Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Former Guerrilla Set To Be The World's Most Powerful Woman

The Former Guerrilla Set To Be The World's Most Powerful Woman


Brazil looks likely to elect an extraordinary leader next weekend


By Hugh O'Shaughnessy

The Independent (UK)

September 26, 2010


The world's most powerful woman will start coming into

her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this

former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed

military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing

to take her place as President of Brazil.


As head of state, president Dilma Rousseff would

outrank Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, and

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State: her

enormous country of 200 million people is revelling in

its new oil wealth. Brazil's growth rate, rivalling

China's, is one that Europe and Washington can only envy.


Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's

presidential poll will be greeted with delight by

millions. It marks the final demolition of the

"national security state", an arrangement that

conservative governments in the US and Europe once

regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy

and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept

a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while

favouring their rich friends.


Ms Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant to

Brazil and his schoolteacher wife, has benefited from

being, in effect, the prime minister of the immensely

popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former

union leader. But, with a record of determination and

success (which includes appearing to have conquered

lymphatic cancer), this wife, mother and grandmother

will be her own woman. The polls say she has built up

an unassailable lead - of more than 50 per cent

compared with less than 30 per cent - over her nearest

rival, an uninspiring man of the centre called Jose

Serra. Few doubt that she will be installed in the

Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia in January.


Like President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Brazil's

neighbour, Ms Rousseff is unashamed of a past as an

urban guerrilla which included battling the generals

and spending time in jail as a political prisoner. As a

little girl growing up in the provincial city of Belo

Horizonte, she says she dreamed successively of

becoming a ballerina, a firefighter and a trapeze

artist. The nuns at her school took her class to the

city's poor area to show them the vast gaps between the

middle-class minority and the vast majority of the

poor. She remembers that when a young beggar with sad

eyes came to her family's door she tore a currency note

in half to share with him, not knowing that half a

banknote had no value.


Her father, Pedro, died when she was 14, but by then he

had introduced her to the novels of Zola and

Dostoevski. After that, she and her siblings had to

work hard with their mother to make ends meet. By 16

she was in POLOP (Workers' Politics), a group outside

the traditional Brazilian Communist Party that sought

to bring socialism to those who knew little about it.


The generals seized power in 1964 and decreed a reign

of terror to defend what they called "national

security". She joined secretive radical groups that saw

nothing wrong with taking up arms against an

illegitimate military regime. Besides cosseting the

rich and crushing trade unions and the underclass, the

generals censored the press, forbidding editors from

leaving gaps in newspapers to show where news had been suppressed.


Ms Rousseff ended up in the clandestine VAR-Palmares

(Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard). In the 1960s

and 1970s, members of such organisations seized foreign

diplomats for ransom: a US ambassador was swapped for a

dozen political prisoners; a German ambassador was

exchanged for 40 militants; a Swiss envoy swapped for

70. They also shot foreign torture experts sent to

train the generals' death squads. Though she says she

never used weapons, she was eventually rounded up and

tortured by the secret police in Brazil's equivalent to

Abu Ghraib, the Tiradentes prison in Sao Paulo. She was

given a 25-month sentence for "subversion" and freed

after three years. Today she openly confesses to having

"wanted to change the world".


In 1973 she moved to the prosperous southern state of

Rio Grande do Sul, where her second husband, Carlos

Araujo, a lawyer, was finishing a four-year term as a

political prisoner (her first marriage with a young

left-winger, Claudio Galeno, had not survived the

strains of two people being on the run in different

cities). She went back to university, started working

for the state government in 1975, and had a daughter, Paula.


In 1986, she was named finance chief of Porto Alegre,

the state capital, where her political talents began to

blossom. Yet the 1990s were bitter-sweet years for her.

In 1993 she was named secretary of energy for the

state, and pulled off the coup of vastly increasing

power production, ensuring the state was spared the

power cuts that plagued the rest of the country.


She had 1,000km of new electric power lines, new dams

and thermal power stations built while persuading

citizens to switch off the lights whenever they could.

Her political star started shining brightly. But in

1994, after 24 years together, she separated from Mr

Araujo, though apparently on good terms. At the same

time she was torn between academic life and politics,

but her attempt to gain a doctorate in social sciences

failed in 1998.


In 2000 she threw her lot in with Lula and his Partido

dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party which set its

sights successfully on combining economic growth with

an attack on poverty. The two immediately hit it off

and she became his first energy minister in 2003. Two

years later he made her his chief of staff and has

since backed her as his successor. She has been by his

side as Brazil has found vast new offshore oil

deposits, aiding a leader whom many in the European and

US media were denouncing a decade ago as a extreme

left-wing wrecker to pull 24 million Brazilians out of

poverty. Lula stood by her in April last year as she

was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, a condition that

was declared under control a year ago. Recent reports

of financial irregularities among her staff do not seem

to have damaged her popularity.


Ms Rousseff is likely to invite President Mujica of

Uruguay to her inauguration in the New Year. President

Evo Morales of Bolivia, President Hugo Chavez of

Venezuela and President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay -

other successful South American leaders who have, like

her, weathered merciless campaigns of denigration in

the Western media - are also sure to be there. It will

be a celebration of political decency - and feminism.


Female representation: A woman's place... is in the government


In recent years, female political representation has

undergone significant growth, with dramatic changes

occurring in unexpected corners of the globe. In some

countries women are dominating cabinets and even

parliamentary chambers. By comparison, the UK falls far

behind, with only 22 per cent of seats in the Commons

currently held by women.


Bolivia In the Bolivian cabinet, 10 men are now matched

by 10 women. In 2009, women won 25 per cent of seats in

the lower chamber, and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.


Costa Rica In 2010, women won 39 per cent of seats in

the lower chamber.


Argentina In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in

the lower chamber and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.


Cuba In 2009, women won 41 per cent of seats in the

lower chamber.


Rwanda In 2009, women won 56 per cent of seats in the

lower chamber and 35 per cent in the upper chamber.


Mozambique In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in

the lower chamber.


Angola In 2009, women won 38 per cent of seats in the

lower chamber.


Switzerland Has a female-dominated cabinet for the

first time. In 2007, women won 29 per cent of seats in

the lower chamber.


Germany In 2009, the cabinet had six women and 10 men.

That year, women won 33 per cent of lower chamber



Spain Nine women compared with eight men in cabinet. In

2008, women won 37 per cent of seats in the lower



Norway Equal numbers of men and women in the cabinet.

Women won 40 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.


Denmark Nine women and 10 men in cabinet. In 2007,

women won 23 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.


Netherlands Three women and nine men in cabinet. In

2010, women won 41 per cent of seats in the lower



No comments: