Brazil is South America's most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world's biggest democracies.But like some of its South American neighbours, it has a history of economic boom and bust and its development has been hampered by high inflation and foreign debt. The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, much of which is in Brazil, has become a major worry.
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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. Since then, it has made efforts to control illegal logging and introduce better certification of land ownership, but environmental reports suggest the reforms have made little difference.
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. Brazil has had to be bailed out in times of economic crisis, but reforms in the 1990s, including privatisations, brought some financial stability. Micronesia
There is a wide gap between rich and poor. 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.
Full name: Federative Republic of Brazil
Population: 191.8 million (UN, 2007)
Largest city: Sao Paulo
Area: 8.55 million sq km (3.3 million sq miles)
Major language: Portuguese
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 real = 100 centavos
Main exports: Manufactured goods, iron ore, coffee, oranges, other agricultural produce
GNI per capita: US $3,460 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .br
International dialling code: +55