Latin America & Caribbean

Profile: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a photo from July 2010
Image caption Former President Lula came from poverty to reach the country's highest office

It took Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva four attempts before he was finally elected as Brazil's president in 2002.

He came to office as the first leftist leader in Brazil in nearly half a century. And he left eight years later - barred from standing for a third term - enjoying exceptionally high popularity ratings for retiring Latin American leaders.

His 2002 election victory marked the end of an unprecedented journey - from abject poverty to the presidency of Brazil.

Lula came to power promising major reforms to the country's political and economic system.

He vowed to eradicate hunger and create a self-confident, caring, outward-looking nation.

Analysts say it is because of some of his government's social programmes - which benefited tens of millions of Brazilians - that Lula retained his popularity.

He raised Brazil's profile on the international scene and presided over Brazil's longest period of economic growth in three decades, they say.

Road to pragmatism

Lula began life in humble circumstances.

The son of a poor, illiterate peasant family, Lula worked as a peanut seller and shoe-shine boy as a child, only learning to read when he was 10 years old.

He went on to train as a metal worker and found work in an industrial city near Sao Paulo, where he lost the little finger of his left hand in an accident in the 1960s.

Lula was not initially interested in politics but threw himself into trade union activism after his first wife died of hepatitis in 1969.

Elected leader of the 100,000-strong Metalworkers' Union in 1975, he transformed trade union activism in Brazil by turning what had mostly been government-friendly organisations into a powerful independent movement.

In 1980, Lula brought together a combination of trade unionists, intellectuals, Trotskyites and church activists to found the Workers' Party (PT), the first major socialist party in the country's history.

Since then, the PT has gradually replaced its revolutionary commitment to changing the power structure in Brazil with a more pragmatic, social democratic platform.

Before his 2002 election victory, Lula had previously lost three times and he began to believe his party would never win power nationally without forming alliances and keeping powerful economic players onside.

So his coalition in that election included a small right-wing party and he carefully courted business leaders both in Brazil and abroad. The Workers' Party manifesto reflected its sometimes conflicting instincts.

It remained committed to prioritising the poor, encouraging grassroots participation and defending ethical government.

Performance in power

In his time in office, Lula pumped billions of dollars into social programmes and can reasonably claim to have helped reverse Brazil's historic inequalities.

By increasing the minimum wage well above inflation and broadening state help to the most impoverished with a family grant programme, the Bolsa Familia, he helped some 44 million people and cemented his support among the poor.

However, many commentators argue that the programme fails to address the structural problems that underpin poverty, such as education.

There is also some criticism of the country's economic performance under Lula. Although Brazil saw steady annual growth, some business leaders argue it lost the competitive edge against international rivals.

Nonetheless, his government quelled fears in financial markets by keeping the economy stable and achieving a budget surplus.

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