Brazil (1822- ) is the largest country in South America. It has half the people of Latin America, making it the largest Catholic country in the world. Only Nigeria has more blacks, only Italy has more Italians and only Japan has more Japanese.
It is pretty empty as countries go: most people live near the coast, especially in Rio, Sao Paulo and the other big cities in the south. As many people as Brazil has it has room for plenty more.
The north is poor, hot and most are black. The south has seasons, industry, money and most are white.
Brazil is like South Africa: it is a rich country of white people living inside a poor country. The difference is that while the poor people of South Africa are almost all black, in Brazil they are both black and white.
Some think Brazil is colour-blind, yet, aside from a few sports heroes, the rich are solidly white – even though half the country is black. There has been only one black Miss Brazil and she was light-skinned.
Note: I have been using “black” in the common English sense of the world. In Brazil things are a bit different.
The government counts four races: for every 100 Brazilians 50 are counted as white, 6 as black (“preto”), 1 as yellow or native and 43 as dark grey (“pardo”) – the mixed who are part white and part black. North Americans, according to their One Drop Rule, would see the mixed as blacks.
Nearly everyone speaks Portuguese. The written Portuguese that is taught in school is close to that of Portugal, but what you hear in the street is almost another language.
Most are Catholic, though there are quite a few Protestants: about one in six. African religion lives on in different forms.
Government: Brazil is a democracy, but it has not always been so. It was ruled by a king till 1888. From 1930 to 1945 it was ruled by Vargas who saw no need for democracy. From 1964 to 1985 it was ruled by generals: anyone who spoke against them was either killed, thrown in prison or thrown out of the country.
Even today Brazil’s human rights record is weak. The police, who are supposed to uphold law and order, repeatedly get away with murder, killing even children. Many will look the other way if you pay them enough, but if they arrest you their ways of questioning can become very rough indeed. While you could say much the same of the police in, say, New York, in Brazil it is far worse.
Nevertheless the crime rate is still sky high. It is so bad that you are more likely to be murdered in Brazil than in war-torn Iraq.
The big money-spinners in Brazil have changed over the years:
- 1500s: wood
- 1600s: sugar
- 1700s: gold
- 1800s: coffee
- 1900s: coffee, then industry
The three main cities are all in the south:
- Sao Paulo: its centre of business
- Brasilia: its centre of government
- Rio: its Rio
Copacabana is a part of Rio down by the sea. Ipanema is a part of Copacabana.