Country profile: Brazil

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Country profile: Brazil


Rio de Janeiro. © Lianne Milton / Panos Pictures

Brazil is the country of the future, and it always will be, Brazilians used to say, sadly. Then, in 2002, the Workers Party (PT) came to power. Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was their very popular trade-union leader. They said the future had finally arrived.

Lula was elected again in 2006. While he was president, the price of metals went up and they discovered big oilfields in the sea near Brazil. The economy grew at more than seven per cent per year. And there were new laws to increase pay, an increase in the minimum wage, and full employment. So extreme poverty almost disappeared. Millions of people who had never had a bank account started spending money and using credit cards. Almost 100% of children were at primary-school. Child mortality went down. Hundreds of thousands of poorer young people went to university because of new laws and government loans.


But the dream soon ended.

In 2014, Dilma Rousseff was elected again as president. This was the fourth PT government. Brazil suffered from the slowdown in China, the lower prices of oil and commodities, and the bad economic decisions of Dilma’s first government, spending too much in the good years.

So the economy got worse. And then there was the very big multi-million-dollar corruption scheme with the state oil company Petrobras, big building firms and the PT. So Dilma was not so popular. This corruption began in the time of other (non-PT) governments and involved politicians from many parties. But the media only looked at the PT. Many politicians, the conservative media and many voters wanted to impeach Dilma. By 2016, Brazil was no longer a good growing market. It was in recession, inflation was more than ten per cent and unemployment was rising.


Football outside a church in Providencia, the oldest favela in Rio. Lianne Milton / Panos Pictures

Many leftwing people were very disappointed that the PT was not able to change this very unequal society. They had hoped for changes in land ownership to help poor rural workers and a stop to rich people not paying tax. But the PT had to form a coalition. So they had to work with the same corrupt politicians they had criticized before. The owners of big businesses and land did not need to worry anymore about losing power.

There are many big political and economic problems. But Brazil also has many problems from climate change, because of deforestation of the Amazon. PT governments have continued with very big water power dams on Amazon rivers, when they could easily have developed wind, solar and biomass power. These dams are very bad for indigenous communities. In 2015 there was a very difficult year with no rain. This helped the Aedes egyptii mosquito, so there was a lot of dengue fever and zika. They think Zika causes micro-encephaly and brain damage in thousands of newborn babies.

The PT government has failed in many areas, but Brazil is still free from the big ethnic and religious conflicts that have destroyed many other countries. But, if it has so many advantages, why is Brazil still one of the most unequal and violent countries in the world? Between 1980 and 2013, almost half a million young people (15 to 29) were killed by guns. Too many of these were black. Many people see this as a result of almost 400 years of slavery. Brazil still has a long way to develop.

Jan Rocha

Country profile: Brazil Facts

Leader Dilma Vana Rousseff, elected for the second time in 2014, is Brazil’s first woman president.

Economy 7th largest in the world. GNI per person $11,530 (Argentina $13,480, Bolivia $2,870, United States $55,200). Many different areas: agricultural, mining, manufacturing and service. In the first nine months of 2015, the economy decreased by 3.2%. Brazil was in profit in 2008 but most recently two international credit agencies graded it as ‘junk’.

Money Real (plural Reais).

Main exports iron ore, soybeans, sugar, poultry, vehicles. Coffee, once Brazil´s top product, is now only 3% of exports.

People 206.1 m, including almost 900,000 indigenous people. Less than 1% are immigrants. Population growth per year 0.9%. People per sq km 25 (UK 267).

Health 15 infant deaths for 1,000 live births (Argentina 11, Bolivia 31, US 6). Lifetime chance of maternal mortality 1 in 780 (Portugal 1 in 8,800). HIV 0.6%.

Environment The Amazon basin is half of Brazil’s total area and influences rainfall in other regions. A third of the population live in the Northeast, which is very dry. Brazil has 12% of the world’s fresh water, but deforestation of the Amazon forest and other trees, by big agricultural companies, is causing more climate change and more extreme weather. Culture Brazilians are a mixture of many indigenous people, African slaves from many different countries, Portuguese settlers, and European and Japanese immigrants.

Religion Catholic 65%, Protestant, including Pentecostal, 22%. Other religions, including Afro-religions, 5%. Non-religious 8%.

Language Portuguese (official). 246 indigenous groups speak more than 150 languages.

Human development index 0.755, 75th of 188 countries.

Country profile: Brazil in detail

Income distribution This is better in the last 12 years but still one of the world’s biggest gaps between rich and poor. The top 10% are 42 times richer than the bottom 10%.

Literacy Officially 91%, but about 18% of adults only read and write very badly. All children aged 6 – 14 must now go to school. In 2012 they introduced quotas for black and indigenous students at federal universities.

Life expectancy 75 years (Argentina 76, Bolivia 68, US 79). Families are having a lot less children, so there is now a bigger proportion of older people.

Position of women The president is female but there are not many other women in government. There is a lot of violence against women, especially in rural areas.

Freedom No formal media censorship, but there are many threats to journalists and assassinations, mostly involving police and politicians in smaller towns.

Sexual minorities The biggest Gay Pride Parade in the world is in São Paulo. There are gay people on TV soaps, but there is still a lot of homophobia. Homophobia is not a crime because conservative Pentecostals have stopped this law going through government.

NI Assessment (Politics) President Rousseff was elected as leftwing. But she is in coalition with a centre-right party. Because of cuts, there is now higher unemployment. And she is not so popular. Brazil has the highest interest rates in the world (14.25% per annum), but inflation is still more than ten per cent. Impeachment is possible. If she survives she will probably not be able to do much until her presidency ends in 2018.

Last reviewed 2004

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