Richard Bourne: Lula of Brazil: The Story So Far

Article excerpt

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. …