It includes much of the world's biggest rain forest around the Amazon, whose exploitation has become a major environmental worry.
But there is a wide gap between rich and poor. 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.
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.
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.
OVERVIEW FACTS LEADERS MEDIA
Full name: Federative Republic of Brazil
Population: 182.8 million (UN, 2005)
Largest city: Sao Paulo
Area: 8.55 million sq km (3.3 million sq miles)
Major language: Portuguese
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 real = 100 centavos
Main exports: Manufactured goods, iron ore, coffee, oranges, other agricultural produce
GNI per capita: US $3,460 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .br
International dialling code: +55
OVERVIEW FACTS LEADERS MEDIA
President: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, secured a second term in a landslide election victory in October 2006.
He promised to boost economic growth and to narrow the gap between rich and poor. In January 2007, Lula marked the start of his second term in office by announcing an ambitious investment programme.
Lula promises to help Brazil's poorest while pursuing growth
Profile: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
But with a weakened presence in congress, his left-wing Workers' Party may have to rely on political alliances to pursue planned tax, social security and political reforms.
Lula implemented tough fiscal policies in his first term, overseeing economic stabilisation and falling levels of inflation and foreign debt.
He changed the pension system and pushed through a modest increase in the minumum wage. Welfare programmes targeted millions of poor families. But he had to contend with a surge of land invasions by activists frustrated at what they saw as the slow pace of agrarian reform.
In 2005 his popularity was dented by claims of corruption in the ruling party, focusing on a cash-for-votes scheme in Congress. The president apologised and said he had known nothing about the alleged corruption.
Lula was born in 1945 in the impoverished north-east. His family moved to Sao Paulo when he was seven and he left school at 14 to become a metal worker.
In the 1970s, he honed his political skills as a fiery union leader in the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo. He went on to help found the Workers' Party.
Vice-president: Jose Alencar Gomes da Silva
Foreign minister: Celso Luiz Amorim
Finance minister: Guido Mantega
Media ownership is highly concentrated. Home-grown 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 are aired around the world. Game shows and reality TV attract huge audiences.
The constitution guarantees a free press; vigorous media debate about controversial political and social matters is commonplace.
Brazil is rolling out digital TV services; it aims to switch off analogue TV transmissions from 2016.
O Dia - Rio de Janeiro daily
O Correio Brazilense - influential daily
O Globo - Globo-owned Rio de Janeiro daily
Jornal do Brasil - Rio de Janeiro daily
Folha de Sao Paulo - daily
O Estado de Sao Paulo - daily
TV Band - commercial network operated by Grupo Bandeirantes
Rede Globo - major commercial network operated by Globo
Sistema Brasileiro de Televisao (SBT) - major commercial network
TV Record - major commercial network
NBR - operated by state-run Radiobras
Rede TV - commercial network
TV Cultura - public, educational and cultural programmes
Radio Nacional - FM and mediumwave (AM) network operated by state-run Radiobras
Globo Radio - commercial networks operated by Globo
Radio Eldorado - affiliated to O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper, operates mediumwave (AM) news station and FM music station
Radio Bandeirantes - network operated by Grupo Bandeirantes
Radio Cultura - public, cultural programmes
Agencia Brasil - state-owned
Agencia Estado - private, Sao Paulo-based
Agencia Globo - private