Brazil, the largest country in South America and in
the Southern Hemisphere, shares common boundaries
with every South American country except Chile and
Ecuador. It is situated in eastern South America
and borders the Atlantic Ocean. It is distinct in
being the only country in South America that speaks
Portuguese instead of Spanish.
Following more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822, maintaining a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent proclamation of a republic by the military in 1889. Brazilian coffee exporters politically dominated the country until populist leader Getulio VARGAS rose to power in 1930. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil underwent more than a half century of populist and military government until 1985, when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers. Brazil continues to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of its interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, it is today South America's leading economic power and a regional leader, one of the first in the area to begin an economic recovery. High income inequality and crime remain pressing problems, as well as recent years' slow-down in economic growth.
Brazil's economy outweighs that of all other South American countries, and is expanding its presence in world markets. Brazil's historically high interest rates have made it an attractive destination for foreign investors. More than half of Brazil's population is considered middle class with a registered per capita income of $12,100 in 2013, and although unemployment is at historic lows, poverty and income inequality levels remain high; the Northeast, North, and Center-West, women, and black, mixed race, and indigenous populations are disproportionately affected. Disparities in opportunities foster social exclusion and contribute to Brazil's high crime rate, particularly violent crime in cities and favelas.
Brazil is a federal republic comprised of 26 states and 1 federal district. The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a single four-year term. Elections were last held in 2010 and at the time of this writing a runoff election is scheduled for 2014.