By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press November 1, 2010
SAO PAULO – From three years in a dictatorship's jail cell to just two
months away from the presidential palace, the journey has been long for
Brazil's newly elected leader Dilma Rousseff, who will be the first woman
to direct Latin America's biggest nation.
She is a career civil servant who has never held elected office, but
Rousseff easily won Sunday's presidential runoff election. That was thanks
to the wholehearted backing of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, who for decades has been a presence on Brazil's political scene and
will leave office as its most popular leader.
Now, the difficult part begins. Rousseff must make good on her campaign
promises to continue Silva's programs that have led Brazil to new
international economic and political heights. She acknowledged the
challenge in her victory speech late Sunday after overcoming centrist
rival Jose Serra by winning 56 percent of the vote against his 44 percent.
"It's a challenging and difficult task to succeed him, but I will know how
to honor his legacy," she said of Silva. "I will know how to advance and
consolidate his work."
This is exactly what her supporters and most of the base of the governing
Workers Party expect.
"Now we are certain that the country will continue in the right
direction," 26-year-old teacher Hobert dos Santos said while waving
Rousseff campaign flags at a celebration on a main avenue in Sao Paulo.
"Dilma will be able to continue working for the people, to continue
improving many of the things that Lula started and didn't have time to
A former Marxist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured for three years in
the early 1970s for fighting against Brazil's dictatorship, Rousseff is
known as a demanding and skilled manager. She first served as Silva's
energy minister and from 2005 until earlier this year was his chief of
staff, running the day-to-day operations of the administration.
Despite her tough exterior, she betrayed emotion when speaking about Silva
after the election results were announced.
"The joy I feel with this victory today is mixed with the emotion of his
farewell. I know that a leader like Lula will never be away from his
people," she said, her eyes welling with tears and voice cracking. "I will
always be able to knock on his door and I'm sure that it will always will
In his concession speech, Serra said he respected the voters' decision and
wished the president-elect good luck.
Beginning Jan. 1, Rousseff, 62, will lead a nation on the rise, a country
that will host the 2014 World Cup and that is expected to be the globe's
fifth-largest economy by the time it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. It
has also recently discovered huge oil reserves off its coast.
Silva used his 80 percent approval ratings to campaign incessantly for
Rousseff, who lacks the charisma that transformed Silva from a one-time
shoeshine boy into one of the globe's most popular leaders.
Barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive four-year
term, Silva has batted down chatter in Brazil's media that he plans a new
run at the presidency in 2014, which would be allowed under the law.
Many Brazilians don't want "Lula," as he is popularly known, to go away.
"If Lula ran for president 10 times, I would vote for him 10 times," said
Marisa Santos, a 43-year-old selling her homemade jewelry on a Sao Paulo
street. "I'm voting for Dilma, of course, but the truth is it will still
be Lula who will lead us."
Silva, 65, entered office with a background as a leftist labor leader, but
he governed from a moderate perspective. Under his leadership, the economy
grew strongly and Brazil weathered the global financial crisis better than
He is loved within Brazil by the legions of poor, who consider the
nation's first working-class president one of their own. His social
programs and orthodox economic policies have helped lift 20 million people
out of poverty and thrust another 29 million into the middle class.
"I voted for Dilma because she is a fighter," said Estevam Sanches, a
43-year-old pizza parlor owner in Sao Paulo. "What we need is a fighter in
the presidency to continue, as she says she will, with Lula's efforts to
eradicate poverty and strengthen the economy."
Rousseff is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant father, a lawyer who
died when she was 14, and a Brazilian mother who was a schoolteacher. Her
past points to an early political awakening.
In 1967, as a 19-year-old economics student, she joined a militant
political group opposing the dictatorship. For three years she helped lead
guerrilla organizations, instructed comrades on Marxist theory and wrote
for an underground newspaper.
Rousseff denies carrying out any acts of violence during this period, says
she opposed such action and notes she was never accused by the military
regime of violent acts.
After three years underground, Rousseff was captured in 1970 by Brazil's
military police and was considered a big enough catch that a military
prosecutor labeled her the "Joan of Arc" of the guerrilla movement.
It's that image of a strong woman that Rousseff projected Sunday, saying
that her first promise as president elect was "to honor the women" of
Brazil, adding that she hoped her win would allow "fathers and mothers to
look their daughters in the eyes and say, 'Yes, a woman can.'"
Associated Press reporters Stan Lehman and Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo and
Marco Sibaja in Brasilia contributed to this story.
Monday, November 01, 2010
By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press November 1, 2010