A former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured and imprisoned during Brazil’s long dictatorship was elected Sunday as president of Latin America’s biggest nation, a country in the midst of an economic and political rise. A statement from the Supreme Electoral Court, which oversees elections, said governing party candidate Dilma Rousseff won the election. When she takes office Jan. 1, she will be Brazil’s first female leader.
With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Rousseff had 55.6 percent compared to 44.4 percent for her centrist rival, Jose Serra, the electoral court said. “I’m very happy. I want to thank all Brazilians for this moment and I promise to honor the trust they have shown me,” Rousseff told reporters who swarmed a car carrying her in Brasilia, her first public words as president-elect. Rousseff, the hand-chosen candidate of wildly popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won by cementing her image to Silva’s, whose policies she promised to continue.
She will lead a nation on the rise, a country that will host the 2014 World Cup and that is expected to be the globe’s fifth-largest economy by the time it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. It has also recently discovered huge oil reserves off its coast. Rousseff, 62, paid homage to Silva in her victory speech, pledging to extend what she dubbed a “new era of prosperity.” She also set out twin goals for her rule — eradicating poverty while maintaining Brazil’s hard-won economic stability. Rousseff was a key player in an armed militant group that resisted Brazil’s military dictatorship — and was imprisoned and tortured for it.
She is a cancer survivor and a former minister of energy and chief of staff to Silva. She possesses a management style that earned her the moniker “Iron Lady” — a name she detests.
She is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant father, a lawyer who died when she was 14, and a Brazilian mother who was a schoolteacher. Her past points to an early political awakening.
In 1967, as a 19-year-old economics student, she joined a militant political group opposing the dictatorship. For three years she helped lead guerrilla organizations, instructed comrades on Marxist theory and wrote for an underground newspaper. After holding appointed positions in city and state governments, Rousseff served for two years as the nation’s energy minister after Silva took office in 2003. She became his chief of staff in 2005, a position she held until resigning earlier this year to campaign.
Rousseff says her political thinking has evolved drastically — from Marxism to pragmatic capitalism — but she remains proud of her radical roots. “We fought and participated in a dream to build a better Brazil,” she said in an interview published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in 2005, one of the rare times she has spoken in detail about her militancy and torture endured. “We learned a lot. We did a lot of nonsense, but that is not what characterizes us. What characterizes us is to have dared to want a better country.”
Congratulations to her!