For many people the state of Rio Grande do Sul, bordering Argentina and Uruguay, is their first or last experience of Brazil. More than most parts of the country, it has an extremely strong regional identity – to the extent that it’s the only state where the possibility of independence has been discussed. Central government’s authority over Brazil’s southernmost state has often been weak: in the colonial era, the territory was virtually a no-man’s-land separating the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Out of this emerged a strongly independent people, mostly pioneer farmers and the descendants of European immigrants, isolated fishing communities and, best known, the gaúchos, the cowboys of southern South America whose name is now used for all inhabitants of the state, whatever their origins.
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