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Brazil, fifth largest country in the world and largest in South America, constituting nearly half the continent's land area. Brazil shares borders with all South American countries except Ecuador and Chile. It is the only Latin American country whose official language is Portuguese.

Land and climate

Most of Brazil falls within 2 major geographical regions: the lowlands of the Amazon River system and the plateau. Drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries, the Amazonian lowlands form the world's most extensive tropical rain forests. The climate is not excessively hot, but rainfall is as much as 80 in (203 cm) annually. The Brazilian plateau, rising to 1,000 to 3,000 ft (305 to 914 m) above sea level, is studded with occasional mountain ranges. About 40% of the population lives in the southerly part of the plateau, known as the “heartland,” which contains some of the country's most productive farmland and valuable mineral deposits.


Agriculture is the traditional mainstay of Brazil's economy. Exports include cattle, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, cocoa, tobacco, soybeans, citrus fruit, and bananas. Industry has also developed; particularly iron and steel, motor vehicles, textiles, and machinery. Brazil's vast natural resources have yet to be fully developed. Rich oil deposits have been found, as well as, iron, manganese, coal, chromium, quartz, uranium, and industrial grade diamonds. The exploitation of the Amazon basin has posed a threat to the tropical rain forest, creating a major point of controversy, within Brazilan politics.


Portuguese colonists under Pedro lvarez Cabral claimed Brazil in 1500, and colonization began in 1532. Slaves were extensively used by plantation owners. The country remained a colony until winning its independence in 1822, as a monarchy. Slavery was abolished in 1888, and Brazil became a republic in 1889. Military regimes prevailed until the accession of President Getúlio Vargas in 1930. A military coup overthrew the leftist civilian government of João Goulart in 1964. Often accused of torture and other human rights violations, the military continued to rule through a succession of generals who served as president. The first presidential election with civilian candidates in 20 years was held in Jan. 1985. Civilian rule was restored in the late 1980s. From 1995 onwards, the current president, Cardoso, has tried to reform the corrupt political system.


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