Brazil is South America’s most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world’s biggest democracies.
It is one of the rising economic powers – otherwise known as BRIC nations – together with Russia, India and China. Over the past few years it has made major strides in its efforts to raise millions out of poverty.
The discovery of major offshore oil reserves could propel the country into the top league of oil-exporting nations.
The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, much of which is in Brazil, has been a major international worry, since the wilderness is a vital regulator of the climate. It is also an important reservoir of plant and animal life.
A drive to move settlers to the Amazon region during military rule in the 1970s caused considerable damage to vast areas of rainforest.
Deforestation by loggers and cattle ranchers remains controversial, but government-sponsored migration programmes have been halted.
In 2005 the government reported that one fifth of the Amazon forests had been cleared by deforestation.
Deforestation has been slowed down by extra policing and pressure from environmental and consumer groups. The government has fined illegal cattle ranchers and loggers, while the food industries have banned products from illegally deforested areas, such as soya beans and beef.
Officials estimate that deforestation in 2010 fell to 5,000 sq km for the year, down from 7,000 sq km the year before and a peak of 27,000 sq km in 2004.
Brazil’s natural resources, particularly iron ore, are highly prized by major manufacturing nations, including China. Thanks to the development of offshore fields, the nation has become self-sufficient in oil, ending decades of dependence on foreign producers.
There is a wide gap between rich and poor, but the World Bank has praised the country for progress in reducing social and economic inequality.
Much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families, a situation which the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) seeks to redress by demanding land redistribution. It uses direct protest action and land occupation in its quest.
Social conditions can be harsh in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where a third of the population lives in favelas, or slums.
Brazil’s Aids programme has become a model for other developing countries. It has stabilised the rate of HIV infection and the number of Aids-related deaths has fallen. Brazil has bypassed the major drugs firms to produce cheaper, generic Aids medicines.
Brazil is revered for its football prowess. Its cultural contributions include the music of classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Bossa Nova icon Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Source: BBC World Country Profiles (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/country_profiles/default.stm)