The Anointed Can a former political radical lead Brazil through its economic boom?
by Nicholas Lemann
ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Until recently, Brazil has been one of the most uneducated, economically imbalanced countries in the world. Now its economy is growing much more rapidly than that of the U.S. Twenty-eight million Brazilians have moved out of severe poverty in the past decade. The country has a balanced budget, low national debt, nearly full employment, and low inflation. It is, chaotically, democratic, and it has a free press. Brazil operates in ways we have been conditioned to think are incompatible with a successful free society. It isn’t just that Brazil is ruled by unapologetic former revolutionaries, many of whom—including the President—were imprisoned for years for being terrorists. The central government is far more powerful and intrusive than it is in the U.S. It is also far more corrupt. Crime is high, schools are weak, roads are bad, and ports barely function. And yet, among the world’s major economic powers, Brazil has achieved a rare trifecta: high growth, political freedom, and falling inequality. The President, Dilma Rousseff, is a forceful presence. As part of the Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard, she spent years in prison and was subjected to torture. Her first major Presidential initiative, Brasil Sem Miséria, unveiled in June, was a sweeping anti-poverty program. The U.S. constantly seems to be on Rousseff’s mind, as an example of how not to handle the global economic crisis. Politics in Brazil revolves around Rousseff’s predecessor, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, known to Brazilians and the rest of the world simply as Lula. For the last five of Lula’s eight years as President, Rousseff served as his Minister of the Civil House. Lula anointed her as his successor in 2010. Describes the political history of Brazil. Mentions President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The writer describes his visit with Lula in São Paulo. Brazil will be hosting the World Cup, in 2014, and the Olympics, in 2016. Rousseff, now sixty-three, was a university student during the 1964 coup that established Brazil’s military dictatorship, and she quickly became radicalized. By the late sixties, she was married to another militant, Cláudio Galeno Linhares. They lived in hiding, storing and transporting caches of guns, bombs, and stolen money, planning and executing “actions.” Later, she left Galeno for Carlos Araújo, another prominent militant. In early 1970, the military caught up with her, and she spent three years in prison, where she was reportedly subjected to extensive torture. She insists she was never personally involved in violent actions during her militant days. After she was released, she went to graduate school in economics and then worked in a think tank. She joined the mainline political party, the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (P.D.T.), and soon began working in government positions in Porto Alegre. Eventually, she met with Lula and so impressed him that he appointed her Secretary of Energy in his administration. Mentions the numerous scandals which have plagued Rousseff’s administration. Nobody believes that Rousseff is corrupt, but she had worked for years with some of the people who resigned. Describes the writer’s visit with Rousseff.