Is Brazil Ready to Elect a Woman and Former Guerrilla for President?

Rousseff in police documentsIf economist Dilma Rousseff, former guerrilla and known for her strong character and work capacity, nominated by the ruling Workers Party, PT, to succeed the charismatic Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is victorious in Brazil’s 3 October presidential election the country might have an iron lady as its leader.

Born in December 1947, of Bulgarian descent, Rousseff is Lula da Silva’s cabinet chief and undoubtedly the most influential of the president’s team, who personally handpicked her and has been her strongest promoter.

Following some initial doubts, since she only joined PT in 1986, the party’s convention on Saturday firmly closed ranks behind her and lack of electoral experience is no longer an issue.

Described as a workaholic she also has an “explosive” temper and is known to have humiliated both ministers and her staff in meetings and sometimes in public. Vice President Jose Alencar one of her strongest supporters admits she’s a “tough character”.

However Lula argues that her efficiency in addressing administration issues and her political capacity convinced him she was the best name for the coming election.

Last April, Dilma publicly admitted she had begun a chemotherapy treatment for a lymphatic cancer but by September doctors said she had completely recovered. Ms Rousseff celebrated saying she no longer needed a wig.

The iron lady of Brazilian politics was brought up in an upper middle class family from Minas Gerais, strict Catholic education. She has a daughter Paula and besides economics likes to read about history and Greek mythology. Fond of opera she’s also considered an expert in Brazilian music

As a student, during the military dictatorship (1964/1985) she belonged to clandestine armed groups, Colina, (National Liberation Command) and VAR Palmares, the Armed Revolutionary Vanguard Palmares, although there’s some controversy as to how much she was really involved and if she effectively participated in armed attacks.

She went by the codename Stella. Arrested in São Paulo in 1970, she was sentenced to six years but by 1972 was out. Following her arrest and according to her confession she was repeatedly tortured to reveal names of other organization members.

In the early eighties she helped found the Brazilian Labor Party, PDT, from the legendary leader Leonel Brizola, former governor of Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul and one of the excuses for the 1964 military coup.

However in 1986 she joined Lula’s PT, but only came close to Lula in 2001 when he organized groups to elaborate government proposals for the 2002 election. She was specifically involved in the energy and power group.

“Here comes this comrade with a small computer in her hands, we begun discussing and I realized there was something different in her. Then I thought to myself ‘I think I’ve found my Energy minister'” recalls Lula about their first meeting.

Once elected president, Lula surprised everybody by naming Rousseff Energy minister whom he made responsible for reorganizing Brazil’s power system and modernizing the oil and gas sector.

The corruption scandal of 2005 pulverized the PT leadership following the disclosure of a clandestine accounting system to pay Congress members a “monthly due” (“mensalão”) in support for the Lula administration legislative program.

Lula then named her as cabinet chief and the first rumors about her possibilities of becoming the PT presidential candidate emerged in 2007, when Lula began traveling across Brazil with his cabinet chief next to him.

According to Brazilian electoral law, Rousseff must abandon her post in Lula da Silva’s cabinet by April 3 when she will be fully involved in negotiations with ten potential allied parties most of them currently part of the ruling coalition, to agree on her ticket partner and a common program.


As anticipated, the PT proclaimed on Saturday Rousseff as presidential candidate for the coming October 3 election.

Ms. Rousseff currently stands, according to different public opinion polls, five to ten points behind the leading presidential hopeful and governor of São Paulo José Serra, from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, PSDB

On Friday the convention approved a campaign platform which basically proposes the continuation of President Lula’s policies, mostly market friendly. But is also includes proposals to expand and strengthen the role of government corporations, taxing holders of large assets and increasing welfare programs for the needy and vulnerable.

During the convention the three main guidelines for a possible administration of Ms. Rousseff if she finally wins and becomes Brazil’s first woman president, included the words “continuity”, “more social emphasis” and a “stronger state”.

In the economic field the program proposes maintenance of a floating exchange rate, inflation control and strict fiscal discipline so ensure the stability of the past years enjoyed by Brazilians.

Besides stronger government corporations the PT program will favor credit policies for the private sector to guarantee sustained economic growth, the creation of jobs and business profits.

The slight leftist touch refers to taxing “wealth” and combating “the media monopolies”.

“Under Lula da Silva social support plans have advanced as never before in Brazilian history, but under an administration of Ms. Rousseff more must be done”, said Patrus Ananias, Social Development and Hunger Combat minister addressing the 1.200 party delegates in Brasilia.

The current Bolsa Família (family allowance) program benefits 11 million of poor families with children at school and other programs promote family farming and training for technical trades.

“But some of these programs must be consolidated and others must be extended to other areas of the country”, said Ananias.




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