Language: Portuguese (official). Religions: Roman Catholicism, traditional Indian and African beliefs. Currency: real. Brazil may be divided into many regions, but the Amazon lowlands and the Brazilian Highlands (often called the Central Highlands or Central Plateau) dominate the landscape. The highlands, a plateau with an average elevation of 3,300 ft (1,000 m), are primarily in the southeast, while the Amazon lowlands, with elevations below 800 ft (250 m), are in the north. The AMAZON RIVER basin, with its more
than 1,000 known tributaries, comprises nearly half of the country's total area. Brazil's other rivers include the Sao Francisco, Parnaiba, PARAGUAY, Alto Parana, and URUGUAY, Except for the islands of Marajo and Caviana at the mouth of the Amazon and Maraca to the north, there are no large islands along the roughly 4,600 mi (7,400 km) of Brazil's Atlantic Ocean coast. There are good harbours at BELEM, Salvador, Rio DE JANEIRO, Santos, and Porto Alegre. The country's immense forests are a source of many products, while its savannas support cattle raising. Agriculture is important, and mineral reserves are large. Brazil has a developing market economy based mainly on manufacturing, financial services, and trade. It is a republic with two legislative houses; its chief of state and government is the president. Little is known about Brazil's early indigenous inhabitants, Though the area was theoretically allotted to Portugal by the 1494 Treaty of TORDESILLAS, it was not formally claimed by discovery until Portuguese navigator PEDRO ALVAREZ CABRAL accidentally touched land in 1500.
Brazil's large area is underlain by a diversity of geologic formations. Some of these structures contain rich and extensive ore deposits. The early Portuguese settlers discovered gold and diamonds and established mines to extract them. The more important minerals for manufacturing such as iron ore, bauxite, and ferroalloys are only now being extensively developed , It appears that Brazil holds vast quantities of many minerals.
There are several different physical environments within which many different crops are grown. In the north is the Amazon Basin with its rainy tropical climate and luxuriant rainforest. So far, much of the basin remains under traditional Indian land use. just to the south is a large area of tropical wet and dry cimate. Some of the wet and dry area is located at elevations above 2,000 feet (610 meters) with moderate temperatures that permit a combination of mid latitude and tropical crops to grow. Only the eastern part of the tropical wet and dry area is extensively used; the western part, like the Amazon Basin, is beyond the agricultural frontier. Southern Brazil has a mid latitude environment and is almost fully settled with mid latitude crops and animals dominating the agricultural scene.
Brazil was first settled by the Portuguese in the early 1530s on the northeastern coast and at Sao Vicente (near modern SAO PAULO); the French and Dutch created small settlements over the next century. A viceroyalty was established in 1640, and Rio de Janeiro became the capital in 1673. In 1808 Brazil became the refuge and seat of the government of John VI of Portugal when Napoleon I invaded Portugal ultimately the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarve was proclaimed, and John ruled from Brazil (1815-21). On John's return to Portugal, PEDRO I proclaimed Brazilian independence. In 1889 his successor, Pedro 11, was deposed, and a constitution mandating a federal republic was adopted, Beginning in the 20th century, immigration increased and manufacturing grew, and there were frequent military coups and suspensions of civil liberties. Construction of a new capital at BRASILIA, intended to spur development of the country's interior, worsened the inflation rate. After 1979 the military government began a gradual return to democratic practices, and in 1989 the first popular presidential election in 29 years was held. A severe economic crisis began in the late 1990s.
Brazil is increasingly urbanized. Presently, 70 percent of the population are urban dwellers; in 1940, 31 percent were urban and in 1960, 45 percent. Six urban areas have over I million inhabitants: Sao Paulo (11.1 million), Rio de Janeiro (10.2 million), Belo Horizonte (3.2 million), Recife (2.1 million), Salvador (2.1 million), and Porto Alegre (2.1 million). There are many other cities with over 100,000 people. The growth rate for most urban centers is between 4.5 and 6.0 percent; Brasilia, the new capital, is growing at the rate of 11.5 percent. With urbanization have come the problems of traffic congestion, deficiencies in public services, and air pollution.
One reason for Brazil's limited development has been the exploitative nature of the economy, From Portuguese colonization to the present, emphasis has been on derivation of maximum wealth in minimal time without regard to long term, stable growth. Several cycles of boom and bust economic activity have been experienced. Sugar cane in the Northeast was the first commodity of importance. Large plantations with African slaves yielded great profits to the owners in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For a long time, the Northeast was Brazil's most important region. The sugar industry eventually collapsed under stiff competition from other parts of Latin America, accelerated by the inability or lack of initiative to apply improved levels of technology used elsewhere. The second cycle was the push inland to the Brazilian Plateau north of Rio de Janeiro where gold and diamond deposits were discovered. The exploitation of these minerals led to partial settlement in the interior. Moreover, the discoveries encouraged other colonists to come to Brazil. Yet after the many surface ores were removed, there was an exodus from the area.
The rise of coffee in Brazil illustrates a method of land development that requires little money and is similar to the tenant owner agreement used in the Argentine Pampas. At the time coffee production began its great expansion, thousands of immigrants from Europe entered Brazil; most came to the southern half of the country as tenants on large fazendas (farms) whose owners were land rich but money poor. Between the owner and tenant, a working agreement was made that involved little or no cash. The tenant leased a portion of the fazenda, often uncleared land, on which he planted coffee bushes provided by the owner. For a period of years, the tenant tended the young plants and cultivated his own crops between rows of coffee. After five to seven years, the coffee bushes began to bear fruit, and the tenant moved on to another plot. In this manner an entire fazenda could be put to coffee with little capital; and once harvesting began, cash wage employment was available to the tenant and his family.
Today, Brazil is a nation of contrasts. The western half of the country is very sparsely populated, but the east and along the coast are densely settled. There is both a traditional and modern Brazil. Traditional Brazil is the rural and agricultural sector with the controlling landowner group of European extraction and the workers of European, African, and Indian stock. The workers are poor, often illiterate, and cultivate their small farms or work on large fazenda Lusing hand tools. Modern Brazil is urban and industrialized. Living levels are high, literacy is nearly universal, and machines have replaced muscles. In the south, modern Brazil includes mechanized grain farming areas. Almost all modern Brazilians are of European origin. The difference between traditional and modern Brazil is striking. A third contrast is the regional differences. Areally there are great variations in population and economic activity.
From the mad, debauched hedonism of Carnaval to the enormity of Amazonia's rain forests and rivers a nature lover's ultimate fantasy Brazil is a country of mythical proportions that ignites travelers' imaginations as few others can. It's famed for its hundreds of superb beaches a national passion enjoyed by just about everybody; for its intense musicality and rhythm for the beauty and skill of its soccer; and perhaps more than anything for its people's spontaneity, friendliness and lust for life.
The Amazon rainforest occupies 3.6 million
sq km in Brazil and 2.4 million sq km in neighboring countries. It's the world's largest tropical forest and most biologically diverse ecosystem, with 20% of the world's bird and plant species, 10% of mammals and 10 to 15 times as many fish species as Europe. By the year 2000, about 14% of the Brazilian Amazon rain forest had been completely destroyed by loggers, cattle ranchers, road builders, miners, hydroelectric schemes
and small settlers.
The Atlantic rain forest, along the
southeast facing stretch of Brazil's coast, has been reduced to 7% of its original area since European settlement. over half its tree species exist nowhere else.
Caatinga, the natural vegetation Of Much of the northeastern interior, is corriposed mainly of cacti and thorny shrubs. Cerrado typically savanna grasslands dotted with trees covers the central high plains. of Brazil, though more than half the original cerrado vegetation has been cleared. The Pantanal 230,000 sq km straddling Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay is the largest inland wetland on earth, and an enormously rich feeding ground for wildlife (it's better for actually seeing wildlife than Amazonia).
Over 350 areas are protected as national parks, state parks, extractive reserves (which are dedicated to protecting the way of life of a human population that is dependent on subsistence agriculture and traditional, sustainable extractive activities such as rubber tapping, fruit or nut collecting or fishing), and a variety of other categories. The amount of practical protection they actually receive is very variable because of lack of funding, corruption and other factors.