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José Pedro Martins
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Lula wins the presidency on hi

The life story of Brazil´s president-elect, former machinist Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, reflects the story of millions of other poor Brazilians who dream of a better life.

The candidate of the Workers Party (PT), Lula, as he is popularly known, defeated José Serra in an Oct. 27 runoff with nearly 62 percent of the votes (LP, Oct. 21, 2002). He received more than 52 million votes to become the first left-wing politician to win the country´s presidency.

"Hope has defeated the fear of being happy," Lula told a roaring crowd in São Paulo, his adopted city, on election night. Besides celebrating his victory, supporters also broke into choruses of happy birthday. Lula turned 57 on election day.

Savoring his rise from poverty in Garanhuns, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, and decades of struggle in the country´s union movement, Lula told the massive audience along Paulista Avenue, the traditional strip of Brazil´s financial elite, that he would not let them down. He reiterated his promises to reactivate the country´s sagging economy and create jobs.

The task will not be easy when he moves into the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, on Jan. 1, 2003. According to the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), more than 50 million Brazilians, or 29.3 percent of the population, live in absolute poverty.

The new government will have to find a way to reduce the income gap, which is one of the most lopsided in the world. The Economic Research Institute (IPEA) claims that the richest 1 percent of the population controls 13 percent of the nation´s wealth, while the poorest 50 percent also controls 13 percent.

"The consolidation of poverty, violence and lack of hope among young people in extensive urban areas is, without a doubt, one of the principal problems the new government will have to solve if it really wants to change the country," said journalist Raimundo Rodrigues Pereira.

Rodrigues Pereira recently published "Measuring FHC," a study examining outgoing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso´s eight years as president (1994-2002). Rodrigues Pereira highlights how violence in urban areas, which mainly affects young people, has expanded as economic problems have worsened. In 2000, more than 1,700 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 were assassinated in Brazil.

The new Lula government will also have to create at least 10 million new jobs, which was one of his major campaign promises. In the past few years, Brazil has experienced one of its worst unemployment crises. The Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute puts current unemployment close to 7 percent.

The PT has traditionally been linked to the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and will have to make good on promises to carry out a "peaceful land reform." An estimated 10 million rural workers do not have access to land in Brazil (LP, Oct. 30, 2000).

The changes expected by millions of poor Brazilians will not happen unless there are changes in the economic model. Changing the country´s economic policies, however, may be the most daunting challenge facing the incoming administration.

The most pressing issue is Brazil´s internal and external debt, which almost reached the US$200 billion mark last year. The debt is now equivalent to 54.4 percent of the country´s gross domestic product (GDP). The debt exploded during the Cardoso administration, reaching its worst point last May, when it equaled 56 percent of GDP.

While Lula has stated that his government will respect the debt schedules designed by the Cardoso government (LP, July 15, 2002), groups closely linked to the PT have other ideas. The Central Workers Union and MST held a five-day national plebiscite on the debt in 2000. During the Sept. 2-7, 2000 event, more than 90 percent of the 6 million Brazilians who participated - nearly 6 percent of the electorate - voted that the debt should not be paid.

Besides dealing with problems at home, Lula will also have to address trade conflicts with the US government. Lula repeated criticism of US protectionist policies that grew louder toward the end of the Cardoso years.

Lula has criticized the United States for its anti-dumping laws, subsidies on cotton and the trade barriers thrown up to block the entrance of Brazilian citrus fruits and steel products.

At the same time, Lula has not readily accepted the US proposal for creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Many of his hardcore supporters are totally opposed to the agreement, which they say will be detrimental to Brazilian products. The same groups that want debt payments halted sponsored another plebiscite on the FTAA in September (LP, Oct. 7, 2002). More than 10 million people voted in the plebiscite, with 98.33 percent voting against Brazil´s incorporation. The party did not back the plebiscite.

Another 98.55 percent rejected an agreement between the two governments that allows the Untied States to use a military base in the state of Maranhão (LP, Oct. 1, 2001). The agreement lets the United States launch satellite missiles from the base. The PT´s congressional delegation voted against the agreement.

To confront these and other challenges, Lula will have to pull together a number of political coalitions given the results of the new congressional makeup.

The so-called "red tide" in the Oct. 6 election swept 91 PT members to victory in the House of Representatives and 14 in the Senate. While the party has the largest single bloc in the lower house, it is far from a majority. There are 513 representatives and 81 senators in the Congress

The second round of voting was not as positive for PT gubernatorial candidates as it was for Lula. The party captured only one of the seven governor seats up for grabs in the runoff. It won in Mato Grosso do Sul, where Gov. José Orcírio dos Santos was re-elected.

The PT controls only two other governorships in the states of Acre and Piauí, which are not major players in the Brazilian political world. The party lost gubernatorial runoffs in two important states; Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul.

Now that Lula has won, the PT will have to take "a bath of reality," according to Campinas University political scientist Leôncio Martins Rodrigues. Recognizing the challenges, Lula has reiterated a campaign slogan that he will need a "social pact" with all Brazilians to govern the country.


A new Brazil with Lula?
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