Brazil covers nearly half of South America and is the continent's largest nation. It extends 2,965 mi (4,772 km) north-south, 2,691 mi (4,331 km) east-west, and borders every nation on the continent except Chile and Ecuador. Brazil may be divided into the Brazilian Highlands, or plateau, in the south and the Amazon River Basin in the north. Over a third of Brazil is drained by the Amazon and its more than 200 tributaries. The Amazon is navigable for ocean steamers to Iquitos, Peru, 2,300 mi (3,700 km) upstream. Southern Brazil is drained by the Plata system—the Paraguay, Uruguay, and Paraná rivers.
Brazil is the only Latin American nation that derives its language and culture from Portugal. The native inhabitants mostly consisted of the nomadic Tupí-Guaraní Indians. Adm. Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed the territory for Portugal in 1500. The early explorers brought back a wood that produced a red dye, pau-brasil, from which the land received its name. Portugal began colonization in 1532 and made the area a royal colony in 1549.
During the Napoleonic Wars, King João VI, fearing the advancing French armies, fled Portugal in 1808 and set up his court in Rio de Janeiro. João was drawn home in 1820 by a revolution, leaving his son as regent. When Portugal tried to reimpose colonial rule, the prince declared Brazil's independence on Sept. 7, 1822, becoming Pedro I, emperor of Brazil. Harassed by his parliament, Pedro I abdicated in 1831 in favor of his five-year-old son, who became emperor in 1840 (Pedro II). The son was a popular monarch, but discontent built up, and in 1889, following a military revolt, he abdicated. Although a republic was proclaimed, Brazil was ruled by military dictatorships until a revolt permitted a gradual return to stability under civilian presidents.
President Wenceslau Braz cooperated with the Allies and declared war on Germany during World War I. In World War II, Brazil again cooperated with the Allies, welcoming Allied air bases, patrolling the South Atlantic, and joining the invasion of Italy after declaring war on the Axis powers.
After a military coup in 1964, Brazil had a series of military governments. Gen. João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo became president in 1979 and pledged a return to democracy in 1985. The election of Tancredo Neves on Jan. 15, 1985, the first civilian president since 1964, brought a nationwide wave of optimism, but when Neves died several months later, Vice President José Sarney became president. Collor de Mello won the election of late 1989, pledging to lower hyperinflation with free-market economics. When Collor faced impeachment by Congress because of a corruption scandal in Dec. 1992 and resigned, Vice President Itamar Franco assumed the presidency.
A former finance minister, Fernando Cardoso, won the presidency in the Oct. 1994 election with 54% of the vote. Cardoso sold off inefficient government-owned monopolies in the telecommunications, electrical power, port, mining, railway, and banking industries.
In Jan. 1999, the Asian economic crisis spread to Brazil. Rather than prop up the currency through financial markets, Brazil opted to let the currency float, which sent the real plummeting—at one time as much as 40%. Cardoso was highly praised by the international community for quickly turning around his country's economic crisis. Despite his efforts, however, the economy remained sluggish throughout 2001, and the country also faced an energy crisis. The IMF offered Brazil an additional aid package in Aug. 2001. And in Aug. 2002, to ensure that Brazil would not be dragged down by neighboring Argentina's catastrophic economic problems, the IMF agreed to lend Brazil a phenomenal $30 billion over fifteen months.
The Lula Administration Oversees Economic and Social Reform
In Jan. 2003, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former trade union leader and factory worker widely known by the name Lula, became Brazil's first working-class president. As leader of Brazil's only Socialist party, the Workers' Party, Lula pledged to increase social services and improve the lot of the poor. But he also recognized that a distinctly nonsocialist program of fiscal austerity was needed to rescue the economy. The president's first major legislative success was a plan to reform the country's debt-ridden pension system, which operated under an annual $20 billion deficit. Civil servants staged massive strikes opposing this and other reforms. Although public debt and inflation remained a problem in 2004, Brazil's economy showed signs of growth and unemployment was down. Polls in Aug. 2004 demonstrated that the majority of Brazilians supported Lula's tough economic reform efforts. He combined his conservative fiscal policies with ambitious antipoverty programs, raising the country's minimum wage by 25% and introducing an ambitious social welfare program, Bolsa Familia, which has pulled 36 million people (20% of the population) out of deep poverty.
In 2005, an unfolding bribery scandal weakened Lula's administration and led to the resignation of several high government officials. Lula issued a televised apology in August, promising “drastic measures” to reform the political system. By the following year, his popularity had rebounded as he continued a successful balancing act between fiscal responsibility and a strong social welfare system. But after another corruption scandal surfaced right before the Oct. 2006 election, Lula won only 48.6% of the vote, forcing a runoff election on Oct. 29 in which Lula garnered 60.8% of the vote, retaining his office.
A new oil field, called Tupi, was discovered 16,000 feet below the ocean's floor in November 2007. Tupi will yield five to eight billion barrels of crude oil and natural gas, making it the largest oil field discovered since Kashagan Field in Kazakhstan in 2000.
After a three-year decline, the National Institute for Space Research reported that the deforestation rate in Brazil during 2008 increased 228% in 2007.
In October 2009, Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, becoming the first South American city to host the Games. Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago, Ill. were the other finalists in the running.
Brazil Elects Its First Woman President
In October 2010's second round of presidential elections, Dilma Rousseff, an acolyte of Lula and his former chief of staff, defeated José Serra 56% to 44% to become the country's first woman president. Because of term limits, Lula could not run for a third consecutive term. Rousseff is expected to follow through with Lula's agenda, but faces the task of improving the country's education, health, and sanitation systems. The vote was seen as an endorsement of Lula and his social and economic policies.
Former Student Behind Worst School Shooting Brazil Has Ever Seen
On April 7, 2011, A 23-year-old former student returned to his public elementary school in Rio de Janeiro and began firing, killing 12 children and wounding 12 others, before shooting himself in the head. While Brazil has seen gang-related violence in urban areas, this was the worst school shooting the country has ever seen. Tasso da Silveira elementary and middle school, the site of the shooting, is located in the working class neighborhood of Realengo, on the west side of Rio.
The shooter, Wellington Menezes de Oliveria, age 24, entered the school around 8 a.m., telling a teacher who recognized him that he was there to speak to a class. Oliveira opened fire a few minutes later with a .38-caliber pistol in one hand and a .32-caliber gun in the other. He killed 10 girls and 2 boys. When Oliveira ignored a police officer's order to drop his guns, the officer, Sgt. Marcio Alves, shot him in the leg. Oliveira then shot himself in the head. A letter found in Mr. Oliveira's pocket made it clear that he intended to die and that the attack was premeditated, but offered no clear motive for the shootings.
Rousseff Faces Political Crisis as Top Aide Steps Down
In June 2011, top cabinet official Antonio Palocci resigned. President Rousseff's chief of staff, Palocci, was accused of increasing his personal wealth as a corporate consultant while he was also serving in congress and coordinating Rousseff's presidential campaign. Out of the last four chiefs of staff, Palocci was the third to resign amid accusations. Palocci's resignation did not cease investigations which continue to explore if there was a connection between Palocci's business dealings and Rousseff's presidential campaign.
Security Measures Begin for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics
Around three thousand soldiers and police officers moved into Rocinha, one of the largest slums in Rio de Janeiro, on November 13, 2011. It was part of an operation by the government to gain control over troubled areas in the city before the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup. The operation, named "Shock of Peace," involved military helicopters, tanks, snipers stationed on rooftops, and police squads patrolling alleys.
Rocinha, a community of more than 80,000, is located near some of Rio's wealthiest neighborhoods. Occupying the area was an important step in imposing order in the city and cracking down on drug traffickers who control most of the city's slums. Shock of Peace was made possible by the arrest of Nem, a drug lord whose real name is Antônio Bonfim Lopes, as well as months of gathering intelligence.
Club Fire Kills 233 People
In the early morning hours of January 27, 2013, a fire broke out in a nightclub in Santa Maria, a southern city in Brazil. The cause of the fire was a flare from pyrotechnics used by a band performing on stage at the club. At the time of the fire, the club was packed with hundreds of students from nearby universities. According to officials, at least 233 people were killed.
The fire stunned the nation. President Dilma Rousseff immediately left a summit meeting in Chile and traveled to Santa Maria to console the victim's families. As she left Chile, in tears, she said to reporters, "This is a tragedy for all of us."
Judiciary Council Rules on Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies
On May 14, 2013, the National Council of Justice ruled that notary publics in Brazil could no longer refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Many saw the ruling as an opening for gay couples to get married in Latin American's largest country.
Legal scholars said that with the ruling the National Council of Justice, a 15-member panel led by Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, legalized gay marriage in Brazil. The ruling follows recent decisions by lawmakers in Argentina and Uruguay to legal same-sex marriage. The National Council of Justice voted 14 to 1 in favor of requiring notary publics to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Notary publics would also be required to convert same-sex civil unions into marriages. In 2011, Brazil's high court ruled in favor of allowing same-sex unions.
Demonstrations Stun Nation
Throughout June 2013, nationwide protests were held over increases in bus fares. The protesters were mainly part of an organization called the Free Fare Movement and included students and political activists from leftist parties. The Free Fare Movement had been pushing for either decreasing public transportation fares or completely abolishing them and paying for them with tax increases.
The most intense protests happened in São Paulo, where dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to separate thousands of protestors. Several journalists were injured. Reoccurring protests also happened in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Natal and Goiânia. The protests, which became larger as the month went on, were the biggest Brazil had seen in twenty years.
On June 25, 2013, President Dilma Rousseff attempted to address the concerns of protestors by suggesting changes to the country's political system. Rousseff met with members of the Free Fare Movement and proposed a Congressional overhaul as well as a change to campaign-finance methods. She also suggested that the government spend $22 billion in public transit improvements, including building subways. Finally, she proposed increasing political corruption penalties, which has become another chief concern of the protestors. Announcing her proposals in a televised address after meeting with the Free Fare Movement, Rousseff said, "Now the people out on the streets want more."
NSA Leaks Chill Relationship with the U.S.
President Rousseff learned in September 2013 that the U.S. government had spied on her, senior government officials, and Petrobras, Brazil's national oil company. The revealation was one of many details about the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were uncovered by Edward Snowden and leaked to the media. Outraged, Rousseff demanded an apology from President Barack Obama. Dissatisfied with his response, she canceled a state visit to Washington scheduled for October.
However, two months later, Brazil's government acknowledged that it had spied on countries such as the United States, Iran and Russia. The country's top intelligence agency, the Institutional Security Cabinet, released a statement that it had spied on diplomats from other countries about a decade ago. The diplomats were under surveillance while they were in Brazil. The acknowledgement came after Brazil had repeatedly criticized the U.S. for its spying operations.
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