Pará (pəräˈ) [key], state (1996 pop. 5,552,783), 474,896 sq mi (1,229,981 sq km), N Brazil, in the lower Amazon River basin bordering on the Guianas and the Atlantic Ocean. Belém is the capital. Mostly covered with rain forest, the hot, humid region is drained by the Amazon and its numerous tributaries. The state includes the island of Marajó as well as several other islands of the Amazon delta. The nearly constant rainfall has eroded soils to the point where conventional agriculture is almost impossible, but cattle are raised. Nuts, fruits, herbs, organic insecticides, and fibers are the principal agricultural products. Food products, pharmaceuticals, textiles, rubber goods, and aluminum are manufactured. Iron, bauxite, and gold are mined. Economic development and population growth was stimulated by the completion of three large highways and the Belém-Bragança railroad in the 1970s.
The Portuguese settled in the area in the first decades of the 17th cent. in order to keep out the English, French, and Dutch. In the 18th cent. there was moderate sugar, rum, and coffee production; most of the labor force was made up of enslaved Native Americans. The region suffered during the 19th-century struggle for independence. The rubber industry grew rapidly in the mid-19th cent. but declined in the early 1900s. The pepper, jute, and legume plantations along the coast were established during the early 20th cent. by Japanese immigrants. The rain forest was significantly reduced in the late 20th cent. by logging and ranching, but by 2006 more than 50% of Pará was protected in government parks or indigenous reservations. A proposal to divide the large state into three failed to win voter support in 2011. The abundance of rivers has made Pará a great haven for smugglers. The state government consists of an elected governor and bicameral legislature.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.