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Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, from guerrilla to president

07 october 2014, 14:50
0
Brazilian President and candidate for the Workers' Party Dilma Rousseff. ©AFP
Brazilian President and candidate for the Workers' Party Dilma Rousseff. ©AFP

 Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first woman president, is a former leftist guerrilla once imprisoned and tortured by the country's military regime who is now fighting a different battle in a different Brazil, AFP reports.

She is trying to keep her political career alive by winning a second term.

"Dilma," as she is almost universally known here, has gone from unyielding dissident to unyielding insider.

An economist by training, the 66-year-old developed her image for toughness and efficiency as chief of staff to former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who picked her to succeed him after presiding over eight years of prosperity and landmark gains against poverty.

She is known as a meticulous manager who upbraids her ministers in public when they fall short of her standards.

But Rousseff, who lacks the natural charisma of her predecessor and mentor, is battling voters' frustration over a recession, corruption and poor public services heading into a tight run-off against business favorite Aecio Neves on October 26.

Under Lula's tutelage, she has responded by developing a warmer campaign style.

Heading into Sunday's first-round election, which she won with 42 percent of the vote to Neves's 34 percent, Rousseff showed her lighter side.

Opening up to journalists and voters, she discussed her leisure activities -- she loves "Game of Thrones" and literature, saying "I can't sleep without reading" -- and even confessed to once escaping the presidential palace on the back of a friend's Harley-Davidson, cruising through the streets of Brasilia unnoticed.

She has also alluded more frequently to her imprisonment under the military regime, a topic she once avoided.

When opponents jeered her during the opening ceremony of the World Cup in June, she responded by saying: "I have come up against hugely difficult situations in my life, including attacks which took me to the limit physically.

"Nothing knocked me out of my stride."

 

  'Something different' 

 

Born December 14, 1947 to a Brazilian mother and a Bulgarian businessman father, Rousseff grew up comfortably middle class in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

She developed her political spine as a Marxist militant opposed to the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

She was arrested in January 1970 and sentenced to prison for belonging to a violent underground group responsible for murders and bank robberies.

The judge who found her guilty of crimes against the regime dubbed her the "high priestess of subversion," journalist Ricardo Amaral noted in a biography.

The book showed a bespectacled Rousseff aged 22 staring defiantly at her military judges.

After nearly three years behind bars, during which she said she was tortured by electric shocks, Rousseff was released at the end of 1972.

She resumed her political path and eventually joined Lula's Workers' Party, rising through its ranks.

When Lula became president in 2002, he named Rousseff his energy minister and then, in 2005, his cabinet chief.

"She came here with her little computer," Lula said after he appointed Rousseff to her first cabinet post in 2003. "She started to talk and I felt something different in her."

To bring her out of his shadow and into the spotlight ahead of the 2010 campaign, Lula made sure she was by his side when he cut ribbons on big public works projects.

To smooth her somewhat lumbering image, Rousseff underwent a cosmetic makeover, whitening her teeth, redoing her hair, ditching glasses for contact lenses and having wrinkles removed from her brow.

The effect made her look much younger than the year before the campaign, when she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and endured chemotherapy that forced her to cover up hair loss with a wig -- which she at times used for self-deprecating jokes.

Twice married, Rousseff has a daughter, Paula, from a 30-year relationship with ex-husband and fellow anti-dictatorship dissident Carlos de Araujo.


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