March 29, 2009

I Am so Moving to Brazil

On Sundays, I love to watch Fareed Zakaria's interviews with world leaders and influential thinkers on his CNN program, GPS (Global Public Square). Today, he interviewed the President of Brazil, Ignacio Lula Da Silva, who has an 80% approval rating, the highest of any leader in the world.

President Lula, as he is called, may be the ultimate populist leader. He knows a thing or two about life in the real world, coming from the humblest of beginnings and having worked as a machine lathe operator. He's about to join other world economic leaders in London for the G-20 and shared his thoughts in today's interview:
I don't know if a president of a country should say what I'm going to say now, but I will say it anyway. When I'm sitting in the G-20 meetings with all of those presidents or heads of state, I know I am the only one who definitely went through a lot of misery and hunger.

I lived in houses that were flooded by water inside my house, one and half meters high. Sometimes I had to fight over space with rats and cockroaches, and waste would come in when it flooded. I know what unemployment means because I was unemployed for one and half years. I know the drama that the worker and unemployed worker face. . . .

So, once in a while, I feel like an outsider. I think, "What am I doing here?"
When Zakaria asked what has made him such a popular leader, he explained:
We tried to develop a very strong policy to prove to the theoreticians that is was possible to . . . develop a policy for economic growth on one hand while simultaneously improving income distribution. What the theoretician says is that, first, the economy has to grow, and then you can distribute income. We said that it's now necessary to do both together.
During his six years in office, his administration has:
  • Lifted 20 million people out of poverty
  • Brought electricity into 10 million Brazilian households
  • Increased the minimum wage every year
The conversation turned to the world economic crisis. Lula recently met with President Obama and urged him to study and learn from Japan's economic crisis of the 1990's:
It lasted 10 years because Japan did not take bold action with its banks. I ask myself how much longer can the US pour money into the banks if the credit doesn't begin to flow. I read about AIG, how they took money from the government and paid bonuses. . . . I think it's a scandal. The poor people are waiting for us to fix these things. . . . What we need is to make investments to create jobs.
Brazil recently discovered rich oil resources off its coastline and plans to begin oil production in the coming months. Lula wants price controls on the oil to make it affordable to the world:
After all, we need to lift millions of people from India, millions of people from Africa, millions of people from Latin America out of poverty. They want to have breakfast in the morning, they want to have lunch, they want to have dinner. . . . They aren't asking for much.
Neither are the growing numbers of poor in this country.

Lula is a strong proponent of democracy, believing that only democracy could bring about a President Obama or a President Lula. Because of his progressive policies, a journalist recently asked Lula if he is a Marxist-Leninist. His response: "I am a lathe operator." Zakaria asked him why he gave that response:
I said that because I wanted to go against labels, but I consider myself a socialist. I have a world vision that is more just. I want a world with more social fairness, where the state would regulate society so the poor are not victims of speculators and exploitation.
Hurray for President Lula! I hope the G-20 leaders hear this man.

I'm not really moving to Brazil, but I am so longing for a world that shares President Lula's vision of simple, basic justice.

President Lula predicts a "spicy" affair at the G-20 summit--UK's Mail Online article

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