Brazil has been much in the news these days, and not in a good way. It's the epicenter of the horrific Zika plague, its economy is reeling, corruption is out of control, and President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment. All this as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the Olympics this August. The country's cup runneth over.
Just a few years ago Brazil was a feel good story. Its economy was soaring at a rate to rival China's. Its charismatic president, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, was among the most popular leaders anywhere, a rags-to-riches phenomenon. In 2014, when the Council on Foreign Relations chose its "Great Decisions" topics for the next year, one was "Brazil in Metamorphosis."
Unfortunately, the country has slipped back into its cocoon. The Samba music has stopped. Instead of being on a roll, Brazil is mired in an awful slump. Or as Frank Sinatra put it, riding high in April, shot down in May.
What sort of country is this anyway?
More than coffee, beaches and soccer.
Any analysis of Brazil should start with its sheer size. It's larger than the continental United States. Several of its 22 states are bigger than France. The Amazon basin, itself vaster than Western Europe, has 20 percent of the world's supply of fresh water and untold numbers of plants and wild life not found anywhere else.
Brazil is about half of the South American continent, sharing a border with ten countries. Only Russia and China, with 14 each, have more neighbors. Brazil is the world's fifth most populous country, with about 200 million people. Just over half identify themselves as black or non-white, making Brazil the world's second largest black population, trailing only Nigeria. Brazil has more Catholics than any other country (though Evangelicals have made significant inroads in recent years).
One Brazilian city, Sao Paulo, is among the largest metropolises in the world, with more than 20 million people. In recognition that Sao Paulo is the economic hub of the continent, more than 400 of our Fortune 500 companies have set up offices there. Its stock exchange is the third largest in the world.
Brazil has a top ten economy with an annual gross domestic product (GDP) a little over $2 trillion, about the same as Russia's. It has the world's best soccer players and some pretty good music too (Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema," for example.) It is also among the world's leaders in the export of commodities like coffee, sugar, beef, soybeans, rice, and corn. The mixed, full service economy also makes airplanes, cars, appliances and computers. With some 75 million Internet users, Brazil ranks 4th in the world in that category...