Pedro Álvares Cabral claimed Brazil for the Portuguese on landing in 1500. Brazil remained their colony until independence and the establishment of a monarchy in 1822. Brazil was one of the last nations to abolish slavery in 1888. The decision was unpopular with wealthy landowners who relied on slave labour. Dom Pedro II abdicated in 1889 after the Republican Army challenged the monarchy.
A military coup ended the Republic when in 1930, economic depression and regional disputes allowed dictator Getulio Vargas to take power. He ruled with the army’s support until 1945, concentrating on industrial growth at the expense of social reform. This set a trend of widening the gap between rich and poor. The military took over government again in 1964, following civil unrest amongst workers and further economic problems. Successive regimes of leaders like Castello Branco brought the economy under control but repressed the people.
Military rule ended in 1985, and in 1989 Fernando Collor became Brazil’s first democratically-elected president for 25 years. Brazil’s poverty, and corruption charges saw Collor replaced by Vice–President Franco in 1992. Following the successful launch of his currency plan for the ‘Real’, Fernando Henrique Cardoso was enthusiastically elected in 1994 and again in 1998. In 2002, a former shoeshine boy Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – known as Lula – became the first left-wing president of Brazil in four decades.
Brazil’s present population is approximately 173 million inhabitants, which makes Brazil the 6th most populous country in the world. The demographic density comes to just over 19,2 people per square kilometer, but the distribution is highly irregular, with the majority of the population concentrated in a comparatively narrow lowland strip along the coast, and 81% lives in urban areas.
* Portuguese is the official language of the country.
* In the bigger cities with a good infrastructure for tourism, English and Spanish is spoken in hotels, travel agencies and airports.
* In the southern part of the country many Brazilians speak German or Italian, as a consequence of the colonialization..
Officially, Brazil is a Catholic country and claims the largest Catholic population of any country in the world. However, Brazil is also noted for the diversity and syncretism of its many sects and religions, which offer great flexibility to their followers. For example, without much difficulty you can find people with Catholic backgrounds who frequent the church and have no conflict appealing for help at a “terreio de umbanda”, the house of one of the Afro-Brazilian cults. Candomblé is the most orthodox of the cults brought from Africa.