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Lula steered Brazil to new heights

BRAZIL: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva steps down today, handing power to an elected top aide after eight years steering his country into enviable stability and prosperity.

The legacy he leaves would be remarkable for any leader, but for the former factory metalworker and trade union leader he was, it resembles more a made-for-Hollywood story tracing a rise from poverty to power.

“The majority of the population have given me the opportunity to prove that a mechanic shift worker can do for this country what the elite never managed to do,” Lula said when he was first elected to Brazil’s highest office in October 2002.

The gruff, bearded head of state is leaving reluctantly. Brazil’s constitution blocked him from seeking a third consecutive mandate despite a spectacular popularity rating of over 80 percent.

But he did manage to secure his successes by making sure his former cabinet chief, Dilma Rousseff, was elected to take over as Brazil’s first female president.

Unlike when Lula took power — to market panic at the idea of a leftist former union leader at the controls — economists are complacent at seeing Rousseff continuing what turned out to be fiscally responsible policies by the outgoing president.

Rather than implementing radical left-wing reform, as feared, Lula adopted dark suits and a calm, pragmatic approach that allowed him to become a star of global diplomacy while reinforcing cooperation between the world’s developing nations.

The review Foreign Policy even went as far as to call him a “rock star” on the international stage who projected impressive charisma. US President Barack Obama called him “the man.”

A gifted negotiator, Lula knew how to build unlikely alliances or cast off friends who had suddenly become liabilities through political corruption scandals.

“I know how many slurs and prejudices I’ve had to overcome to get where I am. Now, my only goal is to show that I am more competent than many people who have run this country,” Lula said in 2006, as he was about to be re-elected.

The general feeling in Brazil is he achieved that aim, by maintaining an economic plan drafted by his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Social programs he championed have lifted 29 million people out of poverty and into a middle class that is developing a reputation for avid consumerism.

Lula’s common touch, with a vocabulary of the street, was a comfort to a population sick of bureaucrats.

Brasilia, Thursday, AFP

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