The largest country in South America. Brazil borders ten countries, has a coastline 7400 km (4600 miles) long, and straddles the equator from latitude 4° N to past latitude 33° S.
The whole of the northern region lies in the vast Amazon basin with its tributary rivers. South of this are the Mato Grosso with its grassland plateau and the campos, mountain plateaux intersected by deep river valleys. In the region of great lakes the climate becomes suited to coffee-growing. Southward the land drops away to a vast plain suitable for livestock and plantation farming. The destruction in recent decades of up to 12% of the vast Amazonian rainforest is a cause for world-wide concern.
A huge newly industrialized country, Brazil has the eighth largest economy in the world. Industry is concentrated in the centre and south, while the drought-prone north and north-east remain undeveloped. Only about 7% of Brazil's land area is considered arable. While agriculture has been neglected in favour of industry and food imports have increased, such crops as sugar and cocoa and such exports as coffee, soya beans, and orange concentrates remain important. Brazil is rich in minerals: it has the third largest reserves of bauxite in the world, the largest reserves of columbium, high-grade iron ore, one of the largest reserves of beryllium, as well as gold, manganese and tin in large quantities. Tin, iron ore, machinery, and other industrial products now account for more than half of all exports. Brazil also has one of the world's largest capacities for hydroelectric power production. Although high inflation, foreign debt, and extreme inequalities in wealth distribution have led to severe social problems, Brazil now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Brazil is the only South American country originally established as a Portuguese colony, having been awarded to the Portuguese crown by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Settlement began in 1532 with the foundation of São Vicente by Martim Afonso de Sousa. During the first half of the 16th century twelve captaincies were established. No centralized government was established until 1549 when Thomé de Sousa was named governor-general and a capital was established at Salvador (Bahia). The north-eastern coast was lost to the Dutch briefly in the 17th century but was regained.
By 1800 the prosperity of the colony had outstripped that of Portugal. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, the Portuguese court was transferred to Rio de Janeiro, which was transformed into the centre of the Portuguese empire. When John VI returned to Lisbon in 1821, his son Pedro remained behind as regent. In 1822 he became Emperor Pedro I of Brazil in an almost bloodless coup and established an independent empire that lasted until the abdication of his son Pedro II in 1889. Brazil's neo-colonial economy based upon agricultural exports, such as coffee and wild rubber produced upon the fazenda (estate), and dependent on slave labour, remained virtually intact until the downfall of the country's two predominant institutions – slavery (1888) and the monarchy (1889). In 1891 Brazil became a republic with a federal constitution. The fraudulent elections of 1930 and the effects of the Great Depression prompted the intervention of the military and the appointment of Getúlio Vargas as provisional President. Vargas was to remain in power until he was deposed in 1945. He remained a powerful force in international politics until his suicide in 1954. Vargas' successor, Juscelino Kubitschek (1956–61) embarked upon an ambitious expansion of the economy, including the construction of a futuristic capital city at Brasília, intended to encourage development of the interior. President João Goulart (1961–64) had to face the consequent inflation and severe balance-of-payments deficit. In rural areas peasant leagues mobilized behind the cause of radical land reform. Faced with these threats, Brazil's landowners and industrialists backed the military coup of 1964 and the creation of a series of authoritarian regimes which sought to attract foreign investment. President Figueiredo (1978–84) re-established civilian rule and democracy, and under his successor José Sarne (1985–89) a new constitution was approved. Rapid industrialization, together with urbanization, had greatly increased inequalities of income. In the early 1990s very high inflation, together with an economic recession, challenged the government of President Collor de Mello, who resigned in 1992 following allegations of corruption. Itamar Franco then served as President until 1995, when Fernando Cardoso succeeded him. Cardoso pursued privatization policies that slowly strengthened the economy. He was succeeded in 2003 by Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, the first left-wing President since the 1964 coup.