Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (1945 - ), commonly referred to simply as “Lula,” is a Brazilian politician. He was elected President of Brazil in 2002, and re-elected in 2006. He is a liberal politician who often adopts centrist positions. He was a very effective president, avoiding scandals and allowing Brazilian industry to prosper while taking steps towards combating Brazil’s legendary poverty.
Lula was born in October, 1945 to poor parents in the town of Caetés, Pernambuco, but soon moved to a coastal city in São Paulo province. There was little time or money for young Lula to get an education, and he was working in the streets as a shoeshine boy and street vendor before he was in his teens. He was a hard worker and soon found full-time work in São Paulo’s booming automotive industry.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, there was a lot of work in the industrial factories of São Paulo, but little in the way of worker’s rights. Lula became very involved in the movement to unionize the workers, and due to his natural leadership he rose quickly in the ranks of the union leadership. In the 1970’s he led several strikes, and was jailed for a while. In 1978 he was elected head of a steel-workers’ union. He became convinced that the true path to fair treatment for workers was not through unions and strikes, but through political power.
In 1980, Lula became one of the founding members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (“Party of the Workers,” known in Brazil by its initials PT). Lula was its first president. Brazil was at the time under a right-wing military dictatorship and organizing unions and political parties could have been very dangerous for Lula and his companions. The Party was not formally recognized by the Brazilian Electoral court until 1982. The PT was very popular with the working class and its growing political clout helped restore democracy to Brazil in the late 1980’s.
Lula’s Early Political Career:
Lula first ran for office in 1982, for a seat in the São Paulo Province legislature, but lost. In 1986 he was elected to Congress, and by the time a new constitution was needed in the late 1980’s, the PT was powerful enough to demand a seat at the table to influence its provisions. Although the PT helped create the constitution, they refused to ratify the final result, as they felt it did not do enough to ensure workers’ rights. Lula ran for president in 1989, 1994 and 1998. He lost all three elections, although many believe that he only lost due to election fraud.
Lula continued to run for president and finally won in 2002. Although many feared that Lula would immediately implement radical socialistic reforms and perhaps even default on some of Brazil’s debt, he turned out to be a progressive moderate, preferring slow but steady social change. He quickly identified some very real and serious problems in his country and attacked them directly and effectively. One example was his campaign against malnutrition. Under this program, the poorest Brazilian families received food aid, but only if their children stay in school. He also efficiently managed the Brazilian economy, managing steady growth without making any drastic reforms, while still paying off foreign debts and funding badly-needed social programs.
Internationally, he never became the ranting demagogue that many feared, instead perfecting the role of respected statesman. He became a very important figure in Latin American politics, as he took great pains to be friendly with other nations. Lula’s Brazil was a leader in Latin American diplomacy: for example, Lula sent a peacekeeping, humanitarian mission to Haiti on his own initiative.
He is a very forward-thinking leader, and under his administration Brazil became a leader in the worldwide search for biofuels and clean energy. In December of 2008, Newsweek magazine named him the 18th most influential person in the world.
Lula left office in January 2011 after announcing that he would not seek to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term as many other South American politicians have done.
He was succeeded by his cabinet chief, Dilma Rousseff, his hand-picked successor, who was elected in the 2010 election. When Lula left office, he had astronomically high approval ratings: above 80%, according to some pollsters. He has not ruled out a return to the presidency, but has said that President Rousseff has his full support.