Brazil, Port. Brasil, officially Federative Republic of Brazil, republic (2005 est. pop. 186,113,000), 3,286,470 sq mi (8,511,965 sq km), E South America. By far the largest of the Latin American countries, Brazil occupies nearly half the continent of South America, stretching from the Guiana Highlands in the north, where it borders Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, to the plains of Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina in the south. In the west it spreads to the equatorial rain forest, bordering on Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia; in the east it juts far out into the Atlantic toward Africa. Brasília is the capital; the largest cities are São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.


Brazil's vast territory covers a great variety of land and climate, for although Brazil is mainly in the tropics (it is crossed by the equator in the north and by the Tropic of Capricorn in the south), the southern part of the great central upland is cool and yields the produce of temperate lands. Most of Brazil's large cities are on the Atlantic coast or the banks of the great rivers.

The rain forests of the Amazon River basin occupy all the north and north central portions of Brazil. With the opening of the interior in the 1970s and 80s, these rain forests were heavily cut and burned for industrial purposes, farming, and grazing land. Beginning in the late 1980s, popular international movements, along with changes in government policy, began to reduce the rate of deforestation, but by the mid-1990s extensive burning was again occurring. New policies appeared to slow deforestation in the early 21st cent., but it reemerged as a significant problem in late 2007.

The Amazon region includes the states of Amazonas, Pará, Acre, Amapá, Roraima, and Rondônia; its chief city is Manaus. Although it is not as developed as other parts of Brazil, the Amazon region produces timber, rubber, and other forest products such as Brazil nuts and pharmaceutical plants. Gold mining, ecotourism, and fishing are also important. At the mouth of the Amazon is the city of Belém, chief port of N Brazil.

Southeast of the Amazon mouth is the great seaward outthrust of Brazil, the region known as the Northeast. The states of Maranhão and Piauí form a transitional zone noted for its many babassu and carnauba palms. The Northeast proper—including the states of Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and the northern part of Bahia—was the center of the great sugar culture that for centuries dominated Brazil. The Northeast has also contributed much to the literature and culture of Brazil. In these states the general pattern is a narrow coastal plain (formerly supporting the sugarcane plantations and now given over to diversified subtropical crops) and a semiarid interior, or sertão, subject to recurrent droughts. This region has been the object of vigorous reclamation efforts by the government.

The "bulge" of Brazil reaches its turning point at the Cape of São Roque. To the northeast lie the islands of Fernando de Noronha, and to the south is the port of Natal. South of the "corner" of Brazil, the characteristic pattern of S Brazilian geography becomes notable: the narrow and interrupted coastal lowlands are bordered on the west by an escarpment, which in some places reaches the sea. Above the escarpment is the great Brazilian plateau, which tapers off in the southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, where it is succeeded by the plains of the Río de la Plata country. The escarpment itself appears from the sea as a mountain range, generally called the Serra do Mar [coast range], and the plateau is interrupted by mountainous regions, such as that in Bahia, which separates E Bahia from the valley of the São Francisco River.

The chief cities of the Northeast are the ports of Recife in Pernambuco and Salvador in Bahia. There are a number of excellent harbors farther south: Vitória in Espírito Santo; Rio de Janeiro, the former capital, one of the most beautiful and most capacious harbors in the world; Santos, the port of São Paulo and the one of the greatest coffee ports in the world; and Pôrto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul.

In the east and southeast is the heavily populated region of Brazil—the states that in the 19th and 20th cent. received the bulk of European immigrants and took hegemony away from the old Northeast. The state of Rio de Janeiro, with the great steel center of Volta Redonda, is heavily industrialized. Neighboring São Paulo state has even more industry, as well as extensive agriculture. The city of São Paulo, on the plateau, has continued the vigorous and aggressive development that marked the region in the 17th and 18th cent., when the paulistas went out in the famed bandeiras (raids), searching for slaves and gold and opening the rugged interior. They were largely responsible for the development of the gold and diamond mines of Minas Gerais state, the second most populous state in Brazil, and for the building of its old mining center of Vila Rica (Ouro Prěto), succeeded by Belo Horizonte as capital. Minas has some of the finest iron reserves in the world, as well as other mineral wealth, and has become industrialized.

Settlement also spread from São Paulo southward, particularly in the 19th and early 20th cent. when coffee from São Paulo's terra roxa [purple soil] had become the basis of Brazilian wealth, and coffee growing spread to Paraná. That state, in the west, runs out to the "corner" where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet at the natural marvel of the Iguaçu Falls on the Paraná River. The huge Itaipú Dam, built from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s by Paraguay and Brazil, provides power for most of southern Brazil. The more southern states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, developed to a large extent by German and Slavic immigrants, are primarily cattle-raising areas with increasing industrial importance. Frontier development is continuing in central Brazil. The state of Mato Grosso is still largely devoted to stock raising. The transcontinental railroad from Bolivia spans the southern part of the state. The federal district of Brasília was carved out of the neighboring plateau state of Goiás, to the east, and the national capital was transferred to the planned city of Brasília in 1960.


Brazil has the largest population in South America and is the fifth most populous country in the world. The people are diverse in origin, and Brazil often boasts that the new "race" of Brazilians is a successful amalgam of African, European, and indigenous strains, a claim that is truer in the social than the political or economic realm. More than half the population is of European descent, while another 40% are of mixed African and European ancestry. Portuguese is the official language and nearly universal; English is widely taught as a second language. Most of the estimated 350,000 to 550,000 indigenous peoples (chiefly of Tupí or Guaraní linguistic stock) are found in the rain forests of the Amazon River basin; 12% of Brazil's land has been set aside as indigenous areas. About 75% of the population is at least nominally Roman Catholic; there is a growing Protestant minority.


Brazil has one of the world's largest economies, with well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors. Vast disparities remain, however, in the country's distribution of land and wealth. Roughly one fifth of the workforce is involved in agriculture. The major commercial crops are coffee (Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter), citrus fruit (especially juice oranges, of which Brazil also is the world's largest producer), soybeans, wheat, rice, corn, sugarcane, cocoa, cotton, tobacco, and bananas. Cattle, pigs, and sheep are the most numerous livestock, and Brazil is a major beef and poultry exporter. Timber is also important, although much is illegally harvested.

Brazil has vast mineral wealth, including iron ore (it is the world's largest producer), tin, quartz, chrome ore, manganese, industrial diamonds, gem stones, gold, nickel, bauxite, uranium, and platinum. Recently discovered offshore petroleum and natural gas deposits could also make the nation a significant oil and gas producer. There is extensive food processing, and the leading manufacturing industries produce textiles, shoes, chemicals, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, and machinery. Most of Brazil's electricity comes from water power, and it possesses extensive untapped hydroelectric potential, particularly in the Amazon basin.

In addition to coffee, Brazil's exports include transportation equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, motor vehicles, concentrated orange juice, beef, and tropical hardwoods. Machinery, electrical and transportation equipment, chemical products, oil, and electronics are major imports. Most trade is with China, the United States, Argentina, and Germany. Brazil is a member of Mercosur.


Brazil is governed under the 1988 constitution as amended. The president, who is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (and may serve two terms), is both head of state and head of government. There is a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper Federal Senate and a lower Chamber of Deputies. The 81 senators are elected for eight years and the 513 deputies are elected for four years. The president may unilaterally intervene in state affairs. Administratively, the country is divided into 26 states and one federal district (Brasília); each state has its own governor and legislature. The main political parties are the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, the Liberal Front party (now known as the Democrats party), the Democratic Labor party, the Brazilian Social Democracy party, and the Workers party.


Early History

There is evidence suggesting possible human habitation in Brazil more than 30,000 years ago, and scholars have found artifacts, including cave paintings, that all agree date back at least 11,000 years. By the time Europeans arrived there was a relatively small indigenous population, but the archaeological record indicates that densely populated settlements had previously existed in some areas; smallpox and other European diseases are believed to have decimated these settlements prior to extensive European exploration. The indigenous peoples that survived can be classified into two main groups, a partially sedentary population that spoke the Tupian language and had similar cultural patterns, and those that moved from place to place in the vast land. It is estimated that approximately a million indigenous people were scattered throughout the territory.

Whether or not Brazil was known to Portuguese navigators in the 15th cent. is still an unsolved problem, but the coast was visited by the Spanish mariner Vicente Yáñez Pinzón (see under Pinzón, Martín Alonso) before the Portuguese under Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500 claimed the land, which came within the Portuguese sphere as defined in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Little was done to support the claim, but the name Brazil is thought to derive from the Portuguese word for the red color of brazilwood [brasa=glowing coal], which the early visitors gathered. The indigenous people taught the explorers about the cultivation of corn, the construction of hammocks, and the use of dugout canoes. The first permanent settlement was not made until 1532, and that was at São Vicente in São Paulo. Development of the Northeast was begun about the same time under Martím Afonso de Sousa as first royal governor. Salvador was founded in 1539, and 12 captaincies were established, stretching inland from the Brazilian coast.

Portuguese claims, somewhat lackadaisically administered, did not go unchallenged. French Huguenots established themselves (1555) on an island in Rio de Janeiro harbor and were routed in 1567 by a force under Mem de , who then founded the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Dutch made their first attack on Salvador (Bahia) in 1624, and in 1633 the vigorous Dutch West India Company was able to capture and hold not only Salvador and Recife but the whole of the Northeast; the region was ably ruled by John Maurice of Nassau. No aid was forthcoming from Portugal, which had been united with Spain in 1580 and did not regain its independence until 1640. It was a naval expedition from Rio itself that drove out the Dutch in 1654. The success of the colonists helped to build their self-confidence.

Farther south, the bandeirantes from São Paulo had been trekking westward since the beginning of the 17th cent., thrusting far into Spanish territory and extending the western boundaries of Brazil, which were not delimited until the negotiations of the Brazilian diplomat Rio Branco in the late 19th and early 20th cent. The Portuguese also had ambitions to control the Banda Oriental (present Uruguay) and in the 18th cent. came into conflict with the Spanish there; the matter was not completely settled even by the independence of Uruguay in 1828.

The sugar culture came to full flower in the Northeast, where the plantations were furnishing most of the sugar demanded by Europe. Unsuccessful at exploiting the natives for the backbreaking labor of the cane fields and sugar refineries, European colonists imported Africans in large numbers as slaves. Dependence on a one-crop economy was lessened by the development of the mines in the interior, particularly those of Minas Gerais, where gold was discovered late in the 17th cent. Mining towns sprang up, and Ouro Prěto became in the 18th cent. a major intellectual and artistic center, boasting such artists as the sculptor Aleijadinho. The center of development began to swing south, and Rio de Janeiro, increasingly important as an export center, supplanted Salvador as the capital of Brazil in 1763.

Ripples from intellectual stirrings in Europe that preceded the French Revolution and the successful American Revolution brought on an abortive plot for independence among a small group of intellectuals in Minas; the plot was discovered and the leader, Tiradentes, was put to death. When Napoleon's forces invaded Portugal, the king of Portugal, John VI, fled (1807) to Brazil, and on his arrival (1808) in Rio de Janeiro that city became the capital of the Portuguese Empire. The ports of the colony were freed of mercantilist restrictions, and Brazil became a kingdom, of equal status with Portugal. In 1821 the king returned to Portugal, leaving his son behind as regent of Brazil. New policies by Portugal toward Brazil, tightening colonial restrictions, stirred up wide unrest.

Independence and the Birth of Modern Brazil

The young prince eventually acceded to popular sentiment, and advised by the Brazilian José Bonifácio, on Sept. 7, 1822, on the banks of the Ipiranga River, allegedly uttered the fateful cry of independence. He became Pedro I, emperor of Brazil. Pedro's rule, however, gradually kindled increasing discontent in Brazil, and in 1831 he had to abdicate in favor of his son, Pedro II.

The reign of this popular emperor saw the foundation of modern Brazil. Ambitions directed toward the south were responsible for involving the country in the war (1851-52) against the Argentine dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas, and again in the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70) against Paraguay. Brazil drew little benefit from either; far more important were the rise of postwar discontent in the military and beginnings of the large-scale European immigration that was to make SE Brazil the economic heart of the nation. Railroads and roads were constructed, and today the region has an excellent transportation system.

The plantation culture of the Northeast was already crumbling by the 1870s, and the growth of the movement to abolish slavery, spurred by such men as Antônio de Castro Alves and Joaquim Nabuco, threatened it even more. The slave trade had been abolished in 1850, and a law for gradual emancipation was passed in 1871. In 1888 while Pedro II was in Europe and his daughter Isabel was governing Brazil, slavery was completely abolished. The planters thereupon withdrew their support of the empire, enabling republican forces, aided by a military at odds with the emperor, to triumph.

In 1889 the republic was established by a bloodless revolution, with Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca as its first president. The rivalry of the states and the power of the army in government, especially under Fonseca's unpopular Jacobinist successor, Marshal Floriando Peixoto, caused the political situation to remain uneasy. The expanding market for Brazilian coffee and more particularly the wild-rubber boom brought considerable wealth as the 19th cent. ended.

Brazil in the Twentieth Century

The creation of rubber plantations in Southeast Asia brought the wild-rubber boom to a halt and hurt the economy of the Amazon region after 1912. Brazil sided with the Allies in World War I, declaring war in Oct., 1917, and shared in the peace settlement, but later (1926) it withdrew from the League of Nations. Measures to reverse the country's growing economic dependence on coffee were taken by Getúlio Vargas, who came into power through a coup in 1930. By changing the constitution and establishing a type of corporative state he centralized government (the Estado Nôvo—new state) and began the forced development of basic industries and diversification of agriculture. His mild dictatorial rule, although it aroused opposition, reflected a new consciousness of nationality, which was expressed in the paintings of Cândido Portinari and the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos.

World War II brought a new boom (chiefly in rubber and minerals) to Brazil, which joined the Allies in 1942, after coming close to backing Germany, and began taking a larger part in inter-American affairs. In 1945 the army forced Vargas to resign, and Gen. Eurico Gaspar Dutra was elected president. Brazil's economic growth was plagued by inflation, and this issue enabled Vargas to be elected in 1950. His second administration was marred by economic problems and political infighting, and in 1954 he committed suicide. Juscelino Kubitschek was elected president in 1955. Under Kubitschek the building of Brasília and an ambitious program of highway and dam construction were undertaken. The inflation problem persisted.

On Apr. 21, 1960, Brasília became Brazil's official capital, signaling a new commitment to develop the interior of the country. In 1960 Jânio da Silva Quadros was elected by the greatest popular margin in Brazilian history, but his autocratic, unpredictable manner aroused great opposition and undermined his attempts at reform. He resigned within seven months. Vice President João Goulart was his successor. Goulart's leftist administration was weakened by political strife and seemingly insurmountable economic chaos, and in 1964 he was deposed by a military insurrection. Congress elected Gen. Castelo Branco to fill out his term. Goulart's supporters and other leftists were removed from power and influence throughout Brazil and, in 1965, the president's extraordinary powers were extended and all political parties were dissolved.

A new constitution was adopted in 1967, and Marshall Costa e Silva succeeded Castelo Branco. In 1968, Costa e Silva recessed Congress and assumed one-man rule. In 1969, Gen. Emílio Garrastazú Médici succeeded Costa e Silva. Terrorism of the right and left became a feature of Brazilian life. The military police responded to guerrilla attacks with widespread torture and the formation of death squads to eradicate dissidents. This violence abated somewhat in the mid-1970s. Gen. Ernesto Geisel succeeded Médici as president in 1974. By this time, Brazil had become the world's largest debtor.

In 1977 Geisel dismissed Congress and instituted a series of constitutional and electoral reforms, and in 1978 he repealed all emergency legislation. His successor, Gen. João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, presided over a period (1979-85) of tremendous industrial development and increasing movement toward democracy. Despite these improvements, economic and social problems continued and the military maintained control of the government. Civilian government was restored in 1985 under José Sarney, and illiterate citizens were given the right to vote. Sarney's reforms were initially successful, but increasing inflation brought antigovernment protests.

In 1988 a new constitution came into force, reducing the workweek and providing for freedom of assembly and the right to strike, and in 1990 President Fernando Collor de Mello was elected by popular vote. As a result of increasing international pressure, Collor sponsored programs to decrease the rate of deforestation in Amazon rain forests and to protect the autonomy of the indigenous Yanomami. In 1992, amid charges of wide-scale corruption within his government, Collor became the first elected president to be impeached by the Brazilian congress; he resigned as his trial began, to be replaced temporarily by his vice president, Itamar Augusto Franco. In 1994 the supreme court cleared Collor of corruption charges, but he was barred from public office until 2001.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president in Oct., 1994, and took office in Jan., 1995. The Cardoso government reduced state controls on the economy and privatized government-owned businesses in telecommunications, oil, mining, and electricity. With the help of a new stable currency, Cardoso was able to bring inflation under control; he also signed decrees expropriating new lands from private estates for redistribution to the landless poor.

Reelected in 1998, Cardoso was faced with an economic crisis as budget deficits and a decline in foreign exchange reserves led to currency devaluations and increased interest rates. Late in 1998, he appealed to the International Monetary Fund, which assembled a $42 billion aid package for the country. Brazil then began implementing a program of stringent economic policies that restored investor confidence by mid-1999 and led to economic growth. In May, 2000, Cardoso signed a fiscal responsibility law that limited spending by the states; the legislation was a result of fiscal crises in several Brazilian states.

A series of corruption scandals that undermined the governing coalition in early 2001 was followed by an energy crisis that led the government to order widespread cuts in electrical consumption from May until Mar., 2002; the crisis resulted from a drought that reduced the water available to produce hydropower and a decade-long increase in the demand for electricity. Popular dissatisfaction with economic austerities helped fuel the election of Lula da Silva, of the opposition Workers' party (PT), to the presidency in 2002. Da Silva's subsequent inauguration also marked the increasing stability of Brazilian democracy; it was the first transfer of power between elected presidents since 1961. The new president did not deviate greatly from his predecessor's economic program, however, which alienated many supporters on the left.

Da Silva's government was hurt by a campaign finance scandal in early 2004 and by an increase in unemployment, and suffered losses in popular and congressional support, although economic growth in 2004 was strong and unemployment subsequently decreased. In June, 2005, the president was further hurt PT officials were accused of buying the votes of some of its congressional coalition members. The charges, made by the leader of a party in coalition with the president, led to the resignation of the president's chief of staff (who was expelled from the congress late in the year) and of the Workers' party leader and treasurer and forced the president to reshuffle his cabinet to shore up coalition support for his government. A separate bribery scandal led to the resignation of the speaker of the House in September, and in Mar., 2006, the finance minister resigned when he also was ensnared in a bribery scandal. Although the president weathered the scandals, they led to the sidetracking of social-reform legislation he had proposed. Meanwhile, Amazonas state was hit by a severe drought in 2005 when the dry season saw much less rainfall than usual.

A weeklong outbreak of rampant gang violence and, in turn, police vengeance against the gangs erupted in mid-May, 2006, in São Paulo state when a gang sought revenge for a government attempt to break the influence of its imprisoned leaders and members. The violence exposed a variety of ills in Brazil criminal justice system, including corruption in the prisons and lawlessness among the police. São Paulo experienced outbreaks of criminal gang violence in July and August as well, and Rio de Janeiro experienced a series of gang attacks in late December.

The 2006 presidential election, in October, was inconclusive after the first round. Da Silva won a plurality, but failed to win the required majority; his campaign was hurt by the corruption scandals that affected the PT and a late-breaking dirty-tricks scandal involving his campaign organization. The runner-up, Geraldo Alckmin, the former governor of São Paulo state, saw his campaign hurt by the recent violence in the state. In the runoff at the end of the month, da Silva won handily, securing 60% of the vote. Corruption scandals continued to make news in 2007. The most prominent new cases occurred in May, when the energy minister resigned after corruption allegations against him became public and a major Brazilian newsmagazine reported that the Senate president had taken payoffs; toward the end of the year the Senate president resigned, though he remained a senator. In August, the supreme court voted to charge da Silva's former chief of staff and the former Workers' party treasurer with corruption. In Jan., 2008, Brazil became a net creditor nation, in large part due to debt-reduction measures undertaken by da Silva's government. Allegations that Brazil's intelligence agency had wiretapped Brazilian officials and politicians led the president to suspend the agency chief and other officials in Sept., 2008.


See G. Freyre, Order and Progress; Brazil from Monarchy to Republic (tr. 1970); F. de Azevedo, Brazilian Culture (tr. 1950, repr. 1971); E. B. Burns, A History of Brazil (2d ed. 1980); P. McDonough, Power and Ideology in Brazil (1981); T. C. Bruneau, The Church in Brazil: The Politics of Religion (1982); P. S. Falk and D. V. Fleischer, Brazil's Economic and Political Future (1988); R. P. Guirmaraes, Politics and Environment in Brazil (1991).

Brazil (Brasil), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (República Federativa do Brasil) , is the largest and most populous country in South America. It is the fifth largest country by geographical area, the fifth most populous country, and the fourth most populous democracy in the world. Its population comprises the majority of the world's Portuguese speakers. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Brazil has a coastline of over . It is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and the overseas department of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and on the south by Uruguay. Numerous archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean are part of the Brazilian territory, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, Saint Peter and Paul Rocks, and Trindade and Martim Vaz.

Brazil was a colony of Portugal from the landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500 until its independence in 1822. Initially independent as the Empire of Brazil, the country has been a republic since 1889. The bicameral legislature (now called Congress) dates back to 1824, when the first constitution was ratified. The Constitution defines Brazil as a Federal Republic formed by the union of 26 States, the Federal District and the Municipalities (nowadays more than 5,564).

Brazil is the world's tenth largest economy at market exchange rates and the ninth largest in purchasing power. Economic reforms have given the country new international projection. It is a founding member of the United Nations, the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. The Brazilian population is predominantly Roman Catholic, almost all Portuguese-speaking and multiethnic. Brazil is also home to a diversity of wildlife, natural environments, and extensive natural resources in a variety of protected habitats.



Most native tribes who live and lived within Brazil's current borders are thought to descend from the first wave of migrants from North Asia (Siberia) that crossed the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last Ice Age around 9000 BC. In 1500 AD, the territory of modern Brazil had an estimated total population of nearly 3 million Amerindians divided in 2,000 nations and tribes.

A not-updated linguistic survey found 188 living indigenous languages with 155,000 total speakers. In 2007, Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation) reported the presence of 67 different tribes yet living without contact with civilization, an increase up from 40 in 2005. With this figures, now Brazil has the largest number of uncontacted peoples in the World, even more than the island of New Guinea. When the Portuguese arrived in 1500, the Amerindians were mostly semi-nomadic tribes, with the largest population living on the coast and along the banks of major rivers. Unlike Christopher Columbus who thought he had reached the India, the Portuguese Vasco da Gama had already reached India sailing around Africa two years before they reached Brazil.

Nevertheless, the word índios ("Indians") was by then established to designate the peoples of the New World and stuck being used today in the Portuguese language, while the people of India are called Indianos or Hindus. Initially, the Europeans saw the natives as noble savages, and miscegenation of the population began right away. Tribal warfare and cannibalism convinced the Portuguese that they should "civilize" the Amerindians.


Initially Portugal had little interest in Brazil, mainly because of high profits gained through commerce with India, Indochina, China and Japan. Brazil's only economical exploitation was the pursuit of brazilwood for its treasured red dye. After 1530, the Portuguese Crown devised the Hereditary Captaincies system to effectively occupy its new colony, and later took direct control of the failed captaincies. Although temporary trading posts were established earlier to collect brazilwood, used as a dye, with permanent settlement came the establishment of the sugarcane industry and its intensive labor. Several early settlements were founded across the coast, among them the colonial capital, Salvador, established in 1549 at the Bay of All Saints in the north, and the city of Rio de Janeiro on March 1567, in the south. The Portuguese colonists adopted an economy based on the production of agricultural goods that were exported to Europe. Sugar became by far the most important Brazilian colonial product until the early 18th century. Even though Brazilian sugar was reputed as being of high quality, the industry faced a crisis during the 17th and 18th centuries when the Dutch and the French started producing sugar in the Antilles, located much closer to Europe, causing sugar prices to fall.

During the 17th century, private explorers from São Paulo Captaincy, nowadays called Bandeirantes, explored and expanded Brazilian borders mainly while raiding the hinterlands tribes aiming to enslave Native Brazilians. In the 18th century, the Bandeirantes found gold and diamond deposits in the nowadys state of Minas Gerais. The exploration of these mines were mostly used to finance the Portuguese Royal Court's expenditure with both the preservation of its Global Empire and the support of its luxurious lifestyle at mainland. The way in which such deposits were exploited by the Portuguese Crown and the powerful local elites, however, burdened colonial Brazil with excessive taxes. Some popular movements supporting independence came about against the taxes established by the colonial government, such as the Tiradentes in 1789, but the secessionist movements were often dismissed by the authorities of the ruling colonial regime. Gold production declined towards the end of the 18th century, starting a period of relative stagnation of the Brazilian hinterland. Both Amerindian and African slaves' man power were largely used in Brazil's colonial economy.

In contrast to the neighboring Spanish possessions in South America, the Portuguese colony of Brazil kept its territorial, political and linguistic integrity due to the action of the Portuguese administrative effort. Although the colony was threatened by other nations across the era of Portuguese rule, in particular by Dutch and French powers, the authorities and the people ultimately managed to protect its borders from foreign attacks. Portugal even had to send bullion to Brazil, a spectacular reversal of the colonial trend, in order to protect the integrity of the colony.


In 1808, the Portuguese court, fleeing from Napoleon’s troops who had invaded Portugal, established themselves in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which thus became the seat of government of Portugal and the entire Portuguese Empire, even though being located outside of Europe. Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the Portuguese empire from 1808 to 1815. After that, the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (1815-1825) was created with Lisbon as its capital. After João VI returned to Portugal in 1821, his heir-apparent Pedro became regent of the Kingdom of Brazil, within the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. Following a series of political incidents and disputes, Brazil achieved its independence from Portugal on 7 September 1822. On 12 October 1822, Dom Pedro became the first Emperor of Brazil, being crowned on 1 December 1822. Portugal would recognize Brazil as an independent country in 1825.

In 1824, Pedro closed the Constituent Assembly, stating that the body was "endangering liberty". Pedro then produced a constitution modeled on that of Portugal (1822) and France (1814). It specified indirect elections and created the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government; however, it also added a fourth branch, the "moderating power", to be held by the Emperor. Pedro's government was considered economically and administratively inefficient. Political pressures eventually made the Emperor step down on 7 April 1831. He returned to Portugal leaving behind his five-year-old son Pedro II. Until Pedro II reached maturity, Brazil was governed by regents from 1831 to 1840. The regency period was turbulent and marked by numerous local revolts including the Male Revolt, the largest urban slave rebellion in the Americas, which took place in Bahia in 1835.

On 23 July 1840, Pedro II was crowned Emperor. His government was marked by a substantial rise in coffee exports, the War of the Triple Alliance, and the end of slave trade from Africa in 1850, although slavery in Brazilian territory would only be abolished in 1888. By the Eusébio de Queirós law, Brazil stopped trading slaves from Africa in 1850. Slavery was abandoned altogether in 1888, thus making Brazil the last country of the Americas to ban slavery. When slavery was finally abolished, a large influx of European immigrants took place. By the 1870s, the Emperor's control of domestic politics had started to deteriorate in the face of crises with the Catholic Church, the Army and the slaveholders. The Republican movement slowly gained strength. The dominant classes no longer needed the empire to protect their interests and deeply resented the abolition of slavery. Indeed, imperial centralization ran counter to their desire for local autonomy. By 1889 Pedro II had stepped down and the Republican system had been adopted in Brazil. In the end, the empire really fell because of a coup d'etat.


Pedro II was deposed on November 15, 1889 by a Republican military coup led by general Deodoro da Fonseca, who became the country’s first de facto president through military ascension. The country’s name became the Republic of the United States of Brazil. From 1889 to 1930, the dominant states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais alternated control of the presidency. A military junta took control in 1930. Getúlio Vargas took office soon after, and would remain as dictatorial ruler until 1945. He was re-elected in 1951 and stayed in office until his suicide in 1954. After 1930, successive governments continued industrial and agricultural growth and the development of the vast interior of Brazil. Juscelino Kubitschek's office years (1956-1961) were marked by the political campaign motto of plunging "50 anos em 5" (fifty years of development in five).

The military took office in Brazil in a coup d'état in 1964, and remained in power until March 1985, when it fell from grace because of political struggles between the regime and the Brazilian elites. In 1967 the name of the country was changed to Federative Republic of Brazil. Just as the Brazilian regime changes of 1889, 1930, and 1945 unleashed competing political forces and caused divisions within the military, so too did the 1964 regime change. Democracy was re-established in 1988 when the current Federal Constitution was enacted. Fernando Collor de Mello was the first president truly elected by popular vote after the military regime. Collor took office in March 1990. In September 1992, the National Congress voted for Collor's impeachment after a sequence of scandals were uncovered by the media. The vice-president, Itamar Franco, assumed the presidency. Assisted by the Minister of Finance at that time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Itamar Franco's administration implemented the Plano Real economic package, which included a new currency temporarily pegged to the U.S. dollar, the real. In the elections held on October 3, 1994, Fernando Henrique Cardoso ran for president and won, being reelected in 1998. Brazil's current president is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006.

Government and politics

The Brazilian Federation is based on the union of three autonomous political entities: the States, the Municipalities and the Federal District. A fourth entity originated in the aforementioned association: the Union. There is no hierarchy among the political entities. The Federation is set on six fundamental principles: sovereignty, citizenship, dignity of the people, social value of labor, freedom of enterprise, and political pluralism. The classic tripartite branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial under the checks and balances system), is formally established by the Constitution. The executive and legislative are organized independently in all four political entities, while the judiciary is organized only in the federal and state levels.

All members of the executive and legislative branches are directly-elected. Judges and other judicial officials are appointed after passing entry exams. Voting is compulsory for those aged 18 or older. Four political parties stand out among several small ones: Workers' Party (PT), Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), and Democrats (formerly Liberal Front Party — PFL). Practically all governmental and administrative functions are exercised by authorities and agencies affiliated to the Executive.

The form of government is that of a democratic republic, with a presidential system. The president is both head of state and head of government of the Union and is elected for a four-year term, with the possibility of re-election for a second successive term. The current president is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He was elected on October 27, 2002, and re-elected on October 29, 2006. The President appoints the Ministers of State, who assist in governing. Legislative houses in each political entity are the main source of laws in Brazil. The National Congress is the Federation’s bicameral legislature, consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate. Judiciary authorities exercise jurisdictional duties almost exclusively.


Brazilian law is based on Roman-Germanic traditions. Thus, civil law concepts prevail over common law practices. Most of Brazilian law is codified, although non-codified statutes also represent a substantial part of the system, playing a complementary role. Court decisions set out interpretive guidelines; however, they are not binding on other specific cases except in a few situations. Doctrinal works and the works of academic jurists have strong influence in law creation and in law cases. The legal system is based on the Federal Constitution, which was promulgated on 5 October 1988, and is the fundamental law of Brazil. All other legislation and court decisions must conform to its rules. As of April 2007, there have been 53 amendments. States have their own constitutions, which must not contradict the Federal Constitution. Municipalities and the Federal District do not have their own constitutions; instead, they have "organic laws" (leis orgânicas). Legislative entities are the main source of statutes, although in certain matters judiciary and executive bodies may enact legal norms.

Jurisdiction is administered by the judiciary entities, although in rare situations the Federal Constitution allows the Federal Senate to pass on legal judgments. There are also specialized military, labor, and electoral courts. The highest court is the Supreme Federal Tribunal. This system has been criticised over the last decades due to the slow pace at which final decisions are issued. Lawsuits on appeal may take several years to resolve, and in some cases more than a decade elapses before definitive rulings are made.

Foreign relations and the military

Brazil is sought to be a political and economic leader in Latin America, even though this claim is partially contested by Argentina and Mexico, who oppose the country's aim of obtaining a permanent seat as the representative of the region in the UN Security Council. Social and economic problems prevent Brazil from effectively exerting global power. Between World War II and 1990, both democratic and military governments sought to expand Brazil's influence in the world by pursuing a state-led industrial policy and an independent foreign policy. More recently, the country has aimed to strengthen ties with other South American countries, engage in multilateral diplomacy through the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Brazil's current foreign policy is based on the country's position as a regional power in Latin America, a leader among developing countries, and an emerging world power. Brazilian foreign policy has generally reflected multilateralism, peaceful dispute settlement, and nonintervention in the affairs of other countries. The Brazilian Constitution also determines the country shall seek the economic, political, social and cultural integration of the nations of Latin America.

The Armed forces of Brazil comprise the Brazilian Army, the Brazilian Navy, and the Brazilian Air Force. The Military Police (States' Military Police) is described as an ancillary force of the Army by constitution, but under the control of each state's governor. The Brazilian armed forces are the largest in Latin America. The Brazilian Air Force is the aerial warfare branch of the Brazilian armed forces, being the largest air force in Latin America, with about 700 manned aircraft in service. The Brazilian Navy is responsible for naval operations and for guarding Brazilian territorial waters. It is the oldest of the Brazilian Armed forces and the only navy in Latin America that operates an aircraft carrier, the NAeL São Paulo (formerly FS Foch of the French Navy). Finally, the Brazilian Army is responsible for land-based military operations, with a strength of approximately 190,000 soldiers.


According to the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, Brazil is a federation of 26 states (estados), one federal district (Distrito Federal) and, also, the municipalities. Neither of this units have the right to secede from the Federation.

States are based on historical, conventional borders and have developed throughout the centuries; though some boundaries are arbitrary. The states can be split or joined together in new states if their people express so in a plebiscite. States have autonomous administrations, collect their own taxes and receive a share of taxes collected by the Union government. They have a governor and legislative body (Assembléia Legislativa) elected directly by their people. They also have independent Courts of Law for common justice. Despite that, states are not so free to create their own laws as in the United States. For example, criminal and civil laws can only be voted by the Brazilian bicameral Congress.

Municipalities can be split or joined together in new municipalities if their people express so in a plebiscite, following some rules of the Federal Constitution and keeping the border within the former state. Municipalities have autonomous administrations, collect their own taxes and receive a share of taxes collected by the Union and state government. They have a mayor (prefeito) and a legislative body (Câmara de Vereadores) elected directly by their people, but they have no separated Courts of Law. Indeed, a Court of Law organized by the state can comprehend many municipalities in a single comarca (justice administrative division).

The federal district (Distrito Federal) contains the capital city, Brasília. The federal district is not a state on its right, but shares some characteristics of a state and some of a municipality. It can not be divided in municipalities and its Courts of Law are part of the Federal Judiciary System.

The Brazilian Constitution allows the existence of incorporated territories, but they are no more. In 1943, with the entrance of Brazil into the Second World War, the Vargas regime detached seven strategic territories from the border of the country in order to administrate them directly: Amapá, Rio Branco, Acre, Guaporé, Ponta Porã, Iguaçu and the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. After the war, the first three territories were retained as states, with Rio Branco and Guaporé being renamed Roraima and Rondônia, respectively. Ponta Porã and Iguaçu territories resorted to the original state they belonged. The Mato Grosso state incorporated the territory of Ponta Porã and the northern part of Iguaçu. Central Iguaçu went to the state of Paraná, and southern Iguaçu went to the state of Santa Catarina. In 1988, Fernando de Noronha became part of the state of Pernambuco.

Since the first years of the Republican regime, a square-shaped territory was carved out of Goiás in preparation for the new capital. In 1960, the new city of Brasília was founded and the Distrito Federal moved out. The previous federal district became the state of Guanabara until 1975 when it was merged with the state of Rio de Janeiro, becoming the municipality of Rio de Janeiro.

In 1977, Mato Grosso state was split into two states. The northern area retained the name Mato Grosso while the southern area became the new state of Mato Grosso do Sul, with Campo Grande as its capital. In 1988, the northern portion of Goiás state became the state of Tocantins, with Palmas as its capital.


The Brazilian regions are not political or administrative divisions. Although defined by law, Brazilian regions are useful mainly for statistical purposes and, sometimes, to define the application of federal funds in development projects.

The national territory was divided in 1969 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), for demographic and statistical purposes, into five main regions: North, Northeast, Central-West, Southeast and South.

The North region covers 45.27% of the land area of Brazil, and has the lowest number of inhabitants. With the exception of Manaus, which hosts a tax-free industrial zone, and Belém, the biggest metropolitan area of the region, it is fairly unindustrialized and undeveloped. It accommodates most of the rainforest vegetation of the world and many indigenous tribes.

The Northeast region is inhabited by about 30% of Brazil's population. It is culturally diverse, with roots set in the Portuguese colonial period, and in Amerindian and Afro-Brazilian elements. It is also the poorest region of Brazil, and suffers from long periods of dry climate.

The Central-West region has low demographic density when compared to the other regions, mostly because a part of its territory is covered by the world's largest marshlands area, the Pantanal as well as a small part of the Amazon Rainforest in the northwest. However, much of the region is also covered by Cerrado, the largest savanna in the world. The central-west region contributes significantly towards agriculture.

The Southeast region is the richest and most densely populated. It has more inhabitants than any other South American country, and hosts one of the largest megalopolises of the world, and has the country's two largest cities; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The region is very diverse, including the major business center of São Paulo, the historical cities of Minas Gerais and its capital Belo Horizonte, the third-largest metropolitan area in Brazil, the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, and the coast of Espírito Santo.

The South region is the wealthiest by GDP per capita, and has the highest standard of living in the country. It is also the coldest region of Brazil, with occasional occurrences of frost and snow in some of the higher altitude areas. It has been settled mainly by European immigrants, mostly of Italian, German and Portuguese ancestry, being clearly influenced by these cultures.


The Equatorial line cuts through the state of Amapá in the north, and the Tropic of Capricorn line cuts through the state of São Paulo. The southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is further to the south than the entire European continent is to the north. Acre is in the far west side of the country, covered by the Amazon forest; Paraíba is the easternmost state of Brazil; Cabo Branco, in the city of João Pessoa, is the easternmost point of Brazil and the Americas. The states of Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina all have a temperate climate.

State of São Paulo is the economic center of Brazil. Its agriculture, industry, commerce and services are the most diversified of Brazil. Although a large part of its production is exported to other states and other countries, the consumer market of the state of São Paulo is also the biggest in the Brazil. Different from most of the Brazilian states, São Paulo economy is strong even in non-coastal cities.

Rio de Janeiro, the most well known Brazilian city and with many famous landmarks, is the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Older books may still reference the state of Guanabara: after the Federal District (capital of the Republic) was moved to Brasília in 1960, the city of Rio de Janeiro was elevated to the condition of state of Guanabara (name of the large bay that washes the city or Rio); in 1975, Guanabara state was incorporated to the state of Rio and returned to the condition of municipality, with the old name of city of Rio de Janeiro.


Brazil occupies an immense area along the eastern coast of South America and includes much of the continent's interior region, sharing land borders with Uruguay to the south; Argentina and Paraguay to the southwest; Bolivia and Peru to the west; Colombia to the northwest; Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and the overseas department of French Guiana to the north; stretching from the North to the Southern Hemisphere. The factors of size, relief, climate, and natural resources make Brazil geographically diverse. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world—after Russia, Canada, the People's Republic of China and the United States—and third largest on the Americas; with a total area of , include of water. It spans three time zones; from UTC-4, in the North (except Pará) and UTC-4, in the central states; to UTC-3, in the eastern states, the official time of Brazil, and UTC-2, in the Atlantic islands.

Brazilian topography is also diverse, including hills, mountains, plains, highlands, and scrublands. Much of Brazil lies between and in elevation. The main upland area occupies most of the southern half of the country. The northwestern parts of the plateau consist of broad, rolling terrain broken by low, rounded hills. The southeastern section is more rugged, with a complex mass of ridges and mountain ranges reaching elevations of up to . These ranges include the Mantiqueira Mountains, the Espinhaço Mountains, and the Serra do Mar. In north, the Guiana Highlands form a major drainage divide, separating rivers that flow south into the Amazon Basin from rivers that empty into the Orinoco river system, in Venezuela, to the north. The highest point in Brazil is the Pico da Neblina with , and the lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean with . Brazil has a dense and complex system of rivers, one of the world's most extensive, with eight major drainage basins, all of which drain into the Atlantic Ocean. Major rivers include the Amazon, the largest river in terms of volume of water, and the second-longest in the world; the Paraná and its major tributary, the Iguaçu River, where the Iguaçu Falls are located; the Negro, São Francisco, Xingu, Madeira and the Tapajós rivers.


The climate of Brazil comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a large geographic scale and varied topography, but the largest part of the country is tropical. Analysed according to the Köppen system, Brazil hosts five major climatic subtypes: equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, and temperate; ranging from equatorial rainforests in the north and semiarid deserts in the northeast, to temperate coniferous forests in the south and tropical savannas in central Brazil. Many regions have starkly different microclimates.

A equatorial climate characterizes much of northern Brazil. There is no real dry season but there are some variations in the period of the year when most rain falls. Temperatures average , with more significant temperature variations between night and day than between seasons. Over central Brazil rainfall is more seasonal, characteristic of a savanna climate. This region is as large and extensive as the Amazon basin but, lying farther south and being at a moderate altitude, it has a very different climate. In the interior Northeast, seasonal rainfall is even more extreme. The semiarid climate region receives less than of rain, which falls in a period of two or three months. From the south of Bahia, near São Paulo, the distribution of rainfall changes, here some appreciable rainfall occurs in all months. The South has temperate conditions, with average temperatures below and cool winters, frosts are quite common, with occasional snowfalls in the higher areas.


Brazil's large territory comprises different ecosystems, such as the Amazon Rainforest, recognized as having the greatest biological diversity in the world; the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado, which together sustain some of the world's greatest biodiversity. In the South, the Araucaria pine forest grows under temperate conditions. The rich wildlife of Brazil reflects the variety of natural habitats; however, remains largely unknown, and new species are found on nearly a daily basis. Scientists estimate that the total number of plant and animal species in Brazil could approach two million. Larger mammals include pumas, jaguars, ocelots, rare bush dogs, and foxes. Peccaries, tapirs, anteaters, sloths, opossums, and armadillos are abundant. Deer are plentiful in the south, and monkeys of many species abound in the northern rain forests.

Concern for the environment in Brazil has grown in response to global interest in environmental issues. It's natural heritage is extremely threatened due to cattle ranching and agriculture, logging, mining, resettlement, oil and gas extraction, over-fishing, expansion of urban centres, wildlife trade, fire, climate change, dams and infrastructure, water contamination, and invasive species. In many areas of the country, the natural environment is threatened by development. Construction of highways has opened up previously remote areas for agriculture and settlement; dams have flooded valleys and inundated wildlife habitats; and mines have scarred and polluted the landscape.


Brazil is the largest national economy in Latin America, the world's tenth largest economy at market exchange rates and the ninth largest in purchasing power parity (PPP), according to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; with large and developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing and service sectors, as well as a large labor pool. The country has been expanding its presence in international financial and commodities markets, and is regarded as one of the group of four emerging economies called BRIC. Brazilian exports are booming, creating a new generation of tycoons. Major export products include aircraft, coffee, automobiles, soybean, iron ore, orange juice, steel, ethanol, textiles, footwear, corned beef and electrical equipment. The biggest investment boom in history is under way; in 2007, Brazil launched a four-year plan to spend $300 billion to modernise its road network, power plants and ports. Brazil's booming economy is shifting into overdrive, with biofuels and deep-water oil providing energy independence and the government collecting enough cash to irrigate the desert and pave highways across the Amazon Rainforest. Brazil had pegged its currency, the real, to the U.S. dollar in 1994. However, after the East Asian financial crisis, the Russian default in 1998 and the series of adverse financial events that followed it, the Brazilian central bank temporarily changed its monetary policy to a managed-float scheme while undergoing a currency crisis, until definitively changing the exchange regime to free-float in January 1999.

Brazil received an International Monetary Fund rescue package in mid-2002 in the amount of $30.4 billion, a record sum at that time. The IMF loan was paid off early by Brazil's central bank in 2005 (the due date was scheduled for 2006). One of the issues the Brazilian central bank is currently dealing with is the excess of speculative short-term capital inflows to the country in the past few months, which might explain in part the recent downfall of the U.S. dollar against the real in the period. Nonetheless, foreign direct investment (FDI), related to long-term, less speculative investment in production, is estimated to be $193.8 billion for 2007. Inflation monitoring and control currently plays a major role in Brazil's Central Bank activity in setting out short-term interest rates as a monetary policy measure.


Brazil's "investment grade" economy is diverse, encompassing agriculture, industry, and a multitude of services. Brazil is finally punching its weight with a booming economy and stronger global leadership. The recent economic strength has been due in part to a global boom in commodities prices with exports from beef to soybeans soaring. Its prospects have been helped by huge oil and gas discoveries. A global power in agriculture and natural resources, Brazil unleashed the greatest burst of prosperity it has witnessed in three decades.

Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry, logging and fishing accounted for 5.1% of the gross domestic product in 2007. A performance that puts agribusiness in a position of distinction in terms of Brazil's trade balance, in spite of trade barriers and subsidizing policies adopted by the developed countries. The industry; from automobiles, steel and petrochemicals to computers, aircraft, and consumer durables; accounted for 30.8% of the gross domestic product. Industry is highly concentrated geographically, with the leading concentrations in metropolitan São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Campinas, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza. Technologically advanced industries are also highly concentrated in these locations.

Brazil is the world's tenth largest energy consumer. It's energy comes from renewable sources, particularly hydroelectricity and ethanol; and nonrenewable sources, mainly oil and natural gas. Brazil will become an oil superpower, with massive oil discoveries in recent times.

Science and technology

Brazilian science effectively began in the first decades of the 19th century, when the Portuguese Royal Family, headed by John VI, arrived in Rio de Janeiro, escaping from the Napoleon's army invasion of Portugal in 1807. Until then, Brazil was a Portuguese colony, without universities, and a lack of cultural and scientific organizations, in stark contrast to the former American colonies of the Spanish Empire, which although having a largely illiterate population like Brazil and Portugal, had, however, a number of universities since the 16th century.

Technological research in Brazil is largely carried out in public universities and research institutes. Nonetheless, more than 73% of funding for basic research still comes from government sources. Some of Brazil's most notables technological hubs are the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, the Butantan Institute, the Air Force's Aerospace Technical Center, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation and the INPE. Brazil has the most advanced space program in Latin America, with significant capabilities to launch vehicles, launch sites and satellite manufacturing. On 14 October 1997, the Brazilian Space Agency signed an agreement with NASA to provide parts for the ISS. Uranium is enriched at the Resende Nuclear Fuel Factory to fuel the country's energy demands. Plans are on the way to build the country's first nuclear submarine. Brazil is one of the three countries in Latin America with an operational Synchrotron Laboratory, a research facility on physics, chemistry, material science and life sciences.


Brazil's population comes from many racial and ethnic groups. The last National Research for Sample of Domiciles (PNAD) census revealed the following: 49.7% of the population self-identified as White, about 93 million; 42.6% Pardo (meaning brown in Portuguese), about 79 million; 6.9% Black, about 13 million; 0.5% Asian, about 1 million; and 0.3% Amerindian, about 519,000. Most Brazilians can trace their ancestry to the country's indigenous Amerindians, Portuguese colonists, or African slaves, either alone, in combination with one or both of the others, and/or in combination with other ethnic or racial groups. Since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s, this miscegenation between the three groups has been a part of the evolution of the people of Brazil. In the over three centuries of Portuguese colonization, Brazil received more than 700,000 Portuguese settlers and 4 million African slaves.

Starting in the late 19th century, Brazil opened its doors to immigration: people of over 60 nationalities immigrated to Brazil. About 5 million European and Asian immigrants arrived from 1870 to 1953, most of them from Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Germany. In the early 20th century, people from Japan and the Middle-East also arrived. The immigrants and their descendants had an important impact in the ethnic composition of the Brazilian population, and many diasporas are present in the country.

Brazil has the largest population of Italian origin outside of Italy, with over 25 million Italian Brazilians, the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with 1.6 million Japanese Brazilians, the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East, with 10 million Arab Brazilians. As well the second largest German population outside of Germany, with 12 million German Brazilians, the second largest Spanish population outside of Spain, with 15 million Spanish Brazilians, the second largest Polish population outside of Poland, with 1.8 million Polish Brazilians. However, the largest and oldest European ethnic group in Brazil is the Portuguese Brazilian, and most Brazilians can trace their ancestry to an ethnic Portuguese or a mixed-race Portuguese. A characteristic of Brazil is the race mixing. Genetically, most Brazilians have some degree of European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. The entire population can be considered a single "Brazilian" ethnic group, with highly varied racial types and backgrounds, but without clear ethnic sub-divisions.

About 81.3% of Brazilians live in an urban area. The metropolitan areas are São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte, respectively with 19.7, 11.4, and 5.4 million inhabitants. In 2007, fourteen cities had more than 1 million residents, and six global cities had over 2 million (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Brasília, Fortaleza, and Belo Horizonte). Almost all the capitals are the largest city in their corresponding state, except for Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo, and Florianópolis, the capital of Santa Catarina. There are also non-capital metropolitan areas in the states of São Paulo (Campinas, Santos and the Paraíba Valley), Minas Gerais (Steel Valley), Rio Grande do Sul (Sinos Valley), and Santa Catarina (Itajaí Valley).

Education and health

The Federal Constitution and the 1996 General Law of Education in Brazil (LDB) determine how the Federal Government, States, Federal District, and Municipalities will manage and organize their respective education systems. Each of these public educational systems is responsible for its own maintenance, which manages funds as well as mechanisms and sources for financial resources. The new Constitution reserves 25% of state and municipal taxes and 18% of federal taxes for education.

Private school programs are available to complement the public school system. In 2003, the literacy rate was 88% of the population, and the youth literacy rate (ages 15–19) was 93.2%. Illiteracy is highest in the Northeast, around 27%, which has a high proportion of rural poor. Although at same year, Brazil's education had low levels of efficiency by 15-year-old students, particularly in the public school network. Higher education starts with undergraduate or sequential courses, which may offer different specialist choices such as academic or vocational paths. Depending on choice, students may improve their educational background with Stricto Sensu or Lato Sensu postgraduate courses.

The public health system is managed and provided by all levels of government, whilst private healthcare fulfills a complementary role. There are several problems in the Brazilian health system. In 2006, these were infant mortality, child mortality, maternal mortality, mortality by non-transmissible illness and mortality caused by external causes: transportation, violence and suicide.


Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. It is spoken by nearly the entire population and is virtually the only language used in newspapers, radio, television, and for all business and administrative purposes, with the exception of Nheengatu, an indigenous language of South America which has gained the co-official status alongside Portuguese in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Moreover, Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas, making the language an important part of Brazilian national identity and giving it a national culture distinct from its Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Brazilian Portuguese has had its own development, influenced by the Amerindian and African languages. Due to this, the language is somewhat different from that spoken in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries, mainly for phonological and orthographic differences. These differences are somewhat greater than those of American and British English. As of 2008, Portugal is considering reforming its own language to accommodate linguistic developments in the Brazilian Portuguese since the two languages diverged.

Minority languages are spoken throughout the vast national territory. Some of these are spoken by indigenous peoples: 180 Amerindian languages are spoken in remote areas. Others are spoken by immigrants and their descendants. There are important communities of speakers of German (mostly the Hunsrückisch, part of the High German languages) and Italian (mostly the Talian dialect, of Venetian origin) in the south of the country, both largely influenced by the Portuguese language.


A wide variety of elements create a society with considerable ethnic complexity. Brazilian culture has historically been influenced by European, African, and Indigenous cultures and traditions. Its major early influence derived from Portuguese culture because of strong colonial ties with the Portuguese empire. Among other inheritances, the Portuguese introduced the Portuguese language, the Catholic religion, and the colonial architectural styles. Other aspects of Brazilian culture are contributions of Italian, German, and other European immigrants who came in large numbers, and their influences are felt closer to the South and Southeast of Brazil. Amerindian peoples influenced Brazil's language and cuisine; and the Africans, brought to Brazil as slaves, influenced language, cuisine, music, dance, and religion.

Literature in Brazil dates back to the 16th century, to the writings of the first Portuguese explorers in Brazil, such as Pêro Vaz de Caminha, writer of the fleet of navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral. Cuisine varies greatly by region and reflects the country's mix of native and immigrants. This has created a national cooking style marked by the preservation of regional differences. Brazil's cultural tradition extends to its music styles which include samba, bossa nova, forró, frevo, pagode, and many others. Brazil has also contributed to classical music, which can be seen in the works of many composers. In arts, important modern artists Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral were both early pioneers in Brazilian art. The cinema has a long tradition, reaching back to the birth of the medium in the late 19th century, and gained a new level of international acclaim in recent years.

The festival of Carnival (Carnaval), with its spectacular street parades and vibrant music, has become one of the most potent images of Brazil; an annual celebration held forty days before Easter and marks the beginning of Lent. Carnival is celebrated throughout Brazil with distinct regional characteristics, but the most spectacular celebrations outside Rio de Janeiro take place in Salvador, Recife, and Olinda, although the nature of the events varies. Other regional festivals include the Boi Bumbá and Festa Junina (June Festivals).


Religion is very diversified in Brazil; the constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The Roman Catholic Church is dominant, making Brazil the largest Catholic nation in the world. The formal link between the state and the Roman Catholicism was severed in the late 19th century; however, the Catholic Church has continued to exert an influence on national affairs. Adepts of Protestantism are rising in number. Until 1970, the majority of Brazilian Protestants were members of "traditional churches", mostly Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists. Since then, numbers of Pentecostal and Neopentecostal members have increased significantly. Traditional African beliefs, brought by slaves, have blended with Catholicism to create Afro-Brazilian religions such as Macumba, Candomblé, and Umbanda. Amerindians practice a wide variety of indigenous religions that vary from group to group. Islam in Brazil was first practiced by African slaves. Today, the Muslim population in Brazil is made up of mostly Arab immigrants. There are approximately fifty-five mosques and Muslim religious centers. A recent trend has been the increase in conversions to Islam among non-Arab citizens.

According to the 2000 Demographic Census, 73.9% of the population is Roman Catholic; 15.4% is Protestant; 0.91% from other Christian denominations; 1.33% follows Kardecist spiritism; 0.31% follows African traditional religions; 0.01% follows Amerindian traditions; 7.35% consider themselves agnostics, atheists or without a religion; and 0.81% are members of other religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and some practice a mixture of different religions.


Football (futebol) is the most popular sport in Brazil. The Brazilian national football team (Seleção) have been victorious in the FIFA World Cup tournament a record five times, in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. Basketball, volleyball, auto racing, and martial arts also attract large audiences. Though not as regularly followed or practiced as the previously mentioned sports, tennis, team handball, swimming, and gymnastics have found a growing number of enthusiasts over the last decades. Some sport variations have their origins in Brazil. Beach football, futsal (official version of indoor football) and footvolley emerged in the country as variations of football. In martial arts, Brazilians have developed Capoeira, Vale tudo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In auto racing, Brazilian drivers have won the Formula 1 world championship eight times: Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972 and 1974; Nelson Piquet in 1981, 1983 and 1987; and Ayrton Senna in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

Brazil has undertaken the organization of large-scale sporting events: the country organized and hosted the 1950 FIFA World Cup and has been chosen to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup event. The circuit located in São Paulo, Autódromo José Carlos Pace, hosts the annual Grand Prix of Brazil. São Paulo organized the IV Pan American Games in 1963, and Rio de Janeiro hosted the XV Pan American Games in 2007. Brazil is also trying for the fourth time to host the Summer Olympics with Rio de Janeiro's bid for the 2016 games.


Further reading

  • Alves, Maria Helena Moreira (1985). State and Opposition in Military Brazil. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  • Amann, Edmund (1990). The Illusion of Stability: The Brazilian Economy under Cardoso. World Development (pp. 1805–1819).
  • Background Note: Brazil. US Department of State. .
  • Bellos, Alex (2003). Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.
  • Bethell, Leslie (1991). Colonial Brazil. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Costa, João Cruz (1964). A History of Ideas in Brazil. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
  • Fausto, Boris (1999). A Concise History of Brazil. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Furtado, Celso The Economic Growth of Brazil: A Survey from Colonial to Modern Times. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Leal, Victor Nunes (1977). Coronelismo: The Municipality and Representative Government in Brazil. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Malathronas, John (2003). Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul. Chichester: Summersdale.
  • Martinez-Lara, Javier (1995). Building Democracy in Brazil: The Politics of Constitutional Change. Macmillan.
  • Prado Júnior, Caio (1967). The Colonial Background of Modern Brazil. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
  • Schneider, Ronald (1995). Brazil: Culture and Politics in a New Economic Powerhouse. Boulder Westview.
  • Skidmore, Thomas E. (1974). Black Into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wagley, Charles (1963). An Introduction to Brazil. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • (2006). The World Almanac and Book of Facts: Brazil. New York, NY: World Almanac Books.

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