On October 3, 2010 a presidential election will begin in Brazil. It will be the most important election in the country’s history. At stake is the country’s economic growth, its social policies, its civic institutions and democracy itself.
The outgoing President Lula will leave office basking in unprecedented popularity, backed by the powerful media elites he pretends to despise.
Harboring a long-standing problem with alcohol, Lula spent more time traveling than running the country. He made some 102 travels amounting to 382 days out of the country and 602 days away from Brasilia, the country’s capitol. Lula spent 984 days out of the Palace of the President. In total he spent nearly 82 percent of his mandate of 1,201 days traveling instead of governing the country.
Lula is inarticulate, choosing base words and crude antics when he faces opponents. Many educated people say his Portuguese is poor, and his grasp of the language is seldom above a grammar school level. Yet, Lula has effectively positioned himself as a peasant fighting the elites to make up for his intellectual defects.
Lula is nothing if not a showman. He did not wait to leave office to introduce a motion picture of his life in October of 2009. In the bio-pic, Lula, he was portrayed as a poor boy rising to the most powerful position in the country.
During Lula’s past eight years as president, he has based his economic and social policies on those of his predecessor, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the man who first brought stability to the newly democratized Brazil. The Lula government, however, has claimed all credit for Brazil’s growing economy and has blamed the country’s faults on Cardoso’s previous administration.
At the same time, Lula’s government has spent ten times more than the Cardoso government had spent in its two terms. His excessive spending has drawn little criticism, as both houses of Congress willingly grant the president any amount he wishes.
Should he face any serious opposition for his policies, Lula will use secretive executive powers to circumvent the constitutional process if necessary. Recently he over-ruled the Judiciary when several judges made court decisions that opposed the construction of the Bel Monte damn. Not only has this caused a constitutional crisis that is still unresolved but the construction continues under a cloud of jurisdictional confusion.
Perhaps his most notable impact was made recently when he announced Dilma Rousseff as his successor. This in itself should have been a controversy, but Lula’s control of the media has made her untouchable to complaints. A recent law was passed in Congress forbidding any criticism or unnecessary scrutiny of the candidates for this election, including satire. Rousseff’s opponents now must debate her with their hands tied by executive order of the president.
Rousseff is a woman who has been plucked out of nowhere to be the next president of Brazil. She is paraded around by Lula as his successor and all but crowned as the new president. Lula claims she is winning the election by a margin of 50 percent to 29 percent in the polls.
All that is known about her is that she has some minor legislative experience and did not rise from the judiciary. She does not have a strong enough power base to become a senator and her legislative goals are murky.
At times, Rouseff appears to some skeptics as a novelistic character whose past has been rewritten to fit the times and circumstances. She has prospered under the wing of her mentor, Lula. She has steadily moved up through government as an appointed minister and has, like Lula, taken on the guise of a misunderstood public servant; just another common person who has made good.
But even as her controlled election campaign continues unopposed, there is more evidence she was a middle class radical who later became a terrorist. Much of her history been lost under a new narrative created for her by the state-controlled media: This new Dilma has been redeemed and resurrected as a better person. This is a popular theme in a country dominated by Catholics.
Rousseff, herself, has refused to discuss her redemption or her mistakes of the past with any credibility. Rather, she has undergone several makeovers, softening her once unpolished and frumpy public image into that of a modern, well-to-do elitist on the move up.
Often, her color photos appear on the fashion magazines as a perky government leader. In this capacity she is interviewed more about her choice of toe nail polish than she is of her beliefs about her priorities for governing 290 million people.
While she has been effectively sheltered by Lula, from time to time reports emerge from the Internet that reveal a different Dilma Rousseff.
These reports document her association with guerilla groups in the 60s and 70s, when she was involved in murders, bombings, assassinations and bank robberies. Most notably, it has been reported that she was briefly imprisoned and was released without receiving the same treatment as her conspirators, who suffered much longer prison terms and torture. Some reports indicate that she took more than R$2.5 million from a bank robbery and used it to fund her fledgling political career.
Dilma the guerilla
Most of these claims are disregarded by the mainstream media. The opposition has only hinted of a dark past with few specifics. In any event, there is no public outcry for a full investigation about Rousseff’s past.
The only stain on her rise to power may have happened during the first week of September when she appeared at a political rally with Lula. When she came out the crowd continued to cheer: “Lula, Lula, Lula” . Lula gloated despite efforts of the organizers to make the crowd yell “Dilma, Dilma, Dilma”.
It may be that her only opponent in the election will be Lula himself, who is showing signs of reluctance about leaving office. He seems unwilling to relinquish his place in history to his successor. This makes many in Brazil fearful that Rousseff will be the puppet and Lula will pull the strings. This reminds many of a well meaning politician in Venezuela who promised democracy and turned it into tyranny: Hugo Chavez.