americans, of new slaves and of slaves born in captivity”.
The formation of quilombos as a form of resistance to slavery was quite common. However, these nuclei lived in relative hiding, because they sold products from their subsistence crops to local traders who preferred to buy from quilombolas due to the lower prices. The ex-slaves also did sporadic jobs for local farmers who feared invasions of their land. Thus, quilombos were often located close to urban areas, contributing substantially to their supply. The proximity to the cities and the villages was so close that many quilombos were incorporated into the urban area of these municipalities.
In this scenario, black women played a strategic role. Commonly in charge of the trade of foodstuffs in greengrocers, they were also informers of the escaped blacks about eventual campaigns undertaken for their capture. Despite attempts at repression, blacks from Minas Gerais were very adept at fighting for their freedom.
The mining economy
In 2018, the GDP of Minas Gerais was R $ 598 billion, which makes it the third richest state in the country. Holder of the second Brazilian industrial park, Minas Gerais has its economy driven by the extractive-mineral sector, followed by the steel industry.
There is a rich mineral deposit located in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero , in the area comprised by the municipalities of Belo Horizonte, Santa Bárbara, Mariana and Congonhas do Campo. This area coincides with the old gold region and the extracted ore supplies both the domestic and foreign markets; the biggest buyers are China, Japan and the countries of Western Europe. Gold and manganese are also extracted from it, but the leading role is played by iron ore.
Production flows through the Central do Brasil and Vitória-Minas railways, connecting the extractive area to the ports of Sepetiba, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and Tubarão, in Espirito Santo.
Despite the wealth obtained from mineral extraction, there are many environmental impacts generated by this activity, including the contamination of water, soil and plants with heavy metals used in the extraction. Currently, measures are being taken to try to recover the environment. The soil, already sterile in minerals, is deposited elsewhere; the spent water is reused to prevent contamination of soil and aquifers. Mining areas are constantly monitored by environmental defense agencies to minimize the impacts of the activity.
The proximity to the iron ore deposits, a fundamental raw material for the manufacture of steel, caused an important industrial concentration of steelmakers in the state. Thus came the Vale do Aço , considered the largest concentration of this industrial sector in the country. Steelmakers have both mineral and vegetable coal heated ovens. The industrial concentration followed mainly the layout of the Vitória-Minas railroad.
In addition to the metallurgical and steel sectors, the state stands out in the production of automobiles, mechanics, textiles and food.
Regarding agricultural production , Minas Gerais leads the production of coffee and milk, in addition to having significant production of beans and corn.
Coffee from Minas Gerais took first place in the Brazilian ranking shortly after the oil crisis. (At that time, the coffee planted areas in São Paulo were replaced by sugarcane due to the Pro-Alcool, the National Alcohol Program.) Coffee moves a significant portion of the state economy, accounting for about 52% of national production. Geographically, the activity is spread over four important regions of the state: south, Matas de Minas (Zona da Mata and valley of the Doce River), Cerrados de Minas (Triângulo Mineiro and Alto Paranaíba) and Chapadas de Minas (high and medium valley of the Jequitinhonha and Mucuri rivers).
Tourism and culture in historic cities
The gold period triggered important spatial transformations in Minas Gerais. The marks of that time were imprinted in the architecture of the various historical cities of the state, which have the greatest expression in the Baroque of Minas Gerais.
Ouro Preto , originally from a village founded in 1698, was listed by the United Nations for Culture, Science and Education (Unesco) as a World Heritage Site in 1980 because it houses one of the most preserved Baroque architecture in the world. The city played the role of state capital before the construction of Belo Horizonte.
In 1985, it was the turn of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus dos Matosinhos , located in the municipality of Congonhas do Campo, to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Erected on top of a mountain, the sanctuary gathers a church, where the Rococo style predominates, and 78 life-size sculptures, elaborated in cedar or soapstone – among them, Aleijadinho’s masterpiece (1730-1814), a representation of the Passion of Christ, which is distributed in six chapels scattered along the hill.
Another municipality in Minas Gerais whose historic center has been recognized as a World Heritage Site is Diamantina . Founded in 1729, it obtained its great wealth from diamonds until the second half of the 19th century, when the depletion of mines brought economic decay. In addition to its historical importance, the city is also proud to be home to one of the presidents of Brazil, juscelino Kubitschek .
There are many places that emerged during the gold cycle that keep all the historical wealth of an era. In addition to those internationally recognized, there are countless others such as Sabará, Mariana, Tiradentes, Barão de Cocais, Santa Bárbara, São João Del Rey, Conceição do Mato Dentro etc.