Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic
Geographic coordinates: 10 00 S, 55 00 W
Map references: South America
total: 8,511,965 sq km
land: 8,456,510 sq km
water: 55,455 sq km
note: includes Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha, Atol das
Rocas, Ilha da Trindade, Ilhas Martin Vaz, and Penedos de Sao Pedro
e Sao Paulo
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than the US
total: 14,691 km
border countries: Argentina 1,224 km, Bolivia 3,400 km, Colombia
1,643 km, French Guiana 673 km, Guyana 1,119 km, Paraguay 1,290
km, Peru 1,560 km, Suriname 597 km, Uruguay 985 km, Venezuela 2,200
Coastline: 7,491 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: mostly tropical, but temperate in south
Terrain: mostly flat to rolling lowlands in north; some
plains, hills, mountains, and narrow coastal belt
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pico da Neblina 3,014 m
Natural resources: bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel,
phosphates, platinum, tin, uranium, petroleum, hydropower, timber
arable land: 5%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 22%
forests and woodland: 58%
other: 14% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 28,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: recurring droughts in northeast; floods
and occasional frost in south
Environment - current issues: deforestation in Amazon Basin
destroys the habitat and endangers the existence of a multitude
of plant and animal species indigenous to the area; air and water
pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large
cities; land degradation and water pollution caused by improper
note: President CARDOSO in September 1999 signed into force
an environmental crime bill which for the first time defines pollution
and deforestation as crimes punishable by stiff fines and jail sentences
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine
Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution,
Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: largest country in South America; shares
common boundaries with every South American country except Chile
Brazil covers almost half of the South American continent. It is
bordered to the north, west and south by all South American countries
except Chile and Ecuador, to the east is the Atlantic.
The country is relatively flat with over 60% of the country consisting
of plateau. Its largest city is Sao Paulo, and its capital is Brasilia.
The climatic pattern is largely shaped by Brazil's tropical location
and by topographic features. Most of Brazil has high annual average
temperatures, above 22° C (72° F).
Only in the South and in the highest elevations does the average
fall below this. In the higher elevations, the seasonal variation
in temperature is more marked.
Brazil is the largest country in South America in terms of both
area and population. It occupies almost half the area of the continent
and has more people than all the other South American countries
Brazil ranks fifth in both area and population among the countries
of the world.
Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became
an independent nation in 1822. By far the largest and most populous
country in South America, Brazil has overcome more than half a century
of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue
industrial and agricultural growth and development of the interior.
Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, Brazil
became Latin America's leading economic power by the 1970s. Highly
unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem.
Official Name: Federative Republic of Brazil (República
Fede-rativa do Brasil).
Short Name: Brazil (Brasil).
Term for Citizen(s): Brazilian(s).
Independence: September 7, 1822 (from Portugal).
Size and Location: Standard figure is 8,511,996
square kilometers (including oceanic islands of Arquipélago de Fernando
de Noronha, Atol das Rocas, Ilha da Trindade, Ilhas Martin Vaz,
and Penedos de São Pedro e São Paulo). According to revised figure
of Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Fundação Instituto
Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística--IBGE), which takes into account
new measurements, total area is 8,547,403.5 square kilometers. Brazil
occupies about 47 percent of continental area. Country situated
between 05°16'20" north latitude and 33°44'32" south latitude,
and between 34°47'30" east longitude and 73°59'32" west
longitude. Its boundaries extend 23,086 kilometers, of which 7,367
kilometers on Atlantic Ocean. To north, west, and south, Brazil
shares boundaries with all South American countries except Chile
Standard Time: With an east-to-west territorial
dimension of 4,319 kilometers, Brazil has four time zones. In most
of country, time is three hours earlier than Greenwich time. Between
summer months of October and February, country adopts daylight savings
time, setting clock forward by one hour, in Southeast (Sudeste),
Center-West (Centro-Oeste), and South (Sul) regions, and in states
of Bahia in Northeast (Nordeste) and Tocantins in North (Norte).
Maritime Claims: Exclusive economic zone 322 kilometers
(200 nautical miles).
Boundary Disputes: A short section of boundary
with Paraguay, just west of Salto das Sete Quedas (Guairá Falls)
on Paraná; and two short sections of boundary with Uruguay--Arroio
Invernada area of Cuareim and islands at confluence of Quaraí and
Topography and Climate: Consisting of dense forest,
semiarid scrub land, rugged hills and mountains, rolling plains,
and long coastal strip, Brazil's landmass dominated by Amazon Basin
and Central Highlands. Principal mountain ranges (Serra do Mar)
parallel Atlantic coast. Climate varies from mostly tropical in
North, where it is seldom cold, to more temperate in South, where
it snows in some places. Also wide range of subtropical variations.
World's largest rain forest located in Amazon Basin. Higher annual
measurements (26°C to 28°C) occur in Northeast's interior
and mid- and lower Amazon River. Lowest values (under 18°C)
occur in hilly areas of Southeast and largest part of South. Highest
absolute values, over 40°C, are recorded in Northeast's low
interior lands; in Southeast's depressions, valleys, and lowlands;
in Center-West's Pantanal (Great Wetlands) and lower areas; and
in South's central depressions and Uruguai Valley. Lowest absolute
temperatures often show negative values in most of South, where
frosts and snow usual. Rainy areas correspond to Pará's coastal
lands and western Amazonas, where annual rainfall greater than 3,000
millimeters. In Southeast on Serra do Mar (São Paulo State), recorded
annual rainfall exceeds 3,500 millimeters. Drought areas located
in interior Northeast, where annual rainfall under 500 millimeters.
Maximum precipitation occurs during summer-autumn in most parts
of country, except for Roraima and north Amazonas, where rainy season
occurs during winter because these two states are located in Northern
Principal Rivers: Vast, dense drainage system
consisting of eight hydrographic basins. Amazon and Tocantins-Araguaia
basins account for 56 percent of total drainage area. World's greatest
fluvial island, Bananal, located in Center-West Region on Araguaia.
With ten of world's twenty greatest rivers, Amazon (Amazonas) is
world's largest in volume of water and one of world's longest (6,762
kilometers, of which 3,615 kilometers are in Brazil), discharging
15.5 percent of all fresh water flowing into oceans from rivers.
Union of Paraná and Iguaçu in South, at border between Brazil, Argentina,
and Paraguay, forms Iguaçu Falls at Foz do Iguaçu.
Data as of April 1997
The Society and Its Environment
THE FIFTH LARGEST country in the world, Brazil is the largest country
in Latin America and has territory slightly larger than that of
the continental United States. Its population, estimated officially
at nearly 160 million in mid-1997, is the largest in Latin America
and constitutes about half of the population in South America. With
80 percent of its population living in cities and towns, Brazil
is one of the most urbanized and industrialized countries in Latin
America. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are among the ten largest
cities in the world. São Paulo, with its 18 million people, is the
world's third largest city, after Mexico City and Tokyo. Yet, parts
of Brazil's Amazon region, which has some of the world's most extensive
wilderness areas, are sparsely inhabited by indigenous peoples still
in the process of coming into contact with the modern world.
More than for its superlatives, however, Brazil stands out for
its regional and social disparities. Brazil is noted for having
one of the most unequal income distributions of any country. In
the rural Northeast (Nordeste), there is poverty similar to that
found in some African and Asian countries. Although increased urbanization
has accompanied economic development, it also has created serious
social problems in the cities. Even the wealthiest cities contain
numerous shantytowns called favelas.
While in many ways this diversity or heterogeneity makes it similar
to other developing countries in Latin America and elsewhere, Brazil
is also unique. One of the fascinating elements of this uniqueness
is that it is different things at once, presenting different faces
or identities of a single coherent whole. Both local and foreign
perceptions of Brazil tend to exaggerate particular features, lack
a balanced view, and fail to grasp how the parts of the whole fit
together. During the twentieth century, for example, Brazil came
to be known to the rest of the world and to many of its own inhabitants
in picturesque motifs that could best be fit together coherently
in terms of a "land of contrasts." The country was considered a
tropical paradise famed for its exports (coffee), music (such as
Carmen Miranda, samba, and bossa nova), and soccer (thanks to Edson
Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé)), as well as the nearly mythical Amazon
rain forest. Rio de Janeiro was associated with Sugarloaf (Pão de
Açucar), Copacabana, income tax fugitives, and even the mastermind
of Britain's "Great Train Robbery" of 1963. On a more serious level,
Brazil often was disparaged for its inability to solve basic political
and economic problems, such as consolidating democratic institutions,
controlling runaway inflation, and servicing the foreign debt. However,
the nation is noted for being an emerging industrial power and for
constructing giant public works, such as the new capital city of
Brasília, the Trans-Amazonian Highway, and the world's largest hydroelectric
dam (Itaipu). Brazil also stands out for its leadership role in
Latin America and the developing world.
Most Brazilians saw the military regime (1964-85) as a repressive
dictatorship, although others regarded it as having saved the country
from communism. Brazilian society was viewed as conservative and
male chauvinistic, yet simultaneously freewheeling or even licentious,
as revealed in its Carnaval (Carnival) festivities. In the 1980s,
much of the world saw the Amazon, the world's greatest store of
biodiversity, and its native peoples as falling victim to unparalleled
destruction. In the early 1990s, the news of massacres of Yanomami
Indians, street children, and favela dwellers who inhabit Rio de
Janeiro's hillsides sundered Brazil's image of cordiality. Although
there were other reasons for pessimism and a continuing identity
crisis (Brazil became the first democracy to impeach its president,
in December 1992), there were reasons for pride as well (inflation
was brought under control in 1994). Was Brazil a "serious country"
destined to be a great power, or was it always to remain a land
of the future?
One can find ample evidence for countervailing trends: unity and
diversity, modernity and tradition, progressive government policies
and deeply rooted inequality, tight control by elites and broadening
popular participation, principles and pragmatism. There are no simple
answers. This chapter examines Brazil's social and environmental
complexity and its characteristic paradoxes and nuances of meaning,
beginning with the physical setting and moving into the more mercurial
social issues, with special attention to how society relates to
Data as of April 1997
Size and Location
With its expansive territory, Brazil occupies most of the eastern
part of the South American continent and its geographic heartland,
as well as various islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The only countries
in the world that are larger are Russia, Canada, China, and the
United States (including Alaska). The national territory extends
4,395 kilometers from north to south (5°16'20" N to 33°44'32"
S latitude) and 4,319 kilometers from east to west (34°47'30"
E to 73°59'32" W longitude). It spans four time zones, the westernmost
of which, in Acre State, is the same as Eastern Standard Time in
the United States. The time zone of the capital (Brasília) and of
the most populated part of Brazil along the east coast is two hours
ahead of Eastern Standard Time, except when it is on its own daylight
savings time, from October to February. The Atlantic islands are
in the easternmost time zone.
Brazil possesses the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, located
350 kilometers northeast of its "horn," and several small islands
and atolls in the Atlantic--Abrolhos, Atol das Rocas, Penedos de
São Pedro e São Paulo, Trindade, and Martim Vaz. In the early 1970s,
Brazil claimed a territorial sea extending 362 kilometers from the
country's shores, including those of the islands.
On Brazil's east coast, the Atlantic coastline extends 7,367 kilometers.
In the west, in clockwise order from the south, Brazil has 15,719
kilometers of borders with Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia,
Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana .
The only South American countries with which Brazil does not share
borders are Chile and Ecuador. A few short sections are in question,
but there are no major boundary controversies with any of the neighboring
Geology, Geomorphology, and Drainage
In contrast to the Andes, which rose to elevations of nearly 7,000
meters in a relatively recent epoch and inverted the Amazon's direction
of flow from westward to eastward, Brazil's geological formation
is very old. Precambrian crystalline shields cover 36 percent of
the territory, especially its central area. The principal mountain
ranges average elevations just under 2,000 meters. The Serra do
Mar Range hugs the Atlantic coast, and the Serra do Espinhaço Range,
the largest in area, extends through the south-central part of the
country . The highest mountains are in the Tumucumaque, Pacaraima,
and Imeri ranges, among others, which traverse the northern border
with the Guianas and Venezuela.
In addition to mountain ranges (about 0.5 percent of the country
is above 1,200 meters), Brazil's Central Highlands include a vast
central plateau (Planalto Central). The plateau's uneven terrain
has an average elevation of 1,000 meters. The rest of the territory
is made up primarily of sedimentary basins, the largest of which
is drained by the Amazon and its tributaries. Of the total territory,
41 percent averages less than 200 meters in elevation. The coastal
zone is noted for thousands of kilometers of tropical beaches interspersed
with mangroves, lagoons, and dunes, as well as numerous coral reefs.
Brazil has one of the world's most extensive river systems, with
eight major drainage basins, all of which drain into the Atlantic
Ocean. Two of these basins--the Amazon and Tocantins-Araguaia--account
for more than half the total drainage area. The largest river system
in Brazil is the Amazon, which originates in the Andes and receives
tributaries from a basin that covers 45.7 percent of the country,
principally the north and west. The main Amazon river system is
the Amazonas-Solimões-Ucayali axis (the 6,762 kilometer-long Ucayali
is a Peruvian tributary), flowing from west to east. Through the
Amazon Basin flows one-fifth of the world's fresh water. A total
of 3,615 kilometers of the Amazon are in Brazilian territory. Over
this distance, the waters decline only about 100 meters. The major
tributaries on the southern side are, from west to east, the Javari,
Juruá, Purus (all three of which flow into the western section of
the Amazon called the Solimões), Madeira, Tapajós, Xingu, and Tocantins.
On the northern side, the largest tributaries are the Branco, Japurá,
Jari, and Negro. The above-mentioned tributaries carry more water
than the Mississippi (its discharge is less than one-tenth that
of the Amazon). The Amazon and some of its tributaries, called "white"
rivers, bear rich sediments and hydrobiological elements. The black-white
and clear rivers--such as the Negro, Tapajós, and Xingu--have clear
(greenish) or dark water with few nutrients and little sediment.
The major river system in the Northeast is the São Francisco,
which flows 1,609 kilometers northeast from the south-central region.
Its basin covers 7.6 percent of the national territory. Only 277
kilometers of the lower river are navigable for oceangoing ships.
The Paraná system covers 14.5 percent of the country. The Paraná
flows south into the Río de la Plata Basin, reaching the Atlantic
between Argentina and Uruguay. The headwaters of the Paraguai, the
Paraná's major eastern tributary, constitute the Pantanal, the largest
contiguous wetlands in the world, covering as much as 230,000 square
Below their descent from the highlands, many of the tributaries
of the Amazon are navigable. Upstream, they generally have rapids
or waterfalls, and boats and barges also must face sandbars, trees,
and other obstacles. Nevertheless, the Amazon is navigable by oceangoing
vessels as far as 3,885 kilometers upstream, reaching Iquitos in
Peru. The Amazon river system was the principal means of access
until new roads became more important in the 1970s. The São Francisco
was also used for transportation in the past. Dams and locks in
the Paraná system have made it an important artery for interstate
and international trade in the 1990s.
The various river systems descending from the shields have endowed
Brazil with vast hydroelectric potential, estimated at 129,046 megawatts
(MW), of which 30,065 MW were in operation or under construction
in 1991. The largest hydroelectric projects are Itaipu, in Paraná,
with 12,600 MW; Tucuruí, in Pará, with 7,746 MW; and Paulo Afonso,
in Bahia, with 3,986 MW.
Data as of April 1997