Brazil Highlights: Overview of Politics, Economy and Geography of Brazil

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 You never really know someone until you go and live with them. This is true not only for people but for countries; different perspectives are gained from being the outsider looking in on the country and physically being in the country.

From the outset Brazil looks vast, tropical and scenic; the amazing beaches, the beautiful women, the soccer enthusiasts, and the exotic fruits all create a colorful image in our heads of the samba nation but did you know Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery? Read on to find out all the basic facts about the biggest nation in South America including the country’s history and governmental system.

Location

Brazil lies on the central east coast of the continent of South America and is by far the largest country, covering nearly half of the continent. It has 26 states and one federal district of which the capital is Brasilia. Due to its vast land mass the country is also divided into five regions – North, Northeast, South, Southeast and Mid-West.

Brazil is the fifth largest country by geographical mass in the world and the fifth most populated country in the world with the latest census revealing there are over 190 million people living in Brazil. The largest cities are São Paulo (11 million), Rio de Janeiro (6 million) and Salvador (2 million).

Geography

The equator passes through Brazil in the very north, giving rise to a tropical climate and in the south more of a temperate climate is experienced. The expansive land mass of Brazil, 8,515,767 km² makes the type of climate hard to define and although most of the country experiences good weather there can be frost in the south of the country and rain throughout the country especially in summer.

The warm weather and mostly tropical climate allows Brazil to produce many products which are exported all over the world today. Sugar cane and coffee plantations synonymous with Brazil as well as well-renowned fruits such as oranges, bananas and mangos are grown and exported worldwide. Brazil is recognized as the largest producer of coffee in the world.

A huge agricultural area of Brazil is the Amazon which covers a large area of Brazil (40%) and it represents more than half of the planet’s remaining rainforests. However it is getting smaller due to deforestation and it is thought that a size of a football field of the forest is destroyed every second. Geographical researchers and tourists ascend on the Amazon for its uniqueness and vast amounts of species of plants and animals. It is believed that one-third of all known species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest so it is clear why it has become a designated area for scientific researchers. There are over 2,100 species of fish to be found in the Amazon River which is the second largest river in the world at approximately 4,000 miles long.

The river enters into the Atlantic Ocean which extends 4,500 miles on Brazil’s east coastline. Due to the lengthy coastline there are 2095 beaches to be found in Brazil. The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are the most renowned worldwide but there are many hidden gems including the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. It consists of 21 islands situated 354 kilometers off the north of Brazil and is a World Heritage site because of its high population of resident dolphins and endangered animals.

On the west of the country Brazil is bordered by the following South American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname,Uruguay and Venezuela.

Also the terrain of Brazil is made up of mostly flat to rolling lowlands, some plains, mountains and a narrow coastal belt. The size of Brazil is evident with the knowledge that the country spans three time zones and it can take up to a five hours plane journey to travel from one side of Brazil to the other.

Regions

Brazil is divided in 5 separate regions: North, Northeast, Mid-West, Southeast and South. Each of them encompass a varying number of states, and their characteristics are also distinguishable, in part due to the weather, in part due to the history of immigration.

The North region is comprised of the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins. Although it is the largest region of Brazil, it’s the least populated. Its economy is based in natural resource exploitation and mineral extraction.

The Northeast region encompasses the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe. Its economy is based on the industrial concentration in the coastal area and for agricultural activities in the rest of the region.

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The Mid-West region is composed by Goiás, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. It’s one of the least populated regions, and its economy is based on agriculture, especially production of soya, corn and beef.

The Southeast encompasses the states of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and is responsible for the greatest economic output of the country, as well as half of the nation’s GDP. It also has a modern agriculture and oil production, and concentrates the most part of the population.

The South region is formed by the states of Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina and is the smallest in area. It has the second largest industrial park of the country, and a modern agriculture.

Language

Portuguese is the main language of Brazil. It derives from back when Portugal colonized Brazil in the 16th century and they made it the official language. It is the only Portuguese speaking country in Latin America, differentiating it from its bordering Spanish speaking countries, and language is one of the main elements which unite citizens.

The difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and the Portuguese spoken in Portugal is about the same as the difference between the English spoken in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Within Brazil there are no dialects of Portuguese just some minor variations in pronunciation and accents. The fact that the mass media is viewed by the majority of Brazilians tends to diminish the variations of Portuguese throughout Brazil.

Foreign languages are not widely spoken in Brazil due to the country’s huge size, self-sufficiency and relative isolation and as a tourist a basic level of Portuguese is recommended. Spanish is relatively similar to Portuguese and it can be basically understood to a certain extent but more emphasis is placed on the English language in school and there are many private schools offering English courses. Even though Brazil’s neighbor countries speak Spanish, the need for English for business related purposes and the fact that English is the most widely spoken language in the world puts the priority on learning English as a second language.

Currency

The currency used in Brazil is the real. The symbol R$ and ISO code is BRL. One real is equal to 100 centavos. The modern real was introduced in 1994 to try and stabilize the Brazilian economy and it was worth exactly one USD on the day it was introduced, but it has been continuously fluctuating throughout the years. The exchange history between the USD and the real is currently at over US$ 2 for every BRL 1, but it is known to have been over USD 3 for every BRL 1 in the past.

The current inflation rate in Brazil is 6.27%, making goods more expensive and significantly increasing the cost of living.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Brazil, as with most countries varies depending on whether you are living in a city or in the suburbs. The minimum wage is BRL 678 (USD 287) which is due to increase to BRL 722.90 (USD 306.66) from January 2014.

Some examples of the costs of goods in São Paulo, one of the most expensive cities in Brazil, are:

  •     A one way bus/train ticket – BRL 3
  •     Milk 1 liter – BRL 2.50
  •     Loaf of bread – BRL 4.50
  •     Meal for two – mid range restaurant – BRL 70
  •     Cinema ticket – BRL 18
  •     Jeans – BRL 200
  •     Nike shoes – BRL 350

Brazil is a very self-sufficient country; it would rather produce products nationally than import foreign products. For this reason it is a very closed economy. The costs of foreign produced (imported) goods are considerably higher and expensive to buy which deters shoppers and as a result the quantity of foreign-made goods that you will find in stores is very low. Even goods that look authentic are more than likely Brazilian replicas rather than the real imported good; this is especially true with food.

Religion

Even with the range of nationalities that have settled in Brazil, religion has remained relatively steady with over 90% of the population belonging to the religion of Christianity. Brazil is known to have the world’s largest Catholic population.

Statistics show that of the 190 million population:

  •     64,63% are Catholic
  •     22,16% are Protestant
  •     8,04% claim to be irreligious
  •     2,02% are Spiritualists
  •     0,31% belong to umbanda or candomblé
  •     2,72% belong to other religions
  •     0,1% declared not to know to which religion they belonged.

The history of the religion of Brazil is mainly due to the European settlers and in the 19th century Catholicism was made the official religion of Brazil. Umbanda started in Brazil when African slaves were taken to the country, in the 16th century. Candomblé is a Brazilian region which have influences from African and European rituals.

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Brazil’s constitution establishes a secular government, where citizens are free to choose their religion.

Political Government

Brazil is a federal republic ruled by a president who at present is a lady; Dilma Rouseff. The political and administrative organization of Brazil comprises the federal government, the states, the federal district and the municipalities.

Federal Government

At the very top of the political government system and where the most power lies is with the federal government. The federal government of Brazil can be divided into three tiers; this includes the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch.

Executive Branch

The president of Brazil is both the head of state and the head of government. The president is advised by the cabinet.

Legislative Branch

The National Congress holds legislative power and is comprised of:

The Federal Senate.
Chamber of Deputies.

Each state is assigned a governor and an elected legislature.

Judicial Branch

Judicial power is exercised by the judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Federal Court, the Superior Court of Justice and other Superior courts, the National Justice Council and the Regional Federal Courts.

26 States and 1 Federal District

The 26 Brazilian states are semi-independent and self-governing entities organized with complete administration branches. They have relative financial independence and their own set of symbols, similar to those owned by the country itself. Despite their relative autonomy they all have the same model of administration, as set by the Federal Constitution.

The Federal district is not a state but a district because it is home to the country’s capital – Brasilia. It is divided into 30 administrative regions instead of municipalities. It is the home to the three branches of the federal government – the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches.

Municipalities

There are more than 5,500 individual municipalities in Brazil, each of which is run by a mayor. Municipalities represent an administrative division and the amount of municipalities varies from state to state with the state of Minas Gerais having the most, 853 municipalities and the state of Roraima is the least sub divided state – with 15 municipalities.

History of Brazil

The history of Brazil does not date back to as long as the countries of ‘The Old World’ and its’ history begins when the Portuguese founded it in 1500. Even though it has a shorter history, a lot happened and below is a detailed synopsis of what happened in the past to make Brazil what it is today.

Before the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil most of the early inhabitants were Tupi-Guarani Indians. When the Portuguese did arrive in the 16th century there were roughly between two and four million people inhabiting Brazil, a stark contrast from the figure today which is over 190 million. The Portuguese gave Brazil its’ name from a common wood they used called pau-brasil from which they extracted red colored liquid to paint fabric.

17th century

Brazil relied heavily on its natural resources and the findings of new reserves created an influx of slaves and immigrants. This occurred when huge gold discoveries were made in the 17th century and the lands became increasingly more inhabited. As well as the indigenous people working as slaves, millions of slaves were brought in from Africa to work these goldfields. Many of the gold hunters ended up in Rio de Janeiro, which grew rapidly.

18th century

Portugal had colonized Brazil but it wasn’t until the new King of Portugal was inaugurated in the 18th century that the Portuguese finally made some major changes made to Brazil. These changes included; the Central Government was moved from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, Indian slavery was abolished and Portuguese became the main language.

19th century – End of Colonial Era

A very important period for Brazil began at the beginning of the 19th century. The prince regent of Portugal, Dom João VI decided to establish his government in Brazil. His arrival meant the colonial era was over and this caused uproar in the rest of Latin America. The Spanish colonial empire collapsed and many of the Spanish colonies became independent republics that we can see today. He introduced the printing press, universities, banks and libraries which Brazil never had before.

When Dom João crowned himself as king of Portugal and Brazil; Brazil became the only New World colony ever to have a European monarch ruling on its soil. In 1821, when Dom João decided to return to Portugal his son Dom Pedro stayed and became regent of Brazil. The independence of Brazil was a fact when Dom Pedro I declared himself as the first emperor of Brazil.

Abolishing Slavery

The presence of slaves was necessary for the economic development of the country. Most people though, were advocate for abolition. In 1888 the Emperor announced the abolition of slavery. Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Abolition of slavery was a key problem in the history of Brazil.

Brazil Becomes a Republic

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Since the end of the 19th century, a lot of immigrants arrived in Brazil especially from Europe. All the different nationalities had lead to communistic and anarchistic ideas and had led to massive protests and strikes which were repressed by the government.

In 1889, General Deodoro da Fonseca became the first president of Brazil and declared Brazil a republic. The presidency was alternating between the regions of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. This regime was called “Café com Leite” (‘coffee with milk’), which were the most important agricultural products of those states.

20th century – The Importance of Exports

At the beginning of the 20th century after the second industrial revolution in ‘developed’ countries, Brazil began to export primary products to Europe and North America. The most important export products were coffee, sugar and cotton. The Brazilian producers specialized in the export products and neglected the domestic consumption.

Brazilians used primitive and non-mechanized equipment, the living standards were filthy and the average life span was 28 years of age. Brazil wasn’t able to compete anymore with the technologically superior Anglo-American economies.

The Brazilian economy was divided in some regional economies which exported their own products to Europe and North America, but it didn’t have an integrated national economy anymore.

The only real power left was in the states which exported coffee; São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. Brazil was producing 65% of the worlds’ coffee. The coffee planters virtually owned the country and the government for the next thirty years, until the worldwide depression evaporated coffee demand.

From Military to Civilian Government

From 1930 to 1945 Getúlio Vargas was president. At first he appealed to the middle class but he became more of a dictator than anything else. His interference in the north of Brazil arguably cost the area the rich economic growth we can see in the south today. During his presidency he denounced the existence of a communist plot to overthrow the government. This false denunciation was part of a plan to ensure people would understand and favor the coup of the Estado Novo (New State) which essentially had a powerful effect on Brazilian architecture but this was Vargas’ downfall and by the end of World War II he was overthrown.

In the years after World War II (1950’s), Brazil achieved much needed rapid economic growth. The capital of Brazil was moved from Rio de Janeiro to a planned new city which was to be located in the centre of the country and was called Brasilia.

The economy started to decline in the 1960’s and a lot of strikes, an inflation rate of over 75% and the indiscipline of military left Brazil to be reigned by a military government.
In 1985, Brazil then began to be ruled by civilians and has remained that way ever since.

Immigrants

The diverse range of cultures, race, and ethnicity noticeable on the streets of Brazil today are all a result of the huge masses of immigrants who came to Brazil over the years. Immigration is a very important part of the Brazilian history when many Europeans fled their countries amid war to settle in better conditions.

It began when over half a million Portuguese settled in Brazil at the time when the Portuguese founded the land. As already mentioned there were millions of slaves that were brought over from Africa and they added to the population but they had a very high mortality rate so their ancestry is not so much noticeable today as other nations.

Immigration really took off in 1808 when the ports were opened. Germans, Italians, Spanish, Japanese and many other nationalities arrived in Brazil. The country was vast and the goldfields and coffee plantations needed workers. Many Europeans worked on small farms and cultivated the land. The Brazilian Empire wanted to populate the southern lands as they were under populated and also under threat of being attacked by the bordering Argentina. As a result, an Immigrant’s Hostel was built in 1886 in São Paulo in the southeast of Brazil. There were 71,000 people coming to Brazil each year between the years of 1877-1903. A record number of 70 nationalities were recorded.

Interestingly, in 1907 a treaty was signed between the Brazilian and Japanese governments to grant the Japanese the right to live and work in Brazil. Nowadays Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan.

In one hundred years between 1872-1972 over 5 million immigrants came to Brazil. Many of them came after World War I and World War II for political and economic reasons. Amongst the immigrants; 31% were Portuguese, 30% Italians, 13% Spaniards, 4.5% Japanese, 4% Germans and 16.5% were various other nationalities.

Nowadays, Brazil still receives many immigrants. Many of them are arriving from Bolivia, China and Korea to name but a few countries. The consequences of this immigration are very noticeable today if we look at big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro we can witness the levels of overcrowding and the different races and ethnicities.

Source: TheBrazilBusiness.com