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Brazil

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Brazil, one of the world's largest and most populous countries. It is the largest country in South America, occupying almost half of the continent and extending from north of the equator to south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Its largest city is SÐ"Јo Paulo, and its capital is BrasÐ"­lia. Brazil's large size and diverse population provide great variety in the natural environment, culture, and economy.

The nation's natural beauty is reflected in a wide variety of geographic locations, from the distinctive dome shape of Sugar Loaf Mountain in the city of Rio de Janeiro, to the magnificent IguaÐ"§u Falls in the far south, to the strange limestone formations in the state of Minas Gerais in the Southeast region. A broad contrast exists between the nation's two main physical features: the densely forested lowlands of the Amazon Basin in the north and the generally open uplands of the Brazilian Highlands to the south. The climate is generally tropical, but areas located at higher elevations or farther from the equator tend to be more temperate. Vegetation varies from rain forests to pine forests to savannas and semiarid scrub. The forests are a rich source of timber, and the country sustains a diverse agriculture, producing tropical crops such as sugar and coffee. In recent years environmentalists have become increasingly concerned over the future of the Amazon region, where human encroachment has threatened the world's largest intact rain forest.

Brazil's population is very diverse. This diversity is the result of intermingling between Native Americans, Portuguese settlers, and African slaves, which produced a society of racial and ethnic complexity. Brazil is the only Latin American country settled by the Portuguese. Before the Portuguese arrived in 1500, many Native American tribes sparsely populated the country. In the mid-16th century the Portuguese began to import African slaves to work on agricultural production. The ethnic mix between these three groups, along with other European peoples who immigrated to Brazil after 1850, has contributed to some distinctly Brazilian cultural forms, especially in music and architecture. Distinct cultures also continue to survive among Afro-Brazilians, non-Portuguese immigrants from Europe and Asia, and isolated pockets of Native Americans. However, Portuguese cultural influences remain strong, with Portuguese as the primary language and Roman Catholicism as the principal religion.

The economic development of Brazil has been strongly influenced by a series of economic cycles in which different resources were exploited in different parts of the country. The first commodity to be exploited was the dyewood pau brasil (brazilwood), from which the country takes its name. In the mid-16th century colonists introduced sugar cultivation, taking advantage of the good soil and tropical climate along the Northeast coast. Gold was discovered in the 1690s in what became the state of Minas Gerais. This provoked a gold rush that brought the first significant settlement of the interior and shifted the country's economic focus and population center from the Northeast to the Southeast.

The gold began to be exhausted in the late 18th century, and there was a gap before the next, but most important, economic cycle. Coffee production dominated the economy from about the mid-1800s to the 1930s. It was particularly important in SÐ"Јo Paulo, and was closely linked to the building of railways into the interior. Since the 1940s Brazilian society has

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