19 January 2012

Madame President

Dilma Rousseff, Most Excellent Madame President of the Federative Republic of Brazil. The majority of Brazilians refer to her simply as "Dilma." I think it's cool to have a woman president, and I'm enjoying living this moment in Brazil's history. My impression of her so far? More than favorable. This woman brooks no nonsense. She has walked into a house ransacked by adolescents, taken a deep breath, rolled up her sleeves and started putting the house in order. She's taken over and taken charge, and plenty of ministers and other government appointees are running scared.

I thought Dilma was terrible as a candidate, a complete turn-off. She was humorless, she had no personal touch, she was a boring speaker, she lumbered along from campaign stop to campaign stop looking as uncomfortable as she probably felt. Typical wonky technocrat. Had I been Brazilian and able to vote, I would have voted for the other guy, José Serra.  He happens also to be a fairly humorless technocrat with no personal touch, boring and lumbering. But he had a slight edge in the experience department, having already been governor of São Paulo state, mayor of São Paulo city and an innovative national Minister of Health.

But as president Dilma's come into her own. For those politicians who for years routinely considered seat-of-government Brasilía to be a pit stop between long weekends back in their home states, Dilma had other ideas. She began scheduling ministerial meetings for Friday afternoons. For those politicians who had regularly expropriated the Brazilian Air Force for their weekly commutes, Dilma strongly "urged" commercial aircraft. She responded to the indignant public outcry against the diplomatic passports that President Lula, in the last days of his tenure, granted to his sons and grandchildren, and who knows who else. Dilma's new rules? No more diplomatic passports except to government officials and diplomats. If you're like me, and you get indignant at the self-importance and self-enrichment of elected officials, you gotta love this woman.

The Anointed, by Nicholas Lemann
Lula was a very popular president, and now that he's battling cancer he's practically been canonized. But it was during his eight-year term that corruption in Brazil flourished. It was during his watch that there was all that back-slapping and winking and looking the other way, when certain political parties took it as le droit du seigneur that they owned certain ministries. You'll get no back-slapping from Dilma. The words used to describe her? Austere, exacting, serious, blunt, stern and restrained. An article in the December 5, 2011 issue of the New Yorker paints Dilma as a "forceful presence" who speaks in a "deep, stentorian voice," and who "commands attention" with her "considerable determination." That may not sound very flashy and exciting, but given the moral mess Lula left behind him, I believe her manner will serve her well. You go girl!


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, well, you caught me, Renan! My assessment now is "fora Dilma!" Back on August 17, 2015, I wrote a blog about attending the manifestação in Rio against her (and the others) and will probably be attending the one in Búzios this Sunday. So yes, I did once think she was going to set things right . . . guess I'm still gullible, even at this late stage of my life!

    2. Actually, no, that's all too pat. "Fora Dilma" is fun to say, but to be more serious, impeachment, as I understand it, gets rid of both Dilma and Temer, and leaves the Presidency in the hands of (I can't believe this) Cunha!! Cassação removes Dilma, but leaves Temer, and who really knows if that's better. So . . . it's all very complicated. When I add what's happening in Brazil to the unprecedented vulgarity and fear-mongering of the presidential race in the U.S., it leaves me profoundly depressed and frustrated.

  2. Same here.

    Here is a line of thought by Alain de Botton that might give us some consolation.

    "(the news) doesn't do us the favour of conceding that in many respects we are a fundamentally - rather than incidentally - incorrigible species and that we would at key moments be wise to forgo hysterical annoyance for deep and quiet melancholy."