Picking Lula's Replacement: Brazil's Presidential Race Heads to Runoff

By Democracy Now · 6 Oct 2010

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Picture: Official Website Dilma Rousseff
Picture: Official Website Dilma Rousseff

In Brazil, some 135 million voters cast ballots on Sunday in a closely watched presidential election. Dilma Rousseff, the leading candidate to succeed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won the race but failed to gain the 50 percent of votes needed for an outright victory. If Rousseff wins the runoff, she will become the first woman to lead Brazil, the world’s fourth most populous democracy.

for some insight into the consequences of these election results, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now speaks with Esther Hamburger, journalist and professor of the School of Arts and Communications of the University of São Paulo, and Greg Grandin, who teaches Latin American history at New York University.


AMY GOODMAN: In Brazil, some 135 million voters cast ballots Sunday in a closely watched presidential election. Dilma Rousseff, the leading candidate to succeed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won the race but failed to gain the 50 percent of votes needed for an outright victory. If Rousseff wins the runoff, she’ll become the first woman to lead Brazil, the world’s fourth most populous democracy.

For the last five years, Rousseff has served as Lula’s chief of staff. During the '60s and ’70s, she was involved in the armed struggle against Brazil's military dictatorship. She had been in prison for nearly three years and tortured. She spoke on Sunday night after the results were announced.

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I will face the second round with a lot of strength and energy. On the second round, I will have the opportunity to further detail my proposals, present my projects to eradicate misery and develop the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Dilma Rousseff’s main rival, José Serra, is the former mayor of São Paulo. He previously served as state governor and health minister under Lula’s predecessor. He won praise for defying the pharmaceutical lobby to market inexpensive generic drugs and free anti-AIDS medicine. In 2002, he lost the presidential election in a runoff with Lula.

With 98 percent of the votes counted now, Rousseff won 47 percent of the vote. Her main rival, Serra, came in with 33 percent of the vote. The two will face each other in a runoff vote later this month. Marina Silva, the Green Party candidate, won 19 percent of the vote.

For more, we go now to Brazil, where we’re joined on the line by Esther Hamburger, a professor of the School of Arts and Communications at the University of São Paulo. And joining us here in New York, Greg Grandin, teaches Latin American history at New York University, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. His most recent book is called Fordlandia. It was the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go first to Brazil to Esther Hamburger. Can you explain who Dilma Rousseff is and the significance of the election yesterday?


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

ESTHER HAMBURGER: It’s good to be here, too.

Dilma is a sixty-three-year-old. She was born in Minas Gerais state of a Bulgarian father and a Brazilian mother. She has an upper-middle-class background, and she started politics while a student during the dictatorship. She represents the current president, Lula, who is very popular but cannot run for a third term in a row. So he has strongly campaigned for her. She’s a very tough woman. She would be the first Brazilian woman to be a president.

And this is actually a woman’s election, because a second woman, Marina Silva, due to her high number of votes yesterday, introduced a new thing in this election, which will be—it turned the election to the runoff on October 31st. Marina Silva is a very interesting woman, too. Like the President Lula, she comes from a very poor background in a northern state of Acre in the Amazon, where she became a leader after learning to write and to read in her—when she was a teenager. So we have a very interesting setting here, where two women play a very important role.

AMY GOODMAN: And Greg Grandin, can you talk more about Dilma Rousseff’s role during the Brazilian military dictatorship and what happened to her after?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, she was a—she was a member of a short-lived revolutionary organization, urban revolutionary organization, that operated in Brazil during the dictatorship in the late '60s to ’71, ’72. She was a university student. She participated in it. It was an organization that was involved in bank robbing in order to raise money to continue operation, similar to Tupamaros, I guess, would be a similar organization viewers may be more familiar with in Uruguay. And she was captured in 1970, tortured, in prison for three years. And then she came out, and she began to work with other social movements to lead Brazil towards what's called a transition in democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the Brazilian dictatorship? What happened?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, there was two phases. One was in '64. There was a coup against a reformist president. And then there was a coup, what's called a coup within a coup, in '68, which was much more part of a radical right agenda of suppressing dissent, and that ran from ’68 to the mid-1980s. And there was a coalition of social organizations that eventually coalesced behind the Workers' Party, behind people like Lula, and then also rank-and-file workers like Dilma, who pushed the country towards democracy. So her election now is really, in some ways, a triumph of that move towards democratization of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And Marina Silva, who will not be part of the runoff, born in the Amazon, Green Party environmentalist.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, it’s remarkable. Here’s a country, the most populous country in Latin America, the largest economy, by far, in the Americas, short of the United States and Canada, you know, one of the most strongest growing economies in the world, and 70 percent of the population voted either for an ex-Marxist urban guerrilla or an Afro-Brazilian rubber tapper who broke with the Workers’ Party to run on the Green Party ticket. The Green Party got 20 percent of the vote. It would be interesting to know if that’s the highest—compare it with Germany, for instance—if a Green Party won 20 percent of the vote, that’s a remarkable—that’s a remarkable turnout.

AMY GOODMAN: Considering you’re talking about 135 million voters, 20 percent of that.


AMY GOODMAN: Esther Hamburger in São Paulo, now Dilma Rousseff will run against José Serra. Talk about who he is. And do you think that Marina Silva, who got 20 percent of the vote in this election, who will not run in the runoff, where her votes will go?

ESTHER HAMBURGER: Yes, that’s the main question everybody asks today, and that’s why it’s very interesting that two women have important roles. She will decide—I mean, she has the chance of deciding who is going to win in the second—in the runoff. It’s hard to say. It’s probably that her party will support Serra, but she will remain neutral, so it’s hard to say what’s going to happen. It depends on the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: And who José Serra is?

ESTHER HAMBURGER: José Serra is also an economist, like Dilma Rousseff, who also was a militant in the anti-dictatorship movement. He actually was the president of the student union in 1964 when the military took over. And he went to Chile in exile. He came back with the amnesty and became a deputy and a senator and then a minister of health, as you said before in the program. And then he was the mayor of São Paulo and the governor of the state of São Paulo. He is the oldest candidate. He’s a sixty-seven-year-old candidate. He was a minister of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. And he will have to—if he makes an alliance with Marina, he has a chance. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to say that he will have more than he had yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Esther Hamburger, about the role of the MST, of the landless movement in Brazil? I know they have a very uneasy alliance with Lula.

ESTHER HAMBURGER: They have an uneasy alliance with Lula, like—as a social movement, they have uneasy alliances with political parties and governments. They are—they always have their own agenda, but they have an important role in pushing Brazil to have a more democratic, agrarian structure. Brazil, although we are now in a very—in a good economic situation, and although poverty has decreased in the last twenty years, we are still a very unequal country. And the main challenge for the next president is to move ahead and to change the structure of the country. And I think the reason why Marina has surprised with her 20 percent of votes is because she has such—since she has a discourse of structural change.

AMY GOODMAN: Esther Hamburger, you have a very interesting system in Brazil. Voters have to vote, people between the age of eighteen and seventy. Not voting could result in a small fine and make it impossible to get a passport or a government job, among other penalties. So when you talk about 135 million voters, unlike in the United States, people vote.

ESTHER HAMBURGER: Yes, people vote, and they like to vote. People talk about elections a lot. Elections—the election yesterday was the main subject, and today it’s still the main subject, not only on television and radio and on the newspapers, but people talk about elections. It’s mandatory to vote, but people also—you know, you could—the fine is real low, so it’s not that a big deal, but people like to vote, and they have the—they know they have a chance to say something and to change something.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. I’m wondering if you know this, Greg, in Latin America or in other places, as well, where there’s mandatory voting, if you end up getting more progressive candidates, if people who are more progressive tend not to vote.

GREG GRANDIN: Well, yes and no, I think. A number of countries have mandatory voting. I think Peru does, and Alan García won there. I don’t think Venezuela does—I may be wrong about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia does.

GREG GRANDIN: Bolivia does. I think what you see—the fine is very low in Brazil. So I think maybe there was 85 percent turnout. Chances are, I would say, probably there’s 15 percent that didn’t vote, were probably from the poorer social base of the Workers’ Party. So if they are mobilized during the next round, I imagine that they would—you know, probably from the northeast—they would probably vote for Dilma.

AMY GOODMAN: The critical issues in Brazil right now?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, what’s remarkable is that Serra and Dilma share a remarkable overlap of agendas. I think that this speaks to the success of Lula, both for Brazil, leaving Brazil a much stronger country, but also leaving Latin America a much stronger country. I think, you know, not only were these two women of the left women of the left, the opposition candidate was not a man of the right. I mean, he was a Social Democrat. In some ways—

AMY GOODMAN: José Serra.

GREG GRANDIN: You mentioned in your introduction his contribution to challenging the international pharmaceutical regime, and in a lot of ways the Social Democratic party—government before Lula put into place a lot of—increased social spending that Lula was able to capitalize on. Serra agreed, and he actually tried to run in the shadow of Lula, you know, as the true heir of Lula. But that obviously didn’t work to a large degree.

What’s interesting is that Serra is actually more progressive on one issue, and that’s finance interest rates. He wants—Lula has actually kept interest rates fairly high, lowered them a little bit during the recession as a way of a kind of stimulus. But for the most part, he’s been quite orthodox, keeping the bond markets and the international bankers happy. Serra represents, I think, a certain kind of industrial sector within Brazil that wants lower interest rates. I think domestically what he would do, he’d probably be more willing to also to try to impose some kind of neoliberal reform on labor law, which Dilma won’t do. I think, you know, part of the Workers’ Party will not—they won’t go for that kind of structural reform.

It’s in foreign policy that I think that you do see the biggest difference. And this comes back to something that just happened last week with the attempted coup in Ecuador. Lula, as I said, left not just Brazil stronger, but Latin America stronger. He’s led a remarkable project of Latin American solidarity, or more specifically, South American solidarity. And Dilma promises to carry on with that. Lula has protected Bolivia, Ecuador against Brazilian economic interests, where I think Serra may be a little bit more willing to go after some of those smaller countries in Brazil’s periphery than Dilma would.

AMY GOODMAN: And Lula’s anti-poverty program, which has been so successful?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, again, a lot of that stuff started—not to take credit away from Lula, because he did expand it and he did institutionalize in a remarkable way and he did increase spending, but a lot of that spending was already increased in the previous government, and Lula has had two terms to basically take the credit for it. And he should. And he should take credit.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I want to turn to Ecuador and what has been talked about as an attempted coup, and now police colonels are being brought up on attempted assassination. What is your assessment of what happened?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, it’s still early to tell exactly what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Thursday night.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, the government has made a lot of, I think, accurate accusations that it was not just a spontaneous social protest against austerity. It was too coordinated. It happened simultaneously in a number of cities, a number of barracks. Sectors of the air force joined in immediately. It seems like there have been sectors that have been dissatisfied with Correa within the military. And certainly, a past president, Lucio Gutiérrez, who claims to be a populist but really is more of a kind of old-time Correa—he’s in exile in Brazil—he immediately came out and called Correa illegitimate and called for him to step down. There’s been a lot of accusations that he has been behind a lot of the destabilization. It seems like Correa has managed to gain the upper hand, and he’s stepped back a little bit, and he’s not—he’s rolling back the state of emergency. And it’s a little early to see how it’ll shake out. Correa has a much more contentious relationship with social movements than Chávez in Venezuela does or Morales in Bolivia does, even there have been some problems in Bolivia. Correa doesn’t—isn’t organically linked, in some ways, the way Morales is in Bolivia, to these indigenous social movements, environmental social movements, so even before this there’s been a confrontation. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will leave it there. Greg Grandin, thanks for being with us,

You can find this page online at http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/559.1.

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