It is not just age that has mellowed the revolutionary passions of Brazil’s new president-elect, Dilma Rousseff, but also real experience in governance. Rousseff’s selections for her transitional team are in keeping with her moderate tone and point toward a continuation of the pragmatic policies of her predecessor and former boss, President Luís Inacio “Lula” da Silva, for whom she worked as minister of energy and chief of staff. Lula's practical capitalism and aggressive policies of poverty eradication are reported to have lifted 20 million Brazilians out of poverty and another 29 million into the middle class. After leaving office with an 80 percent approval rating, Lula campaigned hard for his somewhat less charismatic protégé, who after failing to gain an outright plurality in the first round won this past Sunday with 56 percent of the vote in the second round against opposition centrist José Serra.
Rousseff’s political career began in the late 1960s when the woman once called the “Joan of Arc” of the Marxist urban guerrilla movement fought against the military dictatorship then in power. Though never accused of violent acts, which she herself has openly disavowed, she was imprisoned 1970-73, where she was allegedly tortured. The twice-divorced cancer survivor nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” a nickname she reportedly abhors, sees her election as a culmination of her life’s work and as entirely in keeping in with her ideological evolution from Marxism to practical capitalism. In a rare interview in 2005 where she discussed her years of militancy and torture, Rousseff said: “We learned a lot. We did a lot of nonsense, but that is not what characterizes us. What characterizes us is to have dared to want a better country.”
Her proposed policies are already being well received. The Brazilian real gained 0.2 percent on the dollar with Rousseff’s announcement that she plans to cut Brazil’s net public debt from 41 percent to 38 percent during her four-year term. Roussef said the cut in the net-debt-to-GDP ratio could be done “sustainably” and would allow Brazil’s net interest rate, currently the highest in the G-20 when adjusted for inflation, to fall into line with levels in developed countries, yet another signal of Brazil’s continued ascendancy.
Latin America’s biggest economy is estimated to become the world’s fifth-largest economy by the time it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics, and has become Washington’s most desirable new Latin American partner. Brazil’s Tupi oil fields are expected to yield between 5 and 8 billion barrels, giving it the second-largest oil reserves in the hemisphere, second only to Venezuela. This makes Brazil particularly important at a time when Venezuela’s production capacity is shrinking, due to lack of capital investment, and Hugo Chávez is stirring up problems in the hemisphere for Washington. Moreover, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugar-based ethanol, which is far more efficiently produced than the American-style corn-based ethanol. Brazil has made significant expansive inroads into global groupings such as the South-South Dialogue with South Africa and India and is now a key member of the G20 and actively campaigning for a permanent seat in the Security Council.
And as if to cap Brazil's and it's new female president's ascendancy, yesterday Forbes released its list of the most powerful people on Earth. President-elect Dilma Rousseff is ranked 16th, ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy (17th) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (20th). It will be much to Chávez's consternation that the new dawn over Latin America is not his socialist ALBA (Spanish for 'dawn') coalition, but Brazil's own brand of capitalism.