The Land of Contrasts: Discovering Brazil

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Picture taken from http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk

When someone talks about Brazil in any sort of discussion, perchance he or she might mention the words Amazon, Ipanema, Copacobana, bossa nova, capoiera and samba in describing the country. The Federative Republic of Brazil just cannot evade the fact that it is a “Land of Contrasts” – that is to say, it is a very diverse country laden with cultural affluence and rich traditions. Covering an area of 8,514,000 square kilometers, Brazil is being regarded as the fifth largest country in the world and the largest in South America in terms of geographical expanse. Brazil shares its borders in all countries in South America with the exception of Chile and Ecuador. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese which is being spoken by nearly all of its inhabitants. As of 2010, Brazil holds the fifth largest population in the world, with an estimate of around 191,000,000.  On 21 April 1960, the city of Brasilia was officially inaugurated as the new capital of Brazil under the administration of President Juscelino Kubitschek, replacing the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil is strategically divided into five regions. Namely, these are the Norte (North), Nordeste (Northeast), Centro-Oeste (Central-West), Sudeste (Southeast) and Sul (South). These divisions are often used for administrative purposes such as the national Brazilian census. Also, these regions correspond to the races which predominantly dwell in the country. The Northeast has the greatest proportion of people of African descent, the South and Southeast are home to the bulk of Brazilians of European and Japanese ancestry, while indigenous peoples live largely in the North and Central-West. Still, regional migration and racial inter-breeding has made Brazil one of the most racially diverse nations on earth. But these contrasts are, at times, being translated into negative stereotypes as socio-economic distinction is being drawn between the poor, underdeveloped North and the wealthier, more industrialized South.

Needless to state, Brazil is a land rich in natural resources. Iron ore, bauxite, manganese, nickel, uranium, gold, gemstones, oil, and timber constitute the vast mineral resources which are present in Brazil. One must not go further but be reminded of the Amazon Forest which is a home to the world’s largest single reserve of biological organisms. Until now, scientists do not exactly know how many species actually exist there, but on an estimate the number could be as high as five million, amounting to 15 to 30 percent of all species on earth. Brazil is also the home of the world’s largest river in terms of volume and the second largest in terms of length, the Amazon River.

Brazil’s physical environment and climate vary greatly from the tropical North to the temperate South. The landscape is dominated by a central highland region known as the Planalto Central (Plateau of Brazil) and by the vast Amazon Basin which occupies over one-third of the country.

History

The first Europeans, the Portuguese, came to Brazil on 22 April 1500 led by the adventurous navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral who arrived at the present-day Pôrto Seguro (Safe Harbor) in the state of Bahia on the Brazilian coast and named the new territory Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross) thinking he was on an island. Other Portuguese explorers soon followed Cabral in search of valuable goods for European trade and, more so, for an uninhabited land in order to escape from the poverty-stricken Portugal. In 1501, the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailed to Brazil on a voyage commissioned by the Portuguese crown and returned home with a cargo of hard, reddish wood which abound in the territory. The wood was akin to an East Indian variety called pau brasil, which was then popular in the continental Europe for making cabinets and violin bows. Pau brasil (brazil wood), the first product to be exploited by the Portuguese in this new territory, is the origin of the country’s name, Brazil. Thus, it can be said that since the dawn of the colonizers’ conquest, the country is already known for the immensity of its natural resources.

From then on, the Portuguese colonization became inevitable. The colonization lasted until 7 September 1822, when Brazil achieved its independence from Portugal.  The demise of the Portuguese influence in the country marked another episodic period in the Brazilian history as monarchy was formally established on the land. Barely a year after King João VI’s return to Portugal, the Crown Prince proclaimed the independence and had himself crowned Emperor of Brazil, under the name Pedro I. The Brazilian Empire lasted for 70 years (that is from 1822 to 1889). In 15 November 1889, a peaceful transition from monarchy to a republic occurred in Brazil. Thence, Brazil became a Federative Republic.

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The Statue of Christ the Redeemer at Rio de Janeiro, overlooking the industrialized side of the city. (Picture taken from http://www.americapictures.net)

Economy

Today, the Brazilian economy is being hailed as the eighth largest in the world. It plays a predominant role as a major producer and global supplier of such agricultural products as sugarcane, soybeans, oranges, coffee, cocoa, rice, wheat, ethanol, orange juice and cotton. It is also a supplier of beef with vast cattle ranches primarily in the southern and western regions of the country. Brazil’s northeast coast with its rich soils has become the most prosperous region early on as vast sugar plantations were created to supply a growing demand for that product in Europe.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Brazil, as of 2010, has ranked as the eight largest in the world which amounted to US$ 2.09 trillion. It has also gained a substantial amount of US$202 billion and US$182 billion from its 2010 exports and imports, respectively. Nevertheless, because of the tremendous growth of industry, agriculture accounts for only 13 percent of the nation’s GDP.

During the Kubitschek Administration, Brazil experienced economic growth from agricultural modernization and, by the early 1980s, agricultural production had increased to the extent that Brazil had become the fourth largest food exporter in the world. Quite ironically, however, Brazil was not adequately feeding its own people. It is sixth worldwide in malnutrition, ahead of only Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Government

As stipulated in the Federal Constitution of Brazil, the powers of the government shall be divided among its Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary Branches. The Union of the Federative Republic of Brazil shall comprise the State, the Federal District and the Municipalities. As the legislative arm of the government, the National Congress shall be composed of the Federal Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The President, which has a four-year term with one allowed re-election, shall be both the head of government and of the federative state.

The incumbent president, Dilma Vana Rouseff, is the first Brazilian woman who assumed presidency in Brazil. President Rouseff preceded Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who took office in January 2003.

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