SAO PAULO, Brazil – Accepting the green and yellow mantle of power from her immensely popular mentor, former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff was sworn in Saturday as Brazil’s first female president and faced two immediate tasks: keeping the booming economy on track and fleshing out Brazil’s developing role on the world stage.
Rousseff succeeded Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia with an 87 percent approval rating, the highest in recent history for a departing leader of South America’s largest and most populous country. She hopes to maintain the economic momentum that was the key to Lula’s power and popularity, while advancing an agenda of reducing poverty, improving education and tightening the state’s control of natural resources, particularly newfound oil riches.
Under tight security and heavy rainfall that precluded the traditional open car procession to the swearing-in, the 63-year-old divorcee was accompanied by her only daughter, Paula, to the ceremony at the Congress in Brasilia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was among the leaders and representatives from 130 nations who attended the ceremony.
Rousseff won the presidency – her first elective office – in October on the strength of her close association with Lula, for whom she served as chief of staff after 2005. In her inaugural address, Rousseff said her goal would be to “consolidate the transformational work” of Lula, adding that she would also strive to “open doors so that many other women also can, in the future, be president.”
“I don’t come here to extol my biography, but to glorify the life of each Brazilian woman,” Rousseff said. “My supreme commitment is to honor women, protect the weakest and govern for all.”
Paulo Sotero, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said Rousseff will have to demonstrate that she can make the tricky transition from being a “competent technocrat” to a president able to create consensus among Brazil’s congressional members and the bureaucracy.
“Now she will have to show she can lead,” Sotero said. “The business of governing Brazil is first and foremost about managing a coalition of political parties that span the ideological spectrum, share a voracious appetite for government jobs and public resources, and see in every piece of legislation an opportunity to extract a concession from the executive.”