Lula Holds Out Hope Against Odds in Brazil
Leftist Labor Leader Takes Office Promising Fight Against Hunger and Corruption
By Alan Clendenning
BRASILIA, Jan. 1 -- Brazil's first elected leftist president took office
today, pledging to ease the agony of countless impoverished and hungry
people in South
America's largest country, a fertile land the size of the continental United States.
Choking back tears as he spoke to an estimated 200,000 supporters, Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva said there was no excuse for hunger among any of Brazil's
50 million poor. "If at the end of my mandate all Brazilians have the possibility to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, I will have fulfilled the mission of my life," the former
union leader and head of the Workers Party said.
Lula warned, however, that the task would be difficult. Brazil's weakened
economy has produced double-digit inflation and a 35 percent loss in the
value of its
currency last year. "No one can reap the fruit before planting the trees," Lula said.
As Lula began to speak before Congress, supporters who jammed into a
huge park outside danced and chanted, "Lula! Lula!" Then they fell silent,
transfixed by the
son of a dirt-poor farmer who dropped out of the fifth grade to shine shoes and sell peanuts. The scene was in stark contrast to previous Brazilian presidential
inaugurations, when crowds never numbered more than 30,000.
Lula said he would fight inflation, reduce corruption, boost efforts
to give land to the poor and negotiate hard with the United States over
the terms of a
hemisphere-wide free trade agreement.
Psychiatry professor Maria Aparecida Gussi and her 13-year-old daughter
cried tears of joy during the speech. "All I want is a better Brazil for
my children, and he's
giving us that hope," Gussi said. "The hope that it will be better."
After the swearing-in and speech before Congress, Lula ascended a ramp
to the presidential building and accepted from outgoing President Fernando
Cardoso the green, blue and yellow presidential sash.
Leaders and representatives of 119 countries -- including presidents of seven other Latin American nations -- attended the inauguration.
The United States sent Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick. He and
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) met this morning for an hour with Antonio Palocci,
"It was a listen-and-learn visit, in which the basic economic problems of Brazil were discussed," Zoellick said in a statement.
Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela watched
from the front row of Congress as Lula was sworn in. Castro looked healthy
no signs of difficulty walking after recovering from a serious leg infection; Chavez was expected to be absent from his strikebound and politically riven country for
less than a day.
Lula, 57, takes over from Cardoso in Brazil's first transition between two democratically elected presidents in more than 40 years. He is Brazil's 36th president.
The country's last leftist president, Joao Goulart, took power in 1961
after elected President Janio Quadros unexpectedly resigned. Goulart was
overthrown in a
military coup in 1964.
A former radical who had espoused socialism, Lula rose to fame in the
1970s as a major labor leader and dissident. He was jailed several times
for opposing Brazil's
dictatorship, which lasted until 1985. He won the presidency in a landslide in October on his fourth try since 1989.