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Country Profile : Brazil

Country profile: Brazil

Map of Brazil

Brazil is South America's most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world's biggest democracies.

But like some of its South American neighbours, it has a history of economic boom and bust and its development has been hampered by high inflation and foreign debt.

The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, much of which is in Brazil, has become a major worry.

Overview

A drive to move settlers to the Amazon region during military rule in the 1970s caused considerable damage to vast areas of rainforest.

Deforestation by loggers and cattle ranchers remains controversial, but government-sponsored migration programmes have been halted.

AT-A-GLANCE
Rio de Janeiro, view of Sugar Loaf Mountain
Politics: Lula, Brazil's left-leaning president, is popular among the poor but his party has been beset by corruption claims; he won a second term in 2006
Economy: Brazil has Latin America's largest economy; there has been steady growth under Lula but millions live in poverty
International: Brazil wants a permanent seat at the UN Security Council; relations with Bolivia suffered in 2006 over access to Bolivian gas

In 2005 the government reported that one fifth of the Amazon forests had been cleared by deforestation.

Since then, it has made efforts to control illegal logging and introduce better certification of land ownership, but environmental reports suggest the reforms have made little difference.

Brazil's natural resources, particularly iron ore, are highly prized by major manufacturing nations, including China. Thanks to the development of offshore fields, the nation has become self-sufficient in oil, ending decades of dependence on foreign producers.

Brazil has had to be bailed out in times of economic crisis, but reforms in the 1990s, including privatisations, brought some financial stability.

There is a wide gap between rich and poor.

Much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families, a situation which the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) seeks to redress by demanding land redistribution. It uses direct protest action and land occupation in its quest.

Social conditions can be harsh in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where a third of the population lives in favelas, or slums.

Brazil's Aids programme has become a model for other developing countries. It has stabilised the rate of HIV infection and the number of Aids-related deaths has fallen. Brazil has bypassed the major drugs firms to produce cheaper, generic Aids medicines.

Brazil is revered for its football prowess. Its cultural contributions include the music of classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Bossa Nova icon Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Facts

  • Full name: Federative Republic of Brazil
  • Population: 193.7 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Brasilia
  • Largest city: Sao Paulo
  • Area: 8.55 million sq km (3.3 million sq miles)
  • Major language: Portuguese
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 real = 100 centavos
  • Main exports: Manufactured goods, iron ore, coffee, oranges, other agricultural produce
  • GNI per capita: US $7,350 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .br
  • International dialling code: +55

Leaders

President: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, secured a second term in a landslide election victory in October 2006.

He promised to boost economic growth and to narrow the gap between rich and poor. In January 2007, Lula marked the start of his second term in office by announcing an ambitious investment programme.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Lula promises to help Brazil's poorest while pursuing growth

But with a weakened presence in congress, his left-wing Workers' Party may have to rely on political alliances to pursue planned tax, social security and political reforms.

Lula implemented tough fiscal policies in his first term, overseeing economic stabilisation and falling levels of inflation and foreign debt.

He changed the pension system and pushed through a modest increase in the minumum wage. Welfare programmes targeted millions of poor families. But he had to contend with a surge of land invasions by activists frustrated at what they saw as the slow pace of agrarian reform.

In 2005 his popularity was dented by claims of corruption in the ruling party, focusing on a cash-for-votes scheme in Congress. The president apologised and said he had known nothing about the alleged corruption.

Brazil is a major commodities exporter and Lula has argued strongly that countries should not put up protectionist barriers in response to the current global economic crisis.

Lula was born in 1945 in the impoverished north-east. His family moved to Sao Paulo when he was seven and he left school at 14 to become a metal worker.

In the 1970s, he honed his political skills as a fiery union leader in the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo. He went on to help found the Workers' Party.

Media

South America's biggest media market is home to thousands of radio stations and hundreds of TV channels.

Media ownership is highly concentrated. Home-grown conglomerates such as Globo, Brazil's most-successful broadcaster, dominate the market and run TV and radio networks, newspapers and pay-TV operations.

Brazilian-made dramas and soaps are aired around the world. Game shows and reality TV attract huge audiences.

The constitution guarantees a free press; vigorous media debate about controversial political and social matters is commonplace.

Brazil is rolling out digital TV services; it aims to switch off analogue TV transmissions from 2016.

The press

Television

Radio

  • Radio Nacional - FM and mediumwave (AM) network operated by state-run Radiobras
  • Globo Radio - commercial networks operated by Globo
  • Radio Eldorado - affiliated to O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper, operates mediumwave (AM) news station and FM music station
  • Radio Bandeirantes - network operated by Grupo Bandeirantes
  • Radio Cultura - public, cultural programmes

News agencies

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