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Globe Open Map The Federative Republic of Brazil (Brazil, 2004) is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world (Brazilian Embassy in Washington, 2004).  It occupies 3,286,470 square miles (8,511,965 sq. kilometers), nearly half of the total area of the South American continent. It is only slightly smaller than the US.  Besides the Atlantic Ocean, along which it has a 4,578-mile (7,367 km) coastline, Brazil shares borders with Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guyana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela, all of which are Spanish-speaking nations.  Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America (Flags of the World, n.d.).

The Equator crosses Brazil in the far north and the Tropic of Capricorn crosses through the south near Sao Paolo.  Brazil is almost as wide (2,684 miles) as its length from north to south (2,731 miles). The six largest cities in Brazil (based on population) are São Paulo (10.4 million), Rio de Janeiro (5.8 million), Salvador (2.4 million), Belo Horizonte (2.2 million), Brasília (2 million) and Recife (1.4 million). Brazil has one of the largest river systems with eight drainage basins carrying approximately 20% of the world's fresh water.  The most famous of its rivers is the Amazon (Nationalgeographic.com, 2004a).

Flora and Fauna

Brazil’s renowned rainforests (which cover 58% of its land area) contain as many as 3000 species of broadleaf, evergreen trees per square mile (Nationalgeographic.com, 2004b).  The lowlands and plains along the eastern coast contain semi-deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the dry season.  Savannah grasslands interrupted by scrub trees are typical of the central plains of Brazil. Needle-leafed pinewoods cover most of the highlands in the south.  The Amazon Basin and the Pantanal Matto-Grossense swamplands in the western central plains are the two largest ecological reserves in the world.

Brazil is a naturalists’ paradise (Embassy of Brazil in London, 2005a).  The numbers of mammal, bird, fish and other biological species (under “Fauna”) are not known: some scientific estimates range from 800,000 to 5,000,000 in the Amazon basin alone (Embassy of Brazil—Ottawa n.d.)!  There are, for instance, over 1,600 species of birds and 600 species of mammals in Brazil. 


Brazil has five climate zones ranging from semi-arid to equatorial to highland tropical (South Travels, n.d.).  Ironically, the popular image of the Amazon as one of hot, stifling weather, is not supported by the reality: the region’s average annual temperatures range between 72º F and 79º F.  Sixty percent of Brazil’s population lives in areas that have a temperate climate.  Although there is heavy rain in the upper regions of the Amazon basin and at the mouth of this great river, most of Brazil has moderate rainfall, averaging 39 to 59 inches per year.  Due to its location relative to the equator, seasons in Brazil are the reverse of those in the United States and most of the rain falls during their summer (December 22 to March 21).

The variations in weather (U.S. Library of Congress, 1997b) contribute to differences in lifestyle.  The cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília enjoy moderate temperatures despite being close to the equator because they are at higher elevations (U.S. Library of Congress, 1997b). Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Salvador have warm climates because of their coastal locations. In the south, the climate is considered subtropical. The temperature can drop below freezing in winter.


Brazil has no written history (History of Brazil, 2004) prior to the arrival of European explorers in the early sixteenth century (Meade, 2003) .  However, it is estimated that seven-million indigenous people (Geographia, 2003) inhabited the land when the first Portuguese (Geographia, 2003) expedition, headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral (Doyle, 2004), arrived in Brazil on April 22, 1500 (Boxer, 1991).

The colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese lasted until 1882, when Brazil demanded independence from Portugal (Albuquerque, Guedes, & Lombardi, 1990). The insurrection was led by Dom Pedro I (Pedro I of Brazil, 2005) the elder son of King D. João VI of Portugal, who went on to proclaim himself Emperor of Brazil.  Faced with widespread opposition to his rule, he abdicated the throne in 1831 to his son, Dom Pedro II (Pedro II of Brazil, 2005) and returned to Portugal (Burns, 1993) .  Despite his efforts to industrialize Brazil and abolish slavery, Brazilians rejected his rule as well, and he was deposed in November, 1889 by Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca who became the first President of the Republic of Brazil (Deodoro de Fonesca, 2004).

Brazil’s journey towards democracy has been challenging at times (Silva & Malferrari, 2001). Brazilians have experienced long periods of authoritarian military regime and shorter periods of democratic administration (Schneider, 1996) . A civilian government, established in 1985 under President José Sarney, ratified a democratic constitution (List of Presidents of Brazil, 2004).

In 1988, a federal constitution (Constitution Of The Federative Republic Of Brazil, 1988) was adopted, and the establishment of a democratic multi-party political system. This brought social stability and economic progress to Brazil (Cardoso, 2002) . The current President of Brazil is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva , described as a left-wing politician despite his centrist policies (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva 2004).  He was elected by 61.2% of the vote during the election held in 2002.

Political Organization

Flag of the BrazilBrazil is divided into twenty-seven administrative regions, encompassing twenty-six states and one federal district in which the capital (Brasília, 2004), Brasília (Areal, n.d.), is located.  The federal government is comprised of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches (Politics of Brazil, 2004).  The President, who is the Chief of State and the Head of the Government, leads the Executive branch.  The President and Vice-President run on the same ticket and are elected by popular vote for a term of four years.  They are limited to serving for two terms. 

The Legislature or National Congress is a bicameral body comprised of the Senate (3 senators for each administrative region elected by popular vote with staggered 8-year terms) and a Chamber of Deputies (513 elected to four-year terms by proportional representation).

Federal, state and municipal court systems make up the judiciary branch of the government (U.S. Library of Congress, 1997d).  The 1988 Constitution established the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the power of constitutional review without requiring matters to be reached through appeal and can also issue warrants of injunction to ensure constitutional rights that are not protected by specific legislation. The 11 judges to the Federal Supreme Court are appointed for life by the President and are subject to approval by the Senate.


Brazil’s economy is the ninth largest in the world (Economy of Brazil, 2004).  According to the World Bank (2005), Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2003 was US$492.3 billion. Brazil’s economy is expanding into world markets with well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors.  The formation in 1995 of a customs union and a partial free-trade zone, known as the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) has provided a lucrative market at its doorstep (Brazilian Embassy in Washington, 2004d). The official currency is the Real (Real, 2004).

Brazil has an abundance of natural resources in terms of agricultural productivity (U. S. Library of Congress, 1997f) and mineral deposits (U. S. Library of Congress, 1997g). Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee in the world.  It is also among the largest producers of soybeans, corn, grains, citrus fruits, Brazil nuts and cashew nuts (Embassy of Brazil—Ottawa, n.d.a.). 

There has been significant expansion in the commercial production of oranges and beef (Embassy of Brazil—Ottawa, n.d.a.). It has the world’s sixth largest deposit of iron ore as well as among the largest reserves of bauxite, nickel, potassium, phosphates, and tungsten.  It also has significant reserves of precious metals and is one of the five largest producers of precious gems such as diamonds, emeralds and aquamarines in the world (Embassy of Brazil—Ottawa, n.d.c.).

Industry accounts for approximately 21% of Brazil’s GDP in 2002 (The World Bank Group, 2004).  Major industries (besides those based on agricultural raw materials) include cement, chemicals, motor vehicles and other machinery, textiles and shoes (Economy of Brazil, 2004). 

The existence of so many rivers has enabled Brazil to generate 92% of its energy requirements from hydroelectricity (Embassy of Brazil—Ottawa, n.d.b.).  It is significant to note that much of its potential remains presently untapped. 

Brazilians may argue that they pioneered air flight four years before the Wright brothers in the United States (Impacto, Influencia, Cambio, n.d.)!  Be that as it may, the United States is one of the largest purchasers of Embraer designed and manufactured aircraft.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Brazilian economy is that of the dramatic rise in the services sector, which accounted for approximately 73% of its GDP in 2002 (The World Bank Group, 2004).  Banking and financial services make up the bulk of this sector of the economy.

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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