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With an estimated 170 million inhabitants, Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks sixth in the world. The majority live in the south-central area, which includes the industrial cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. Urban growth has been rapid; by 2000, 81% of the total population were living in urban areas. Rapid growth has aided economic development but has also created serious social, environmental, and political problems for major cities.

Four major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern, and Asian immigrant groups who have settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous people of Tupi- and [[Guarani language|Guarani]-speaking stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was once Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration have contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.

From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans emigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants have come mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong, and racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon. Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, constitute less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years but are controversial and often ineffective.

Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. About 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are Protestant or follow practices derived from African religions. Buddhism and Shinto are found among the Japanese community.

Brazil was claimed for Portugal in 1500 by Pedro Alvares Cabral. It was ruled from Lisbon as a colony until 1808, when the royal family, having fled from Napoleon's army, established the seat of Portuguese Government in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil became a kingdom under Dom Joao VI, who returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889, when a federal republic was established in a coup by Deodoro da Fonseca, Marshal of the army. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Regent Princess Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945. From 1945 to 1961, Eurico Dutra, Vargas, Juscelino Kubitschek, and Janio Quadros were elected presidents. When Quadros resigned in 1961, he was succeeded by Vice President Joao Goulart.

At the same time, an electoral college consisting of all members of congress and six delegates chosen from each state continued to choose the president. In January 1985, the electoral college voted Tancredo Neves from the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) into office as President. However, Neves became ill in March and died a month later. His Vice President, former Senator Jose Sarney, became President upon Neves' death. Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to the impeachment and ultimate resignation of President Collor. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term culminating in the October 3, 1994 presidential elections, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. He took office January 1, 1995 and was re-elected in October 1998 for a second 4-year term. Presidential elections will next be held in October 2002.

President Cardoso has sought to establish the basis for long-term stability and growth and to reduce Brazil's extreme socioeconomic imbalances. His proposals to Congress include constitutional amendments to open the Brazilian economy to greater foreign participation and to implement sweeping reforms-- including social security, government administration, and taxation--to reduce excessive public sector spending and improve government efficiency.

Pre-Discovering Period

The discovery of Brazil was preceded by a series of treaties between the kings of Spain and Portugal, the last of them is the Treaty of Tordesilhas, signed in 1494, creating the Tordesilhas Meridian, that divided the world between that two kingdoms. Every land discovered or to be discovered at east of that meridian was property of Portugal, and the land discovered or to be discovered at west of that meridian was property of Spain.

Pre-Colonial Period

Brazil's discovery is officially dated at April 21 of 1500, by Pedro Alvares Cabral, who was trying to discover a new route to India, around Africa. The land receives it's name after a wood very abundant and precious, the Pau-Brasil, today an endangered tree.

The place where Cabral has arrived to Brazil is now known as Porto Seguro ("safe harbour"), and is located in the state of Bahia.

In 1503, a expedition from Goncalo Coelho discovered that the French were making incursions to the land and looting it. In 1530 there was a new expedition from Martin Afonso de Souza to patrol the entire coast, banish the French, and to create the first colonial towns: Sao Vicente and Sao Paulo.

The Colonial Period

Having stablished some cities, Portugal started the colonization of Brazil. Having no means to administer the new colony, the king of Portugal divided the land in 15 "Capitanias Hereditarias" ("heritage captainships"), that were given to anyone who wanted to administer and explore them. From the 15 original Capitanias, only two, Pernambuco and Sao Vicente, prosper.

In 1789, there was the Inconfidencia Mineira, a rebel movement that failed, and the leader of which, Tiradentes, was hanged.

United Reign Period

In 1808, French troops from Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal, and Dom Joao, governor in place of his mother, Dona Maria I, ordered the transfer of the royal court to Brazil. Brazil was elevated to the condition of a Reino Unido de Portugal e Algarve (1815). There was also the election of Brazilian representants to the Cortes Constituicionais Portuguesas (Portuguese Constitutional Courts).


Dom Pedro, son of king Dom Joao VI, and heir-apparent, was left in Brazil in the position of regent. On September 7 of 1822, he declared the independence of Brazil from Portugal, and became the first emperor, Dom Pedro I, in October 12, 1822.

Brazil-Empire Period

From 1822 to the Declaration of the Republic in 1889, Brazil was an empire. There were three periods: the first was when Dom Pedro I ruled, and lasted until he abdicated in favor of his 5-year old son, and went to Portugal to become king of Portugal, in the year 1831.

In the second period, known as the regency, Brazil was ruled by several regents, because the heir of the throne was a child. In 1840 Dom Pedro II assumed the throne of his father, becoming the second and last emperor of the Brazil.

On September 28 1871, the Brazilian parliament approved and Pricess Isabel, regent of Brazil in the emperor's absence, signed the Lei do Ventre Livre (Law of the Free Womb), declaring that all sons of slaves would be free from that date. On May 13 1888, Princess Isabel signed the Lei Aurea (Golden Law), that was previously approved by the parliament, abolishing all form of slavery in Brazil.

Old Republic

On November 15 1889, the Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca declared the Republic, and deposed the king, Dom Pedro II, assuming the govern of the country. The presidents of this period were:

1889 - Temporary Govern - Mal. Deodoro da Fonseca
1891 - Mal. Deodoro da Fonseca, elected, Mal. Floriano Peixoto, his vice, assumed
1894 - Prudente José de Morais e Barros
1898 - Manuel Ferraz de Campos Sales
1902 - Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves
1906 - Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena (died in charge)
1906 - Nilo Pecanha (vice of Afonso Pena, assumed his place)
1910 - Mal. Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca
1914 - Venceslau Bras Pereira Gomes
1918 - Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves (died before assuming)
1918 - Delfim Moreira da Costa Ribeiro (vice of Francisco, assumed in his place)
1919 - Epitácio da Silva Pessoa
1922 - Arthur da Silva Bernardes
1926 - Washington Luis Pereira de Souza (deposed by the revolution of 1930)
1930 - Joint of Government - Gal. Augusto Tasso Fragoso, Gal. Joao de Deus mena Barreto, Alm. Isaias de Noronha

The Vargas Years

In 1930, the government was taken over by Getulio Dorneles Vargas, as the Chief of the Provisory Government. He was elected as president by the Assembleia Constituinte. In 1937 he created the Estado Novo (new state) and was the president until 1945, when was deposed.

The Second Republic

This period starts with the retirement of Getulio Vargas, in october 1945. His vice General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, is the next president ellected. IN 1946 there is a new constitution, more democratic than the previous one, restoring indivigdual rights.

In 1950, Getúlio Vargas is elected President again. He creates the Petrobrás. In 1954, Vargas commits suicide, and Juscelino Kubitschek is elected the president in the next year.

IN 1960, Kubitschek inaugurates Brasília, the new Brazilian capital.

In 1961, Jânio Quadros assumes the presidence, but renounces in October of the same year. His vice, João Goulart, governs until 1964, with constant troubles maded by the militar opposition to his government, because of his strong nacionalism.

Military Dictatorship

Goulart's years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and a strong opposition from the armed forces. The armed forces, staged a coup on March 31, 1964. The coup leaders chose as president Humberto Castello Branco, followed by Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-69), Emilio Garrastazu Medici (1968-74), and Ernesto Geisel (1974-79) all of whom were senior army officers. Other characteristics from this period are the supression of the constitutional rights, and strong censorship of the media.

In 1965, all the political parties were proscribed, and political repression was started. Only two parties were allowed, ARENA (Aliança Renovadora Nacional), and MDB (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro).

In 1967 the 6th Brazilian Constitution was approved by Congress, institutionalizing the coup, and establishing the indirect elections to President. The Congress, constituted by politicians that was allowed to participate in elections by the army, elect the President.

In the same year, General Arthur da Costa e Silva assumed the presidency and, in December, 1968, closed the Congress and decreed the Institutional Act Number 5, the infamous AI-5, that gave him the right to close Parliament, to abolish political rights and to supress habeas-corpus rights. In this period,armed conflicts in cities and countryside were intensified.

In 1969, General Emílio Garrastazu Médici became President, and commanded the period with extremely strong repression, with people being imprisioned, tortured, exiled or killed. Hundreds of people disapeared in his government. The same period saw the "Milagre Brasileiro" - "brazilian miracle", with an incredible growth in the GDP.

In 1974, General Ernesto Geisel assumed the Presidency, facing major economical troubles, caused by external debt from the last government, the international petroleum crisis, and a high inflation rate.

Geisel began a democratic opening-up that was continued by his successor, Gen. Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-85). Figueiredo not only permitted the return of politicians exiled or banned from political activity during the 1960s and 1970s, but also allowed them to run for state and federal offices in 1982.

The last military President was General Figueiredo, who made a smooth (and slow) transition to a democratic government, with the first free elections happening in 1984.


The first civilian president since the 1964 military coup was Tancredo Neves. He died before he was sworn in, leaving the elected vice-president, Jose Sarney, in power for 5 years.

Fernando Collor, was elected in 1990 in the first direct elections since the military coup, and subsequently impeached in 1992. The vice-president, Itamar Franco, assumed the presidency.

The third president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, started his first term 1995 and reelected in 1998, starting his second term in 1999. He is the current (2001) president of Brazil.

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