Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (born on October 27, 1945), leftist Brazilian politician who in 2002 was elected President of Brazil; he took office on January 1, 2003.
Lula was born in a small village in the impoverished Brazilian state of Pernambuco, but grew up in the city of Santos, São Paulo state, where jobs were more readily available. He had little formal education, instead working in various entry-level jobs since childhood.
At the age of 21, he lost a finger in a work accident while working in an auto parts factory. Around the same time, he became involved in union activities and held several important union posts. Union activities were strongly suppressed by the right-wing dictatorship of Brazil in this era, and his views moved further to the political left in reaction.
In the 1970s, Lula helped organize major union activities including several huge strikes. He was arrested and jailed for a month, but was released following protests. The strikes ended with both pro-union and pro-government forces dissatisfied with the outcome, and in 1980 the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), or Workers' Party, was formed to address workers' concerns.
In 1986, he was elected to a seat in Brazil's congress with a record percentage of the votes. The PT helped to write the country's post-dictatorship constitution, ensuring strong constitutional guarantees of workers' rights, but failing to gain redistribution of rural agricultural land.
In 1989, Lula was the PT presidential candidate. He proved popular with a wide spectrum of Brazilian society, but, feared as an opponent by business owners and financial interests, was not elected.
State visit to Mozambique, Nov. 2003Lula continued to run for the office of President in subsequent elections. In his 2002 campaign he added the nickname “Lula” to his legal name for campaign purposes, and abandoned his style of informal clothing, as well as his platform plank of refusing to pay the Brazilian foreign debt. This last point was extremely worrisome to US economists, businessmen, and banks, who feared that a Brazilian default along with the already occurring Argentina default would have a massive ripple effect through the world economy.
In the second round of the election, October 27, 2002, da Silva defeated José Serra of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) to become the president-elect of Brazil.
His policies and those of the PT are widely reported to have become more centrist. Nevertheless, in Western news reports following his 2002 election, he was still consistently described as "leftist", and his election has been billed as a victory for the left. Following eight years of relatively free-market policies, there is now some doubt about the future of those policies. In his first address after his election, he pledged to maintain Brazil's financial commitments while working to alleviate the serious poverty of the country.