Brazil flag

PRESIDENT: Dilma Rousseff (Jan. 2011 - 2015)

POPULATION: 178.5 million

KEY EXPORTS: Industrial goods, coffee, and sugar

Andrew Clem blog


Brazil blog archives

Recent chronology

Jan. 1999Financial crisis: Brazilian real is devalued by 30%.
June 2000Luiz Estvao is first ever expelled from Senate, on corruption charges.
Mar. 2001Coordinated uprising by inmates at 29 prisons; overcrowding.
Mar. 2001Pres. Cardoso visits U.S., buoyed by economic growth, but dogged by corruption scandals.
May 2002Liberal Front Party quit gov. coalition because of corruption scandal.
June 2002Leftist candidate "Lula" da Silva climbs in the polls; he is moderating his tone and dressing in suits.
July 2002Brazil wins the soccer World Cup for the fifth time.
Aug. 2002Investor nervousness at the likely leftist victory, plus a remark by U.S. Treas. Sec. O'Neil: Brazil's currency (real) fell 30%.
Aug. 2002Bush admin. approved a $30 billion IMF emergency loan to Brazil. Financial markets rebounded.
Oct. 2002"Lula" da Silva won 46.4% in first round, defeated Conservative Jose Serra 61% to 39% in second round. He pledged to fight poverty but keep paying debts.
Dec. 2002Pres.-elect da Silva met with Pres. Duhalde in Buenos Aires, pledging support for MERCOSUR and urging Brazil and Argentina build a "strategic" relationship. Da Silva also met Pres. Bush at White House.
Jan. 2003Outgoing Pres. Cardoso warmly embraced his successor, da Silva, at New Year's Day inaugural ceremonies in Brasilia.
Jan. 2003Pres. da Silva suspended planned purchase of 12 advanced fighter jets (not yet chosen), pledging to divert the $700 million to fight poverty.
Jan. 2003Workers' party member declared that Brazil ought to restart nuclear weapons program, halted in 1991.
Feb. 2003Pres. da Silva enjoys "honeymoon," as 56.6% of Brazilians have a positive image of him. Lula launched a massive campaign against hunger.
Feb. 2003Pres. da Silva criticized U.S. "unilateral" foreign policy.
Feb. 2003Narcotics gang leaders in Rio de Janeiro unleashed wave of violence, revealing latent social hostilities.
Mar. 2003Veja magazine reported that Osama bin Laden was in Brazil in 1995, at border with Paraguay and Argentina.
Mar. 2003Pres. da Silva's approval rating fell from about 57% to 45%. His Labor Party lacks a majority in Congress, and cannot get much done.
May 2003The Party of the Braz. Dem. Movement joined governing coalition, but it lacks discipline. Many in Worker's Party are suspicious of Pres. da Silva's proposed reforms.
June 2003In Madrid, Pres. da Silva was awarded "Prince of Asturias" Prize. At a G-8 meeting in France, da Silva called for a global fund against poverty, by taxing arms exports.
Aug. 2003French attempt to rescue French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt (held hostage in jungle by FARC) with C-130 plane landing in Manaus causes diplomatic spat.
Aug. 2003Brazilian VLS-3 rocket explodes on launch pad in Alcantara, killing at least 21. Scheduled to orbit a week later, coop. with Ukraine.
Nov. 2003Foreign Minister Celso Amorim meets U.S. Trade Rep. Bob Zoellick in Washington, trying to compromise on trade talks.
Jan. 2004Brazilian judge ordered visiting Americans to be subjected to same security measures that Brazilians are subjected to in U.S.
Apr. 2004Brazil claims it is adhering to agreements, but has been hiding something from U.N. inspectors at uranium enrichment facilities.
Sept. 2004Ven. Pres. Hugo Chavez met with Pres. da Silva, prelim. agreement on South American econ. integ.
Oct. 2004Pres. da Silva's Workers Party gained strength in municipal elections across Brazil, but lost in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
June 2005Jose Dirceu resigns as Pres. chief of staff after vote-buying scandal.
June 2005Summit meeting of Arab and Latin American heads of state in Brasilia.
July 2005Pres. da Silva reshuffles his cabinet after vote-buying scandal threatens the coalition led by Worker's Party.
Sept. 2005Chamber of Deputies speaker Severino Cavalcanti resigned after bribery accusations. Several members of Worker's Party defect.
Oct. 2005Chamber of Delegates chose as its new speaker Aldo Rebelo, a member of the Communist Party: narrow victory for Pres. da Silva.
Oct. 2005Much of the Amazon Basin suffers worst drought in 60 years.
Oct. 2005Brazilian voters defeated a proposed law that would prohibit individuals from carrying firearms.
Nov. 2005Pres. Bush stopped in Brasilia, after summit in Argentina.
Jan. 2006About 200 visitors to a prison in the state of Rondonia were freed after five days as hostages of inmates.
Feb. 2006Suicide by commander of Brazil's peacekeeping forces in Haiti; For. Min. Celso Amorim asks U.N. Sec. Council to get more involved.
Mar. 2006Sex and banking scandal: Antonio Palocci (moderate) resigned as finance minister, replaced by Guido Mantega.
Mar. 2006Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes became the first Brazilian to go into space today, aboard Russian Soyuz rocket toward International Space Station.
Apr. 2006Presidents of Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil met in Sao Paulo, and agreed to proceed with a huge natural gas pipeline project.
May 2006Uprising by members of First Capital Command gang paralyzes Sao Paulo. Banks are burned, 79-130 people are killed. Police brutality?
June 2006Brazil's leading international airline Varig is in bankruptcy and seeks govt. bailout or workers' buyout.
Oct. 2006Pres. da Silva won reelection in second round, defeating conservative Geraldo Alckmin with over 60%.
Feb. 2007U.S. and Brazil are talking about sharing ethanol production technology, to reduce their dependence on imported petroleum.
Mar. 2007Pres. Bush visits Brazil, announcing ethanol trade agreement. Pres da Silva criticized Bush foreign policy.
May 2007Pope Benedict XVI visits Brazil, in conjunction with conference of Latin American bishops, warning against "hedonistic temptations."
July 2007Over 200 people died in crash of an Airbus airliner at Sao Paulo, the worst air disaster in Brazil's history.
Oct. 2007Pres. da Silva visits Burkina Faso and other African countries, mainly to promote Brazil's biofuels program.
Sept. 2008OPEC has invited Brazil to become a member, after large offshore petroleum reserves were found.
Dec. 2008Top officials from European Union attended summit in Rio de Janeiro, seeking to improve economic relations. Presidents da Silva and Sarkozy met at length.

SOURCE: Washington Post, CNN, etc.

External links

Brazil map


By far the biggest country in Latin America, Brazil includes a wide variety of terrain. The Amazon rain forest provides a unique habitat for a huge array of plant and animal species, but is suffering from rapid deforestation. Road construction is disrupting the lives of native Indians, and land barons are squeezing those who make their living off the forest, such as rubber tree tappers. The northeast is home to sugar plantations and other agriculture, but is subject to frequent droughts. It is also the poorest region of Brazil. The central plateau is relatively temperate, where the semi-tropical forests in southeast are usually hot and humid. The far south has many cattle ranches and farms, like neighboring Uruguay and Argentina.


The country's official motto (as shown on the flag) is "Order and Progress" (Ordem e Progresso), but most of the country's history has been turbulent and/or stagnant. For many decades Brazil pursued a state-led import-substituting industrialization (ISI) strategy that achieved mixed success but contributed to the debt crisis of the 1980s. Brazil began shifting toward free-market capital-friendly policies under former President Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992), about the same time as Argentina did but without the element of "shock" surprise. He fought a determined battle against congressional opponents of budget reform. (Brazil's pork barrel politics would make an American congressman blush.) Collor de Mello was charged with corruption and, in spite of vehement protests of innocence on his part, impeached in 1992. For three years Brazil meandered aimlessly.

Though few people realized it at the time, the electoral victory of Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1995 really changed everything. A leading scholar and former advocate of "Dependency Theory" (which blames Third World underdevelopment on the unequal trade and financial relationships between rich and poor countries), he had served as Finance Secretary and had become known as a pragmatist who advocated free-market reforms. After taking office he succeeded where Collor de Mello and won wide respect for taking decisive action as necessary for Brazil's long-term interests. Thanks to his financial expertise, Brazil overcame the dire threat posed by the Asian economic "flu" in 1998. In spite of these troubles, Cardoso easily won re-election in 1998.


If you like to party and don't mind seeing hordes of scantily-clad beach dwellers all year round, then you'll love Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's cultural heart and former capital. The massive, spectacular celebrations at Carnaval (the days just before Lent) probably account for ten percent of the nation's entire economic output. Brazil's racial diversity gives rise to a (literally) colorful, exotic, quasi-pagan ritual known as Carnaval, the equivalent of Mardi Gras, the last day (or DAYS plural) before Lent. Men and women wear glittery costumes that put Las Vegas to shame, and Samba music is played constantly for days on end. Brazil is the biggest and most populous Portuguese-speaking country on Earth, and Portugal's sea-faring past imbued Brazil with a more open-minded, liberal attitude than is prevalent in Spanish-speaking world. The Catholic church has much less influence on personal behavior than in Spanish-speaking countries, but the Latin machismo is as strong here as anywhere else. Courts often let husbands who murder their wives for infidelty go scot free.


Rio de Janeiro, the cultural heart of Brazil, and former capital. Sugarloaf Mountain is visible at the upper left. Behind the hills on the right are the incomparable beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. (Photo by Remey L. Clem)



Brazil's federal system is the saving grace that probably saved it from the fate of recurrent instability and chaos that has plagued Argentina and other neighbors. Power is distributed between the national and state level, so elections don't necessarily yield an "all-or-nothing" outcome. For a country with so much pride and economic potential, the lagging character of political development is striking. The populist style of politics is somewhat less pronounced than in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, and the armed forces have generally refrained from involvement in politics. The military coup of 1964 marked a major shift in Brazil's historical pattern, and the successful transition back to democracy in 1985 suggests that it was not permanent.

The January 2003 inauguration of Worker's Party leader Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva as president marked the first time in forty years that a leftist has occupied the highest office in Brazil. (The last such leader, Joao Goulart, was deposed by the armed forces in 1964.) As a lifelong committed radical, he made conservatives and property owners very nervous. He decided to advance his socialist agenda within the bounds of pragmatism, opting for the "Mitterrand" path, as opposed to the headstrong "Alan Garcia" path. Overall, Lula lived up to his pledge to meet Brazil's debt obligations and abide by the conditions Cardoso's government agreed to in exchange for getting IMF credits. Lula chose competent technocrats rather than political loyalists for the top economic policy positions. This led to rumblings of dissent within his Workers' party, which had a hard time learning how to actually govern for the first time. Keeping his governing coalition together has proved very difficult.

Scott Mainwaring (1995) classifies the political party system in Brazil as "inchoate," meaning undeveloped and disorganized. Party labels are quite misleading, policy agendas are not well defined, and party discipline is very loose. Brazil's electoral system contributes to this lack of order, because candidates can run under a party affiliation without any obligation to the party.

Workers Party (PT) Others Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) Brazilian Social Democratic Party Progressive Party Liberal Front (PFL)
Pres. Luis Inacio da Silva . Michel Temer Tasso Jereissati Pedro Correa Jorge Bornhausen
S: 14 / CD: 91 S: 17 / CD: 133 S: 19 / CD: 74 S: 11 / CD: 71 S: 1 / CD: 49 S: 19 / CD: 84

NOTE: Width of each column shows each party's approximate strength. Colors and positions (left to right) represent ideological leanings, which are often vague. Numbers show how many seats each party has in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Minor parties are not shown.

SOURCES: CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Dept.