In the 28-year ban on free emigration, which led to the practical cessation of emigration, the Italian element in Brazil has had ease and the possibility of selection; the less capable and more unfortunate part has given in, with the repatriation, or has certainly fallen prey to the fields of work. The first generation Italians still remaining in the fazende do not now add up to more than 100,000, and they too have now found their place. The latest coffee crisis, even if very serious, of 1929-1930, did not reveal particularly painful situations with regard to our settlers.
On the other hand, in agriculture as well as in industry, there were the elect who, subjugated and yoked to their destiny the difficulties of nature and the environment, reached the highest and most coveted posts of command. Interesting however – between these two extremes: the lowest and the highest – the mass positions, as revealed by the cited 1920 census.
Agriculture, given the immensity of the country, varies in Brazil from area to area, profoundly, by nature, organization and development, thus offering, also due to the difference in population density, economic progress and means of transport of the individual states, very different. The same rural Italian real estate therefore varies in appearance from state to state.
Out of 648,153 agricultural properties, with 175,104,675 hectares of cultivated land, surveyed throughout Brazil in 1920, for a total value of 10,568,008 contos di reis, 79,169 belonged to foreign owners for 10,748,987 hectares and a value of 1,135. 124 contos. The Italians entered the latter total for 45% in number and 40% in value, counting precisely 35,894 Italian owners (against 9552 Portuguese, 6887 Germans, 4725 Spaniards, 4292 Austrians) with 2,743,178 hectares, for a value of 466,083 contos of reis.
Of the total value, Italian properties represented 9% in São Paulo, 5% in Rio Grande do Sul, 7% in Santa Catharina, 5% in Paraná, 1.5% in Minas and Espirito Santo. The general average value of Italian properties, grouping almost entirely and in equal parts in the central states, was, again in 1920, of Rs. 12,985,000 and the average extension of 80 hectares, this average corresponding to the general one. The small property is most widespread in the states of Espirito Santo, Rio de Jane’ro, Paraná, Santa Catharina, Rio Grande do Sul. In Espirito Santo and Rio sharecropping is widespread and in Paraná, especially in recent years due to the development of coffee cultivation, the colonate is being introduced with elements taken from S. Paolo. The total value of 466 thousand contos resulting from the 1920 census for Italian properties is equivalent to one billion lire at the 1930 exchange rate and is much lower than the last year’s value. Apart from the purchases of new properties, and the influence in the calculation of the devaluation of the currency, it must be considered that, in the decade, the lands have quadrupled in value, both for the process of natural valorization, and for the improvements and new crops introduced. Added to this is the extraordinary development of the coffee plantations in São Paulo and Paraná, where the Italian element counts the greatest exponents of coffee-growing, who came out of the army of the original colonists (Lunardelli, Storto, Giorgi, Zucchi, etc.), as well as the increase in the unit value of plantations due to the “economic defense” system
In urban real estate ownership, the Italian colony is undoubtedly overtaken by the Portuguese. With the grandiose building development of the cities of Rio de Janeiro, San Paolo and Santos, however, it too has reached an appreciable value, although difficult to calculate, and an Italian is entitled to the pride of now owning the most impressive and most beautiful skyscraper. of South America, with 26 floors and 120 meters high (Martinelli in S. Paolo).
In industries and businesses, Italians have established themselves even more. The industrial development of Brazil, especially in the more advanced states such as San Paolo, Minas, Rio and Rio Crande do Sul is undoubtedly due – in the very first line – to the Italians.
Also in 1920, among the foreign industrialists surveyed, the Italians included 42% of the capital, 40.7% of the value of production, 38% of the driving force, and 40.2% of the workforce.
More precisely, the position, at that date, of the Italian element was the following:
The prevalence here, too, belongs to the state of S. Paolo, with 1446 companies, 35.273 contos of capital, 8487 workers and a production worth 72.078 contos. The state of São Paulo alone therefore centered, in 1920, 66% of the Italian capital.
The comparison with the other industrially most important colonies is significant:
The above data, however, are also, like those of agriculture, and indeed more, far from giving an idea of today’s reality. In the first place, even for 1920, they do not include all the Italo-Brazilian associative-based activities, presumably instead attributed to the Brazilians. Furthermore, the industrial development of Brazil during the 1920-30 decade and above all in the first five years was, in the shadow of customs protection, truly enormous: the existing installations were greatly expanded and numerous new ones were built, in every field. with very significant capital. To represent the situation as of 1930, the 1920 data would have to be multiplied by ten. Suffice it to consider that, only in San Paolo, in the cotton industry, the Italians – among which the Matarazzo, the Crespi, the Gambas – have now invested over 40,000 contos in capital, employing 12,000 workers. Only this industry reaches by itself, the totals of 1920. But, in the same textile branch, in San Paolo there are still wool mills with 8000 contos of capital and 2000 workers; knitting factories with 5000 contos and 1000 workers, etc .; silk factories – Poletti pioneer of the silk industry – with 25,000 contos and 2,500 workers. The Italian capital in S. Paolo also occupies prominent places in the metallurgical and mechanical industries, in those of the tannery, wood, building materials, clothing (in this alone there are 140 factories, including 27 hat factories and 126 shoe factories), food (with 117 factories including three large mills), tobacco (with 10 of the most important factories), transport, chemical products, etc. It can be said that there is no field of activity in which Italian capital and initiative are not assigned a prominent place. The colony of San Paolo counts, moreover, within its bosom the most grandiose enterprises in Latin America, and among them one whose budget exceeds half a billion lire (Matarazzo).
In the other states, albeit much lower, the Italian contribution to industry is nevertheless always important. In Minas Geraes it prevails in the metallurgical, mechanical, textile, building materials, ceramics, footwear and food industries. In the Federal District and the state of Rio, in the textile, sugar, mechanical, food, etc. industry, in the northern states, in the mechanical, food, footwear, oilseeds, wood textiles (Pernambuco boasts a very large hemp factory); in Paraná and Santa Catharina, in various industries, including a grandiose pork refrigerator in Jaguariahiva; in Rio Grande do Sul, in the tanneries, milling, polishing of rice, oenology, textiles, mechanical and wood industries, building materials, etc.
Less important but still significant capitals are invested in wholesale and retail trade, in the capitals and in the interior, even in the most distant states, as well as in import and export trade.
In the banking field there are five Italian banks, with a complex of deposits of about 100 thousand contos di reis, mainly belonging to the Italian colony.
However, this picture does not yet include new activities, the result of the foreign expansion of Italian capital and companies based in the kingdom.
This expansion process began in Brazil very late. The vision that Italy had made of Brazil in over twenty-five years of suspension of emigration and through journalistic descriptions which, to defend a very just and in itself unquestionable provision such as the one adopted in 1902, systematically highlighted only the sides negatives of the Brazilian environment, leaving the positive ones in the shadows, had ended up distracting and alienating the Italian public opinion from Brazil and from the opportunities it presented even outside emigration. Trade itself was affected by this. Our imports into the Brazilian Confederation, where a population of 40 million of which at least two million of Italian origin lives, they are considerably lower than Italian exports to Argentina, a country with the same Italian population, but with a much lower overall population. The same has happened for our businesses and our capital. They ended up neglecting Brazil beyond the limits of their own interest.
Even now, there is not a single large Italian hydroelectric company in Brazil, not an aviation company or road and railway construction companies, all of which have a future in Brazil guaranteed by the immensity of its territory.
But just as on the one hand, the result of a growing integration of the commercial organization (many Italian companies – even important ones – did not have adequate representatives in Brazil) begin to see the signs of a progressive adjustment of the trade balance, so we see those of an initial, but still healthy and encouraging Italian economic expansion in Brazil.
Noteworthy are the branches and plants of Italcable (1925), of Assicurazioni Generali of Venice (1926), of the Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà (1929), of Sara’s Brazilian subsidiary of the Nistri Company for aerial photogrammetric surveys (1929), of Fiat Brasileira (1928) which is now enriched with an assembly workshop, of the Sabrati Paulist subsidiary of the R. Manifattura dei tobaccos. At the beginning of 1930, the Italian Company Abroad also established a Brazilian representation.