From a Marxist insurgent to an impeached President

RIO DE JANEIRO:Dilma Rousseff survived torture as a guerrilla opposing Brazil’s military dictatorship and rose to become President, but on Thursday her remarkable ascent went into the tailspin of impeachment.

Dilma Rousseff with Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia.

Few would have believed during those dark days in the 1970s, when Ms. Rousseff belonged to a violent Marxist underground group, that she would become Brazil’s first woman President.

Even fewer would guess that less than a year into her second term, she would be at the centre of a political earthquake, ending with her suspension by the Senate for an impeachment trial.

Brazil’s 68-year-old “Iron Lady” is accused of illegal accounting manoeuvres in which her government took unauthorised loans to cover budget holes during her tight re-election in 2014.

True to her fiery past, Ms. Rousseff calls the impeachment a coup and promises “to resist to the very end”.

Although many analysts agree that the seriousness of the charges against her is debatable, a tide of public anger over prolonged recession, corruption and the government’s inability to deal with Congress could sweep her away. Ms. Rousseff will now experience the humiliation of having to leave the presidential palace and hand over power to Vice-President Michel Temer.

But as Ms. Rousseff herself has pointed out, torture steeled her for tough times. “I have come up against hugely difficult situations in my life, including attacks which took me to the limit physically,” she said. “Nothing knocked me off my stride.”

Bicycle President

Ms. Rousseff came to power in a 2010 election as the handpicked Workers’ Party candidate to succeed hugely popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the left-wing party’s founder.

Whether as Mr. Lula’s Chief of Staff or as Energy Minister, she won a reputation for laser-like attention to detail — a talent she is said to have carried over into her own Cabinet meetings.

“She came here with her little computer,” Mr. Lula said after appointing Ms. Rousseff to her first Cabinet post. “She started to talk and I felt something different in her.” The flip side is that Ms. Rousseff is not seen as a natural politician, with little common touch and a brusque manner that did not go down well when it came to wheeling and dealing in Brasilia.

But supporters say that the leader commonly referred to as just Dilma is good company.

“People always say about women in power that they’re hard, managerial. But Dilma is a person with a great sense of humour, fun, extremely caring and generous,” said Ieda Akselrud de Seixas, who was jailed with Ms. Rousseff in the 1970s.

Ms. Rousseff also tapped into a national obsession with cosmetic surgery, getting her teeth whitened, hair redone and lifting wrinkles from her face. The relatively fresh look was in contrast to the visible toll exacted during her successful battle against lymphatic cancer that was first diagnosed in 2009. At one point, she wore a wig to hide hair loss from chemotherapy.

Marxist militant

Born December 14, 1947 to a Brazilian mother and Bulgarian businessman father, Ms. Rousseff grew up comfortably middle-class in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

She cut her political teeth as a Marxist militant opposed to the 1964-1985 dictatorship and was arrested in January 1970 and sentenced to prison on grounds she belonged to a group responsible for murders and bank robberies.

Ms. Rousseff’s exploits during her time in the Revolutionary Armed Vanguard Palmares group remain shrouded in rumour. But most reports agree that she played more of a support role than taking part in violence.

The judge who found her guilty dubbed her the “high priestess of subversion”, journalist Ricardo Amaral wrote in a biography.

A photo in the book shows a bespectacled Ms. Rousseff aged just 22 staring defiantly at the court.

After nearly three years behind bars, during which she says she was subjected to repeated bouts of torture, including electric shocks, Ms. Rousseff was released at the end of 1972.

Posted by on May 13, 2016. Filed under World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.