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Richard Bourne: Lula of Brazil: The Story So Far.

Richard Bourne

Lula of Brazil: The Story So Far

Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008, xiv + 285 pp.

In the fall of 2010, Brazil elected its first female president. As leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT or Workers' Party), Dilma Rousseff became the successor to Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva's highly successful if often controversial regime (2002-10). Although Lula's presidential role has now ended, the account that Richard Bourne presents in Lula of Brazil: The Story So Far ("so far" referring to the point of Lula's re-election in 2006) will nevertheless be intriguing reading for those interested in the details of how this immensely popular political figure first rose to power and then went on to maintain it.

Bourne is a seasoned British journalist and academic who has held a number of prestigious research posts. Prior to taking on the writing of Lula of Brazil, he was founder and head of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit at the University of London. Bourne's expertise, coupled with years of experience actually working in Brazil, allow for the presentation of a narrative that is both highly informative and readable. Bourne follows Lula from the time of his birth in 1945 until his initial election victory in 2002. He then concentrates on Lula's first term in office from 2002 to 2006. Along the way he gathers valuable oral testimonies, a photo gallery, and other secondary sources to contextualize Lula's personal and political life within the complex reality of Brazilian society and politics.

Lula was born in very humble origins in Brazil's economically depressed Northeast region and had very limited access to education. According to Bourne, he is a living testimony of how hard a life can be in the country without public assistance (22). Much of his eventual success was owed in no small measure to the encouragement he received from his brother, Frei Chico. As Bourne shows, Frei Chico's support was instrumental in Lula's decision to become a union leader and to struggle against the military dictatorship that gripped the country from 1964 to 1989. Working in Lula's favour were a number of characteristics, including his skills in leadership and his talents for accommodation (26). In addition, he demonstrated persistence, charisma, a sense of humour, and confidence. Moreover, Lula was not only a skilled orator, but also a good listener.

These natural abilities resonated with the need for change, given Brazil's political and economic conditions during the 1970s and 1980s (29-31; 53-55). During these critical decades, Brazilians struggled for a return to democracy and for ethics in politics. The labour movement (the Workers' Party was founded in 1980) was a central actor in these struggles, and it was as its leader that Lula came to play a pivotal role in efforts to unite social movements, intellectuals, and the Catholic Church to build a civil government. In Bourne's view, Lula was never an ideological socialist or Marxist (89). Rather, he was an activist for social justice and labour rights whose energy was focused on achieving a better life for the many Brazilians whom he saw as facing the burdens of poverty and hunger.

After three consecutive attempts and contrary to all expectations, for the first time in the history of Brazil a poor uneducated candidate from the Northeast was elected president in 2002. That such a feat was achieved was, Bourne suggests, the result of Lula's ability to build and consolidate the many alliances and coalitions needed in order to secure the backing required to bring his party to victory. Lula's political skills were consolidated through his career as a union leader during the military regime. Bourne's account pays particular attention to this formative period in Lula's life, as well as to the nature of the alliances Lula forged to win the presidential elections. The author also describes the scandals that affected Lula's first government, the social and economic programs he implemented for the poor during this period of administration, and the international policies he put in motion to give Brazil greater visibility both in the region and overseas.

Bourne shows that from the very early stages of his presidency, Lula and his party committed to a transformation of politics to meet the expectations that existed among Brazilians who understood democracy also as a means of addressing the problem of corruption (176-177). However, corruption scandals tainted Lula's first term. Lula claimed that he had no knowledge of the problem and that he had been betrayed (191). As a response, some leading members of the PT were expelled from the party, the Congress, and the administration (181). This bold political action accounted in no small measure for Lula's successful bid for re-election in 2006.

As Bourne mentions (176-195), all scandals occurred during Lula's first term, and the high levels of corruption at that time can be explained in part by the insufficient attention Lula paid to several key aspects of government. In fact, his focus was the consolidation of the party's bases of support among the poor through its social policy programs (123). The severe criticisms of Lula and the PT that emerged were related to a lack of government ethics and transparency, which had initially been touted as important PT goals (105).

Lula managed to bring about a number of achievements during his first presidential term. However, his policies were subject to harsh criticism. In particular, while his presidential diplomacy and domestic policy sought to promote social inclusion and make Brazil one of the leading players in the world economic system (166), PT dissidents, mainly those who built the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Freedom), criticized Lula for not creating more jobs and for not reducing government bureaucracy or simplifying the tax system (171). Despite these criticisms, Bourne notes, the Brazilian economy under Lula stood on much better ground than it had in the years before he came to power.

For Bourne, ultimately, "Lula is a myth" (230), and this stature would serve as the source of some tension, particularly as his role changed from being an opposition leader to becoming president. Although to this day the opposition and the media have not forgotten the cases of corruption and scandals that plagued him early on, from the portrayal that Bourne draws we can see Lula as someone who nevertheless managed to consolidate key alliances and party coalitions in such a way that allowed him to maintain power. Moreover, his government managed to secure strong support from Brazil's large poor population, who came to identify with Lula as one of their own and who saw him as the Brazilian leader who "made possible social investment and modest transfers of income" (230).

As Bourne demonstrates, Lula's two primary motivations remained the same from the time he began his career as a union leader through the tenure of his first period in office. Lula genuinely wanted "to end the worst poverty in Brazil" and "to respect and reward the contribution of Brazilian workers" (210). Although he still had much to do in this regard, by the time of his re-election in 2006, he had already become "a builder of democracy" and someone who had left Brazil and the world an important legacy.

With this volume, Bourne has produced a very effective account of Lula's rise to power, the nature of his intervention in politics, and the sources of his success. The book is a fascinating read to both experts in Brazil and those with only a general knowledge of the country. It will be interesting to see how other authors, or perhaps Bourne himself, will at some later stage come to assess Lula's second term as president and, moreover, to put his entire regime into perspective against the leadership that we are now waiting to see emerge under the newly elected Dilma Roussef.

Andrea Pacheco Pacifico, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, York University
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Author:Pacifico, Andrea Pacheco
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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