November 2002

Left Is Right

President-elect Lula is honest, passionate, smart, and
charming. Forget his lack of formal education.
Life has granted him a Ph.D. through suffering
and success on various fronts.

Dário Borim Jr.

The 2002 elections in Brazil are going to be historically remembered in many ways, especially as one of political maturity and wish for change. The high level of maturity has to do with a decent, cordial, and fruitful exchange of ideas that have marked the numerous political campaigns this year. Great leaders are now elected, including women for state governors.

As I watched their last debate live on TV Globo International last weekend, I was proud and deeply impressed by the constructive, objective and respectful dialogues between the two excellent candidates for president, José Serra and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

That electoral maturity is also revealed by the entire population's zest to vote and by the excellent use of voting technology, which provided almost immediate results: before six full hours had elapsed after the closing of the polls, 95 percent of the 120 million electronic ballots had been counted.

The result of the election's first round (and, now, of the decisive runoff) showed that Brazilians sought major changes. They wanted a president more concerned with, more knowledgeable about and more eager to reduce the social debt of a huge and powerful developing country currently drifting in dangerous waters.

They wanted a national leader who knew first-hand how harsh life could be in Brazil, who really knew about economic injustice. Lula embodies that great hope for Brazilians. He is honest, passionate, smart, and charming. Forget his lack of formal education. Life has granted him a Ph.D. through suffering and success on various fronts.

He has been a tremendous union leader and the kingpin of the birth of Brazil's first political party with a strong ideological character and sense of unity, despite its multiplicity of aspirations. If Brazilian society allows it to come to fruition, Lula's ability to run the country efficiently and democratically may inspire other leaders of Latin America and beyond to pursue a similar path.

The central government of today's urban and industrialized Brazil has previously been in the hands of two emperors, various slave-holding masters, scruple-less plantation owners, priests, generals, good-for-nothing-else politicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and professors. They were all upper class individuals or, occasionally, rare upper-middle class exceptions.

The fact that a factory-worker is chosen by more than 50 million voters to run this young South American democracy from 2002 to 2006 does not send a red flag to the world (within or outside Brazil) as if a new Latin American populist adventurer, liar or demagogue had managed to fool so many innocent Brazilians. Quite on the contrary, Lula's victory reflects the reality that enormous changes have already taken place in the second largest democracy in the world.

Brazil of today is nation where women outnumber men in the universities. This is where one finds police stations staffed by women alone, or learns that the mayor of the world's third-largest city, São Paulo, is Marta Suplicy, or that the governors of various states are women, including Benedita da Silva, an ex-black-slum-dweller who runs the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Lula's success reflects, above all, the historical gains of a nation that suffered the horrors of a bloody dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s just to come out united and aware of its power, in the 1980s, through increasingly community efforts by NGOs, religious bases, inner-city district organizations, and many other types of grass-roots organizations.

In sum, Lula's victory is Brazilian civil society's victory over its fears of accepting change that is not proposed by the elite's sweet smiles or by the military's shining guns. Lula would never have been elected if he had not convinced upper- and middle-class leaders of every sector of society (including those of industrialists, merchants, investors, intellectuals, artists, white-collar professionals, and the clergy) that he was wise, competent, serious, and hardworking.

Many of us know well how the world of politics is commonly a world of dreams and deceits, as well as prejudices and pretensions. The uneducated, for example, often vote for anyone but the less educated of the candidates. The bourgeoisie, in turn, feel uneasy about electing anyone that is not rich, since they always equate one's poverty with one's own fault. Lula, therefore, had to overcome those two major waves of prejudice against his candidacy.

Nobody knows if he will succeed as president, since that part of history is to be unfolded democratically and within the limitations of Brazilian society's readiness to improve to the levels he dreams of. He has been well staffed in the last couple of years, and any champion surrounded and estimated by a good number of other champions can actually make a resounding difference in public life.

Tonight, participating in a live news program, Lula says that he will see the greatest dream of his life come true when all, but really all, Brazilians get to eat three meals a day. A native of a poverty-stricken region in Pernambuco, a state in the Northeast, he knows himself what starvation is, and he is not afraid of speaking about 50 million Brazilians living under the poverty line, workers who actually earn less than 100 dollars a month.

On the first day after being officially declared president-elect, he knows that he can count on the support of his mighty Workers' Party. Yet, he makes it clear that his government will be one of coalition and of widespread collaboration with all those who care to help the country, absolutely above all political party lines.

He also announces the creation of a Social Emergency Secretariat that will focus on lower infantile-death rate and improve health standards, among other basic priorities. Most importantly, though, he declares that the total eradication of hunger is the greatest goal of his first year in power. And, yes, he promises not to deceive his voters. I trust that he won't, and that he will do the best he can. As far as I'm concerned, Lula is sketching the most necessary plan for a great start on the right track.

Dr. Dário Borim Jr. is a professor in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. You can contact him at 

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