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 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.
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.
Goulart's years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and the increasing influence of radical political elements. The armed forces, alarmed by these developments, 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. Geisel began a democratic opening 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.
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.
Fifteen political parties are represented in Congress. Since it is common for politicians to switch parties, the proportion of congressional seats held by particular parties changes regularly. The following are the major political parties:
PFL--Liberal Front Party (center-right)
PMDB--Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (center)
PSDB--Brazilian Social Democratic Party (center-left)
PPB--Brazilian Progressive Party (center-right)
PT--Workers Party (left)
PDT--Democratic Labor Party (left)
PTB--Brazilian Labor Party (center-right)
PSB--Brazilian Socialist Party (left)
PCdoB--Communist Party of Brazil (left)
PL--Liberal Party (center-right)
President Cardoso was elected with the support of a heterodox alliance of his own center-left Social Democratic Party, the PSDB, and two center-right parties, the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB). Brazil's largest party, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), joined Cardoso's governing coalition after the election, as did the center-right PPB, the Brazilian Progressive Party, in 1996. Party loyalty is weak, and deputies and senators who belong to the parties comprising the government coalition do not always vote with the government. As a result, President Cardoso has had difficulty, at times, gaining sufficient support for some of his legislative priorities, despite the fact that his coalition parties hold an overwhelming majority of congressional seats. Nevertheless, the Cardoso administration has accomplished many of its legislative and reform objectives.
States are organized like the federal government, with three government branches. Because of the mandatory revenue allocation to states and municipalities provided for in the 1988 constitution, Brazilian governors and mayors have exercised considerable power since 1989.
Presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections last took place in October 1998. Fernando Henrique Cardoso won the presidential election with approximately 53% of the vote, while his closest challenger, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (PT), had about 32%. The next national elections will be held in October 2002.
As Brazil's domestic economy has grown and diversified, the country has become increasingly involved in international politics and economics. The United States, Western Europe, and Japan are primary markets for Brazilian exports and sources of foreign lending and investment. Brazil has also bolstered its commitment to non-proliferation through ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signing a full-scale nuclear safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acceeding to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and becoming a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
With the inauguration of Brazil's internationally oriented, reformist President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on January 1, 1995, U.S.-Brazil engagement and cooperation have intensified. This is reflected in the unprecedented number of high-level contacts between the two governments, including President Cardoso's state visit to Washington in April 1995, visits to Brazil by President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, Secretaries of Commerce Ronald Brown and William Daley, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, and many other exchanges between U.S. and Brazilian cabinet and sub-cabinet officials. Important topics of discussion and cooperation have included trade and finance, hemispheric economic integration, United Nations reform and peacekeeping efforts, non-proliferation and arms control, follow-up to the 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas, common efforts to help resolve the Peru-Ecuador border conflict, and support for Paraguay's democratic development, human rights, counternarcotics, and environmental issues.
During President Clinton's October 1997 visit to Brazil, several agreements were signed, including: an Education Partnership Agreement, which enhances and expands cooperative initiatives in such areas as standards-based education reform, use of technology, and professional development of teachers; a Mutual Legal Assistance treaty; and agreements on cooperation in energy, the international space station, national parks, and government reform. In April 2000 the United States and Brazil signed a Technical Safeguards Agreement to permit U.S. commercial firms to participate in the development of the Alcantara spaceport. During a visit of then-Under Secretary of State Timothy Wirth to Brazil in October 1995, the two countries signed a Common Agenda on the Environment, laying the foundation for cooperative efforts in environmental protection. Brazil is a key player in hemispheric efforts to negotiate an FTAA by 2005, and hosted the May 1997 FTAA Trade Ministerial in Belo Horizonte.
President Cardoso has been willing to discuss race relations frankly. He instituted an Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Race in 1995 and strengthened the mandate of the government-funded Palmares Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of Afro-Brazilian heritage. U.S. embassy public diplomacy programs seek to support these efforts, which mirror President Clinton's National Dialogue on Race.
Relations are advancing well in various aspects of scientific and technical work. During his 1996 visit, then-Secretary of State Christopher signed a Space Cooperation agreement and initialed an agreement on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.
The U.S. embassy in Brasilia is located at SES Avenida das Nacoes, quadra 801, lote 3, Brasilia, DF, CEP: 70.403-900 (tel. 55-61-321-7272), (fax 55-61-321-2833).