(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
With an area of 3.3 million square miles, Brazil is the largest country in the world located in the tropics. It covers a large part of eastern and central South America and is bordered by 10 countries, which is every nation on the continent except Chile and Ecuador. This number is exceeded only by Russia with 14. Brazil is famous for its beaches and soccer. There are many other interesting facts about this country.
Due to its size, Brazil’s terrain is quite diverse. The semiarid north-east contrasts with the Pantanal region in the central west which is the world’s largest wetlands area and where 80 per cent of the land is flooded in the wet season. Nearly half the country is occupied by the Amazon Rainforest, extending across the north. This region has the greatest biological diversity in the world with an estimated four million plant and animal species. The Amazon Basin has a fifth of the world’s fresh water and is one of eight major drainage systems in the country, all emptying into the Atlantic. The Amazon River carries more than ten times as much water as the Mississippi.
Five climatic types are identified in Brazil: equatorial, tropical, highland tropical, temperate, and semiarid. The equatorial climate of the rainforest area includes rain and warm temperatures throughout the year, with rainfall usually exceeding 80 inches annually. Temperature extremes are more common in the temperate zones in the south and can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The south also has cooler temperatures, sometimes with frosts and snow in higher areas. The semiarid north-east has less than 30 inches of rain a year, most of it falling over 3-5 months.
Amerindians have lived in the region for thousands of years. About three million lived there in 2,000 nations and tribes when Portuguese colonization began in the sixteenth century. Portugal made Rio de Janeiro its capital from 1808 to 1815 due to the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Brazil achieved independence in 1822 with Dom Pedro its first emperor. The country became a republic in 1889 and periods of military rule were interspersed with democracy of sorts. Economic progress was fast-tracked during Juscelino Kubitschek’s presidency from 1956 to 1961 with the slogan ‘fifty years development in five.’ Critics called it ‘forty years inflation in four.’
Brazil’s population of 190 million people is made up of many races and ethnic groups. Nearly half the population is white and a further 42 per cent are pardo, or brown, describing those of mixed white, black, and Amerindian descent. A further 7 per cent are black, 0.5 per cent are Asian, and 0.4 per cent are Amerindian. Except for the US, the black population of 13 million is the largest in a country outside Africa. Brazil has the largest number of people of Italian heritage outside Italy and the largest number of Japanese descent outside Japan. After the US, it has the second highest number of people of German background outside Germany.
The culture of Brazil is strongly Portuguese but with significant Amerindian and African influences as well as Spanish, Italian, German, Arabic, and Japanese, making it a multicultural society. The country’s national dish is whole feijoada, a stew made of meat and beans. The Brazilian Carnival is an annual celebration held just before Ash Wednesday with spectacular parades and other events throughout the country. Nearly three-quarters of the population are Roman Catholic. Christ the Redeemer statue, perched high on a mountain above Rio de Janeiro, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Brazil has won the World Cup of soccer a record five times.
Along with China, India and Russia, Brazil is regarded as one of the four large emerging economies known as BRICs, an acronym from the first letter of the name of each country. It is already the world’s ninth largest economy based on purchasing power and has an annual output of US$2 trillion. Despite this, 23.5 per cent of Brazilians live below the poverty line. The nation received a $30 billion IMF loan in 2002 and was able to repay it by 2005, a year early. Brazil is currently spending $300 billion over four years to upgrade its roads, ports, and power plants.
Government and politics
Brazil was a colony before becoming an empire and then a republic. It has been under military rule from time to time and is currently a democracy. There are 15 political parties in Congress and politicians often switch parties. To become a judge, lawyers compete in an examination. Superior court justices are appointed for life and all judges must retire by 70. The country has had seven constitutions, starting in 1824, two years after independence. Its second constitution in 1891 didn’t allow women or illiterates to vote. It was canceled in 1930 and Brazil had no constitution. However, the Constitutional Revolution in 1932 finally resulted in a new one in 1934 which included women’s suffrage.
Transport and communication
Brazil has an enormous number of airports, with over 4,000, second only to the US. It has extensive rail and road networks, although only 5.5 per cent of its roads are paved. For tourists traveling into the country by bus, it is much cheaper to buy a ticket in another South American country to the border, walk across it, and buy another ticket on the Brazilian side, rather than buy an international ticket. Piracy remains a significant problem offshore in the Atlantic. The country has 1,800 radio stations, third behind the US and France. There are 50 million internet users, placing it sixth in the world.