Brazil is South America's most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world's biggest democracies.
It is one of the rising economic powers - otherwise known as BRIC nations - together with Russia, India, China and South Africa. Over the past few years it has made major strides in its efforts to raise millions out of poverty.
The discovery of major offshore oil reserves could propel the country into the top league of oil-exporting nations.
The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, much of which is in Brazil, has been a major international worry, since the wilderness is a vital regulator of the climate. It is also an important reservoir of plant and animal life.
A drive to move settlers to the Amazon region during military rule in the 1970s caused considerable damage to vast areas of rainforest.
Deforestation by loggers and cattle ranchers remains controversial, but government-sponsored migration programmes have been halted.
In 2005 the government reported that one fifth of the Amazon forests had been cleared by deforestation.
Deforestation has been slowed down by extra policing and pressure from environmental and consumer groups. The government has fined illegal cattle ranchers and loggers, while the food industries have banned products from illegally deforested areas, such as soya beans and beef.
Officials estimate that deforestation in 2010 fell to 5,000 sq km for the year, down from 7,000 sq km the year before and a peak of 27,000 sq km in 2004.
Economy: Brazil has Latin America's largest economy; there has been steady growth
International: Brazil wants a permanent seat at the UN Security Council; relations with Bolivia suffered in 2006 over access to Bolivian gas
Brazil's natural resources, particularly iron ore, are highly prized by major manufacturing nations, including China. Thanks to the development of offshore fields, the nation has become self-sufficient in oil, ending decades of dependence on foreign producers.
There is a wide gap between rich and poor, but the World Bank has praised the country for progress in reducing social and economic inequality.
Much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families, a situation which the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) seeks to redress by demanding land redistribution. It uses direct protest action and land occupation in its quest.
Social conditions can be harsh in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where a third of the population lives in favelas, or slums.
Brazil's Aids programme has become a model for other developing countries. It has stabilised the rate of HIV infection and the number of Aids-related deaths has fallen. Brazil has bypassed the major drugs firms to produce cheaper, generic Aids medicines.
Brazil is revered for its football prowess. Its cultural contributions include the music of classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Bossa Nova icon Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Dilma Rousseff is the first woman to be elected as Brazil's president. She is former chief of staff to, and favoured successor of, outgoing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Dilma Rousseff has pledged to continue the policies of her predecessor, Lula
In the October 2010 elections to succeed President Lula, she narrowly failed to win an outright majority in the first round.
The result meant Ms Rousseff faced the second-placed candidate, Sao Paolo mayor Jose Serra of the main opposition Social Democracy party, in a run-off vote on 31 October.
Ms Rousseff, 62, was little known to her compatriots until Mr Lula selected her as his favoured successor after a number of high-profile candidates were forced out by corruption scandals during his time in office.
She joined the government in 2003 as energy minister. In 2005, Mr Lula made her his chief of staff, a post she held until March 2010, when she launched her campaign for the presidency as the Workers Party (PT) candidate.
During the election campaign, Ms Rousseff made it clear that she represented continuity with the Lula government, under which millions of Brazilians saw their standard of living rise.
She is known to favour a strong state role in strategic areas, including banking, the oil industry and energy.
Dilma Rousseff was born in 1947 and grew up in an upper middle class household in Belo Horizonte, in the coffee-growing state of Minas Gerais.
Her father, Pedro Rousseff, was a Bulgarian immigrant.
Her seemingly conventional background changed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her late teens. She became involved in left-wing politics and joined the underground resistance to the military dictatorship that seized power in 1964.
She has said that she was never actively involved in armed operations, but in 1970 she was jailed for three years and reportedly tortured.
After her release at the end of 1972 she studied economics and went on to become a career civil servant.
Ms Rousseff is twice divorced and has one daughter. In August, she became a grandmother.
In 2009, she was treated for and recovered from lymphatic cancer.
South America's biggest media market is home to thousands of radio stations and hundreds of TV channels. TV has long been the most influential medium.
Media ownership is highly concentrated. Domestic conglomerates such as Globo, Brazil's most-successful broadcaster, dominate the market and run TV and radio networks, newspapers and pay-TV operations.
Brazilian-made dramas and soaps - known as telenovelas - are aired around the world. Game shows and reality TV attract huge audiences.
The constitution guarantees a free press and there is vigorous debate in the media about political and social matters.
However, US-based Freedom House warned in 2011 that court injunctions were hampering reporting of key criminal cases. Journalists, particularly those in provincial areas, are vulnerable to physical attack.
Many homes subscribe to pay TV. Brazil is rolling out digital TV and aims to switch off analogue signals from 2016.
By December 2011, more than 79 million Brazilians were online (Internetworldstats.com), many of them via internet cafes.
Brazilians are among the world's top users of blogs and social networks. Internet access is not generally restricted. However, the judiciary has grown "increasingly aggressive" in its attempts to regulate content, says Freedom House.
Leading sites include UOL and Globo's G1. Google's Orkut and Facebook are the main social network rivals.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.