Country Profiles



Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. Under the military government (1964-1985), Brazil also accumulated the largest foreign debt in the world—US $121 billion. A constitutional process began in 1986, culminating in a new Constitution in 1988. Fernando Collor de Mello was elected President in 1990, the first directly-elected president since 1960.

Economy: Gross National Product per capita is $2,540 (to compare, GNP per capita in the US is $20,910). High inflation, with almost half the population living below the poverty line. Main exports are coffee, soymeal, sugar, orange juice, iron ore, steel products, motor vehicles, aircraft.

Population: 150.4 million (almost 75 percent live in cities). A little more than half the population is descended from European (mostly Portuguese) and Middle Eastern immigrants; out of perhaps five million indigenous people before the Conquest, approximately 250,000 remain. Almost six percent of the population is descended from African slaves; there is a large minority of Japanese-Brazilians.

Languages: Portuguese and many indigenous languages.

Life Expectancy: 66 years (to compare, life expectancy in the US is 76 years); in the poverty stricken Northeast and Amazon, 45 years.

Infant Mortality: in 1992, one Brazilian child under age five died every two minutes. Almost a quarter of all infant deaths in Latin America are in Brazil. More than half of all child deaths in Brazil take place in the Northeast, where the official under-five mortality rate (116 deaths per 1,000 births) is nearly double the national average.

Under-five mortality rate (per 1,000 live births 1992)
Ireland (lowest in the world) 6
US 10
Cuba (lowest in Latin America) 11
Argentina 24
Brazil 65
India 124
Niger (highest in the world) 320


Dolores de Vargas is a founder of Centro Integral de la Mujer, which organizes self-help groups for poor women. “In Bolivia,” she notes, “we say that poverty has a woman’s face. The lack of education and health care in my country matches Haiti. There is an article in our penal code which states that, if a relative, who lives in the same house with you, is violent towards you, it is only a crime if he causes’ grievous harm’. Rape is not a crime unless the girl is underage. In the rural areas, the girl is usually forced to marry the rapist—it is one way the man can force the girl to marry him. There is, of course, no such thing as marital rape. How can we speak about women’s human rights when a woman does not have enough food or water?” Centro Integral de la Mujer is hoping to start documenting violence against women, and to perhaps start a shelter for battered women.

Contact: Centro Integral de 10 Mlljer, Casilla 1302, Tarija. Bolivia. Tel. 0591 66 45818/43032/32036

Bolivia has the lowest life expectancy (54 years) in Latin America, and the highest infant mortality rate (l 05 deaths per 1,000 live births). It is considered Latin America’s least developed country. Almost 65 percent of,the people belong to the indigenous nations Aymara or Quechua. The gains made by miners and other workers after the 1952 popular revolution have been undermined by two successive right-wing governments. Women played a crucial role in the fall of Bolivia’s last military dictatorship—it was the hunger strike of four women miners, during Christmas 1982, that inspired massive acts of civil disobedience around the country. The Women’s Platform, founded on March 8,1989, has initiated many programs to improve women’s status—one of the most recent, organized around the slogan “Since I want Others to Respect Me, I Respect Others” , raised public awareness about violence against women and the need for law reform.

Many peasants now depend on the cultivation of the coca leaf, and the US war on drugs has made their communities battle grounds. The population is seven million and GNP per capita is $570.


Political life in Colombia has been dominated by the rivalry between the country’s Liberal and Conservative parties: during the 195 as, the parties’ power struggle resulted in the deaths of some 250,000 people. Amnesty International believes some 20,000 people have been killed for political reasons since 1986.

Ofelia Gomez works with a feminist group in Bogota, Colombia. “In Colombia women suffer violence at home, in the streets and in the media. This is an issue that touches us all. Since the 1980s the Colombian women’s movement has tried to make violence against women visible. In the last few years this has become a topic of public discussion, but in a distorted way. The government has recognized the violence, but only because it effects the family and children, not because it effects women. Since 1991 there has been a movement to form a new Constitution. The national women’s movement made several proposals, such as the free choice of maternity. (We are a Catholic country so we do not talk about abortion). We also proposed an article protecting female heads of households and against discrimination against women. Only the first proposal did not pass. We made a proposal against domestic violence which was brought up by women in Parliament. This didn’t succeed either. We were told it was the only proposal to get laughs when it was discussed.”


Argentina, ruled by a small group of land and cattle owners, was one of the ten richest countries in the world in the early 1900s. The last military dictatorship (1976-83) led to brutal human rights abuses and a new word in the international vocabulary: the disappeared. Argentina’s population of 31.9 million people includes the largest British community outside the Commonwealth and the second largest Jewish community in the western hemisphere. Argentina has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. GNP per capita is $2,160.


In 1865, Paraguay fought a war against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (The War of the Triple Alliance) which reduced Paraguay’s population by half (from 450,000 to 220,000 in 1870). More war was to follow, this time against Paraguay’s own people. General Alfredo Stroessner seized power in 1955 and ruled until 1989, during which time one-quarter of the population emigrated to Brazil and Argentina. Most of the population is mestizo, of both European and Indian background; while Spanish is the official language, most people speak Guarani, an indigenous language. In 1987, fundamentalist US missionaries from the New Tribes Mission were responsible for the deaths of five Ayoreo Indians. Violent evictions of Indian communities from their lands are common, as are conflicts between landless peasants and owners of large plantations. There are over four million people in Paraguay. The GNP is $1,030 per capita.


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