The name Brazil comes from Pau Brasil. There are around 145 million people living in Brazil, most of them near the coast. The population is growing rapidly and half of all Brazilians are under the age of 20. By the end of the century, it is estimated that Brazil's population will have reached 180 million. Brazil borders on ten other Latin American countries. Most of the northern part of Brazil is low-lying and veined by the mighty Amazon River and its tributaries. The Amazon is the largest river in the world. The native peoples of Brazil lived in the forests and along the rivers, hunting, fishing, and gathering fruits and nuts. When the Portuguese arrived early in the 16th century, it is estimated that there were between 1 and 2 million native Amerindian people. They were used as slaves, and many thousands died from diseases brought by the Europeans. Recently Amerindians have been exploited and killed as land speculators and highways go farther into the rain forest. There are probably less than 150,000 Indians now.
Portuguese settlers developed vast sugarcane estates in the Bahia region, and for 150 years these estates were in the world's main source of sugar. To work the estates, the owners used salves from Africa. Today there is still an African tradition in Brazil.
Modern immigration began early in the 19th century. Only about 4.5 million foreigners, mostly from Europe, settled in Brazil after then. Most were Italians and Portuguese, but there were also Spaniards and Germans, and later Slavs from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine, and Arabs from the Middle East. In this century the most significant immigrants have been Japanese. They have become the most prosperous ethnic group in Brazil, growing a fifth of the coffee, a third of the cotton, and all the tea. Traditionally the majority of Brazilians settled near the coast, but in the last 30 years the rapid movement from rural areas to urban centers has led to a very uneven distribution of the population. In parts of the interior there is an average of just two people per square mile. More than 75 percent of the people live in towns. Half of these are in just two cities. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
People have moved from rural areas to the towns to seek work and better medical and educational facilities for their families. But the reality has been very different. Tens of thousands of people now live in shantytowns or Favelas, on the outskirts of the cities, with little hope of ever getting a decent job. One of the features of Brazil is that many different races and peoples intermarry, making Brazilians one of the most varied peoples in the world. The average Brazilian has a fascinating family tree which may include a Portuguese great-grandfather, a native Indian grandmother, a slave grandfather, a German father, and so on.
Family ties are strong in Brazil. Three generations, including grandparents and young married couples, often live together in one house. Poorer families are frequently large, with five or six children, and grandparents look after the very young while the rest of the family work.
There is a wide gap between rich and poor. The wealthy live in luxury mansions or on vast estates, employ maids and gardeners, and enjoy the same consumer goods as any family in the developed world. Homes for the poor are shacks of cardboard and corrugated iron, furnished with the barest essentials and mostly without water, light, or sanitation.
The extreme poverty in the urban slums, the high unemployment, and the increasing numbers leaving rural areas for the cities have led to serious problems. The poorest people suffer most because the state cannot provide for them, but children who About 90 percent of Brazil's population belong to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has gone through a great transformation in the last 20 years. Most young Catholic priests and many bishops are "progressives." They believe that society should be more like Christ himself wanted it to be. The great injustices that exist in Brazil have made many Catholic priests and bishops ally themselves with the poor. Many have been persecuted and murdered for this, especially for defending the poor squatter farmers. Although Brazilian Christians are traditionally Roman Catholics, the religion that is growing fastest is the Pentecostal branch of Protestantism. These days, often the first church to be built in the new towns that spring up overnight in the North and Amazon regions belongs to one of the Pentecostal religions. Since their ministers do not have to go through years of training like the Roman Catholics, these religions can expand much more quickly. Pentecostal ministers can be ordinary people, with jobs outside the church. More Brazilians are going to school these days and more learn to read and write, yet the average education received by a Brazilian adults is still less than four years. One hundred years ago, in 1890, it was estimated that 80 percent of the adults in Brazil could not read or write. For nearly 30 years, primary education has been compulsory in Brazil, and today, only around 20 percent are still totally illiterate.
Children start school at six to seven years old, and are supposed to go on the age of 14 or 15. In 1980, for every 100 children who started primary school, only 13 finished the full eight years of primary school. Of these, fewer than half went on to some form of higher education.
Children have to pass examinations every year. If they don't get good enough grades at the end of the year, they have to repeat the whole year over again. Many children fall so far behind, repeating the same year two or three times, that they give up and drop out. Another problem is that although parents don't have to pay for children to go to state school, they do have to pay for books, writing materials, and uniforms. They also have to pay some school taxes, such as contributions to the Parents' and Teachers' Association. The poorest families cannot afford this.
The school day in Brazil in only four hours long, which is shorter than in most countries. Most schools have two or three "shifts" a day, in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Many youngsters who work during the day go to school in the evening. Universities also offer evening degree courses. From the 1970s onward, more and more private schools have opened all over Brazil. The more expensive private schools have longer hours than the state schools and include drama, sports, and art lessons. The welfare services in Brazil show that what people say is true - there are not just two different Brazils but two different Brazilians. Rich Brazilians are taller, stronger, healthier, and live longer than poor Brazilians. Brazil became an independent country in 1822 when Dom Pedro I was crowned emperor. His son, Dom Pedro II, introduced many reforms. When Dom Pedro II passed the "Golden Law" to abolish slavery, the wealthy landowners became angry. They plotted with military to depose him, and the empire ended. Since 1889, when Brazil became a republic, there have been both military and civilian governments. One successful president was Getulio Vargas, known as the "Father of the Poor" because of the measures he took to try and improve the welfare of the people. Another president, Juscelino Kubitschek, in 1960 founded the new capital city, Brasilia, on an uninhabited plateau in central Brazil. From 1964 until 1985, there was a military government, with political regression and torture of its opponents, but also economic success. The military eventually agreed to a first civilian president in 21 years. The constitution was revised to ensure that five years later the next president was elected by the people. All persons age 18-69 who are over age 70, or between 16 and 17 years old may do so if they wish.
Two years after taking office in 1992 the new president, Fernando Collor de Mello, was forced to resign on corruption charges. This shocked the Brazilians. Brasilia is now home to the Congress building, ministries, president's office, and more than a million people. Congress is made up of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, who make the laws by which the country is governed. They are also responsible for financial policy and relations with other countries. The president needs approval from Congress for many acts, but he can veto laws passed by them. The 26 states and the Federal District elect their own governor and legislature, and each state is divided into Municipios, each of which elects a mayor.
Sugar, introduced in the 16th century by the Portuguese, was the first commercially successful agricultural crop in Brazil, followed early in the 18th century by coffee, brought in from French Guiana. Coffee grew well on the hilly uplands west of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and in the southern states, where it has been concentrated since, though some is grown in the Amazon region, too. Today, Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of both sugar and coffee.
The south is Brazil's riches agricultural area. But farming lacks the advance technology widely used in the U.S. Throughout Brazil, only 20 percent of arable land is cultivated, and the agricultural industry employs less than a quarter of the working population.
Yet Brazil is almost self-sufficient in food production, except for wheat, and agricultural production accounts for about a third of exports. As well as coffee and sugar, major crops are soybeans, cocoa, cotton, tobacco, and corn. Rice, sorghum, and beans are grown for the domestic market. All kinds of fruits are plentiful, with some like maracuja or passion fruit now familiar in Western markets. Currently Brazil supplies 85 percent of the world market for orange juice concentrates. The forests also provide a range of nuts, of which the Brazil nut is the best known.
Although about a quarter of Brazilians live in the countryside, very few own their land. It is a major problem that 80 percent of the land is owned by just 5 percent of the population, and this has led to considerable violence between would-be settlers and gunmen hired by landowners. Opening up the Amazon has not proved to be the solution either. Colonists who received grants of land from the government have found it difficult to make the small farms profitable, and many have been forced to sell out to wealthy landowners or speculators. In addition, between 1985 and 1989, 350 people in the Amazons were killed by gunmen. Ranching has met with little more success, again because the land is poor. In some places, 60 acres are needed to support just one cow. The main center of Brazil's cattle industry, which overall contributes some 10 percent to world trade, is in the south and to a lesser extent in the northeast. Cowboys known as Gauchos herd the millions of cattle that roam the vast grasslands of the south. They wear flat black hats and baggy trousers called bombachas. Their favorite drink is herbal tea, or mate. In contrast, the cowboys of the northeast, the Vaqueiros, wear leather hats and trousers to protect their legs from the spiny scrub and cacti of the arid caatingas. Although it has the longest continuous coastline in the world, Brazil has only a small fishing industry. Much of the catch is for the home market, and it is caught by local village fishermen. Off the Northeast coast, fisherman use boats called Jangadas, which traditionally were made of logs lashed together. Today most are manufactured from plastic tubing.
Since World War II, the industry has taken over from agriculture as the basis of Brazil's economy. Billions of dollars have been spent on industry, first in the 1950s and then in the 1970s when the "Brazilian miracle" took place that transformed Brazil into an industrial nation. The generals who were in charge in the 1970s borrowed vast sums from international banks, which paid for the "miracle" but left the country big debts. Today Brazil has the largest foreign debt of any country in the world. Repaying it is an almost impossible task for a developing nation, even though Brazil in recent years has seen its exports exceeding imports.
Brazil has also suffered from high inflation, with prices of food and other goods increasing almost daily. Between 1986 and 1990, the currency was altered three times: in 1986, 1,000 cruzeiros were reduced to equal 1 cruzado in 1989 the cruzado was replaced by the new cruzado and in 1990 the new cruzado was replaced by the cruzeiro. With each change the value of Brazilian money has declined, and it is the poor people and lower paid workers who have suffered most.
One aspect of the "Brazilian miracle" was the development of manufacturing industries. State-run companies were established to run important industries, such as oil, steel, communications, and electricity. Foreign companies were invited to set up in the country, and large-scale industries were established for the construction of ships, vehicles of every kind, and aircraft. The vast majority of products, such as textiles, clothing, and processed food and drinks, are still important. Most shoe stores in the U.S. sell a range of Brazilian-made shoes, while Brazilian aircraft are used commercially in other countries. Timber has become more important, with softwoods used locally for paper and hardwoods felled for export.
Industry now accounts for about 70 percent of total exports and employs about a quarter of Brazil's work force. Most industry is heavily concentrated in the southeast, around the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio, and Belo Horizont. For centuries the most reliable way of traveling in Brazil was by river. Most freight and passengers now go by road or air, but rivers are still an important communication link in some remote areas, and oceangoing ships still travel to Manaus.
Some railroads were introduced in the 19th century, mainly connected with mines, but in the country as a whole there are few railroads for general passenger travel.
A dramatic increase in road building over the last 30 years has now linked Brasilia, in the heart of the country, to most outlying areas. The first of the Amazon highways connected Brasilia to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon river, while the most recent links the west of the Amazon to the industrial southeast, providing a route along which much of the newly felled timer is carried to the coast.
The greatest problem in Brazil is its sheer size. Air transportation has transformed communication over very long distances. There are regular services on major routes between main cities and frequent flights to remote, outlying regions where small planes can land on grass landing strips, or if necessary amphibian planes alight on the rivers. But for many people, flying is an expensive way to travel.
Older forms of transportation, such as horsed and cars are still much in use on rural areas. Water buffalo and carts are used in Marajo Island. However, many more people are riding bicycles and, if they can afford them, motorcycles that can cope with dirt roads and are fast.
It has been estimated that in less than 30 years Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will be two of the most populated cities in the world. Yet overall Brazil's population growth is relatively low. But if there is to be a more equal distribution of the population, future governments will need to find ways to persuade people not to leave rural areas. This problem may be helped as the cities and towns farthest from Rio and Sao Paulo are developed, with their own airports and bus terminals, so that people see less reason to move to the coast in search of better facilities.
Other problems that must be faced are the increasing gap between rich and poor, the huge international debt, and the need to redistribute land so that the majority of the population can benefit. However, in many ways Brazil is a very fortunate country, and compared with many others, it can look forward to an exciting 21st century. Backed by is enormous natural resources, it is well placed to become a leading industrial and political force. It has also shown that is well aware of its responsibility to look after the environment for future generations.