Additional Resources

Country Profile: Brazil

Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America, comprising almost half the continent. In land mass, it is only slightly smaller than the United States. The country’s 186.1 million inhabitants occupy such a large share of South America that Brazil has common borders with all but two countries on the continent, Chile and Ecuador.

Brazil was ruled for three centuries by Portugal before gaining its independence in 1822. Portuguese is the country’s official language.

The country has a predominantly young population -- 62 percent of the people are 29 years old and younger. From the 1950s to the 1970s, approximately 20 million people moved from rural to urban areas. By 2002, 81 percent of Brazil’s population was living in megacities, such as São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and home to approximately 25 million people.

Much of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, lies within Brazil’s borders. Exploitation of this resource, including slash-and-burn deforestation, is a major concern -- more than a fifth of the forest has already been destroyed. This destruction impacts not only the biodiversity of plants and animals, but also the indigenous tribes that have long populated these areas. And the release of carbon into the atmosphere when trees are cut down has contributed to global warming, according to climate-change scientists.

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Indigenous Tribes

Brazilian Indians are much less integrated into society than the indigenous peoples in North America and the rest of South America. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, Indians make up a large enough segment of the population to call for special protective laws. In Brazil, however, Indians are only 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent -- census estimates vary widely -- of the country’s population. Most live outside cities, and very few receive higher education. As a result, although certain lands are designated as protected reservations, Indians living on them are not permitted to explore these areas freely. Unlike North American Indians who have the right to run businesses, Brazilian Indians don’t have any economic privileges. Exploration of mineral resources on Indian reserves is dependent on government authorization.

All economic activity must be overseen by the Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Foundation of the Indian) (FUNAI), which is the official Brazilian agency in charge of protecting Indian interests and culture. The FUNAI estimates that there are about 345,000 Indians in Brazil, in about 215 distinct tribes. Other agencies have counted up to 700,000 Indians, noting that only about half of them are living on designated reservations.

In an effort to colonize Indian territories in the early 1980s, the Brazilian government sent in planes filled with cowboys -- many of German descent -- to settle remote areas. Over the years, Brazilian Indians, Brazilians and visiting missionaries have all fallen victim to bloody deaths related to these land struggles. Tribes have also suffered mass deaths by disease. Indigenous peoples are generally extremely healthy, but their immune system is unable to defend against many Western diseases. In recent decades, the government has stopped trying to modernize indigenous people, and although this has helped tribes to flourish, violent conflict is still a problem.

Indians live off the land -- satisfying their needs through hunting, fishing and gathering -- and a tribe’s land is what holds the group together. The rain forest, which is where many of them live, is rich in natural resources, but also very fragile. For this reason, conservation is a way of life for rain forest tribes. If they were to take too much food one year, the forest would not be able to produce enough new food for them to survive in the next year.

Between 2003 and 2004, 10,000 square miles of the Amazon, an area the size of Massachusetts, were cleared away -- and by 2005, at least another 5,000 square miles were lost.

Competition for good hunting grounds can be fierce, and there is often warfare between neighboring groups over territorial rights. Another major source of conflict for Brazilian Indians is exploitation of the Amazon’s resources by outsiders, including logging and mining operations and ranchers. Some scientists argue that although in the short term, huge amounts of money can be made from exploiting the Amazon, these operations are not sustainable in the long run. Rain forest soil is very poor for growing crops and turns to virtual desert within five years of losing its protective canopy of trees. Thus as the rain forest is slowly destroyed, so may be the many Brazilian Indian tribes, along with their diverse cultures, beliefs, rituals, languages, and unique understanding of the undiscovered flora and fauna of the rain forests.

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The Kimberley Process

A public relations stunt or an effective protocol to clean up the diamond trade?

By Jason Blalock and Joelle Jaffe

In war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, rebel groups have mined shallow diamonds and sold them in global markets to pay for stockpiles of weapons.

This is not a new problem. In 1999, Time magazine reported that “the world’s purest gems are funding one of the dirtiest wars in history,” referring to the diamond conflicts in Angola. In response to this war, the United Nations passed the Kimberley Process resolution to try to curb the ability of rebels to traffic gems in exchange for weapons. The agreement was drawn up in Kimberley, South Africa, in May 2000 by a consortium of states in southern Africa affected by diamond-funded conflicts.

In 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was implemented by 40 participating nations to ensure that diamonds entering the world market are obtained from state-recognized mines. It stipulated that all rough diamonds must be certified as “clean” by the government of the exporting nation. Each government must monitor its own mining industry to ensure that its diamond trade is not arming rebel soldiers. According to the 2004 Kimberley Process Report, currently more than 99 percent of rough diamonds in the global market are KPCS-certified.

Critics of the Kimberley Process, including the nonprofit Global Policy Forum, charge that the diamond industry has taken advantage of the concept of “voluntary self-regulation,” making the Kimberley Process little more than a public relations stunt for the diamond industry.

A November 2005 report by the NGO Global Witness found that “conflict diamonds continue to be certified in countries that are members of the Kimberley Process, legitimized by the very scheme which was designed to eradicate them.”

Brazil, with its rich supply of shallow alluvial diamonds, became a part of the KPCS on August 1, 2003. However, the self-monitoring system has failed to keep Brazilian diamond mining clean -- an investigation by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) uncovered rampant fraud in the mining industry there. While PAC could not trace the source of certified exports, some, including the environmental and human rights group Global Witness, suspect that diamonds are being smuggled from African sources and passed off as Brazilian. If this is the case, the Kimberley Process could be adding another layer of corruption to an already tainted industry.

In April 2004, the diamond conflicts became violent. The indigenous Cinta Larga tribe, long abused by the mining industry and neglected by the Brazilian government, took matters into their own hands and massacred 29 miners who were mining illegally on their land, the Roosevelt Indigenous Reserve.

In addition, the diamond trade has had a long history of human rights problems not addressed by the Kimberley Process. Many organizations and governments want to assume that certification under the KPCS implies ethical mining practices. However, the E.U.-funded organization Fatal Transactions argues that this is a faulty assumption. Certifying diamonds as “clean” could mislead buyers into trusting that no human rights were violated during production, but there is currently no monitoring body to guarantee that mining practices regulated by legitimate governments are any less hazardous than the rebels’ unregulated mining practices.

Human rights advocates warn that the vague certification stamp merely allows Westerners to ignore what could be a gruesome reality regarding diamond-mining practices. Amnesty International is now pushing to add a standardized monitoring system to the Kimberley Process and to make its rules legally binding. By trusting nations to manage their valuable natural resources independently, the Kimberley Process may be slowly moving the notoriously corrupt diamond trade toward an undeserved legitimacy.

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Related Links

Cultural and Environmental Organizations

Amnesty International: “Foreigners in Our Own Country”

In a report issued in March 2005, Amnesty International describes the worsening situation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil. Despite promises made by the 1988 constitution, which contains special protections and rights for the country’s diminishing native population, the government has failed to protect the Indians from rising violence and a continuing loss of land.

Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples)

Although primarily in Portuguese, this indigenous news Web site provides bulletins in English that report meetings, protests and political activities of Brazil’s native peoples, including actions and altercations overlooked by Western news sources.

Instituto Socio-Ambiental (Socio-Environmental Institute)

This report by the Rainforest Foundation describes the work of the Instituto Socio-Ambiental. Recognizing that the native peoples can’t survive without their land, the organization works to combine cultural and environmental rights into one cause. Since 1994, it has promoted the networking of indigenous peoples to collectively fight the rampant deforestation and development of the Amazon.

Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (Network of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon)

This site, which is in Portuguese, reports on the various organizations working toward the shared cause of protecting and promoting indigenous rights in Brazil. It contains a comprehensive list of organizations grouped by area, from the Amazon to Mato Grosso to Tocantins.

Amazon Watch

A San Francisco-based watchdog organization, Amazon Watch equips indigenous people with video cameras, computers and cell phones and trains them how to use the equipment in defense of their land against international developers.

Media Sites and Articles

BBC: Stealth Logging

According to this October 2005 BBC report, logging in the Amazon has occurred at such a grand scale that it can now be measured only by satellite. This story cites new research indicating that deforestation of the Amazon is underestimated by a whopping 60 percent.

Brazilian Diamonds Limited

This publicly held Canadian company, which has mines in Minas Gerais, provides online quarterly reports and mining information from the perspective of the diamond investor.

Brazzil Magazine

This irreverent and opinionated English-language Web site offers candid commentary on Brazil’s political and cultural news.

O Estado de São Paulo

The English-language section of Brazil’s major daily newspaper offers online sections on science, culture, business and even anthropology. A recent issue contains interviews with Bill Clinton and Gilberto Gil as well as a report on gold and diamond conflicts in the Raposa/Terra do Sol region.


This Brazilian news service, provided by the Brazilian Communications Enterprise, is an organ of the government’s Secretariat of Communications. It contains information on the history of Brazil and the structure of its government.

Swimming Against the Red Tide

This is a blog written by a Brazilian conservative who, in his words, has been “almost drowned by the giant socialist-totalitarian tsunami that’s flooding Brazil.” His criticism of the Latin American left, from Allende to Da Silva, has been convincing enough to get him noticed by the National Review.

“Opening up the Amazon: The Good and the Bad”

This report in the International Herald Tribune explores the controversy surrounding BR-163, a half-finished highway project stretching 1,100 miles. The project is promising to -- or threatening to, depending on your point of view -- open up some of Brazil’s most underdeveloped regions. Detractors of the project point to the fact that three quarters of the deforestation of the Amazon has occurred within 30 miles of paved roads.

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Books and Archived Articles

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, 2005

By Candice Millard

In vibrant detail, Candice Millard recalls President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 scientific expedition through some of the Amazon’s most challenging terrain. Accompanying him as guide was the legendary Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon. Roosevelt wrote of his adventure, “If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.”

Through the Brazilian Wilderness, 1925

By Theodore Roosevelt

This is Roosevelt’s own descriptive account of the people and wildlife he encountered during his six-week-long journey into the Amazon. The president, who was then 55, and his team navigated nearly a thousand miles along the River of Doubt, now called the Roosevelt River.

“Brazil Protects Her Cinta Larga,” 1971

By Jesco von Puttkamer

This National Geographic article from the September 1971 edition chronicles the fascinating and painstaking work of the anthropologists who made initial contact with the Cinta Larga tribe to learn about their culture and to gain trust and understanding.

Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1978

By John Hemming

Pursuing a deep interest in the plight of the Brazilian Indians, John Hemming, author and onetime director of the Royal Geographical Society, writes about Portugal’s conquest of Brazil and the devastating impact of European settlers on indigenous Brazilians and their ancestral lands. Hemming is currently working on a history of the Amazon.

Additional Resources compiled by Jason Blalock, Joelle Jaffe and Jackie Bennion.

Sources: BBC;; The New Yorker; Young People’s Trust for the Environment; CIA Factbook: Brazil; Wikipedia; The Economist; The New York Times.

(Note: Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia, written collaboratively by people from around the world.)

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