LATIN AMERICA’S most prominent leftwinger and the clear favorite to win Sunday’s
presidential election in Brazil, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, ended his campaign
by leading thousands of metalworkers through the streets of São Paulo.
Senhor da Silva chose the route, in the city’s industrial outskirts, for a reason. It passed the site where he led a steelworkers’ strike against the country’s dictatorship in the 1970s. But on this occasion he adopted a very different image to the familiar one of firebrand unionist, swapping his T-shirt and metalworkers’ helmet for an Armani suit.
Senhor da Silva’s speech was designed to appeal to Brazilians across class and party lines. “With me as President, Brazil will regain its pride and dignity,” he declared to the cheering throng. “We cannot let others treat us as if we were a banana republic.” The latest opinion polls give “Lula”, the socialist Workers’ Party candidate, 44 per cent support in his fourth presidential race. They put him at least 20 per cent ahead of his nearest rival, José Serra, the outgoing Government’s Social Democrat candidate, and his growing popularity means that there is a real chance that on Sunday he could win the 51 per cent needed to avoid at run-off.
Volkswagen and Ford assembly line workers chant slogans during a Worker's Party
(PT) campaign rally in Sao Bernardno do Campo October 1, 2002. Brazil will hold
national elections October 6 and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva from the Worker's Party
is currently running in first place in national polls. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)
But the increasing likelihood that such a politician should assume control
of the world’s eighth-largest economy has led to turmoil on the financial markets,
with talk of a return to high inflation and possible default, as with neighboring
Argentina. Foreign investors have withdrawn their funds, and the Brazilian real
has plummeted to a record low against the US dollar.
“Some people thought that the fears over Lula abroad would make Brazilians turn away from him,” one Western diplomat said, “but it has had the opposite effect. The more the real tumbles, the more he goes up in the polls.”
Senhor da Silva has gone out of his way to offer reassurance. He has toned
down his once-fervent socialist rhetoric. He has struck a pre-election pact with
the center-right Liberal Party and chosen a textile tycoon, José Alençar, as his
Brazilian presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party
(PT), right, is embraced by his wife Marisa during a campaign rally in Sao Bernardo
do Campo, near Sao Paulo, Brazil on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2002. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
He has pledged to honor the conditions of a $30 billion loan promised by the
International Monetary Fund. He has repeatedly promised that “a left-wing government
will not lead Brazil into bankruptcy”. He seems to have convinced Brazilian business
leaders that his Government would generate some much needed growth “Lula is an
honest man. He is not a populist and speaks from the heart,” Roberto Setubal,
the president of Itau, Brazil’s biggest private bank, said.
Senhor da Silva has also exploited the electorate’s desire for change, and
the widespread discontent with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the departing President.
The overwhelming feeling is that eight years of free-market reforms have helped
foreign investors, hurt Brazilian industry and failed to stabilize the economy.
Senhor da Silva’s promise to slow the flow of imports and protect Brazilian industry has appealed to his core supporters in poor suburbs and shanties, but also to industrialists. He has also tapped into nationalist sentiment by expressing doubts about Washington’s plans for a Free Trade of the Americas pact.
“We need to have courage to fight against the rich countries and tell them that we will not accept impositions and will only accept deals that are also beneficial to us,” he told a rally in Rio de Janeiro.
He has even made friends with his old enemy, the military. He drew rapturous applause during a recent meeting with top military officials, in which he said that Brazil may have made a mistake in signing a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. “Why is it that someone asks me to put down my weapons and only keep a slingshot while he keeps a cannon pointed at me?” he said at a recent rally.
He is supporting a plan by Embraer, the fourth-largest aircraft maker in the world, to develop missile technology and an advanced fighter jet, which could make Brazil a key player in weapons production.
“Brazil will only be respected in the world when it turns into an economic, technological power,” he has said. “During my government people will see that Brazil is not just about football, beaches and samba.”
It is this kind of oratory that appears to have persuaded Brazilians to abandon a tendency to support representatives of the conservative elite, and back a man who once pursued “socialist revolution”.
Population: 172.6 million
GDP: $502 billion dollars
Income distribution: 10 per cent of the population account for 48 per cent of income (only Nicaragua and Swaziland have a greater disparity)
Size: 3,286,473 sq miles (slightly smaller than the US)
Rainforest: accounts for almost 60 per cent of all land
Independence: from Portugal on September 7, 1822