Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (born 1945), known as Lula, steered a middle course between helping his country's poor and stabilizing the country economically after his election as Brazil's president in 2002.
Lula came to the presidency from a labor union background, and he won the presidency partly through populist appeals. Yet the first part of his presidency was not marked by the turn to the political left undertaken by his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez. Lula expanded government antipoverty programs while maintaining stability in Brazil's financial relationships with the rest of the world. He
Lula was born Luiz Inácio da Silva on October 27, 1945, in Garanhuns, in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil's historically poverty-ridden northeast. Lula was a nickname that he legally incorporated into his full name after political followers began to use the nickname. He was the seventh of eight children in a very poor family that moved around looking for work and often separated. His father, Aristedes, worked for several years at the port of Santos on the Atlantic coast, and Lula did not meet him for the first time until he was five. In 1952 the family moved to Guarujá, on the coast of the state of São Paulo, traveling for 13 days in the back of a truck. Contributing to the family income by shining shoes and selling peanuts on the streets, Lula had a spotty education and did not learn to read until he was 10.
A year after that, Lula's parents divorced, and he moved with his mother to the metropolis of São Paulo. By 12 he had a job at a dry cleaning shop, and by 14 he was working in a warehouse. He did factory work throughout his teens, losing the little finger of his left hand in an industrial accident. He later moved to the Marte Screw Factory and was able to enroll in a three-year government metalworking course that qualified him for the skilled jobs of mechanic and lathe operator. With Brazil under the military dictatorship of General Humberto Castelo Branco, Lula joined the Metalworkers' Union but had little interest in politics.
Lula's path to political power started in Brazil's trade union movement. In 1969, in mourning over the death of his first wife, Maria, during childbirth, he was urged by his union-activist brother to run for a low-level post in the local group of the Metalworkers' Union. He won, and immediately showed a talent for organizing and for negotiating with factory owners. Reelected in 1972 to the local post, by 1975 he became the president of a union organization of more than 100,000 workers. Lula fathered a child in 1972 and then married Marisa Leticia Casa in 1974. Bringing one child each to the marriage, they raised five children in all.
By the late 1970s Lula was still not a member of any political party, but he began to enter the sphere of national events as he sought to influence government labor policies. Labor unions under Brazil's dictatorship had been mostly government-sponsored organizations, but Lula was one of a group of leaders who led them toward greater advocacy for workers' rights and welfare. Police actions against a 1979 metalworkers' strike hardened his resolve and made him consider the creation of a labor-oriented political party. Government repression of independent political activities was slowly being lifted, and on March 10, 1980, Lula, along with a group of union activists, intellectuals, and social reformers, announced the formation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party. By 1982 the party had some 400,000 members, and Lula ran for the governorship of the state of São Paulo. He was unsuccessful, but the party won seats in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies. In 1986, Lula won the election to the Chamber of Deputies with the largest vote total in all of Brazil, and he emerged as a figure of national significance.
In the beginning, the Workers' Party had a far-left orientation that included Communist elements, but it gradually grew more moderate as Lula and its other leaders attempted to forge national coalitions with stands that approximated those of European social democratic parties. Until Lula's election, however, his anti-American stands were pronounced. In 1989 Lula ran as the presidential candidate of the Workers' Party in the first direct presidential election held in Brazil since 1960. He lost narrowly in a runoff, but Workers' Party representation increased sharply in the elections for the Chamber of Deputies the following year.
In the 1990s Lula ran twice more for president, losing by substantial margins in 1994 and 1998 to Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. But the decade was no electoral wasteland for the Workers' Party, which increased its representation in the Chamber of Deputies in every election between 1982 and 2002. Lula devoted himself to the building of a viable national party organization, working tirelessly to elect candidates at all levels, from the Brazilian Senate all the way down to local mayoral offices. "The left can never dispense with popular organization," he observed to Paulo de Mesquita Neto of the North American Congress on Latin America. "It is the most important thing for a party of the left. The PT neglected it for some time and now we have to make up for lost time." From 1980 to 1995 he was the national president of the Workers' Party, relinquishing that position to head a liberal think tank called the Instituto Cidadania, or Citizenship Institute, that had among its goals the enfranchisement and full participation of all Brazilians in the political process.
In 2002 Lula ran for the Brazilian presidency once again, with Cardoso's hand-picked successor, José Serra, as his main opponent. Capitalizing on widespread disenchantment with Cardoso's free-market policies, which had brought prosperity to Brazil's business sector but failed to dent the country's substantial social problems, Lula ran a shrewd campaign in which he called for increased government spending while also cultivating allies in the business community. The centerpiece of his effort was a pledge to end hunger in Brazil during his first term. Defeating Serra by a margin of 61 to 39 percent in an October runoff, Lula led the Workers' Party to its best showing ever; it became the single largest bloc in the Chamber of Deputies. Upon taking office he said that if he could make it possible for all Brazilians to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, he would have fulfilled his life's mission.
Keen international attention was focused on the first months of Lula's term, as governments and foreign investors tried to determine whether he would follow the leftist course of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez or steer in a centrist direction. The results they observed were mixed, and were signaled by twin trips at the beginning of his terms to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and to the antiglobalization World Social Forum meeting in Brazil. Aided by growing markets for Brazilian exports, notably in China, Lula registered trade surpluses, a favorable sign from the point of view of the International Monetary Fund. Domestic budgets remained under control, and Brazil's notoriously high inflation rate dropped from 12.5 percent in 2002 to 4 percent by 2006. The commercial sector was pleased by a reduction in Brazil's small business taxes. Lula stepped onto the international stage with a program aimed at relief for African AIDS sufferers, and he even earned praise for his efforts from his ideological polar opposite, U.S. President George W. Bush.
Domestically, Lula pursued some of the activist antipoverty programs he had promised. The centerpiece of his domestic agenda was the Bolsa Familia, or Family Fund, a program begun by Cardoso but vastly expanded by Lula. The Bolsa Familia was a monthly stipend of between $6 and $60, eventually paid to about 11 million poor families, for which the only requirements were that children attend school (85 percent of the time) and receive government-required vaccinations. The result was a dramatic 19 percent reduction in Brazil's poverty rate, long one of the most severe in Latin America. Lula also raised Brazil's minimum wage in the last year of his first term and dispatched federal troops to halt gang wars in Brazil's slums.
These measures materially improved the situation of numerous ordinary Brazilians and gave Lula a cushion of support he would need as problems began to mount later in his term. Annual growth in Brazil's gross domestic product was an anemic 2.6 percent, lower than that of neighboring countries, to say nothing of emerging economic titans like China and India that Brazil had long considered its main competitors. Environmentalists pointed out that despite the establishment of new protected areas, enforcement of laws safeguarding the fragile and ecologically critical Amazon rainforest remained underfunded and lax.
Lula faced opposition from both the left and the right. An organization composed of landless rural peasants mounted demonstrations protesting the slow pace of rural land reform. The most serious problems for Lula during his first term came from scandals connected with Workers' Party officials, who were charged with bribing lawmakers to cast certain votes, with soliciting illegal contributions during the 2002 campaign, and with a variety of dirty tricks aimed at the party's political rivals. Lula was never personally connected to any of the allegations, but his centrist opponents made an issue of government corruption as the 2006 elections approached. Economic conservatives in Brazil blamed the country's high rate of government spending for slow growth.
With candidates from two small leftist parties gaining 9 percent of the vote in the election's first round on October 1, 2006, Lula was in a weakened position, gaining only 49 percent of the vote. But he fired back at his centrist opponent, São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, with charges that his opponent wanted to privatize Brazil's state industries. The strategy proved successful as Lula reversed Alckmin's lead in the vote-rich São Paulo region and rolled up large majorities in his native Northeast. On October 29 he was elected to a second term with 61 percent of the vote. In December he announced a second hike in Brazil's minimum wage, raising it by 8.5 percent to $177 per month.
The scandal-plagued Workers' Party lost seats in the Chamber of Deputies for the first time since Lula had established it, but Lula forged ahead with a second term agenda that included economic development, education (he proposed new university scholarships for poor Brazilians), and anti-poverty initiatives. Notably absent from his plans was any effort to expel foreign companies in an effort like that undertaken by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. "Lula's heart may beat to the left, but his head tells him foreign investment is essential for Brazil to grow," noted Steve Kingstone of the BBC. Having experienced Brazilian poverty firsthand, Lula promised to continue to work to ameliorate it. "The foundation is in place," he told crowds in São Paulo after the election (according to the BBC), and now we have to get to work."
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