The Federative Republic of Brazil covers 47.3% of the area of the South American subcontinent and it is the fifth largest country in the world. Within Brazil, the distances are of continental proportions and its Atlantic coast is approximately 7400 km.
Official name: The Federal Republic of Brazil
Area: 8,514,877 km²
Residents: 212.2 million (2020, IBGE)
Growth of population: 0.71% per year (2018)
Seat of government: Brasília, DF
Official language: Portuguese
Land of superlatives
Brazil is located in the eastern part of South America and shares its borders in the north, south and east with almost all South American countries except Chile and Ecuador. It is a land of continental proportions.
The country can be divided into two large areas: the Amazon basin in the north with a size of 4 million square kilometers and the high plateau in the center and south. The Brazilian national territory is geographically divided into five major regions: the north, the north-east, the south-east, the south and the central-west.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, both by area and by population.
With 8.5 million square kilometers, Brazil covers 47.3% of the area of South America and ranks behind Russia, Canada, China and the USA, but ahead of Australia. Only China, India, the USA and Indonesia have a larger population than Brazil, which has around 204,000 million residents. The largest state in Brazil alone, Amazonas, is twice the size of Turkey. Bahia can be compared to France, São Paulo to the United Kingdom.
For some it is the land of carnival, samba, soccer and “beautiful women”, for others the threat to the rainforest and the indigenous population is in the foreground. Some think primarily of the landless, the street children, drugs and crime, and still others think of the dangers for the still young democracy through mismanagement and corruption. The name ‘Brazil’ arouses very different associations abroad.
All of these ideas are nourished from fragmentary messages that reach other countries from Brazil. The above problems do indeed exist, but it is a very selective perception of Brazilian realities. In addition, there is usually a lack of reliable background information and the associated historical context. At the latest when you have arrived in the country, you too will have to deal with a wealth of information that cannot be inserted into these or similar preconceived images.
As a country located in South America according to franciscogardening, Brazil has a long past, but a relatively young history. In 2000, Brazil celebrated its 500th anniversary because the official story doesn’t begin until 1500, when Pedro Alvares Cabral landed on the coast of what is now Bahia State on April 22nd and took possession of this “discovered” land for the Portuguese crown. Cabral first thought that he had discovered an island and called it “Ilha de Vera Cruz”. However, when the Portuguese became aware of the extent of the land, they baptized it “Terra de Santa Cruz”. You can find out how the name “Brazil” came about at the end of the topic under “Curiosities”.
The peculiarity of Brazilian history in the Latin American context is that the country was the only Portuguese colony in America that, after its independence (1822), chose the form of government instead of a republic. It was also the last country in the western world to abolish black slavery (1888). The country is deeply shaped by slavery and African culture to this day.
Basic information about the country can be obtained from the Latin America Working Group, geography, the Fischer World Almanac and the CIA. Many international and national organizations provide statistical data on Brazil. First and foremost, this includes the Brazilian Federal Statistical Office IBGE with an online database. The Latin American Economic Commission CEPAL and the Federal Foreign Office also make data on Brazil available online.
Natural basics for nature and people
The relief of Brazil resembles – greatly simplified – a plate that sinks to the northwest into the Amazon region to a few meters above sea level, rises accordingly in mountain formations to the east, and then breaks off abruptly near the coast. This is how Claude Lévi-Strauss described the geography of Brazil in his classic ‘ Sad Tropics ‘ from 1955.
Brazil stretches over very different climatic zones: in the Amazon region it is humid tropical, in the northeastern dry tropical, in central Brazil – the Cerrado – semi-arid and in the southern part of the country subtropical. Most of the country lies between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn (between the mouth of the Amazon and São Paulo).
These different climatic zones strongly shape the country and cause a diversity of fauna and flora, of people, their living environment and resources.
The Amazon River
In Brazil – in contrast to other countries – the Amazon region is not only assigned to the topics of deforestation, biodiversity and Indian protection. In the past, the main focus was on the infrastructural development of this area, the prestige project being the Transamazonica Street.
But even today, Brazil primarily sees the possibilities of sustainable economic use of the various riches of the region for the development of the country. Various interests have to be taken into account: The people who live, work and vote in the Amazon region (approx. 20 million citizens), the mining companies that mine the existing natural resources in extensive open-cast mining and the agricultural companies that aim to expand Brazilian agriculture. In addition, dams are being built to provide energy for Brazilian companies and cities. Brazil is trying to do a lot to protect the forest with all its important functions. Still, there are still many challenges. The core of the problem is, above all, to unite the conflict between economic interests and different ideas of sustainable development.
Regions, area, population
The Brazilians themselves grouped the country into five major regions: the north, the northeast, the southeast, the south and the central-west. These in turn are divided into a federal district, which includes the capital Brasília, and 26 federal states, which are not only geographically, but also economically, socially and culturally diverse.
These partly correspond to the natural spatial structure of Brazil, but are also very different in terms of cultural history. The development, conquest, settlement and cultivation of these large regions took place in different time phases and under different historical conditions.
The north and south-east are the historically oldest and still most populous regions of Brazil. About 70% of the population live in these two regions, which make up just under 30% of the territory. Settlement of the south, the midwest and the north is more recent. Only 14% of the population live in the Midwest and North, together almost 2/3 of the area of Brazil.
In the past hundred years, Brazil’s population has increased practically tenfold. It rose at a rapid pace from 17.4 million (1900) to 195 million (2010 census). The demographic growth curve, which showed a steep upward trend in the middle of the 20th century, has now flattened significantly. In the past decade, the population increased by 15%.
About half of the Brazilian Indians officially numbered at around 900,000 (2010) live in the north. Even if they only make up a negligibly small proportion of the population nationwide, they have left numerous traces in Brazilian culture.