In Focus, Latin America

Dilma Rousseff, a natural female ascent to presidency

If in her early youth she risked her life fighting against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), Dilma Rousseff, at 63, took up the main challenge of her life: she became the first woman to command Brazilians destiny and turned this unprecedented feat into a natural happening.

Upon taking over Brazilian presidency last January 1, Rousseff became the tenth Latin American and Caribbean woman to hold the presidency, and the sixth following of the polls. With 56.06 percent of valid votes, she won the runoff of the general elections, held on October 31, 2010.

Prior to her, Costa Rican Laura Chinchilla in 2010, Argentine Cristina Fernández in 2007, Chilean Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), Panamanian Mireya Moscoso (1999-2004 and Nicaraguan Violeta Chamorro (1990-1997), presided over their countries by means of elections.

The post has also been held temporarily or due to their husband’s demise by Ecuadorian Rosalía Arteaga (for six days in 1997), Haitian Ertah Pascal Trouillot (for almost one year in 1990), Bolivian Lidia Gueiler Tejada (1979-1980) and Argentine Isabel Perón (1974-1976). Rousseff, a divorced economist with one daughter and a grandson, was born in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais State. She is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and teacher Dilma Jane da Silva.

She worked devotedly during president Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva’s tenure (2003-2010), first as minister of Mining and Energy, and as chief of staff of the presidency since 2005, a post in which she had the main functions of the executive power under her command.

She led the Program of Accelerated Growth, as well as social schemes such as Light for all, and My Home, My Life; and defined the rules for exploring and exploiting the huge oil and gas fields found in the sea off the Atlantic coast in ultra-deep waters, under the salt layer.

But before getting to those posts, Dilma took part, since her early youth, in the resistance movements against the military dictartorship (1964-1985); she was detained in Sao Paolo and imprisoned for three years, and after being set free in 1973, she moved to Porto Alegre, capital of Río Grande do Sul State. She finished her studies in economics at the Federal University in that State, and in the late 1970s, she struggled for amnesty for Brazilians who had lost their civil rights and were expelled from the country by the military regime. At that time, and together with her then-husband Carlos Araújo, she helped to found Río Grande do Sul Democratic Labor Party, of which she was an active member, flanked by historical figures of Brazilian politics like Leonel Brizola.

She participated in the movement called Diretas Já, considered the largest civil mobilization in Brazil most recent history, which wound up with the return to democracy in 1985. One year later she was the Secretary of the Treasury in Porto Alegre municipality. In 1993, she became Secretary of Mining, Energy and Communications in the Río Grande do Sul, during Alceu Collares government, and was ratified in the same post in 1998 by governor Olivio Dutra.

Rousseff joined the WP in 2001; one year after, Lula won the general elections in the race for Brazilian presidency, and named her minister of Mining and Energy, where she was in charge of re-structuring the electric power sector. In 2005, Roussef’s efficiency was widely renowned both within and outside government. President Lula named her chief of staff of the presidency, coordinating the work of all the ministries.

She won national recognition for the coordination of the Program of Accelerated Growth, a set of economic policies which has given priority to investments in infrastructure such as cleaning, housing, transport, energy and hydraulic resources.

Rousseff launched strategic programs like My Home, My Life, which plans the construction of one million houses to benefit the neediest in Brazil. On account of her outstanding performance in the government and her personal merits, Lula chose her to be the candidate to replace him; she not only managed to convince the members of her party, but also most of the people that she was the suitable person for giving continuity to the programs and policies of her government.

In charge of the Planalto Palace since 2011s first day, Rousseff’s mission is not only to continue the social and economic policies that allow Brazil to excel in the international arena, but also, as the tenth woman in Latin America and the Caribbean to hold that post, to show that women can also excel as head of government. In both her first speech after her election and in her first statement as president, Rousseff remarked that the fact that a woman is leading Brazil for the first time is a sign of democratic progress in the country. My first obligation is to honour Brazilian women so that this happening, unprecedented until today, may become normal”, she stressed. (PL)

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