Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Timothy Power discusses Brazil's Democracy and Presidents Lula and Dilma

January 7th, 2013

On December 5, 2012, Tulane‘€™s Center for Inter-American Policy welcomed Dr. Timothy Power, Director of Graduate Studies in Politics at Oxford University. Dr. Power opened his lecture, ‘€œBrazilian Democracy from Lula to Dilma,‘€ by providing a brief overview of Brazil‘€™s political system and a summary of the country‘€™s 2010 presidential election. He illustrated how Brazil‘€™s political system represents a sort of hybrid between European coalitional politics and American presidentialism, a ‘€œcoalitional presidentialism‘€ in which two presidential parties lead legislative party coalitions. The 2010 election itself was the largest election in the history of Latin America, though it was not, in Dr. Power‘€™s view, a ‘€œchange election.‘€ Instead, the election reflected the desire of most Brazilians to maintain the lines of public policy implemented by Lula da Silva, including the preservation and further development of an important social safety net.

Dr. Power reviewed some of Lula‘€™s most salient accomplishments as President of Brazil, including the country‘€™s impressive economic record during his tenure. After decades of flat growth, Brazilian GDP finally resumed growth at rates not seen since the 1960s. Furthermore, under Lula‘€™s leadership, poverty and inequality decreased dramatically. Dr. Power underscored how Lula‘€™s signature social safety net program, Bolsa Familia, became the crowning achievement and legacy of his presidency. Other indicators of the rising standard of living in Brazil under Lula include an explosion of consumer credit and increased access to communication, automobiles, and travel. As an example he mentioned that the number of Brazilian air travellers more than doubled between 2002 and 2010. Altogether this earned Lula and his PT party considerable political clout.

Dr. Power then turned to discuss current president Dilma Rousseff, focusing on the salience of Lula‘€™s popularity and legacy for her presidency. In her youth, Dilma was active as part of an armed guerrilla movement that opposed Brazil‘€™s military regime. Such political activity led to six years in jail during which she endured torture at the hands of her captors. However, until six months prior to the 2010 election, Dilma was virtually unknown in Brazil and had never held elective office. Dr. Power related how Dilma earned the esteem and confidence of Lula after effectively managing a scandal for the president in 2005. In the months leading to the 2010 election, Lula presented Dilma as his candidate of choice, and she rapidly garnered widespread popularity. In Dr. Power‘€™s view, the pervasiveness of Lula‘€™s popularity among Brazilians rendered his endorsement of Dilma politically potent and decisive. With Lula‘€™s backing, essentially all that Dilma needed to achieve in order to win the presidency was to avoid making mistakes during the campaign, something she accomplished. However, a negative consequence of this is that, unlike Lula, Dilma is not entirely ‘€œthe author of her own government,‘€ and must define her own roadmap and legacy if she is not to remain dependent on Lula‘€™s popularity.

-Hannagan Johnson