Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: República Federativa do Brasil, is the largest country in South America and the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas, It is both the world's fifth largest country by geographical area and by population.

Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Brazil has a coastline of over 7,491 kilometers (4,655 mi). It is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and on the south by Uruguay. Numerous archipelagos are part of the Brazilian territory, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, Saint Peter and Paul Rocks, and Trindade and Martim Vaz.

Brazil was a colony of Portugal from the landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500 until its independence in 1822. Initially independent as the Brazilian Empire, the country has been a republic since 1889, although the bicameral legislature, now called Congress, dates back to 1824, when the first constitution was ratified. Its current Constitution defines Brazil as a Federal Republic. The Federation is formed by the union of the Federal District, the 26 States, and the 5,564 Municipalities.

Brazil is the world's eighth largest economy by nominal GDP and the ninth largest by purchasing power parity. Economic reforms have given the country new international recognition. Brazil is a founding member of the United Nations, the G20, Mercosul and the Union of South American Nations, and is one of the BRIC Countries. Brazil is also home to a diversity of wildlife, natural environments, and extensive natural resources in a variety of protected habitats.

Portuguese colonization and territorial expansion

The land now called Brazil (the origin of whose name is disputed), was claimed by Portugal in April 1500, on the arrival of the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral. The Portuguese encountered stone age natives divided into several tribes, most of whom shared the same Tupi-Guarani linguistic family, and fought among themselves.

Colonization was effectively begun in 1534, when Dom João III divided the territory into twelve hereditary captaincies, but this arrangement proved problematic and in 1549 the king assigned a Governor-General to administer the entire colony. The Portuguese assimilated some of the native tribes while others were enslaved or exterminated in long wars or by European diseases to which they had no immunity. By the mid 16th century, sugar had become Brazil's most important export and the Portuguese imported African slaves to cope with the increasing international demand.

The first Christian mass in Brazil, 1500.Through wars against the French, the Portuguese slowly expanded their territory to the southeast, taking Rio de Janeiro in 1567, and to the northwest, taking São Luís in 1615. They sent military expeditions to the Amazon rainforest and conquered British and Dutch strongholds, founding villages and forts from 1669. In 1680 they reached the far south and founded Sacramento on the bank of the Rio de la Plata, in the Eastern Strip region (present-day Uruguay).

At the end of the 17th century, sugar exports started to decline but the discovery of gold by explorers in the region that would later be called Minas Gerais (General Mines) around 1693, and in the following decades in current Mato Grosso and Goiás, saved the colony from imminent collapse. From all over Brazil, as well as from Portugal, thousands of immigrants came to the mines.

The Spanish tried to prevent Portuguese expansion into the territory that belonged to them according to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, and succeeded in conquering the Eastern Strip in 1777. However, this was in vain as the Treaty of San Ildefonso, signed in the same year, confirmed Portuguese sovereignty over all lands proceeding from its territorial expansion, thus creating most of the current Brazilian borders.

In 1808, the Portuguese royal family, fleeing the troops of the French Emperor Napoleon I that were invading Portugal and most of Central Europe, established themselves in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which thus became the seat of the entire Portuguese Empire. In 1815 Dom João VI, then regent on behalf of his incapacitated mother, elevated Brazil from colony to sovereign Kingdom united with Portugal. In 1809 the Portuguese invaded French Guiana (which was returned to France in 1817) and in 1816 the Eastern Strip, subsequently renamed Cisplatina.

States and municipalities

Brazil is a federation composed of twenty-six States, one federal district (which contains the capital city, Brasília) and municipalities. States have autonomous administrations, collect their own taxes and receive a share of taxes collected by the Federal government. They have a governor and a unicameral legislative body elected directly by their voters. They also have independent Courts of Law for common justice. Despite this, states have much less autonomy to create their own laws than in the United States. For example, criminal and civil laws can only be voted by the federal bicameral Congress and are uniform throughout the country.

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