Encompassing the Amazon River basin, Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world in terms of land mass. About 90 percent of its population lives on 10 percent of the land, a 200-mile tropical zone bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to Indians, the country is home to Portuguese, Africans brought to Brazil as slaves, and European and oriental groups that have settled here in the last century. The national language is Portuguese, but the well-educated also speak English. Ninety-three percent of Brazilians are Catholic.

Originally inhabited by indigenous people, Brazil was claimed by Portugal as a colony in 1500. Portuguese rule lasted until 1822, when the colony declared its independence and established an independent monarchy. The monarchy ruled until 1889, when Brazil became a republic. The new republic adopted a federative system of government, which it still maintains. Since 1995, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso became president, the country has seen a decline in the rate of inflation and has enjoyed sustained economic growth.

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