So far so good, but the new President is untried as a national
leader and we do not know how he
will cope with the constant
crises which mark Brazil. Lula has little patience for the ins and
politics and seems incapable of sticking to a script.
And he has to stop being a man of the people
become the leader of the people.
No sooner had Fernando Henrique Cardoso handed over the presidential sash to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on New
Year’s Day (knocking his own glasses off in the excitement as he did so) than he headed for the airport and set off for Paris.
The haste with which he left Brasília makes one wonder whether he knows something the rest of us don’t. Perhaps his
abrupt departure after eight years may have been meant to show the Brazilian people that they are on their own now with Lula
and his team. Since it is unlikely that Lula would seek any advice from his predecessor it may not matter that Cardoso
practically fled, but the manner in which he departed leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.
We are now in the hands of Lula and for the sake of Brazil let us hope he learns fast because the honeymoon is over.
Electors will no longer be satisfied with the ear-to-ear grins and the tearful descriptions of his life and hard times with which he
has been regaling them since his victory in October.
Behind the scenes the PT team has been busy assembling a government. This is obviously a complex process and
appears to have been handled fairly well. At the same time, failing to win over the PMDB, the largest party in the Congress, was
a setback. However, the PMDB is as greedy for power as any other party and this door has not been completely slammed
shut. In the months to come we will start seeing shifting political alliances as the familiar mosaic of Brazilian politics shapes
and reshapes itself. Despite the grouping of disparate parties in his election coalition, Lula’s government is top heavy with
The key ministers have started outlining their priorities in line with the PT’s electoral program. The focus will be on
ending social inequality although with no drastic action such as defaulting on international or domestic debt obligations.
Finance Minister, Antônio Palocci, has said the right things and pledged to reform the scandalous situation in which millions of
former civil servants, some only in their 40s or early 50s, enjoy generous inflation-linked pensions, mainly paid for by those in
the private sector who have no such cushion to fall back on.
In the first few days of the new administration we have already seen some changes. For example, the state-owned oil
company Petrobras, the largest company in South America, has had its board shaken up. The new chairman is a PT senator from
the Northeast and the advisers include Finance Minister Palocci and Lula’s chief of staff, José Dirceu. Moves have already
been made to reduce the effects of oil price increases on the final consumer by tinkering with taxes. (To be fair here, even the
Cardoso government interfered in Petrobras’s pricing policy at times, although it left the company in the hands of professionals
rather than politicians.)
The new energy minister has spoken against further privatizations in the sector and of the need for more investment
and lower prices. The defense minister announced that Lula had suspended for a year a multi-million dollar contract to renew
the Air Force’s fleet of fighter planes. According to the minister, priority would be given to fighting hunger.
So far so good, but your correspondent is still apprehensive and a bit fearful of what lies ahead. Lula is untried as a
national, as opposed to a party, leader and we do not know how he will cope with the constant crises which mark Brazil and the
day-to-day political bargaining in Congress. One must hope Lula will stick to the script and let his team, which appears to be
fairly competent, get on with things. The problem is that Lula has little patience for the ins and outs of politics and seems
incapable of sticking to a script. An example of the Lula style was the casual manner in which he announced the name of his
finance minister during a visit to Washington in December. This was the key appointment eagerly awaited in Brazil yet Lula
tossed it out to some journalists as though he was making a banal comment on the weather.
The inaugural ceremony itself showed the perils of this informality. By bussing in hundreds of thousands of
supporters from all the country, the PT enlivened the dreary avenues and concrete squares of Brasilia but gave the security forces a
headache they could have done without. Lula’s open-top car was soon swamped by well wishers, one of whom even managed to
jump inside and give Lula a hug.
Later, even when the security had been beefed up, a young woman still managed to get through and Lula posed for a
picture with her. Presumably one of the bodyguards took the picture. During the inaugural ceremony in the Congress, House
representative Severino Cavalcanti, from Pernambuco, whose constitutional role was to wind up the ceremony, started
speaking off the cuff and congratulated Lula, who was born in the Northeast, as though they were in a bar.
None of this mattered to Lula, who said at one point,
"Vamos quebrar o protocolo, mas nem tanto,
hein?" ("We’ll break with protocol, but not too much.") Afterwards, Lula allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry congressman to give him a hug
and slap on the back and even gave autographs. One wonders what Fernando Henrique Cardoso was thinking as he
watched this display, while awaiting the arrival of Lula at the Planalto Palace to receive the sash of office. OK, it was Lula’s big
day but he will soon have to stop being a man of the people and become the leader of the people.
Finally, it was disappointing to see that no major democratic leader took the pains to turn up at the ceremony. If
George Bush was busy planning to invade Iraq then why did he not send his vice-president? In recent years the French, German
and British government leaders have all visited Brazil and pledged to support the country’s maturing democracy and efforts
to get a fairer deal in international trade. But where were they on New Year’s Day?
At least the American trade secretary, Robert Zoellick, the man Brazilians love to hate, attended. The result of this
pitiful turnout was that two high-profile despots, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, were the main "guests
of honor." A sorry sight indeed when, for the first day since the return to democracy in Brazil, one elected president
passed power over to another elected president.
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He
writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic
which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at
© John Fitzpatrick 2003
You can also read John Fitzpatrick’s articles in
Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com