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. Having successfully weathered a period of global financial difficulty in the late 20th century, Brazil was seen as one of the world’s strongest emerging markets and a contributor to global growth. The awarding of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the first ever to be held in South America, was seen as symbolic of the country’s rise. However, since about 2013, Brazil has been plagued by a shrinking economy, growing unemployment, and rising inflation. Political scandal resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma ROUSSEFF in May 2016, a conviction that was upheld by the Senate in August 2016; her vice president, Michel TEMER, will serve as president until 2018, completing her second term.
Brazil is the eighth-largest economy in the world, but is recovering from a recession in 2015 and 2016 that ranks as the worst in the country’s history. Falling commodity prices reduced export revenues and investment, which weakened the Brazilian real and cut tax revenues. The weaker real made existing public debt, which was largely denominated in foreign currency, more expensive. Lower tax revenues strained the government budget.Economic reforms proposed in 2016 aim to slow the growth of government spending and reduce barriers to foreign investment. Government spending growth helped to push public debt to 70% of GDP at the end of 2016 up from 50% in 2012. Policies to strengthen Brazil’s workforce and industrial sector, such as local content requirements, may have boosted employment at the expense of investment.Former President Dilma ROUSSEFF was impeached and convicted in August 2016 for moving funds among government budgets; the economy has also been affected by multiple corruption scandals involving private companies and government officials. Sanctions against the firms involved — some of the largest in Brazil — has limited their business opportunities, producing a ripple effect on associated businesses and contractors. In addition, investment in these companies has declined because of the scandals.Brazil is a member of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), a trade bloc including Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. After the Asian and Russian financial crises, Mercosur adopted a protectionist stance to guard against exposure to the volatility of foreign markets. Brazil and its Mercosur partners have pledged to open the bloc to more trade and investment, but changes require approval of all five members, which makes policy adjustments too difficult to enact.