Lula bids a tearful goodbye

Outgoing Brazilian leader delivers emotional speech, saying his lowly background pressured him to do well.

    Lula, who has been in office for eight years, is leaving behind a remarkable legacy  [Reuters]

    Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the outgoing Brazilian president, has said he felt pressured to prove that as a former metal worker he could handle the presidency.

    "If I failed, it would be the workers' class which would be failing; it would be this country's poor who would be proving they did not have what it takes to rule," said Lula who was in tears as he made his last presidential speech.

    The speech was delivered on Tuesday in the improverished northeastern state of Pernambuco, where Lula was born.

    The story of the former factory metalworker and trade union leader's rise from poverty to power has all the ingredients of a Hollywood rags-to-riches story.

    Lula, who steps down on Saturday after eight years in office, is leaving behind a remarkable legacy.

    Brazil now lends money to the IMF, making up to $5bn available for loans to other nations, even though it received a record $30bn bailout from the lending institution as it neared economic collapse in 2002.

    During Lula's rule, the value of Brazil's currency has more than doubled against the US dollar.

    Inequality has been reduced, as the income of the poorest 10 per cent of the population has grown five times faster than that of the richest 10 per cent.

    Inflation has been tamed, unemployment is at a record low and illiteracy has dropped.

    By the time Brazil hosts the Olympics, it is forecast to be the globe's fifth-largest economy, surpassing Italy, Britain and France.

    But Lula's legacy goes beyond figures. It can be seen in the eyes of the slum dwellers, who feel pride that it was a man from the poor masses who finally delivered on the promise of Brazil.

    "The majority of the population have given me the opportunity to prove that a mechanic shift worker can do for this country what the elite never managed to do," Lula said when he was first elected to Brazil's highest office in October 2002.

    2014 comeback?

    Lula has not said what he plans to do after stepping down, though speculation swirls that he might accept a high-profile international post, or try a comeback as president in 2014 elections.

    Lula himself gave credence to that latter option when he said last week he would "never say never" to running for office again.

    "I can't say I won't, because I'm alive, because I'm the leader of a political party, and because I'm a natural born politician," he said in a televised interview.

    Brazil's constitution barred him from contesting a third consecutive presidential poll despite a spectacular popularity rating of over 80 per cent.

    But he did manage to secure his successes by making sure his former cabinet chief, Dilma Rousseff, was elected to take over as Brazil's first female president.

    After Lula became president, he named Rousseff his energy minister and then, in 2005, his cabinet chief.

    Since 2007, Lula presented Rousseff, who studied economics, as the "mother" of his government's plan to accelerate growth in Brazil by investing massively in infrastructure projects.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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