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Two women with leftist origins vie for the presidency
José Pedro Martins
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Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva are tied in voter support for the second electoral round.

Two women, President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) and former senator Marina Silva from the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), are competing head to head in the next Brazilian presidential elections. Both have leftist origins and have worked together as ministers in the two administrations of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010).

According to a Vox Populi consulting group poll from the first week of September, Rousseff would win the first electoral round on Oct. 5 with 36 percent of the vote, while Silva would receive 27 percent of the vote. Aecio Neves, from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, would end in third place with 15 percent of the vote. However, for the second electoral round of Oct. 26, Silva has 42 percent of voter support versus Rousseff’s 41 percent.

They had already faced each other in the 2010 presidential elections, which resulted in Rouseff as the winner with Lula’s support. With Rousseff’s win, the PT secured its place in power for 12 consecutive years.

Everything indicated that President Rousseff would be reelected for the 2015-2018 period, until an unexpected event completely changed the course of the electoral campaign. On Aug. 13, the PSB’s presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, former governor of the estate of Pernambuco, died in a plane accident. With his death, Silva, who was Campos’s vice presidential running mate, became the PSB presidential candidate.

After a few days, the polls started to show that Silva had a good chance of competing with Rousseff on the second electoral round, or even of winning the presidency.

The candidates’ path
Rousseff, 66, participated in the armed struggle against the military regime that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1984. In 1970 she was arrested and tortured. In the 1980s, she entered politics by joining the Democratic Labor Party, PDT, headed by the great labor leader Leonel Brizola.

In 2000 she joined Lula’s PT party and became Lula’s presidential Chief of Staff between 2005 and 2010. For her leadership, Lula chose Rousseff as his successor. Additionally, as Minister of Mining and Energy during Lula’s administration, Rousseff was acquainted with Silva, who worked as Minister of the Environment.

Silva, 56, was born in the state of Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon. She had 10 siblings; her parents were seringueiros, or rubber collectors, and she herself became a rubber collector at the age of 10. Silva became literate at the age of 15 when she moved to Rio Branco, Acre’s capital, where she worked as a domestic worker.

In 1981 she graduated from the Federal University of Acre, where she studied to become a teacher and where she took her first steps into politics. In 1985 she joined the PT and began her career in politics, taking up positions as councilor in Rio Branco and as the PT representative to Acre’s state House of Representatives and the Senate. During that time, she met the seringueiro and environmental leader Chico Mendes, with whom she worked to defend the Amazon and who was assassinated on Dec. 22, 1988.

After Mendes’s death, Silva became somewhat of his successor as well as a great environmental leader. When Lula became president, he asked her to be his Minister of the Environment, a position she held between 2003 and 2008. Despite the opposition she faced, even within the government, she faired well in the struggle against the deforestation of the Amazon. For instance, in 2006 she created the Brazilian Forest Service.

“Those who do not respect the environment believe that [my work as Minister of the Environment] is not administrative experience,” said Silva on Sept. 17 in response to criticism that she would not be prepared to be president because she did not have administrative experience.

Precisely because of differences with Rousseff, among other reasons, Silva resigned from the Ministry of the Environment in May 2008. She was always a critic of the construction of hydroelectric plants in the Amazon, projects which Rousseff defends. With Silva’s resignation, the Belo Monte damn project, among other projects, was expedited.

Silva left the PT in 2009 and the following year she ran for the presidency as the Green Party (PV) candidate. Although she lost the campaign to Rousseff, Silva received more than 19 million votes, an enormous electoral support considering that the PV was a very small party in Brazil. After that, Silva attempted to launch her own party, the Sustainability Network, but that initiative’s failure led her to join Campos’s PSB.

Strengths and weaknesses
While Silva has improved her winning potential and now competes neck to neck with Rousseff for every vote, the president still has good chances of winning the election. Rousseff’s great strength is having a list of social and economic achievements from the consecutive PT administrations.

“I am very proud of some things. One of these is Pronatec [National Program of Access to Technical Education and Employment]. Of the 8 million enrrolled, more than 70 percent are black,” said Rousseff in a meeting with social movements representing the population of African descent. “Most of the students are black, women and young, precisely those who are most discriminated against. The Prouni [University for All Program] scholarships are mainly for the black population,” she stated. The Pronatec is a technical education program, and the Prouni program gives scholarships so that poor students can study in universities. The Prouni program has already granted 1.2 million scholarships.

Between 2002 and 2013, Brazil’s international reserves grew from US$37 billion to $375 billion. The unemployment rate decreased from 12.2 percent to 5.4 percent. From being the 13th largest economy in 2002, Brazil jumped to seventh place in 2013. Brazilian exports, which amounted to $60 billion in 2002, grew to $242 billion in 2013.

There have been many accomplishments in regards to social policy which have been the fruits of the PT’s programs. For example, 18 federal university and 214 technical schools have been created.

The Light for All Program has brought electricity to 9.5 million people who lacked this service in their homes. The My Home My Life Program has provided housing to 1.5 million families who were not previously homeowners.

Between 2002 and 2012, the poverty rate decreased from 34 percent to 15 percent, and extreme poverty decreased from 15 percent to 5.2 percent. More than 40 million people have escaped poverty and have become part of the so-called new middle class. Furthermore, the program Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant, benefits more than 13 million homes. The infant mortality rate decreased from 25.3 per 1,000 live births in 2002 to 12.8 per 1,000 live births in 2012.

On Sept. 16, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), published a report stating that between 2002 and 2013, Brazil decreased the percentage of the population that suffered from malnutrition by 82 percent. Among the reasons for this decrease is the creation of 21 million jobs, the growth of the real minimum wage by 71.5 percent and the school food program for 43 million children.

Although the successes in social public policy are Rousseff’s strength, her biggest weaknesses are the series of corruption reports that involve the PT. These reports emphasize the so-called “mensalão,” or monthly payment — payments to opposing members of parliament as reward for their support of government initiatives in the legislature which sent historic PT leaders to jail, such as former chief of staff José Dirceu — made during Lula’s first term and the recent “Petrobras scandal” on the irregular acquisition of a refinery in the United States in 2006.
As far as Silva, she also has weaknesses. One of them is the position she would take if she became president in regards to important moral issues, such as abortion, gay marriage and the fight against homophobia. Previously a Catholic, Silvia later joined the Assemblies of God, which helped her receive the support of evangelical communities, including the most conservative ones.

According to the PT and other leftist parties in Brazil and Latin America, Silva has become the Brazilian right’s chance to oust leftist PT from the government. They base their argument on the fact that Silva’s government plan aligns with the interests of the conservative right in that it does not criticize neoliberalism, in addition to her links to bankers and businessmen.
—Latinamerica Press.


President Dilma Rousseff and environmentalist Marina Silva in close race for the presidency of Brazil. (Photos: PT and MercoPress)
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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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