Country profile: Brazil

Known today for its samba football, Pele, five World Cup titles, and coffee, Brazil is a nation with a rich 500-year history.

The coffee you are drinking is probably from Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer. But how much do we really know about Brazil, the host of the Arab-South American summit?

It is the largest country in South America and has borders on every South American country except Chile and Ecuador.

The name Brazil is thought to have been derived from the Portuguese word for the red colour of brazilwood – brasa -glowing coal.

Brazil covers an area of 8,511,965sq km and its diverse climate reflects its size.

It is crossed by the equator in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south. There are dense rainforests in the Amazon basin, a semi-arid interior, vast mountain ranges and the great Brazilian plateau, the natural wonder and beauty of Iguaçu Falls on the Paran? River, narrow coastal plains, vast cattle raising areas and major rivers and tributaries.

The Brazilian flag

The Brazilian flag

There is some evidence to suggest that the area that is now Brazil was occupied by humans as far back as 30,000 years ago.

While never home to large civilisations like the Incas or Aztecs, historians have estimated that there were up to six million indigenous people spread across the vast territory.

When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Brazil in the early 1500s, the indigenous population was small and descended from two main groups, the mainly sedentary speakers of the Tupi language and a group of nomadic people that moved across the vast land.

Smallpox and other diseases are believed to have decimated the indigenous population. Over the next three centuries Europeans exploited Brazil first for its brazilwood and later for its sugarcane-growing capabilities.

The first capital of Brazil was established at Salvador in the north eastern state of Bahia in 1532. Portuguese claims to the huge area did not go unchallenged. French Huguenots occupied, for a time, an island in Rio de Janiero harbour.

In 1633, the Dutch East India company captured not only the cities of Salvador and Bahia but the whole northeast region. No aid was forthcoming from Portugal – which at the time was united with Spain – and independence was not regained until 1640.

The sugar plantations of the northeast were the mainstay of the economy. The Portuguese tried unsuccessfully to exploit the indigenous population on the sugarcane fields and eventually resorted to importing African slaves to do the back-breaking work.

An iconic statue in the second largest city Rio de Janiero

An iconic statue in the second
largest city Rio de Janiero

Over the years, the centre of development began to move south and in 1763 Salvador was replaced by Rio de Janiero as the capital of Brazil. For a short time during the Napoleonic wars Rio de Janiero became the capital of the Portuguese Empire. Brazil declared itself the Empire of Brazil in 1822 and in 1889 the Federative Republic of Brazil was established.

The expanding market for Brazilian coffee and the rubber boom brought considerable wealth as the 19th century ended. Brazil attracted over 1 million immigrants from Europe and Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On 21 April, 1960, Bras?lia became Brazil’s official capital, signalling a new commitment to develop the interior of the country.

The 20th century political climate in Brazil was one of quiet turmoil. In 1964, its fragile democracy was replaced by military rule and when a new constitution was adopted in 1967, terrorism by both right and left political parties became a part of Brazilian life.

The military police responded with widespread torture and the formation of death squads. By 1974, Brazil was the world’s largest debtor. The 1980s were a time of tremendous industrial development but economic and social problems continued.

In November 1989, Brazilians elected their first president in almost 30 years.

Economic growth in Brazil does not necessarily mean social or economic reform. There is an unworkable health system, rural despair, environmental abuse on a large scale and urban overcrowding. A 1996 United Nations report shows that Brazil had the world’s most unequal distribution of wealth.

The tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is a considered a hotbed of illegal drug and arms trafficking, and also thought to be a centre for money laundering and smuggling.

Brazil is a transshipment area for Bolivian, Peruvian and Colombian cocaine and also an illicit producer of cannabis and coca leaves predominantly for its own use.

Capital: Brasilia
Official name: Federative Republic of Brazil
Population: 186,112,794 This country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to Aids; this can result in lower population and growth rates (July 2005 est)
Languages: Portuguese (official), Spanish, English, French.

Ethnic diversity: White (includes Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish) 55%, mixed white and black 38%, black 6%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 1%.
Literacy rate: age 15 and over can read and write; total population: 86.4%; male: 86.1%; female: 86.6% (2003 est)
Religion: Roman Catholic (nominal) 80%, other 20%, also a significant proportion who either belong to various cults, including those from Africa or practice Indian animism.

Government type: Federative Republic

Political parties and leaders: Brazilian Democratic Movement Party or PMDB, Federal Deputy Michel Temer; Brazilian Labor Party or PTB, Federal Deputy Roberto Jefferson; Brazilian Social Democracy Party or PSDB, Senator Eduardo Azaredo; Brazilian Socialist Party or PSB, Federal Deputy Miguel Arraes; Communist Party of Brazil or PCdoB, Renato Rabelo; Democratic Labor Party or PDT, Carlos Lupi; Democratic Socialist Party or PSD, Pedro Miguel Santana Lopes; Green Party or PV, Jose Luiz de Franca Penna; Liberal Front Party or PFL, Senator Jorge Bornhausen; Liberal Party or PL, Federal Deputy Valdemar Costa Neto; National Order Reconstruction Party or PRONA, Federal Deputy Dr Eneas Carneiro; Popular Socialist Party or PPS, Federal Deputy Roberto Freire; Progressive Party or PP, Federal Deputy Pedro Correa; Social Christian Party or PSC, Vitor Jorge Abdala Nosseis; Worker’s Party or PT, Jose Genoino.

Political pressure groups and leaders: Landless Worker’s Movement; labour unions and federations; large farmers’ associations; religious groups including evangelical Christian churches and the Catholic Church.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sports the Palestinian colours

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
sports the Palestinian colours

International organisation participation includes: AfDB, BIS, FAO, G-15, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur, MIGA, MINUSTAH, NAM (observer), NSG, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNMIK, UNMIL, UNMISET, UNMOVIC, UNOCI, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO.

Military branches: Brazilian Army, Brazilian Navy (includes Naval Air and Marines), Brazilian Air Force (FAB)
Military manpower – military age: 19 years of age for compulsory military service, conscript service obligation – 12 months; 17 years of age for voluntary service (2001).
Military manpower – there are approximately 45,586,036 (2005 est) males aged 19-49 available for military service.


Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

Area: Total: 8,511,965sq km; land: 8,456,510sq km; water: 55,455 q km; note: includes Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha, Atol das Rocas, Ilha da Trindade, Ilhas Martin Vaz, and Penedos de Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo .
Land boundaries: Total: 14,691km; border countries: Argentina 1224km, Bolivia 3400km, Colombia 1643km, French Guiana 673km, Guyana 1119km, Paraguay 1290km, Peru 1560km, Suriname 597km, Uruguay 985km, Venezuela 2200 km

Coastline: 7491 km

Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 12 nm; contiguous zone: 24 nm; exclusive economic zone: 200 nm; continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin

Climate: Mostly tropical, but temperate in south.
Terrain: Mostly flat to rolling lowlands in north; some plains, hills, mountains, and narrow coastal belt.
Natural resources: Bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin, uranium, petroleum, hydropower, timber.
Land use: Arable land: 6.96%; permanent crops: 0.9%; other: 92.15% (2001).
Natural hazards: Recurring droughts in northeast; floods and occasional frost in south.

Illegal logging is causing environmental problems

Illegal logging is causing
environmental problems

Environment – current issues: Deforestation in the Amazon Basin destroys the habitat and endangers a multitude of plant and animal species indigenous to the area; there is a lucrative illegal wildlife trade; air and water pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large cities; land degradation and water pollution caused by improper mining activities; wetland degradation; severe oil spills.

Environment – international agreements: Party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling.

Economy: The three foundations of Brazil’s current economy are a floating exchange rate, an inflation-targeting regime, and tight fiscal policy, all reinforced by a series of IMF programs.

While economic reform has been significantly improved lately, there are variables that contribute to an unstable economy; a mixture of domestic and foreign debt in both the private and public sectors, a small export base and unmanageable and growing unemployment rate.

Brazil is however, one of the world’s largest economies with a well developed agricultural sector. It is the world’s largest producer of both oranges and coffee. Brazil possesses extensive hydro electric potential and is one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore. Achievements are often overshadowed by long standing economic and social woes.

An aerial view of endangered wetlands, the Pantanal

An aerial view of endangered
wetlands, the Pantanal

Gross Domestic Product: $8100.00 per person
GDP – real growth rate: 5.1% (2004 estimate)

Industries: Textiles, shoes, chemicals, cement, lumber, iron ore, tin, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, other machinery and equipment
Exports: Transport equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, coffee, automobiles.
Imports: Machinery, electrical and transport equipment, chemical products, oil.

Labour force: 89 million (2004 estimate)
Labour force by occupation: Agriculture 20%, industry 14%, services 66% (2003 estimate)

Unemployment rate: 11.5% (2004 estimate)
Currency: Real

Transnational Issues: There is an uncontested dispute with Uruguay over certain islands in the Quarai/Cuareim and Invernada boundary streams and the resulting tripoint with Argentina; in 2004 Brazil submitted its claims to UNCLOS to extend its maritime continental margin.

Sources: CIA World fact book,,, lonelyplanet.

Source : Al Jazeera

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