This Latin America’s country is so huge, complex and diverse that it is impossible to summarize it in a few lines. This brief guide is intended as a starting point, in order to deepen later the single points of interest separately.
Located in the northern part of South America and really huge, Brazil is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the north by the French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia; on the west with Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay; on the south with Argentina and Uruguay.
Its area occupies 47% of South America and covers 8,511,996 sq km. The population (146 917 459 inhabitants with a density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometer) is composed of three ethnic groups: whites (of Portuguese origin), which constitute the majority, the mestizos and the blacks. The official language is Portuguese. The most widespread religion is Catholic, followed by Protestant; there are also Animist, Jewish and Muslim minorities.
Brazil is a federal presidential republic. The legislative power is held by the National Congress, the bicameral body consisting of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The executive power is instead attributed to the President of the Republic, assisted by ministers appointed by him.
The republic includes 23 states, three federal territories and the federal district of the capital. Each state has its own Legislative Assembly and its courts and is ruled by a governor.
The currency unit is the cruzado, which has replaced the Cruzeiro since September 1986. The capital is Brasilia (1,598,415 inhab.).
The country has no great mountain ranges; 40% of its surface area is below 200 m. To the east, the altitude is slightly higher, the Pico da Bandeira reaches 2,890 meters.
The Brazilian territory is divided into two big regions: the Amazonian lowlands and the highlands. The Amazon is a wide alluvial plain cut to the north by the Equator and where the Amazon River runs for over 3,000 km from west to east.
The highland region extends to the South of the Amazon and includes the plateau of Brazil and Mato Grosso. These highlands slope down to the Amazon, while forming a raised edge along the Atlantic coast. In the North-East area the landscape presents a plain of erosion with numerous hills, remains of ancient dismantled reliefs. The altitude is less than 1,000 m. It increases in the central region where the plateaus are presented as an extension of table areas (Chapados) cut by deep cracks in which rivers flow.
The southern coast is characterized by a succession of serras, i.e. mountains that rise quickly up to 1,000 m. Towards West we meet the high ground of Mato Grosso.
Brazil is crossed by numerous water courses. The main one is the Amazon River, that springs from two branches in eastern Peru, flows gently sloping throughout its course and flows into the Atlantic through an estuary about 200 km wide.
There are numerous affluents, the main ones are the Rio Madeira, Rio Yapura, the Purus, the Tapajós, Rio Negro and Rio Branco. The rugged region of mountains is crossed by the valleys of numerous rivers such as the Rio Sao Francisco, which flows northward and the Parana which flows southward. The Brazilian territory still has countless water courses of lesser importance.
The coasts are fairly uniform: low and sandy to the north, high and steep in some areas of the south. Generally, the coastal strip is flat, very long and narrow. The coast also includes several islands off the coast (such as Fernando de Noroña).
The climate of Brazil is susceptible to considerable variation depending on the considered latitude. The Amazon has a hot and humid equatorial climate with atmospheric humidity around 80-90%.
In the intertropical region hot and rainy winter seasons regularly alternate with the fresh and dry summer seasons. In the mountain regions the climate remains temperate.
Despite its recent growth, the country has an economy saddled with a very high foreign debt and it is characterized by profound imbalances and conflicts between the backward appearance of large inland areas and the chaotic development of coastal regions.
Agriculture, practiced mainly in the eastern regions and oriented towards export crops, employs a third of the active population. The main product is coffee, largely cultivated in the State of Sao Paulo. Cotton is grown mostly in abandoned land from coffee plantations and it is a very important item in exports. Other industrial crops are soybeans, intended to feed livestock, oil and cereals; cocoa, grown in the area of Bahia; tobacco; sugar cane; tropical fruits (bananas, pineapple). For the internal market are sweet corn, manioc, rice, beans and potatoes.
Another mainstay of the Brazilian economy is the livestock breeding (mainly sheep and cattle), practiced in the highlands of the inland areas. Flourishing is also the rearing of pigs and horses, while less relevant is that of goats.
A further source of wealth for Brazil comes from the exploitation of forests, which cover three fifths of the surface of the land.
One of the main forest resources is rubber, taken from Hevea brasiliensis, extremely widespread plant in the Amazon region.
The majority of industrial production of Brazil is represented by food and textiles. Nowadays there are also more recent industries such as the steel industry, the chemical industry and construction materials industry, that are still in the development phase. The exploitation of renewable energy is instead still unable to meet the national demand.
The subsoil is rich in metalliferous deposits, located in the states of Minas Gerais, Goias and Mato Grosso. Iron occupies the first place; then we have, among the mineral resources, hematite and manganese.
The production of oil, whose extraction began after the Second World War, is constantly increasing, while the extraction of gold and diamonds is decreasing.
Foreign trade is characterized by a greater volume of imports (mineral and chemical products and machinery) than exports. But the latter, mainly to the USA, are on the increase and consist of coffee, sugar, cocoa and iron.
The communications network is highly developed along the coast, especially in the area between Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The railway network extends over 29,207 km; the road network over 1.411.900 km; ports are numerous. The airline communications, due to the enormous distances between the various regions of the country, have a remarkable development; the main airports are: Sao Paulo, Santos Dumont and Brasilia.
COFFEE IN THE HISTORY AND IN THE ECONOMY OF BRAZIL
Brazil holds the world record in the production of coffee and the national economy is largely based on them. The coffee plant, native of Abyssinia, was introduced by the Dutch in their colonies, and then passed from Dutch Guiana to Brazil, where its cultivation immediately took intensive rhythms.
Right the expansion of plantations led, in the nineteenth century, the lines of internal colonization of the territories of Brazil. Cultivated in the fazendas (large farms where African slave labor was used), coffee was first planted (around 1830) in the region of Rio de Janeiro. Towards the end of the century, plantations had already extended to the state of Sao Paulo and Parana, resulting in the creation of many urban centers and a new transport network.
The abolition of slavery in 1888, encouraged the immigration of colonos (especially Italians), in place of the slaves. Still today coffee cultivation takes place in a situation of great distress of the farmers. If already in the nineteenth century few landowners drew huge economic benefits from the centralization of large extensions of land (forming a small but very influential elite on the political level), now the latifundium is perhaps the heaviest Brazil heritage left by the Portuguese colonizers. Vast expanses of arable land (often uncultivated) are gathered in a few, very large possessions. Improvements are limited, and technologies are really outdated. Farmers, in exchange for the provided services, often receive only a small plot of land, or a shack, or vouchers to spend in the shop of the plantation.
The coffee is grown mainly for export: also thanks to the plantations, in fact, Brazil has been able to take part into the great flow of intercontinental trade.
Discovered in 1500 by Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral, Brazil became a Portuguese colony in the sixteenth century. It was declared independent Empire in 1822, when the son of the ruler of Portugal proclaimed himself emperor of Brazil as Pedro I. Under the reign of his son, Pedro II, slavery was abolished (1885). In 1889, the army, supported by the conservatives, overthrew the monarchy and proclaimed a republic. The Republican Constitution of the United States of Brazil entered into force in 1891, but in fact the country was ruled in a dictatorial way by the military and landed oligarchies. The initial economic development, due to the boom in coffee and rubber, was hampered by the global crisis of 1929-30 that caused the collapse of the internal market.
During the authoritarian presidency of G. Vargas (1930-45, 1950-54), a member of the urban middle classes, a popular movement developed with labour, progressive and anti-imperialist ideas.
The rise to power of the Labour Joao Goulart in 1961 and his attempts at reform (the establishment of a parliamentary republic, the nationalization of the oil companies and the expropriation of large estates) provoked the reaction of the right. With the military coup of 1964 was introduced another dictatorial government, accompanied by a violent repression. However, at the end of the seventies, the dictatorship was gradually mitigating and it was coming the time for the restoration of democracy.
After a transition period, in 1985 finally took place the collapse of the military dictatorship. The presidential elections held in that year, recorded the victory of Tancredo Neves, who died a few days after appointment as Chairman, and was replaced by José Sarney. In 1989, the presidential office went to Fernando Collor de Mello, whose attempts at economic liberalization failed because of the opposition of the cumbersome public bureaucracy. His main objective was the attempt to reform the catastrophic economic condition of the country (around 1700-1800% inflation). For that purpose, he drew up an extremely hard restructuring plan, helped by a team of technicians. Although it needed a serious effort by the population, the project was preferred (under the undoubted pressure of the managerial class) to the international proposal of a rebate of part of the Brazilian foreign debt in exchange for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest. In the following years the president’s behavior casted many doubts about his honesty; investigations were carried out against him for corruption and fraud. The positive outcome of these proceedings forced him to resign in 1992. The office of president was immediately taken by the vice Itamar Franco, who was faced with a quite disastrous situation from the economic and political point of view. In 1993 a popular referendum confirmed the desire to maintain a Presidential Republic. The following year, elections were held which gave victory to the Social Democratic Party of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Brazilian politician (Sao Borja, Rio Grande do Sul 1918 – Mercedes, Argentina, 1976). After joining the Labour Party he became its president in 1950. Minister of Labour in the first half of the fifties, he was elected Vice President of the Republic in 1956. After the resignation of President Quadros (1961), he replaced him in the office, trying to create a series of social reforms which, however, met with strong resistance from the opposition. In 1964, Goulart refused to intervene to quell a mutiny carried out by communist elements of the Navy. That refusal resulted in a military coup, which forced the president to flee to Uruguay. After 12 years of exile, a few months before his death, authorities obtained permission to return to Brazil provided renounce of political activities. Goulart waived, however, to take advantage of this opportunity.
Brazilian Politician (Piñeiro, Maranao 1930). After the restoration of democracy in his country, in 1985, he was elected Vice President of the Republic. In April of the same year, after the death of Tancredo Neves, he succeeded to the presidency.
This term indicates the colonists settled in various parts of Brazil, that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries used to come together to plunder and exterminate the blacks and the Indios. Their activity unwittingly facilitated the exploration of the country and the discovery of gold mines.
In the eighteenth century, the bandeirantes became gold and precious stones seekers, in the deposits of Mato Grosso, of Gotas and of Minas Gerais.
Famous event that lasts 4 days and 4 nights during which the streets become a triumph of colors, lights and sounds. On the streets, at home and in private clubs people play and dance at a frenetic rhythm and the dance is only one: the samba. During the year, the numerous samba schools of the country prepare for Carnival, drawing on the themes related to the history of Brazil, to compete in spectacular performances, awarded by a jury.
The Iguaçu River (1,320 km) flows in southern Brazil and form the largest waterfalls in the world, extending over a front of about 3,700 m. The river splits into numerous branches and crashes in two jumps of about 60 m in total. The striking waterfalls are located in the largest national park in Brazil, famous for its floral heritage and populated by a very varied fauna.
They are vast districts consisting of shacks, located at the borders of the main cities and inhabited by the poorest people. The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are perched on the hills surrounding the city and must be continuously rebuilt because a torrential rain is sufficient to destroy them. These neighborhoods are deprived of the most basic services such as roads, water and electricity and create a huge contrast to the marble palaces and bright skyscrapers in the central areas of the city.
The Macumba is a pagan ritual typical of Brazil. It was imported to the New World by blacks slaves from Guinea and the Ivory Coast who kept some of their traditions. The ritual of Macumba, linked to the myths of birth, death and fertility, provides a medium to reach, a state of trance, thanks to a frenetic dance, during which it comes into contact with the spirits of the afterlife. When black people converted to Christianity, the pagan deities were replaced by the saints and the Virgin Mary. The religious authorities ended up tolerating such rituals, practiced still nowdays, interpreting other forms of Macumba as mere orgiastic manifestations.
Sometimes called Yerba, mate is a drink that is obtained from the dried leaves and buds of a variety of holly that grows in southern Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. The drink is obtained by pouring boiling water on the leaves. Such as tea and coffee, mate contains caffeine and produces a stimulating effect.
SUGARLOAF (PAO DE AÇUCAR)
Famous and distinctive granite tower, that overlooks, form the altitude of 400 m, Rio de Janeiro bay. At the foot of Sugarloaf, which has become the symbol of the city, it lies the famous and luxurious beach of Copacabana.
Teleost fish that live in the Amazon river, whose greed is aroused by the smell of blood. Their length ranges from 11 to 53 cm; they live in herds and are divided into a dozen varieties. They have bright colors and are aggressive and voracious: it is well known that in a few minutes they are able to completely strip the flesh off humans or animals who have the misfortune to meet them. Some scholars consider them to be even more dangerous than sharks.
Musical form that is based on a time of 2/4; it is the most important in Brazil and it is danced, played and sung. The choir is normally reserved for men while women bear the lead vocal. It is performed by trumpets, guitars, flutes and some Brazilian rhythm instruments like the roco, maraca, the chocalho and Xere de Ogum. It is a complex dance and it is mainly based on the rhythmic contrast. The kind of samba that is only danced is called batucada.