can’t see the forest

Silva Re-Elected in Landslide Victory

Posted in Brazil, Latin America, News and politics, Politics, South America by Curtis on 10/29/06

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been re-elected to his post as the 39th President of the Republic of Brazil.

According to the BBC, while both Silva and his opponent Geraldo Alckmin are seen as centre-left candidates, Silva enjoys widespread support among the nation’s poor while Alckmin is considered more pro-business and pro-privatization. Preliminary results showed Silva with a strong lead in excess of 60 per cent. 

In Brazil, a country quite wealthy in terms of natural resources, privatization plans and schemes are eyed with suspicion, particularly by the working class. 

Lula da SilvaSilva, first elected to the presidency in 2002, stormed headlong through a first term plagued by allegations of insider corruption. Fresh charges likely prevented his outright victory in the first round of the latest elections, but emphasis on Silva’s work in reducing poverty and the incumbent’s insistence that Alckmin was nurturing plans to privatize large segments of Brazil’s state commerce solidified Silva’s large working class support base. 

Silva was born in Pernambuco in 1945. His family was illiterate and extremely poor. By age 12 Lula was working as a shoeshine boy. He took a post in a copper factory at 14, having quit school after the fourth grade. Eventually he received a high school equivalency diploma.

Young Lula had begun his career in the automotive industry by 1965. In 1978 he was elected president of the Steel Workers’ Union of São Bernardo do Campo and Diadema, one of the most industrialized districts of Brazil. In 1980, Silva was part of the team of academics and industrialists which founded Brazil’s PT (Workers’ Party), essentially a radical-left organization created amidst the military dictatorship of General João Figueiredo.

In 1986 Silva took a seat in Brazil’s congress as representative of the Workers’ Party. During the redraft of the Brazilian constitution Silva worked to provide for redistribution of agricultural land among poor farmers, a measure in which he ultimately failed and which earned him distrust among wealthier Brazilian élites. Silva first ran for president under the banner of the Workers’ Party in 1989, enjoying a high degree of grassroots populist support from the start but unable to penetrate the state-military-industrial stronghold of Vargas’ Brazilian Labor Party. He also failed to win subsequent elections in 1994 and 1998, but he increased the carrying power of his name and continued slowly to pave a road towards victory in 2002 as the gulf of inequality between industrial élites and poor rural agriculturalists widened further through the 1990s.

Following his election to a first term as president, Silva quickly earned criticism for seemingly abandoning many of the more hardline social policies upon which he had built his platform. This shift in paradigm was likely an adjustment to the realities of a divided congress and significant friction within the cabinet. Silva’s government nonetheless instituted dozens of critical reforms, from the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) social spending programs to his vast increase of foreign trade profits, creating surpluses in place of existing deficits.

Silva is perhaps the most left-leaning president in Brazilian history. Never having enjoyed the support of the military or of industry, Silva—the “Shoeshine President”—rose from utter poverty to become the self-made leader of one of the world’s largest economies. In this respect, his presidency is symbolic of a dynamic of egalitarianism which has yet to be seen in the “power politics” of the USA and Western Europe. Amid near-ceaseless accusations of corruption (always from the same quarters) Silva has continued to champion the causes of the poor and disenfranchised and remains an important player in the cascading movement of Southern solidarity bent on challenging the crooked economic imperialism of the United States and of the North, set on leveling the playing field of international commerce to equal advantage on both sides of the equator.

Felicidades e boa fortuna, Lula!

Bandeira do Brasil

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