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Brazil’s ‘Iron Lady’ takes charge

31/12/10 17:27 CET

Dilma Rousseff has forged a reputation as a deft political operator, leading some commentators to nickname her the ‘Iron Lady’ in the mould of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.

But when it was announced she would become Brazil’s first female president, this twice-divorced economist, who once battled back from cancer, displayed a rare glimpse of emotion.

Born in December 1947 in Belo Horizonte, Rousseff is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, a lawyer, and her Brazilian mother, a teacher.

She became involved in left-wing politics as a student and later joined the underground fight against the country’s then military rulers.

Those guerrilla activities saw Rousseff jailed early in 1970 where she was subjected to electric shocks and beatings.

Released two years later, her political journey continued and she joined her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party in 1986.

He named her as energy minister in 2002 and then his chief of staff three years later.

Rousseff was also a key adviser to Lula on his plan to accelerate Brazil’s economic growth.

She has vowed to continue the policies credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and which led Barack Obama to call Lula “the most popular politician on earth.”

Rousseff’s in-tray is already filled with a number of key issues to tackle.

She will have to figure out how to stop the strength of Brazil’s currency, the real, from blunting competitiveness.

On the foreign policy front, Rousseff must weigh whether to step up her predecessor’s campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Rousseff also inherits another Lula legacy: Brazil’s growing budget deficit, which stood at 19 percent of GDP last year.

All this while tackling complex social issues such as improving education, stamping out crime and making Brazilian cities more liveable.

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