A “sertanejo” – a man of the land — above all is a man of strength. Coined by famous writer Euclides da Cunha, the word seemed to adjust to Lula’s personality since the day he was born. A man of the Northeast, poor, the seventh son of illiterate farm workers, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was born in 1945 in a two-room shack with an earthen floor in the semiarid zone of Pernambuco. With no electricity, running water, inside bathroom or shoes, the boy was seven years old when he climbed up on a “pau-de-arara” (“parrots perch” – a flatbed truck with boards set up for seating, a poor man's bus), and following the same star as thousands of other Brazilians, headed off to the marvelous land to the south with his mother and brothers to find his father who had left a few weeks before Lula was born in search for a better life far from drought and poverty. Once he arrived on the São Paulo coast he quickly found work – even though still child - on the docks of Santos to help feed the family. A delivery boy at eight years of age and a shoeshine boy at nine, he became a helper in a laundry shop as his adolescence began, when he moved to São Paulo with his mother, now separated from his father, and his brothers. He completed elementary school and, employed in a machine shop, enrolled in a technical course at Senai to be trained as a machinist.
Lula as a child alongside his sister.
Brazil advanced sharply with the wind at its back provided by President Juscelino Kubitschek’s developmentalist economic policies. The ABC region in the greater São Paulo area became the most industrialized region in Brazil, attracting some of the principal industrial complexes of the world, such as the vehicle manufacturers Scania and Volkswagen. Young and strong, accustomed to hard work because of his backwoods upbringing, Lula was one of many migrants from the Northeast to head to the factory floor and make metalworking his profession. He was 17 years of age when he lost the little finger on his left hand in a workplace accident in 1963, and 18 at the time of the military coup in 1964. The end of democratic freedoms, the spread of censorship and the installation of a repressive apparatus, coincided with the beginning of a long period of retraction in the economy, accompanied by unemployment, the abuse of workers and inflation.
Lula as a young man.
Still fascinated with the size and the possibilities of the large city, a reality that was much greater than in drought-ridden Pernambuco, Lula was convinced by one of his brothers —an active member of the then clandestine Communist Party of Brazil — and he began to attend union meetings. For the first time, he came into close contact with the hardships of the working class and learned firsthand expressions such as “wage squeeze,” “extreme wealth” and “strike fund.” A skilled negotiator, Lula was asked to act as a member of the management committee of the union and was elected to that position in 1969, thus beginning his career as a union leader.
Life continued to challenge Lula and charged a high price. “It will get better,” his mother Dona Lindu, constantly told him. A machinist and unit leader, Lula married at 23 years of age. Two years later, he was widowed. His wife, eight months pregnant, fell victim to hepatitis complicated by anemia and the negligence of the health-care professionals they consulted. His child, a boy, also did not survive. To overcome his depression, he dived into his work, and skilled at his job, he assumed a larger role in the management of the union, exchanging his work on the shift in the factory for an office in the union headquarters. Still grieving for Lourdes, he began to frequent bars and parties and engaged in one romance after another. With Miriam Cordeiro, one of his girlfriends, his first daughter, Lurian, was born. He then married for the second time, to Marisa Letícia, also a widow, with whom he had three children (he also adopted his stepson, Marcos, Marisa’s son who never knew his biological father). And in 1975, not yet 30 years of age, Lula assumed the presidency of the union.
Lula and Marisa.
The second half of the 1970s was marked by the radicalization of the demands of the working class. Since all forms of opposition to the dictatorship were crushed violently, from the student movements to armed opposition, through the deprivation of political rights of elected political leaders and the prohibition of political parties, union activity became the front line in the challenge to the dictatorship, attracting the enthusiasm and solidarity of militants on the left who no longer found space for their activities in their areas of origin - the Church and the University. Between 1978 and 1980, Lula organized general strikes that took on unimaginable proportions, solidifying his position as the principal name in the opposition of the political scene in Brazil. On April 19, 1980 Lula was arrested and spent 31 days in jail. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lDcpLOlKu8) Upon his release, he returned to his union and political activities. He founded a political party in order to create space in decision-making spheres, both in the executive as well as in the formulation of laws that treated workers more fairly. This became a goal, and an inevitable mission
1980, Lula arrested and photographed by DOPS.
His Political Trajectory
Thus, the largest and most important political party in the re-democratization movement was born. Conceived in the daily struggles of the union movement, the PT was promptly supported and influenced by intellectuals, religious leaders, artists, students and militants who came over from the armed struggle. Lula was its first president. And over a little more than two decades, as the incisive and almost omnipresent voice of the workers, he became the principal leader of the opposition and he made important contributions to the democratic model that was installed in Brazil. In this period, he was probably the most important articulator and motivator of the Central Workers Union (CUT), where he could not be part of the leadership because of his political activities; he organized a multiparty movement in favor of direct elections and promoted the first giant public demonstration “Diretas Já” in 1983; he was the most voted candidate for Congress in Brazil in 1986; he was an activist in the creation of the constitutional convention, guaranteeing the inclusion of civil and social rights such as the right to strike, 120-day maternity leave and a reduction of the work week from 48 to 44 hours; and came very close to being elected the first president of the Republic after 29 years without the direct vote for president.
In the 1990s he headed the “ Instituto Cidadania” (Citizenship Institute) where some of the most important public policies implemented in the following decade were formulated, such as Zero Hunger, and was head of the PT in the campaign for the impeachment of Fernando Collor, and for the implementation of some of the most important congressional investigative committees of the period, such as the charges of violation of the secrecy of the Senate vote in 1991 and the so-called “little person scandal” of the budget in 1993. During the eight years of the Fernando Henrique Cardozo administration, he opposed recessive economic policies, the manipulation of the exchange rate to make the currency artificially strong, the “purchase of votes” in exchange for the approval of a change in the Constitution that guaranteed the right to reelection in 1997, and the poor management of public resources in program such as Proer, support for financial institutions, and privatizations of companies such as Vale, sold for a price that was well below its market value. After three frustrated election campaigns, Lula was finally elected president of the Republic on November 27, 2002.
As President of the Republic
Lula was the first member of the working class to be installed is a resident of the Palácio do Alvorada. His two administrations were characterized principally by the successful implementation of income distribution programs, such as the Bolsa Família, and access of the poorest members of society to credit, higher salaries, the generation of employment, an improvement in the quality of life, and access to education (Prouni, 14 Federal universes created…), Housing (Minha Casa, Minha Vida), infrastructure, electric power, water and sewage (Luz para Todos, Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento) and others. The relationship between the government and vote people gained another quality, with the realization of more than 70 national conferences in the systematic opening of the Palácio do Planalto to various groups organized civil society. Reelected for a second term, Lula managed to achieve the election of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, and reached the end of his administration with record levels of popularly: his administration was approved by 87% of the population in December 2010, according to Ibope. The statistics for unemployment and families below the poverty line were at their lowest since the data was first collected.
Lula Hands Over The Presidential Sash
Upon returning to the Instituto Cidadania, now called the Instituto Lula, but still at the same address as prior to his assuming the presidency, in the Ipiranga neighborhood of São Paulo, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took on an international agenda as former chief of state, giving speeches and seminars in various countries. The integration of Latin America and the fight against hunger in Africa are among the new priorities at the Institute, as well as the preparation of strategies to promote economic growth without sacrificing social justice, the distribution of income, development and consumption. In 2012, Lula overcame the cancer of the larynx that he had been diagnosed with the year before. And, since June 2013, he has published a monthly commentary, distributed to dozens of countries by the New York Times News Service.
Marisa Letícia gives Lula a shave after the discovery of the cancer.