Since the 16th century, Brazil was a colony of Portugal, exploited mainly for brazilwood at first, and later for sugarcane agriculture. Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil has overcome more than half a century of military intervention in the governance of the country to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of the interior. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Brazil attracted over 5 million European and Japanese immigrants.
The country has been nominally a democratic republic ever since, except for three periods of overt dictatorship. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, Brazil became Latin America’s leading economic power by the 1970s even as Brazilian politics has continued to be dominated by a relatively small elite.