Saturday, September 18, 2021

Brazil | Introduction

South AmericaBrazilBrazil | Introduction

Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in South America and Latin America. It is the fifth largest country in the world by area and population, the largest country to have Portuguese as its official language and the only one in the Americas. Bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil has a coastline of 7,491 km (4,655 mi). It borders all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile, and covers 47.3% of the continent’s land area. The Amazon watershed encompasses a vast rainforest with diverse wildlife, a variety of ecological systems, and vast natural resources that extend over many protected habitats. This unique environmental heritage makes Brazil one of the 17 megadiverse countries and is generating considerable global interest and debate on deforestation and environmental protection.

Brazil was inhabited by many tribal peoples before the explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in 1500 and claimed the territory for the Portuguese empire. Brazil remained a Portuguese colony until 1808, when the capital of the empire was transferred from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. In 1815, the colony was elevated to a kingdom with the creation of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. Independence was achieved in 1822 with the creation of the Empire of Brazil, a unitary state governed by a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system. The ratification of the first constitution in 1824 led to the formation of a bicameral legislature, now called the National Congress. The country became a presidential republic in 1889 after a military coup. An authoritarian military junta took power in 1964 and ruled until 1985, when a civilian government was reinstated. Brazil’s current constitution, formulated in 1988, defines the country as a federal democratic republic. The federation is made up of the union of the federal district, the 26 states and the 5,570 municipalities.

Brazil’s economy is the ninth largest in the world by nominal GDP and the seventh largest by GDP (PPP) in 2015. As a member of the BRICS group, Brazil had one of the fastest growing economies in the world until 2010. Its economic reforms have given the country new international recognition and influence. Brazil’s national development bank plays an important role in the country’s economic growth. Brazil is a founding member of the United Nations, G20, BRICS, Unasul, Mercosul, Organization of American States, Organization of Ibero-American States, CPLP and the Latin Union. Brazil is a regional power in Latin America and a middle power in international affairs, with some analysts identifying it as an emerging global power. Brazil is one of the world’s major breadbaskets and has been the largest producer of coffee for 150 years.


Throughout its history, Brazil has absorbed many different peoples and practices. Brazil is a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups, which mitigates somewhat against ethnic prejudice and racial conflict, although the long slavery and even genocide of indigenous peoples has taken its toll. Prejudice is generally directed against different social classes rather than between races. Nevertheless, race, as referred to by skin colour, remains a divisive factor in Brazilian society, and it is noticeable that skin generally becomes darker as one moves down the social ladder: the upper class rich tend to be white; many members of the middle class are mixed race and the majority of the poor are black. Today, however, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindians are increasingly aware of their civil rights and rich cultural heritage, and can expect to achieve social mobility through education.

In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While southerners may be considered a bit more chill and reserved, Rio’s northerners can boast a lively attitude and an appreciation for leisure.

Friendship and hospitality are highly valued by Brazilians, and family ties and social interactions are highly valued. To people they already know, or at least know their names, Brazilians are generally very open, friendly and sometimes even generous. Once introduced, a typical Brazilian will treat you as warmly as they would a best friend until they have a good reason not to. Brazilians are reputed to be one of the most hospitable people in the world and foreigners are generally treated with respect and often with genuine admiration. That said, tourism in Brazil, as in most countries of the world, brings out the darker side of humanity.

Attitudes towards foreigners may also be subject to regional differences:

  • The state of Santa Catarina welcomes its Spanish-speaking tourists with bilingual signs and welcome committees.
  • In Salvador, the largest city in the north-east, anyone who talks, acts or looks like a tourist (even other Brazilians!) can be charged higher prices, especially in car parks, restaurants, etc.

Most Brazilians are honest and genuinely nice, but many are used to small acts of corruption in everyday life, known as jeitinho brasileiro. If you obviously look like a tourist, you are a potential target; for example, a vendor may try to sell goods at higher prices, or a taxi driver may choose the longest route to your destination. This doesn’t mean that you can’t trust anyone, just that you should be a little more vigilant and careful, especially if someone seems too friendly.

While the ‘Western’ roots of Brazilian culture are largely European, especially Iberian, as evidenced by the colonial cities and historic buildings scattered among the new skyscrapers, there has been a strong trend in recent decades towards a more ‘American’ way of life, manifested in urban culture and architecture, mass media, consumerism and a positive attitude towards technological progress. Nevertheless, Brazil remains a nation that looks to the Atlantic rather than to Hispanic America, and the intellectual elites look to Europe, especially France, for inspiration rather than the United States. Many aspects of Brazilian society, such as the educational system, are inspired by the French and may, at first glance, seem alien to the North American visitor.

Brazilians are not Hispanic. Some may be offended if a visitor says so, or believe that Brazilians have Spanish as their main language. Visitors will be welcomed more warmly if they try to start a conversation in Portuguese. If the visitor speaks Spanish to Brazilians, they may respond in Portuguese.

The contrasts of this vast country fascinate and shock most visitors, especially Europeans, in equal measure. The indifference of many inhabitants to social, economic and environmental problems can be disconcerting to visitors who are used to dealing with these issues at home. While an elite of well-educated professionals and the political class share the comforts of modern society, even in cities blessed with economic growth and significant foreign investment, such as São Paulo or Rio, child labour, illiteracy and conspicuously substandard housing are still present.

While Brazilians recognise that their self-sufficiency in raw materials, agriculture and energy sources is a considerable advantage for the future, they agree that it will be difficult to escape poverty and underdevelopment without huge changes in education and access to entrepreneurship for all.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has faced a growing wave of immigration from China, Bolivia and Haiti.

Time zones

Time zones can be confusing in Brazil. The country spans four standard time zones, from UTC-2 to UTC-5, in Brazilian terms “Brasilia time -2” to “Brasilia time +1”. As a general rule, the central and south-eastern states of the country observe daylight saving time (clocks are set forward one hour), while the others do not. Visitors from the northern hemisphere should also bear in mind that Brazil is south of the equator and that daylight saving time is applied at a very different time of year from what they are used to – from October to February.

  • Brasilia Time +1 (UTC-2): Fernando de Noronha and some other small islands in the Atlantic. There is no daylight saving time in this time zone.
  • Brasilia time (UTC-3): Southeast, South, Northeast, Goiás, Distrito Federal, Tocantins, Pará, Amapá. Daylight saving time is observed in Goiás, Distrito Federal and in the South-East and South regions.
  • Brasilia Time -1 (UTC-4): Roraima, Eastern Amazon, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul. The last two states observe daylight saving time.
  • Brasilia time -2 (UTC-5): Acre, Western Amazon. None of these places observe daylight saving time.


In Brazil, tourism is a growing sector and a key element of the economy in several regions of the country. The country welcomed 5 million visitors in 2010 and ranks as the second largest destination in South America and third in Latin America after Mexico and Argentina in terms of international tourist arrivals. International tourism receipts reached US$6 billion in 2010, showing a recovery from the 2008-2009 economic crisis, and historic records of 5.4 million visitors and US$6.8 billion in receipts were set in 2011.

Natural areas are the most popular tourism product, a combination of ecotourism with leisure and relaxation activities, mainly sun and beach, as well as adventure travel and cultural tourism. The most popular destinations are the Amazon rainforest, the beaches and dunes of the north-eastern region, the Pantanal in the central-western region, the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina, cultural tourism in Minas Gerais and business travel in the city of São Paulo.

In relation to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2015, which measures the factors that make it attractive to do business in each country’s travel and tourism industry, Brazil is ranked 28th in the world. Brazil’s main competitive advantages are its natural resources, which rank 1st of all countries considered for this criterion, and 23rd for its cultural resources, thanks to its many World Heritage sites. The TTCI report highlights Brazil’s main weaknesses: Land transport infrastructure remains underdeveloped (ranked 116), with road quality ranked 105; and the country continues to suffer from a lack of price competitiveness (ranked 114), partly due to high ticket taxes and airport fees, as well as high prices and taxes. Safety and security have improved considerably, ranking 75th in 2011, up from 128th in 2008.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international travel to Brazil accelerated in 2000, particularly in 2004 and 2005, but slowed down in 2006 and international arrivals hardly increased in 2007-2008. Despite this trend, international tourism receipts continued to increase from US$4 billion in 2005 to US$5 billion in 2007, despite 330,000 fewer arrivals. This favourable trend is the result of the sharp depreciation of the US dollar against the Brazilian real that began in 2004, making Brazil a more expensive international destination. This trend changed in 2009, when visitor numbers and revenues declined due to the great recession of 2008-09. In 2010, the sector recovered and arrivals surpassed 2006 levels to reach 5.2 million international visitors, and revenues from these visitors reached US$6 billion. In 2011, the all-time record was set with 5.4 million visitors and US$6.8 billion in revenue.

Despite record revenues from international tourism, the number of Brazilian tourists travelling abroad has increased steadily since 2003, resulting in a negative net foreign exchange balance, as Brazilians spend more money abroad than international tourists visit Brazil. Tourist spending abroad rose from US$5.8 billion in 2006 to US$8.2 billion in 2007, an increase of 42%, resulting in a net deficit of US$3.3 billion in 2007. This trend is due to Brazilians taking advantage of the strong real to travel and spend abroad at a relatively low price. Brazilians who travelled abroad in 2006 represented 4% of the country’s population.

In 2005, tourism contributed 3.2% of the country’s revenue from the export of goods and services and accounted for 7% of direct and indirect employment in the Brazilian economy. In 2006, direct employment in this sector reached 1.9 million people. Domestic tourism is a fundamental market segment for the sector, as 51 million people travelled in the country in 2005 and the direct income of Brazilian tourists reached 22 billion dollars, 5.6 times more than the income of international tourists in 2005.

In 2005, Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, São Paulo, Florianópolis and Salvador were the most visited cities by international tourists for leisure travel. The most popular destinations for business travel were São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre. In 2006, Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza were the most popular destinations for business travel.


Brazil occupies a vast area along the east coast of South America and encompasses much of the interior of the continent. It is bordered by Uruguay to the south, Argentina and Paraguay to the southwest, Bolivia and Peru to the west, Colombia to the northwest, and Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and France (French overseas region of Guyana) to the north. It shares a border with all South American countries except Ecuador and Chile. It also includes a number of oceanic island groups, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, the rocks of St. Peter and Paul, and Trindade and Martim Vaz. Its size, relief, climate and natural resources make Brazil a geographically diverse country. With its Atlantic islands, Brazil extends between latitudes 6°N and 34°S and longitudes 28° and 74°W.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the third largest in the Americas, with a total area of 8,515,767.049 km2 (3,287,956 sq mi), of which 55,455 km2 (21,411 sq mi) is water. It spans four time zones: from UTC-5, which includes the state of Acre and the westernmost part of the Amazon, to UTC-4 in the western states, to UTC-3 in the eastern states (the national time), and to UTC-2 in the Atlantic islands.

Brazil is the only country in the world crossed by the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is also the only country with contiguous territory both inside and outside the tropics. Brazil’s topography is also diverse and includes hills, mountains, plains, highlands and scrubland. Much of the terrain lies between 200 and 800 m above sea level. The main upland area occupies most of the southern half of the country. The north-western parts of the plateau consist of a broad, rolling terrain punctuated by low, rounded hills.

The south-eastern part is more rugged, with a complex mass of ridges and mountain ranges that reach heights of up to 1,200 metres (3,900 feet). These ranges include the Mantiqueira and Espinhaço mountains and the Serra do Mar. To the north, the highlands of Guyana form a major watershed that separates the rivers flowing south into the Amazon basin from those flowing north into the Orinoco system in Venezuela. The highest point in Brazil is Pico da Neblina at 2,994 metres, the lowest is the Atlantic Ocean.

Brazil has a dense and complex river system, one of the largest in the world, with eight major river basins, all of which flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The main rivers are the Amazon (the second longest river in the world and the largest in terms of water volume), the Paraná and its main tributary the Iguaçu (with the Iguazu Falls), the Negro, the São Francisco, the Xingu, the Madeira and the Tapajós.


Brazil’s population was approximately 190 million in 2008 according to PNAD (22.31 inhabitants per square kilometre or 57.8/km²), with a male/female ratio of 0.95:1 and 83.75% of the population defined as urban. The population is heavily concentrated in the South-East (79.8 million inhabitants) and the North-East (53.5 million inhabitants), while the two largest regions, the Centre-West and the North, which together represent 64.12% of the Brazilian territory, have only 29.1 million inhabitants.

The first census in Brazil took place in 1872 and recorded a population of 9,930,478. Between 1880 and 1930, 4 million Europeans arrived. Between 1940 and 1970, Brazil’s population increased significantly due to a decline in the mortality rate, although the birth rate declined slightly. In the 1940s, the annual population growth rate was 2.4%, rising to 3.0% in the 1950s and remaining at 2.9% in the 1960s, while life expectancy rose from 44 to 54 years and to 72.6 years in 2007. It has declined steadily since the 1960s, from 3.04% per year between 1950 and 1960 to 1.05% in 2008, and is expected to fall to a negative rate of -0.29% by 2050, completing the demographic transition.

In 2008, the illiteracy rate was 11.48% and 1.74% among young people (15-19 years). It was highest (20.30%) in the North East, where there is a large proportion of rural poor. The illiteracy rate was high in the rural population (24.18%) and lower in the urban population (9.05%).

Race and ethnicity

According to the 2008 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), 48.43% of the population (about 92 million) identified themselves as white; 43.80% (about 83 million) as pardo (brown); 6.84% (about 13 million) as black; 0.58% (about 1.1 million) as Asian; and 0.28% (about 536 thousand) as Amerindian (officially called indígena), while 0.07% (about 130 thousand) did not indicate their race.

In 2007, the National Indian Foundation estimated that there were 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. Brazil is considered the country with the largest number of uncontacted peoples in the world.

Since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s, there has been considerable racial mixing between Americans, Europeans and Africans in all parts of the country (with European ancestry dominating by 65% to 77% nationally according to the vast majority of all autosomal studies conducted for the entire population).

Brazilian society is more divided along class lines, although there is a significant income gap between racial groups, so that racism and classism can be confused. Socially significant proximity to a racial group is considered on the basis of appearance (phenotypes) rather than ancestry, as complete siblings may belong to different ‘racial’ groups. Socio-economic factors are also important, as a minority of Pardos are likely to identify themselves as White or Black as they move up the social ladder. Skin colour and facial features do not entirely correspond to ancestry (in general, Afro-Brazilians are uniformly mixed and European ancestry is dominant among Whites and Pardos with a significant non-European contribution, but individual variation is high).

The brown population (officially called pardo in Portuguese, colloquially moreno) is a broad category that includes caboclos (assimilated Americans in general and descendants of whites and natives), mulatos (descendants of whites and Afro-Brazilians mainly) and cafuzos (descendants of Afro-Brazilians and natives). People with considerable Amerindian ancestry form the majority of the population in the northern, north-eastern and central-western regions.

Higher percentages of blacks, mulattos and triracials are found on the east coast of the northeast region, from Bahia to Paraíba, as well as in northern Maranhão, southern Minas Gerais and eastern Rio de Janeiro. From the 19th century onwards, Brazil opened its borders to immigration. About five million people from more than 60 countries immigrated to Brazil between 1808 and 1972, most of them of Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arab origin.


Religion in Brazil emerged from the confluence of the Catholic Church with the religious traditions of enslaved African and indigenous peoples. This confluence of beliefs during the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil led to the development of a variety of syncretic practices within the Brazilian Catholic Church, characterised by traditional Portuguese festivals and, in some cases, the spiritualism of Allan Kardec (a religion containing elements of spiritualism and Christianity). Religious pluralism increased in the 20th century, and the Protestant community reached over 22% of the population. The most widespread Protestant denominations are the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals. Other Protestant branches with a significant presence in the country are the Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans and the Reformed tradition.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith in the country. Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world. According to the 2000 census (the PNAD survey does not ask about religion), 73.57% of the population is a follower of Roman Catholicism; 15.41% of Protestantism; 1.33% of Cardecist spiritualism; 1.22% other Christian denominations; 0.31% Afro-Brazilian religions; 0.13% Buddhism; 0.05% Judaism; 0.02% Islam; 0.01% Amerindian religions; 0.59% other religions, undeclared or undetermined; while 7.35% have no religion.

In the last decade, however, Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, has become more widespread in Brazil, while the proportion of Catholics has decreased considerably. After Protestantism, people who do not profess any religion are also an important group, representing more than 7% of the population in the 2000 census. The cities of Boa Vista, Salvador and Porto Velho have the largest percentage of non-religious residents in Brazil. Teresina, Fortaleza and Florianópolis are the most Catholic in the country. Greater Rio de Janeiro, excluding the city itself, is the most irreligious and least Catholic peripheral region in Brazil, while Greater Porto Alegre and Greater Fortaleza are at the opposite end of the spectrum.


Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, the eighth largest economy in the world at market exchange rates and the seventh largest in purchasing power parity (PPP), according to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Brazil has a mixed economy with abundant natural resources. After rapid growth in previous decades, the country fell into a prolonged recession in 2014 amid political corruption scandals and nationwide protests.

GDP per capita (PPP) was US$15,048 in 2016, ranking Brazil 77th in the world, according to the IMF. Brazil is active in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services, with over 107 million workers (6th in the world) and an unemployment rate of 6.2% (64th in the world).

The country has expanded its presence in international financial and commodity markets and is part of a group of four emerging economies known as the BRIC countries. Brazil has been the world’s leading coffee producer for 150 years. It is now the fourth largest automotive market in the world. Major exports include aircraft, electrical equipment, automobiles, ethanol, textiles, footwear, iron ore, steel, coffee, orange juice, soybeans and corned beef. Overall, Brazil ranks 23rd in the world in terms of export value.

Brazil pegged its currency, the real, to the US dollar in 1994. However, following the East Asian financial crisis, the Russian default in 1998 and the series of negative financial events that followed, the Brazilian central bank temporarily changed its monetary policy to a managed float, while it experienced a currency crisis until it finally adopted a floating exchange rate regime in January 1999.

Brazil received a $30.4 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund in mid-2002, a record amount at the time. The Brazilian central bank repaid the IMF loan in 2005, although it was not due until 2006. One of the problems the Brazilian central bank has faced recently is the excess of speculative short-term capital inflows into the country, which may have contributed to the decline in the value of the US dollar against the real during this period. Nevertheless, foreign direct investment (FDI), which refers to long-term and less speculative investment in the manufacturing sector, is estimated at $193.8 billion in 2007. Inflation monitoring and control currently play an important role in the central bank’s role in setting short-term interest rates as a measure of monetary policy.

Between 1993 and 2010, 7012 mergers and acquisitions with a total known value of USD 707 billion involving Brazilian companies were announced. The year 2010 was a new record in terms of value with USD 115 billion worth of transactions. The largest transaction involving Brazilian companies was Cia Vale do Rio Doce’s acquisition of Inco in a takeover bid worth USD 18.9 billion.

Corruption costs Brazil alone almost $41 billion a year. 69.9% of the country’s businesses see this issue as a major obstacle to successful global market penetration. Corruption in local government is so widespread that voters only perceive it as a problem when it exceeds a certain level and local media, such as a radio station, publicise the results of corruption allegations. Initiatives such as this exposure raise awareness, as shown by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranked Brazil 69th out of 178 countries in 2012. Purchasing power in Brazil is absorbed by the so-called cost of Brazil.