Enter stage left: Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff took office on 1 January with the difficult task of continuing the work of her predecessor Lula, who left power with a popularity rating of 87 per cent, having lifted 30 million of his compatriots out of poverty. Thus Brazil joins other Mercosur countries that have (Cristina Kirchner in Argentina) or had (Michelle Bachelet in Chile) female presidents.
In her first speech as president Dilma said she would seek to consolidate Lula’s work: ‘My task is to continue his legacy of lifting the poor out of poverty in order to lift the country. Our goal is to be a nation that achieves the success it has always sought and to be a government that achieves its goals with certainty.’
The president stressed that while during the Lula administration, 30 million people came out of extreme poverty, the priority of her government was to try to finally eradicate this scourge – 20 million Brazilians still live in extreme poverty.
The Brazilian economy is currently going through a sustained economic expansion, with growth of 7.6 per cent of GDP expected for 2011 and an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent in November, a record low.
Among the measures that she is seeking to promote, the new president announced she will fight against speculative capital inflows, try to reform the tax code, and try to contain inflation, which is slowly increasing with the growth of the economy. Looking to build investor trust, Dilma, a former guerrilla imprisoned and tortured during the 1970s, has appointed an economic team containing many officials from the previous administration, in order to ensure continuity. Prominent among these is Antonio Palocci, Lula’s finance minister during his first years in office.
To reach her targets, the new president will count on the help of the absolute majority in the Congress, where her party has 372 of 513 deputies and 60 of 81 senators.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by the presidents of Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Surinam, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Also attending were the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the prime ministers of Portugal, South Korea and Bulgaria (where Rousseff’s father was born).
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez predicted that the new president of Brazil would form ‘a wonderful government’ and said that ‘Lula is not going’ because Brazil’s political will continues to be ‘dedicated to the Latin American cause’. The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, said Lula ‘was, is and will remain a great leader’.
Thus, Lula bowed out after eight years in office – a leadership feat once considered unthinkable given his humble beginnings as a metalworker who never completed primary school. But Lula, who persevered despite three election defeats in 1989, 1993 and 1995, finally won over his people – fewer than 3 per cent of Brazilians believe his leadership in government was bad.
Rousseff’s first international trip later this month will be to Argentina – the new president is keen to maintain her government’s regional leadership position by improving international political relations.