Brazil: Country Profile

GEOGRAPHY

Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, contains 8.5 million square kilometers (approximately 3,281,000 square miles) of territory and occupies 47% of the South American land mass.
It is located between the 5º North and 32º South parallels, and hence is a predominantly tropical country -- only the far South can be described as having a temperate climate. Average temperatures fluctuate between 23º C and 29º C in the hottest months and between 17º C and 24º C in the cooler season.

Excluding the Amazon region, the geological formation of Brazil is extremely old. Extensive plateaux and average altitudes below 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) mean that most of the land is suitable for cultivation. Benefiting further from hydrographic basins which have large catchment areas and are partially navigable, Brazil is one of the countries in the world with the highest amounts of potable water per inhabitant.


DEMOGRAPHY

With a population approaching 156 million inhabitants, Brazil is one of the six most populous countries in the world. In the last five years, average population growth has been 1.2% per year. The vast majority --71% of its people -- live in urban areas and São Paulo, with 15 million inhabitants, is far and away ahead of other population centers in sheer numbers of residents. In second place is Rio de Janeiro (9.8 million), followed by Belo Horizonte (3.4 million), Porto Alegre (3 million), Recife (2.8 million), and the Federal Capital of Brasilia (1.6 million).
It is a predominantly young country and the bulk of the population (70%) is less than 30 years old.
Income distribution is quite unequal, with the richest 20% of the population possessing 63% of the nation's wealth. This scenario is reflected geographically, as the South-East Region, which encompasses São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, accounts for 50% of the GDP.


Political Scenario

Political power in Brazil is concentrated in the Federal District and its principal city of Brasilia, thereby fulfilling the objectives for which the Federal Capital was built.
Brazil adopts the presidential system of government in which the President of the Republic is elected by direct vote through universal suffrage. The Brazilian political model is based upon a tripartite division of powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Theoretically, the balance of power between these three branches guarantees the stability of democracy.
The 26 states which comprise the Federal Republic of Brazil function alongside but with a degree of independence from the central government and enjoy, at a political-administrative level, the same inter-relationships between the three branches of power. Each state is divided into municipalities and its governors and mayors are elected by free and direct vote.

At the federal level, legislative power is in the hands of a National Congress, represented by the Federal Senate and the House of Representatives. At state level, power is in the hands of the Legislative Assemblies and, in the municipalities, by the Chambers of Town Councillors.
The rules applicable to elections in Brazil dictate that the vote shall be universal and compulsory for all citizens who have reached the age of 18. A general election is held every four years to choose those who will be responsible for executive and legislative functions at all levels; municipal elections are held separately. New elections are due to be held in 1998 to select the President of the Republic, Governors, two-thirds of the Senators (the only parliamentary representatives to hold term for mandates of eight years) and Federal and State Representatives. The remaining one-third of the Senate will be elected in the year 2002.

The country has a multiple party structure; one consequence of this is that 26 different political parties currently are registered with the Superior Electoral Tribunal, of which 16 are represented in the National Congress. Of these 16, the four main ones hold about 85% of the seats in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Judiciary embraces at its summit the Federal Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice, the Superior Military Tribunal and the Superior Labor Court. At regional level, are the Federal Regional Courts, the Regional Labor Courts, the Regional Electoral Tribunals and the State Courts.