Despite enormous natural resources, it has long displayed an uncanny ability to squander its vast potential.
Now it's beginning to look like Brazil may have the last laugh.
Correspondent Steve Kroft reported, while most of the world is consumed with debt and unemployment, Brazil is trying to figure out how to manage an economic boom. It was the last country to enter the Great Recession, the first to leave it - and is poised to overtake France and Britain as the world's fifth-largest economy.
Full Segment: Brazil's Rising Star
Extra: Meet Brazil's Richest Man
Extra: Hard Times Ahead for Brazil?
Its outgoing president may be the most popular politician on the planet, and with the World Cup and the Olympics on the way, Brazil is about to make its grand entrance on the global stage.
When most people think of Brazil, they think of its passion and excellence in soccer -- not of skyscrapers in Sao Paulo, the financial hub of a fledgling economic superpower. They think of the pulsating beat of the samba and Carnival -- not commodities, or the world's largest cattle industry.
They see the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana and breathtaking vistas -- not Brazilian tycoons like Eike Batista, who has the best view in Rio, not to mention a net worth of $27 billion.
Kroft sat down with the billionaire and asked him, "How do most Americans see Brazil?"
Batista replied, "They think Buenos Aires is the capital of Brazil, so they mix us with, you know, other countries around South America."
"The most powerful country in South America?" Kroft said.
Batista said, "GDP-wise, we are bigger than all the other countries together. And you know, in the last 16 years, Brazil has put its act together. This is it. Hello, time for Americans to wake up."
While most of the world's economies are stagnant, Brazil's is growing at seven percent -- three times faster than America.
Brazil is a huge country, slightly larger than the continental U.S., with vast expanses of arable farmland, an abundance of natural resources, and 14 percent of the world's fresh water. Eighty percent of its electricity comes from hydropower. It has the most sophisticated biofuels industry in the world, and, for its size, the world's greenest economy.
Brazil is already the largest producer of iron ore in the world and the world's leading exporter of beef, chicken, orange juice, sugar, coffee and tobacco -- much of it bound for China, which has replaced the U.S. as Brazil's leading trade partner.
Batista told Kroft Brazil has the size to match the China's appetite.
Kroft said, "You have everything."
Batista answered, "It's a big dragon on, on the other side."
"You have everything they need," Kroft said.
"Yeah," Batista responded. "You need a Brazil to basically fulfill the Chinese needs."
Batista, who has interests in mining, transportation, oil and gas, is building a huge super-port complex north of Rio with Chinese investment. The complex will accommodate the world's largest tankers and speed delivery of iron ore and other resources to Asia.
But it's not just commodities that are driving the Brazilian boom. The country has a substantial manufacturing base and a large auto industry. Aviation giant Embraer is the world's third-largest aircraft manufacturer, behind Boeing and Airbus and a main supplier of regional jets to the U.S. market.
But Batista says the one thing that Brazil could use more of is skilled labor.
"We have to create more engineers," he told Kroft. "In my oil company, I'm importing Americans to weld our platforms, just to give you an, an idea."
"To weld the platforms?" Kroft asked.
"Yes," Batista said. "There's a lack of welders. We are walking into a phase of almost full employment. Already we have created this year 1.5 million jobs. It's unbelievable."