Mato Grosso is a state in central-west Brazil, bordered on the southwest by Bolivia, on the south by the Paraguay River, on the east by the Araguaia River, and on the north by various Amazon tributaries. The Chapada dos Parecis mountain range lies on the western border of the state. Mato Grosso also contains the Pantanal National Park in the southwest, and Xingu National Park in the Northeast.
The first Europeans to establish permanent settlements within Mato Grosso's interior were missionaries during the early seventeenth century, but until mid-century such settlements were frequently decimated by Bandeirantes, the frontiersmen and entrepreneurs of São Paulo in search of indigenous slaves. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century the discovery of gold in Mato Grosso launched the first significant ranching settlements, and established the boom town of Cuiabá.
Transportation and distance have historically impeded the economic development of Mato Grosso. In 1914 the railroad reached southern Mato Grosso, making Campo Grande the economic hub of the region; prior to this time most transportation depended upon Mato Grosso's waterways. Partially to protect the water route from Rio de Janeiro to this western frontier, by way of Asunción and Buenos Aires, Brazil entered the War of the Triple Alliance in 1864. After World War II railroads were also instrumental in bringing coffee production to Mato Grosso.
In 1977 Mato Grosso was divided into two states, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. As of 2000, the population of Mato Grosso was about 2.5 million, and the total area was 352,400 square miles. The capital of Mato Grosso is Cuiabá (population 500,000). Roughly half of the state remains forested, rural, agriculture-based and dependent upon coffee, cotton, timber, and rubber harvesting.
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Carolyn E. Vieira