In his eight years as Brazilian president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva made an incomparable mark on the country. The current Journal of Politics in Latin America looks back at Lula's legacy and examines its continuing impact.
© Reuters/Paulo Whitaker
After two successive presidential terms, the leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) – the Workers’ Party – Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, left office in 2011. After his first election victory in 2002, many observers of the Brazilian political arena expected a radical shift in the country’s public policies towards the left. These expectations were rapidly toned down by the moderate nature of the policies and changes implemented under Lula’s first government.
Notwithstanding, Lula has succeeded in becoming one of the most popular presidents in Brazilian history and, by the end of his second term, about 90 percent of the population approved of his presidency. He attracted a large consensus among leftist forces in favor of market policies, which were accompanied by an important rise in the minimum wage and pension, as well as the expansion of social policies like his flagship program Bolsa Família. Some of his opponents grew to trust him as he tightened fiscal policy and repaid external debt.
His government promoted growth through the adoption of economic measures that supported productive investments, including investor-friendly policies and partnerships between the public and private sectors. At the end of his second term, poverty and inequality had been significantly reduced, which had effects not only on wealth distribution, but also on growth by increasing domestic demand. Lula’s Brazil also gained international recognition and approbation, becoming an emerging international actor and without a doubt a leader in Latin America.
In the 2010 election, Dilma Rousseff was elected as the first female president in the history of Brazil. She had been Lula’s previous chefe de gabinete, and benefited from his support throughout the presidential campaign. Among the most important challenges Dilma faced during her first term in office was to live up to the expectations raised by Lula while advancing her own agenda in a completely different socioeconomic context.
As we reflect on Lula’s successor taking office for a second term in 2014, facing both new and old challenges, a whole new set of questions about Lula’s presidency and his legacy emerges. What is the actual legacy of Lula’s two terms in office? To what extent did it represent a break from previous models of political, social and economic development? What events or feats explain the successes of Lula’s administration? Are they attributable to Lula or to the PT, or are they best understood in relation to democratization and the institutionalization of coalition-led multiparty presidentialism? With the history of the PT and its ascension as a key player in the political system being closely linked to the history of Lula, how do sources of electoral support affect the challenges ahead for Dilma, for the PT, and for Brazil more generally?
This special issue of the Journal of Politics in Latin America, ‘Lula’s Brazil and Beyond’, addresses these important questions, looking back at the crucial eight years of Lula’s presidency, at his legacy, and at how they play out in shaping Dilma’s and the PT’s current challenges in government.
It brings together scholars from different perspectives who examine the legacies of Lula and the PT, looking at the continuities and ruptures on a variety of subjects, including the incorporation and participation of the popular sector and of civil society more generally, and the institutionalization of democratic practices versus the persistence of personalistic politics. While the contributors to this special issue developed their arguments from diverse – sometimes complementary, sometimes even opposing – perspectives, one trend emerges across all the papers in this collection.
They all emphasize the notion that, while Lula’s rise to power opened an era of hope for change, notwithstanding important ruptures associated with the modo petista de governar continually shaped Lula’s policies and are central to understanding the challenges of government faced by and still ahead for Dilma, and for the wider Brazilian left. With successes and hopes came higher social expectations, and this may well present an obstacle for the PT as it tries to garner support in the longer run. [...]
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