Last Sunday when most of America was focused on our upcoming elections, our Brazilian neighbor to our south elected a new President, its first female head of state, Dilma Rousseff. She was hand-picked to run by the very popular, but term-limited President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Rousseff had been Lula da Silva’s chief of staff and before that Brazil’s Energy Minister. She is certainly no novice to Brazil’s governmental affairs and to the intricacies of her country’s booming economy.
The 62-year old Rousseff has had a fascinating and often times painful life. [Here] Her father was a Bulgarian businessman who had been active in the Bulgarian Communist Party but fled persecution there and settled finally in Brazil. He married a young school teacher and together they had three children. Dilma was the middle child. Her father became a successful contractor and real estate developer. Young Dilma thus grew up in an upper middle class environment of economic ease with European tastes and a classical education. She attended a Brazilian Catholic boarding school in which the language was primarily French.
Dilma’s father died while she was a teenager. A few years later in 1965 she left the sheltered Catholic boarding school that she had attended for years and entered a state public high school where she became acutely aware that her country was being ruled by an oppressive military dictatorship. She became an active member of leftist groups which were opposing the military. Dilma was eventually captured in 1970 and spent three years in prison where she was repeatedly tortured by electro shock and a form of water boarding.
When she was released from prison, she continued her education, gaining a B.A. in Economics from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sol in 1977 and a Masters in Economic Theory in 1979. She then worked in various civil service positions until she became involved with the extremely popular President Lula da Silva’s administration.
Of course, her leftist background and her campaign promises to her people to reduce Brazil’s extremely high interest rates and to provide millions of jobs and new housing units unsettle some American rightwing punditry. However, at this writing things seem very promising for both Brazil and President Rousseff.
Isn’t it interesting that South America has recently elected three female heads of state? First was Michelle Bachelet of Chile who was term-limited and thus was forced to end her very popular presidency last March. Argentina has elected Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of former President Néstor Kirchner. The New York Times has pointed out [Here] that while Bachelet knocked down barriers against women in Chile, Cristina de Kirchner has been a leading advocate for gay rights and same-sex marriage. More barriers were knocked down. And the Argentine economy is booming. Now Brazil has its interesting Dilma Rousseff. (We should add a footnote here: two of the three women heads of state, Chile’s Bachelet and Brazil’s Rousseff, were forced to endure imprisonment and torture in their respective nation’s struggle from dictatorship.)
Next Spring Peru has a scheduled presidential election. Keiko Fujimori, the young 35-year old daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori who is currently in jail, is leading three male opponents in a poll taken last month. [Here] That will be a most interesting election to watch next year.
Why has it taken Americans so very long to extend gender equality to women? Do we have to dig ourselves out from a rightwing plutocracy before the American electorate sees the light?
Let us hope not...