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Former President of Brazil discusses challenges of democracy, impeachment

Dilma Rousseff touches on success of social reform, calls fall from power political coup

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Former President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff spoke on the successes and challenges of her presidency as well as Brazil’s current political climate as part of a tour of seven American universities on the challenges of democracy at the University Tuesday. She came as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series organized by the Watson Institute for International Affairs and the Brazil Initiative. Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment was a theme throughout her speech. Though she was impeached as a result of various charges of budgetary violations and her ousting was not done militarily, Rousseff insisted that her fall from power was a political coup d’etat rather than an impeachment. Rousseff has maintained this position since the beginning of her trial and has added that political coups d’etat  have become increasingly common in Latin America.

Rousseff also highlighted various successes of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s tenure as well as her own. Rousseff — who served as the chief of staff for Lula before ascending to the presidency — touted a decrease in poverty and hunger as well as social reform aimed at those in extreme poverty as some of the greatest triumphs of her tenure.

Improving the living standards of the poor is a necessary precursor to any universal social program, Rousseff said. Without programs such as Bolsa Familia —a social welfare agenda aimed at culling extreme poverty started under Lula and expanded under Rousseff — Brazil will be unable to provide universal services for all of its citizens in the future, she said.

Rousseff stressed the importance of promoting education, which she cited as a focus of her presidency. Education creates wealth and will be one of the key elements in promoting growth within Brazil in the coming years, Rousseff said.

In the future, Rousseff added, improving the electoral process and expanding democracy are key to both Brazil’s and the world’s political success.

Rousseff fielded a variety of pre-selected questions from members of the Brown community, discussing topics ranging from HIV/AIDS treatment in Brazil to Rousseff’s early political motivations. When asked by Julia Wu ’17 about the message she would send to Brazil’s youth, Rousseff highlighted the economic potential of Brazil’s consumer market, the improved transportation in and out of the country and the past success of youth-oriented programs, such as Science without Borders, a scholarship program for Brazilian students seeking to study topics within STEM fields.

James Green, professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies and the director of the Brazil Initiative, helped organize the event. He hoped her speech “would let people know about her vision for Brazil and encourage debate about the country.”

Franco Fróes ’20, a Brazilian student, said that though Rousseff did a good job of discussing the successes of her tenure, she largely ignored her failures, such as the rising budget deficit and her failure to alleviate systemic conditions that enable poverty in Brazil.

To Manuel Avalos ’19, Rousseff was a much more likeable figure than he had originally imagined. He had previously been exposed to the narrative of Rousseff’s corruption from media sources, Avalos said. But Rousseff’s justifications and explanations regarding both her own actions and the actions of other presidents gave an alternative side to that narrative.  “She started to win me over as she talked,” he said.