Media blamed for loss of Dutch Brazil

Few people today know that from 1630 to 1654 Brazil was a Dutch colony, the presence of the Portuguese language and Latin culture leads most to assume the rainbow of indigenous peoples became part of Portugal after the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 made it possible for them to keep their coastal settlements created after Pedro Álvares Cabral began exploring in 1500.

But that treaty was created by the Pope and Protestant countries had no intention of honoring it. Enter the Dutch, who were found all along the New World. In 1624 the Dutch Republic was at war with Spain, and they decided to launch a second front in Brazil, which was by then a Portuguese colony under Spanish rule.

At home, media were very powerful. Amsterdam at that time was Europe's media capital because of the city's relatively high level of press freedom. Newspapers were published weekly and there were also many pamphlets in circulation in the city. The Amsterdam media had significant influence on public opinion not only in the Netherlands but also in the rest of Europe where Dutch reports were translated into local languages.

Initially, the papers wrote enthusiastically about the conflict in the New World. There were positive reports about the many opportunities in the region: for the trade in sugar, for example, and as a means of expanding geopolitical influence. Yet the media that had been under the influence of Amsterdam regents and merchants were overwhelmed when other papers turned their attention to issues that the elite preferred to keep under wraps: battles lost and corruption in the colony being two such issues.  The only thing that did not mobilize the public was the slave trade. The West India Company used African slaves for work in the colony. It is little known given the magnified legacy of slavery in the US today that only 4% of slaves went there. Much of the rest went to South America, where claiming ancestry from slaves is a little ridiculous because almost everyone was.

And Brazil was suddenly Portuguese surrounded by the Spanish and controlled by the Dutch. Money and troops had to be sent repeatedly to the colony. The media began to include critical reports of Amsterdam regents who, unlike the regents in Zeeland, were skeptical about the situation. Under the influence of the media, public opinion turned slowly but surely against the money-guzzling colony.

in 1645 the Portuguese were threatening to drive the Dutch out of Brazil and, using media accounts as a guide for public opinion, the Amsterdam regents blocked a proposal to send a fleet to the region. In 1654 the Portuguese expelled the Dutch and returned the colony to Portuguese rule. 

The loss was felt for a long time as a 'national disgrace' and that is why few in Holland know that Brazil was ever under Dutch control at all, according to Universiteit Leiden Professor of Maritime History Michiel van Groesen in his book ‘Amsterdam’s Atlantic’.