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Brazil - Overview

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Area: 8,511,965 sq km

Population: 188,078,227 (U.S. Census Bureau estimate)

Capital: Brasilia

Government: Federative Republic

Ethnic groups: White 53.7%, Mulatto 38.5%, Black 6.2%, other or unspecified 1.6%

Main languages: Portuguese (official language); Spanish, English, French

Religion: Roman Catholic 73.6%, Protestant 15.4%, Other, Unspecified or No Religion (11%)

Time: GMT-2 to GMT-5. Daylight saving from Oct to Feb in Southern Brazil

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the largest in South America, occupying around half of this continent. It has an eastern coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and shares borders with all other South American countries apart from Chile and Ecuador. Geographically, Brazil can be divided into four regions: a narrow coastal belt in the east within which many of Brazil's main cities and two-thirds of its population are concentrated; the vast, dense rainforest of the Amazon Basin covering much of northern Brazil; a central plateau crossed by several low mountain ranges and a number of large rivers; and another river basin with forest, valleys and scrubland in the south.

A Portuguese colony for three centuries, Brazil's population consists largely of European descendents and people of mixed race, as well as native Indians and a significant number of people of African-descent. The size and ethnic diversity of Brazil provide it with a very rich and varied culture, although it is rapidly becoming 'Americanized'.

Although Brazil is a leading regional exporter and economic power, it also has a long history of economic and social problems. Having been under military rule for around 50 years until 1985, its civilian government is slowly building up the economy and carrying out various reform programmes to tackle social issues. However, the country still has vast inequalities of income, high levels of poverty, a high percentage of the population living in urban slums, environmental problems including illegal deforestation, air and water pollution, and high levels of crime and corruption.

Read more about this country

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