The Lula Years

SAO PAULO – A recent article in a Brazilian newspaper described a day in the life of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as he campaigns in the October election that will choose his successor. Lula’s day started before sunrise at the gates of an automobile plant in São Bernardo do Campo, part of Sao Paulo’s industrial belt, where he rose to prominence as a union leader defying the military dictatorship 30 years ago.

The purpose of Lula’s visit was to support his personally appointed presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff, who was formerly his chief of staff and the main architect of the government’s investment program, designed in 2007 to accelerate growth. Later that day, Lula met with infrastructure industrialists in a luxury downtown hotel. He addressed them as “fellows,” just as he had done a few hours before with the autoworkers.

Brazil’s bosses are cheering as loudly as its trade unionists for Lula nowadays, which is no surprise given the huge sums being spent on infrastructure, owing to massive public spending, the lavish capital-expenditure program of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, and credits provided by state-owned banks to low-income housing.

But Lula’s popularity reflects his political skill as much as the success of his social and economic program. His government can claim to have reduced poverty from 35% to 22% of the population, and also to have maintained a trend towards lower inequality, with the Gini coefficient – a 0-1 scale of wealth concentration – declining from 0.583 in 2003 to 0.548 in 2008.