The article below from



Poor Man's Burden


June 27, 2004



Lula, his speech over, waded into the embrace of the

masses. It was the opposite of most crowd scenes. Here the

president was pushing through the ropes to get at the

people. He was tired and sweaty, his face infused with

crimson. But the swarm of bodies, pressing his way,

energized him. He seemed propelled by the heat of their



Most of the throng -- like most of Brazil -- was throttled

by poverty. These thousands in the city of Sobral were

dressed in threadbare clothes and mud-covered sandals. Some

stood on tiptoes, hoisting small children who squirmed in

their arms. Others held tightly to the bicycles they had

ridden across the rain-drenched roads. ''Lula, Lula!'' they

shouted, relentlessly pushing forward, those closest

grasping for the president's sleeve. A small bear of a man,

Lula is bearded and round-shouldered with a wide neck and a

thick middle. He moved from one person to the next, hugging

some and pausing to hear what they had to say, patting the

palm of his hand against the side of their faces. ''O-lé,

o-la, Lu-la, Lu-la!'' the crowd began to sing, as if roused

to a chant at a soccer game. ''You are a saint!'' cried one

barefoot old woman. Her eyes were desperate and bloodshot.

She was clutching Lula and wouldn't let go. ''You will help

us,'' she said, and as the president bent closer to hear,

she bestowed the accolade of the people: ''You are one of



What she, like the others, wanted was a little attention, a

little empathy, a little money. Brazil is a rich nation

full of poor people, its distribution of income nearly the

most unequal in the world. The next night, in another city,

a young girl mistook me and my translator for members of

Lula's staff. She handed us a note, begging us to pass it

on. Many words were misspelled; there was a name but no

address. It said: ''Lula, I have six brothers and sisters

and my mother doesn't work and we don't have a father to

help us. Please, my mother cries because we don't have

anything to eat. My name is Adriene.''


Lula, of all people, would understand, the little girl must

have thought.


And this would have been right. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,

58, is the genuine article, a walking fable, democracy's

classic story, the poor boy who grew up to be president.

He, too, had a mother who cried and no father to raise him.

He, too, had nothing to eat. He, too, suffered all the

indignities of privation. But from destitution Lula would

become a metalworker and then a union leader and then the

nation's most celebrated firebrand, the man who took tens

of thousands out on strike in defiance of a military

government, opening the body politic to some of the first

cross-breezes of democracy. He then led the creation of the

Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Workers' Party, an amalgam

of the Brazilian left, including trade unionists, radical

intellectuals and progressive Catholics. He won Brazil's

presidency on his fourth try, in October 2002, getting an

overwhelming 61 percent of the vote.


''In a country where the elite have always held a

stranglehold, it was never written anywhere that someone

like me could become president,'' Lula told me as we sat

aboard the Brazilian equivalent of Air Force One. There was

a dining table between us. He stabbed at a piece of meat

with his fork and nodded at a handful of eavesdropping

cronies who savored his words. ''With me being president,

the history of Brazil begins to change because someone from

the humble people, the lowest classes, has risen to the



Lula allowed me to join his entourage in mid-March during a

three-day swing of meetings, speeches and ribbon-cuttings.

Adoring crowds greeted him at every stop, but there were

also notable gaps in the adulation. He had been in office

for 15 months, and the expectation was that this very

different president would somehow bring about a very

different Brazil. But the masses, born poor, have remained

poor, with no end in sight to their reiterating misery.

''Lula, give us jobs!'' were words one man had written on a

placard. ''We are still hungry,'' read another. The federal

police had gone on strike, and some police officers

occasionally heckled as the president spoke, shouting out

their union's demand for an 83 percent raise. Instead of

instigating labor protests, Lula was now their target,

recast as the villainous gatekeeper of the status quo.

There are many numbers between 1 and 83, he reminded the

unruly strikers.


On the airplane, his exasperation showed. He had also

expected social change to move with more velocity.

''Creating jobs and distributing money to the poor is not

easy,'' he said as if sharing the nugget of some great

revelation. This pronouncement, however obvious to others,

struck him as profound enough to merit repetition. He

leaned forward. He raised his right index finger. ''If

creating jobs and distributing money were easy, someone

else would have done it, and I wouldn't have gotten to the



For many Brazilians, Lula's election seemed like

deliverance. Here was someone pitched forth from poverty's

maelstrom, who had forfeited a finger to a factory accident

and now spoke eloquently of class struggle. He was no

populist held aloft by charisma and a cult following.

Rather, he had spent two decades building a disciplined

political movement that fielded candidates and won

elections. The noted sociologist Francisco de Oliveira, one

of the earliest members of the Workers' Party, likened

Lula's victory to Brazil's greatest historic milestones,

calling it as important as the abolition of slavery.


Other people, while agreeing on the event's momentousness,

disagreed on the nature of its tidings. To them, Lula was a

dangerous lout who spoke too breezily about the

redistribution of income and land. His competence seemed as

questionable as his politics. He had only a few years of

formal schooling. His speech lacked syntax; he cut off the

S's on his plurals like a peasant. Except for one term in

the federal congress -- about which he professed boredom --

Lula had never held a government post. Traders in the

international financial markets nervously followed his

career. Many considered him anti-American and, worse,

anticapitalist. What would such a man do when placed at the

head of one of the world's 10 largest economies? Each time

Lula's political star went into ascent, so did Brazil's

''risk factor'' on the bond market. Weeks before the

election, the nation's bonds were trading at a pitiful 48

cents on the dollar.


But Lula has proved a curious surprise to most everyone,

taking only small, measured steps toward domestic reform

and staying well within the accepted covenants of global

capitalism. For an idealist, perhaps the ideal is to be in

the opposition. Lula, finally in power, now has to contend

with the many forbidding obstacles in the sightline of a

genuinely egalitarian vision. Brazil, doubled over with

debt, is beholden to lenders. The Workers' Party, with only

a minority in both houses of Congress, is not a complete

master of the public agenda. The apparatus of government,

besotted with inefficiency and corruption, resists change.

''I don't have the power of God to do miracles,'' Lula says

these days with unmasked frustration. He has become the

lead character in another common fable: the dreamer who

runs headlong into the cul-de-sacs of reality.


This is not an unfamiliar problem for leftist leaders

throughout the world. Lula views Fidel Castro as an iconic

presence; he dined with him in Brasilia on Inauguration

Day. But in Latin America, exhortations to a people's

revolution today seem as out of fashion as the

red-and-black flag of the Sandinistas. Leftists in

developing nations find themselves working within the

margins of the global financial schematic. Their urge for

reform is most often constrained by a dependence on

international creditors. Default would be a debacle.

Investor confidence would plummet, capital would flee, the

poor would take an abrupt beating. The left may criticize

the so-called Washington consensus, an economic model that

largely leaves the fight against poverty to the efficiency

of free markets, but it is hard pressed to veer off the

trodden course without facing uncontrollable consequences.

Extremism is out; pragmatism is in.


While Lula continues to talk passionately of feeding

Brazil's poor and filling their pockets, his overall

strategy has been one of hidebound austerity, cutting back

on spending. ''We can't take steps too big for our legs,''

he has said repeatedly. He blames the cursed inheritance of

a vulnerable economy and insists he must at last lay the

foundation for long-term prosperity. His storied zeal has

now been redirected toward this newfound restraint. In the

past, Brazil had borrowed its way out of one crisis after

another. Not long before Lula was elected, the government

negotiated a bailout deal with the International Monetary

Fund, agreeing to maintain a budget surplus of 3.75 percent

of the nation's gross domestic product. Lula cinched the

belt tighter yet, increasing the target to 4.25 percent, in

effect making a decision to spend more on servicing the

debt and less on directly assisting the people. This was

done to calm the markets and yank back the reins on

galloping inflation, he said.


But whatever the long-term benefits may be, Lula's austere

approach was accompanied by the penetrating gloom of a

recession. In 2003, the president's first year in office,

the economy slipped backward, with negative growth of 0.2

percent, the worst performance in a decade. Wages dipped.

Jobs were lost.


Under the Workers' Party, the workers took a punch in the


And yet while Lula the politician has chosen to be cautious

at home, Lula the statesman has moved quite boldly abroad,

challenging international trade regimens that favor rich

countries over poor ones. On the global stage, he is still

able to situate himself as the outsider, agitating to

transform reality rather than merely succumbing to it. Lula

-- restless with administrative tasks in the modern,

whitewashed buildings of the capital -- has traveled abroad

at a pace of more than one trip per month, including jaunts

to Luanda, Tripoli and Shanghai. On these excursions, he

often finds himself greeted as a heroic new voice for the

downtrodden. One of his main efforts has been to try to

cobble together trading blocs of emerging nations,

attempting to find strength in numbers. He has also

crusaded against the extravagant agricultural subsidies

given to farmers in wealthy countries. In this battle, he

has successfully played by the international rule book. Two

months ago, Brazil won a preliminary judgment against the

United States at the World Trade Organization in a case

involving subsidies to American cotton growers; another

pending claim, against the European Union, concerns sugar.

These proceedings, seemingly arcane, are vital to

agriculture in poor countries. If price-distorting

subsidies were wiped away, farmers would suddenly have a

fair shot at being competitive in lucrative foreign

markets. Tens of millions could be lifted out of poverty.


This independent streak concerning global commerce has of

course irked many of the powerful in Washington, as did

Lula's opposition to what he once called President Bush's

''private war with Saddam Hussein.'' Still, as men of the

people go, Brazil's leader has struck most of the world's

establishment as a praiseworthy fellow, certainly no

apostle of class warfare like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Last summer, Lula was warmly received in the White House,

where President Bush praised his counterpart's social

vision and ''tremendous heart.'' Several times, James

Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, has gushingly

commended Lula as ''an extraordinary figure'' who has

emerged as ''one of the great world leaders.'' Lula was

selected to be the keynote speaker at last week's United

Nations summit meeting on corporate responsibility.


But back home, the patience of the people has dwindled,

however much faith they retain in their president's good

intentions. Fifteen months ago, a reliable poll showed that

80 percent of the nation had confidence in Lula's

government. Steadily, that number has fallen. It is now at

53 percent.


São Paulo, the largest city in South America, has a

concentration of skyscrapers to rival Manhattan's. Its

enormous wealth is reflected in neighborhoods with walled

mansions and long promenades of designer boutiques. But the

looping tentacles of the city's superhighways also lead to

some of the continent's more abysmal slums. The

unemployment rate in São Paulo recently rose above 20

percent. ''We put a lot of faith in Lula, but he has done

nothing for us yet,'' Cristiana Arruda, a 21-year-old

woman, told me. She and her two sisters work as unlicensed

street vendors, illegally selling discounted goods from the

impromptu display case of a cardboard box. As we talked,

someone nearby shouted ''ice,'' the code word for the

police. Dozens of peddlers snatched up their merchandise

and ran off. ''Is this any way to live?'' Cristiana asked.

''But there are no jobs.''


One Sunday, I wandered around the A.B.C. Region, the huge

industrial cities near São Paulo where Lula transformed

himself from a lathe operator to a labor leader. These

days, most of the work in the mammoth auto factories --

Ford, Fiat, Volkswagen and the rest -- is done by

computer-guided robots. Decent-paying jobs, like the one

Lula had three decades ago, are hard to find. ''For sure,

Lula is trying to do a good job,'' a poor man named Jo-o

Sousa da Silva told me, ''but he's trying to please

everybody, and not even Jesus could do that.'' He was

standing in a bar beside a pool table, its surface

temporarily covered with empty cups, chicken bones and a

jar of peppers. Conversation had to vie with samba music

pulsing from a radio. ''The house was already in shambles

before Lula walked through the door,'' said another man,

defending the president. ''Everybody points their finger at

Lula. It's not fair.''


The press has certainly relished Lula's distress. During

the five weeks I spent in Brazil, he took a daily flogging

in the headlines. Lula's own allies were among those who

applied the lash. The Workers' Party issued a written

critique of the government. Lula's own vice president

mocked the economic policies. Perhaps worst of all, a close

associate of Lula's chief of staff was tied to a kickback

scandal; the president chose to use hardball politics to

ward off the nosiness of a Senate inquest. Before coming to

national power, the Workers' Party overindulged in

sanctimony; suddenly, it was looking as corruptible and

unethical as the rest.


In reaction, Lula often apologizes or broods or simply

loses his cool. Last month, he revoked the visa of a New

York Times correspondent who wrote that the president's

consumption of alcohol had become a national concern, a

story broadly disputed in Brazil. Only later did Lula

change course, apparently realizing the offending newspaper

article was not as damaging to his reputation as his

display of pique afterward. He is alternately defiant and

remorseful, wistfully explaining that he has been busy

bringing a distressed economy out of intensive care. ''When

the conservative right governed the nation for 10, 15, 20

or 30 years, no one demanded results. But when it's us who

have won, people want us to do in one year what they

haven't done in 50.''


The harshest rebukes come from what might be called the

utopian left. They may not have anticipated a miracle, but

they did expect tempestuous shifts in the political winds.

Some speak as if the hopes of a lifetime have been swept to

sea. De Oliveira, the sociologist who so hailed the

significance of Lula's election, now dismissively

concludes, ''The country is apparently more complicated

than the Workers' Party thought, and if you don't know what

to do, you repeat what others have done.''


Some wonder: Has Lula left the left?


One evening, I

watched the president wade into yet another rapturous

crowd. This time, it was at the grand opening of a soup

kitchen subsidized by the Coca-Cola Company in Belo

Horizonte. Lula stepped to the podium. His distinctive deep

voice emotes with both a rasp and lisp. It is something an

animator might give to a bullfrog. His hands cut angular

patches of air while he talks. As usual, he meandered from

the prepared text.


''When I was younger, being anti-American meant you didn't

drink Coca-Cola,'' he reflected. ''But now that I am more

mature, I've discovered that there's nothing better than

drinking an ice-cold Coke when you wake up early in the




In his office, Lula was getting his caffeine from strong

coffee rather than from Coke, one demitasse after another,

in the Brazilian fashion. He was also smoking cigarillos, a

habit he forgoes in public. I asked about his childhood.

''In primary school, I only had one pair of pants and one

suspender, not even a second suspender, only one,'' he

said. ''I wore those pants all week and then I would wash

them on Saturday and begin to use them again.'' He finished

his smoke and went to work on a granola bar. ''Once, I was

very much ashamed because my sister had pneumonia and the

doctor came to the house. My sister was lying on the bed

and the doctor asked for a chair. But we had no chair.''


These stories from his destitute youth had the aspect of a

happy ending, since we were at ease on fine leather

furniture in a huge room with a wonderful view of Brasilia,

the capital. I was seated to the president's left, his

personal translator to his right. Behind Lula was a

beautiful 16th-century carving of a crucified Jesus, a gift

he had had restored. In another part of the room were a

hand-carved desk and tables recovered from the grandeur of

a palace in Rio.


Brazil, so goes a common gibe, is the country of the future

-- and always will be. With 175 million people, it is the

world's fifth most populous nation, and its territory is

slightly larger than the continental United States. In the

16th century, Portugal claimed this immensity as a colony,

and the crown soon divided 2,500 miles of coastline into a

dozen captaincies, some of them larger than the mother

country itself. Sugarcane was introduced, and Brazil today

still lives with the legacy of a plantation culture that

consumed four million African slaves and left land

ownership hideously askew. An elite 1.7 percent of the

landowners continue to own nearly half the arable land; the

top 10 percent of the nation earns half the income.


In Rio de Janeiro, the poor have ended up with the

breathtaking vistas of the ocean, having clustered their

hovels onto the unstable terrain of the cliffsides. The

value of swanky apartments down below often depends on

whether a window faces these elevated slums, exposing the

occupants to stray gunfire from warring drug gangs. Crime

is rampant in Brazil's cities. During my stay, an

out-of-work pauper in Brasilia climbed onto the ledge of

the Senate's balcony, threatening a suicidal leap to

punctuate his misery. After security guards wrestled the

man down, tenderhearted legislators gave him some spare

cash and wished him godspeed. He was robbed on the way



''The Brazilian elite never had a vision for the whole

society; they never wanted to share even a little bit of

the money,'' Lula told me, answering a question about how

he might redress the disparities in wealth. ''Remember,

Brazil is a country that had slavery until almost the end

of the 19th century. Even then, the end of slavery was only

a law written on a piece of paper. The mind-set continued

for many years. Income concentration is a disease, and it's

much stronger in South America and the third world.''


But he knew of no swift cures, he said. Brazil has a

history of major economic schemes that woefully failed.

''What is new here about what we are doing?'' he asked

rhetorically. ''The novelty is that we do not want to --

and we will not -- introduce a Lula Plan. Brazil cannot

have another president who invents a new plan, achieves a

certain amount of success for the first year and then

leaves us paying the bill for 10 years after.'' The

bankruptcy of neighboring Argentina served as a warning

about defaulting on debt, he said. ''What we want is to do

things in a sustainable fashion. Each day, even if we

advance a centimeter, we are going forward -- without any

miracles, without breaking away from our international

commitments, simply doing what needs to be done.''


Brazil allocates a reasonable share of its revenues to

social spending, but more than half the disbursements go

toward public pensions, which are spread widely among

income groups, with very little reaching the poorest of the

poor. Lula managed to push a reform of the pension system

through Congress, but the payments still favor people in

the higher income brackets. At his inauguration, he

declared a national war on hunger, and he has since

consolidated some existing welfare programs, increasing the

average monthly stipends to about $25 per family, according

to government figures. This amount, seemingly tiny, is no

small thing for the desperate. And Lula says he hopes to

extend the program -- known as bolsa familia -- to 50

million people by the end of his term in 2006.


But an enhanced dole is far from the income redistribution

that some had breathlessly anticipated. Lula's main

antipoverty plan is actually a conservative standby:

economic growth and jobs, the rising tide that lifts all

boats. Contrary to expectations, he has fought hard to

restrain increases in the minimum wage, concerned about the

effect of enhanced salaries on the public coffers.


''I was expecting a much more dramatic set of social

programs,'' said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was Lula's

far more conservative predecessor. The former president

claimed to be hesitant about criticizing ''a man of good

will.'' Instead he dispensed halfhearted praise, commending

Lula's wisdom in imitating Cardoso's own policies, even if

the new government's neophyte ministries struck him as

beset by ''a lack of coordination.''


I had the chance to meet most of Lula's closest advisers, a

collection heavy on onetime communists and ex-union

leaders. They had been ruefully discovering the limitations

of high office. ''We've gotten the government, but we don't

have the power,'' lamented Frei Betto, a Dominican friar

who has been close to Lula for 24 years. ''Our Legislature

has a conservative profile. So has the judiciary. And we're

mired in external debt.''


The petistas, as Workers' Party members are known, proudly

cite the government's accomplishments, things like food

distributions, loans to small farmers and a network of

dental clinics. And yet even they seem stunned by the

brittleness of what had once seemed bedrock ideals. More

than a year into a petista government, the pace of land

transfers to peasants has been slack. Amazon rain forest

continues to disappear at breakneck speed. Genetically

modified soybean seeds have been loosed in the soil. ''It's

difficult to find the right path,'' said Gilberto Carvalho,

the ex-seminarian who directs the president's scheduling.

''You have to make concessions, yes, but you can't let them

betray your principles. It's a daily battle.''


The government's top positions are meted out to an

ecumenical mix, some appointments based on ability, others

on the settlement of political obligations. Most have

arrived from the left. Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu once went

into exile in Cuba, where he underwent both guerrilla

training and the facial camouflage of plastic surgery; he

has hung a photo of Fidel and himself behind his desk.

Marina Silva, the environment minister, grew up in a family

of Amazon rubber tappers; her nearest neighbors were a

two-hour walk away, and she saw her first electric light at

age 5 during a trip downriver for medical care. But on the

economic side, Lula's choices have been decidedly more

conservative. Henrique Meirelles, president of the central

bank, used to be the head of global banking at FleetBoston

Financial. Luiz Furlan, the minister of development,

industry and commerce, was a millionaire poultry exporter.

Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, while a petista and an

ex-Trotskyite, is a dedicated convert to fiscal orthodoxy.


Lula himself disdains political labels and has always

resisted being pinned to a point along the ideological

gamut. The political isms and wasms of other countries

seemed irrelevant to him. He preferred his own intuition

and common sense. While still a young union leader, he was

frequently asked to define himself as a communist, a

socialist or a social democrat. ''I am a lathe operator,''

he would reply.


But this was not some dodge. Lula was left, but it was a

labor-movement left. He didn't care if it was called

socialism or Christianity or simply ethics. To him, class

struggle was about democratic elections and bigger

salaries. He wanted workers to own houses and

refrigerators, not the means of production. In a 1978

television appearance, a reporter chided him for showing up

in a three-piece suit rather than dungarees. He answered,

''I pray to God that in the near future all workers can not

only have three-piece suits but everything else they

produce, even cars.'' In 1979, he was asked which

historical figures he most admired. Gandhi, Che Guevara and

Mao Zedong were names he gave at first. When asked for more

examples, he added Hitler, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini.

''I admire in a man the fire to want to do something and

then his going out to try to do it,'' he explained.


Twenty-five years later, Gandhi, Che and Castro would

surely still make the list. As the president and I sat

together, there seemed clear enough lines between the Lula

of the 70's and the Lula of today. On one hand, he remained

the pragmatic union negotiator, going after what he thought

the best obtainable deal. So far, that's what his

government had been about, political give-and-take within

the parameters of the possible. On the other hand, he still

dreamed of unlikely twists of fate. For this, he had only

to look in the mirror.


Stymied by the economic realities of a debt-ridden nation,

Lula has diverted some of his dreaming to humanity in

general. Since last year, he has been proposing a global

tax to feed the world's hungry. The mechanics of the idea

remain extremely vague, but he seems determined to mention

it at every conceivable forum. ''Maybe we can tax the arms

trade, for example,'' he told me. ''Or maybe we could tax

the tax havens. Or we could tax world trade. Something has

to be done so we get beyond just making speeches.''


Lula began thinking about this at the meeting of the G-8

last June in Evian, France, he said. ''I discovered a very

interesting thing. I was there with the major world

leaders, people I never imagined I'd be anywhere near.

Suddenly, I started to think: These men are very important

in their countries, very important in the world. But none

of them understand the poor -- especially the issue of

hunger -- in quite the way I do. Why? It's not because they

are insensitive. It's because they never experienced it.''


But he had.


Lula was the seventh child born to Euridice

Ferreira de Mello. A month before the birth, his father,

Aristides Inacio da Silva, left the family and their sandy

patch of farmland in the state of Pernambuco. His

departure, however untimely, was not so unusual. For years,

the sky had been miserly with rain. The dry soil, never

very obliging, was rendering pitifully little corn, beans

and manioc. Men from all over Brazil's northeast were

hoping to find work in the factories of São Paulo. The

women they left behind were known as widows of the drought.



Aristides's departure was not entirely noble. Unknown to

his wife, her husband was accompanied south by another

woman -- her younger cousin, actually -- with whom he

started a second family. Euridice would learn of this only

when Aristides came back for a visit five years later. He

had three new children in tow when he finally met his young

son Luiz, affectionately known as Lula.


Much of what is known of Lula's childhood comes from an

oral history done in the early 90's by Denise Parana, who

was then his aide. She interviewed not only her boss but

also most of his siblings. Their lives in Pernambuco, as

they recalled them, were ones of lingering want. Their

house was tiny. Meals were often no more than manioc flour

and beans. Water was frequently scooped from a ditch and

drunk after the dirt had settled.


Aristides fared somewhat better in Santos, the port near

São Paulo where he found work unloading cargo. After his

return visit to Pernambuco, Aristides brought Lula's older

brother Jaime back with him to Santos. But the boy became

lonely, and after two years away, the 15-year-old sent his

mother a letter supposedly dictated by his illiterate

father, beckoning her and the rest of the family to join

them. Euridice, eager to escape the wretchedness of the

northeastern bush, sold her watch, a donkey and her

portraits of the saints to buy space on a pau de arara, a

rickety open-ended truck with boards for seating. The trip

took 13 days. Passengers slept along the dirt roads and

huddled beneath the vehicle when it rained.


Unexpectedly saddled with both families, Aristides settled

them in separate homes and laid his head each night

wherever his mood suggested. His parenting habits were

stern: everyone worked, no one went to school. ''My father

used to beat us with something like a rubber hose,'' Jose,

one of Lula's brothers, told me. Then, one fateful day,

Jose said, ''my father, ignorant as always, threatened to

hit my mother, and that was it.''


Euridice left for good. Over the years, she and the

children lived in some awful places, including space behind

a São Paulo bar where they shared a toilet with the

hard-drinking patrons. Her daughters were hired out as

maids; Lula, her youngest son, shined shoes and delivered

laundry. Then, at age 15, he had the good luck to find work

at a factory that made screws. Through this job he managed

to enter a program in a public trade school and became a

skilled machinist.


In 1969, Lula married a slender, dark-haired woman named

Lourdes, the younger sister of his best friend, Lambari.

For years, Lula had been too shy to date her, but now they

were living the full measure of small dreams, able to buy a

house near a bakery and a bus stop. Lourdes became

pregnant, but in her seventh month she developed hepatitis,

something her doctors at first failed to diagnose. The baby

died inside her, and when Lula came to the hospital with

clothes for the child's burial, he was told his wife was

dead as well.


Lambari was with his friend when he received the crushing

news. ''Lula began walking in a spin,'' he told me and then

demonstrated what he meant by whirling against a wall,

careening shoulder to shoulder. The two men were later

taken to the hospital morgue where the covered bodies --

one long, one tiny -- were laid out with tags strung to

their toes. The words ''Born Dead'' were written on the

baby's tag instead of a name.


In his grief, Lula went through ''three years of

craziness,'' as he once described it, wanting ''to be with

a woman Monday through Sunday.'' For companionship, he also

began to spend more time at the union. There, he found not

only a calling but a second wife, Marisa Leticia Casa dos

Santos, who was newly widowed. Her husband had been

murdered in a robbery. She had come to the union hall to

ask about survivors' benefits.


During the mid- and late 70's, Lula would gradually

transmute into a labor militant. This was a particularly

strange turn. The metalworkers union of São Bernardo do

Campo, like most unions at the time, was controlled by

conservatives who worked hand-in-glove with the companies

and government. Lula was welcomed into the hierarchy

because he was deemed easy to control. The bosses backed

his candidacy for president in 1975.


But Lula proved anything but pliant. Brazil was astir with

wafts of rebellion, and soon he was riding the storm of an

unprecedented labor struggle. One morning in 1978, workers

from Lula's union sat down in front of their machines at

the Saab-Scania truck factory. The strike was unlawful, but

within days the tactic spread to other automotive plants.

Some 80,000 workers refused to move the vehicles up the

production line. The companies, forced to negotiate,

yielded to union wage demands, and a landmark victory was



Lula found himself becoming famous: a blunt man in

bell-bottom pants with a recognizable crown of curly black

hair. In 1979, the union called a general strike. The only

place large enough for a rally was the soccer stadium, but

when the meeting began, the sound system failed. There was

Lula on the platform, a single voice shouting to an

encompassing horde of distant faces. For four hours, even

as rain dampened their clothes, 90,000 metalworkers passed

his words in a relay back through the crowd.


Marxist intellectuals had always thought to send their

educated cadres to toil in the factories, insinuating the

seeds of class struggle on the shop floor. In Brazil, the

workers themselves led the way, with the intelligentsia

traipsing behind. By 1980, the labor unrest had already

reached far beyond São Paulo and the metalworkers,

spreading to bank workers, teachers, miners and others. But

to fully challenge the repressive regime, many, including

Lula, thought the labor movement needed a political

component, and the Workers' Party was begun.


The party began fielding candidates in 1982, the first time

since 1964 that the military permitted relatively free

local and state elections. Lula ran for the governorship of

São Paulo. His slogan was ''A Brazilian Like You.'' He

finished fourth with a dismal 10 percent in that race, but

slowly the Workers' Party came into its own, initially

electing mayors and congressmen, then governors and

senators. In 1989, the first time in nearly three decades

that Brazilians were allowed to directly elect a president,

Lula advanced into a runoff before finally losing. He would

lose twice more before deciding a fourth attempt was futile

unless the party agreed to changes making him more

electable. Though it was certain to offend purists, he

wanted to choose someone from outside the party as his

running mate, even someone from the right. And he wanted

Brazil's top political hired gun as his strategist. Duda

Mendonca, a devilish svengali to some petistas, described

his own politics as leftist, but he also saw himself as a

''technician'' who ran campaigns for high pay without

letting ideology interfere with his choices.


I met Mendonca at his headquarters in São Paulo. He was

wearing a well-cut black blazer over a snug-fitting black

T-shirt. For the 2002 campaign, he had also smartened up

Lula's look. ''It was important to show Lula had evolved,''

he said. ''So we took a little bit better care of him. The

beard was trim, the clothes finer. He was groomed. On TV,

instead of being sweaty, he was carefully made up.'' A

dentist improved his smile, a tailor provided genteel

suits. Lula, the lathe operator, now looked presidential.

His running mate was the textile magnate Jose Alencar.


The slogan of this campaign was Lulinha, paz e amor --

''Little Lula, peace and love.'' Not all of this was a

publicist's artifice. Lula in fact is a warm, engaging sort

whose abounding sentimentality habitually opens the valves

of his tear ducts. Still, the overall goal was to bury the

earlier portrait of an angry, unkempt union leader. Lula

was pictured with the pope and with Nelson Mandela. He

stood beside some of Brazil's top intellectuals, who posed

as if determined to tap into his wisdom.


''I changed; Brazil changed,'' Lula said in his speeches.

This, too, was true. Lula, like much of the party, had

moderated his views. Lessons had been absorbed while

running city and state governments. Lula had already agreed

to honor the bailout deal with the I.M.F.


This time, Lula's rival in the runoff was Jose Serra, a

bland academic who had served with distinction as Cardoso's

health minister. But Brazil's economy was again in awful

straits. People wanted change, and Lula's hour was finally



In the month before the election, he allowed Jo-o Salles, a

documentary filmmaker, to follow him behind usually closed

doors. Often, Lula seemed to forget the camera's presence.

Salles showed me some of the footage he was editing and

translated from the Portuguese.


In one harangue, Lula spoke of the man with whom he is most

often compared, the Polish union leader-turned-president,

Lech Walesa. Both led a wave of strikes in 1980. ''I had

far more members in my rank-and-file than Walesa, but he

was wined and dined all over the world because he was

fighting against communism,'' Lula complained. But when it

was Walesa's turn to run the country, what did he achieve?

Lula answered his own question. ''The rest is history,

because he didn't do diddly-squat in office.''


Yet he, too, was worried about failure. With the election

just days away, he fretted that the ''machinery'' of

government would define his presidency and not the other

way around. He wasn't sure what he'd be able to do for

Brazil's poor, but he did understand the expectations. ''I

don't know how I'll react. But I do know that this coming

Monday people will start demanding me to deliver everything

I've said for the past 20 years.''



I told Lula that I would be traveling to Pernambuco to

better understand his early years. ''You must eat buchada,

which are dried goat intestines,'' he insisted, grasping my

hand. He was emphatic, staring me in the eye. This regional

delicacy was too delectable to be missed, he said. ''We'll

call my cousin, and he'll kill a goat.''


The centerpiece of the meal was actually the goat's

stomach. It was a soft grayish oval about the size of a

small baked potato. Stuffed inside was rice that had been

steeped in blood and mixed with spices and minced pieces of

the animal's heart and liver. On a side plate was a goat

hoof partially wrapped with intestines. ''How do you like

it?'' asked Lula's amiable cousin Moura. ''It's better than

I had expected,'' I replied.


The capital of Pernambuco is the seaside city of Recife,

where high-rises hover over the beaches. But much of the

state's interior is backward, with tiny farms along sandy

and narrow roads; adolescents can remember the arrival of



I had gone there for more than a peek into Lula's distant

past. The Movement of Landless Workers, the M.S.T., was

planning to again take up the tactic of ''occupations,''

sending peasants onto unused private farmland so they could

claim it as their own. Gunmen working for the latifúndios,

the large landowners, sometimes attacked these intruders,

so the times and places for these peasant sieges were kept

secret until the last minute. I had been given only a

contact number in Recife and a range of possible dates.


The M.S.T., along with the Workers' Party and the Central

Unica dos Trabalhadores -- a federation of trade unions --

are something of a holy trinity to the Brazilian left. The

peasants' group claims to have settled 250,000 families on

''occupied'' land in the past 20 years. During that time,

Lula always had been a dependable ally. Even as president,

he could be counted on to attend an occasional rally and

don a red M.S.T. cap. The peasants' group had largely

stopped doing occupations, allowing their companeiro to

spearhead land reform.


But by this spring, the M.S.T.'s leaders were fed up with

the government's sluggish pace. Lula had promised to settle

530,000 families by 2006 -- only half of what the M.S.T.

wanted in the first place. So far, only 49,000 families had

been given land by the government. The M.S.T. decided to

return to their confrontational tactics.


''Lula is being dominated by the state apparatus,'' said

Alexandre Conceição, one of two eager young men assigned to

escort me to the occupation at the appropriate time. In

their eyes, Lula had fallen into the clutches of the

capitalists. ''We could compare him to Queen Elizabeth,''

Conceição continued. ''She is the government but she does

not really rule. Who runs things are the agricultural

bourgeoisie and the businessmen.''


Lula's withering relationship with the M.S.T. was another

product of his collision with ornery realities. The

government can legally claim unused arable land, of which

Brazil has an overabundance. But the property's owners have

to be paid with bonds or cash, and the remuneration adds

up. Then there is the matter of whether people can make a

go of it on the land they are given. A half million farmers

already were in precarious shape because they badly needed

roads and electricity and technical help, none of which the

financially depleted government could easily afford, Miguel

Rossetto, the minister of agrarian development, told me. He

spoke of the necessity of taking ''a strategic view.'' Why

buy land for peasants who will just have to sell it?


One Sunday, soon after dawn, I was taken to São Lourenco da

Mata, where families were arriving to cast their fate with

the M.S.T. The gathering point in the town was a small

cement building. Inside hung posters of Lula, Che Guevara

and Conan the Barbarian. Outside stood more than 100

anxious men, women and children, carrying both the tools of

agriculture (hoes and shovels) and the requirements of

camping (food, water and blankets). Music blared from a

parked sound truck. It was intended to steel the

participants' courage with sambas. The lyrics yearned for a

people's revolution.


During the march up the highway to the targeted land, I for

a time walked with a 61-year-old farm laborer named Neiapo

Feliciano. His story was a common one. He had always worked

for others, but now he was thought old and dispensable.

Divested of prospects, he was ripe for recruitment by the

M.S.T. ''Every man has a right to live on his own land,''

he told me firmly. ''To survive, we have to take back what

is naturally ours.''


The entrance to the land was protected by a strand of

barbed wire, which succumbed easily to four whacks from a

machete. People then charged purposefully into the hilly

green expanse. Some went right to work gathering branches

to be used as tent posts. Neiapo began scraping at a patch

of ground with his hoe. ''I know this red clay,'' he said,

fingering the soil like gold dust. ''This is good for



These occupations -- or at least the ones that don't end in

violence -- usually follow a pattern. The property's owner

goes to court; the M.S.T. then insists the land is unused.

While a federal agency conducts an investigation, the

peasants relocate their tents to the roadside. They wait

months -- or years -- for an official decision.


''We're going to construct a new socialist society!''

Conceic-o, my escort, shouted into a microphone as the

peasants worked. ''Viva the Brazilian people!''


I would meet several other peasants while in Pernambuco;

most were Lula's aunts, uncles and cousins. Their

weather-beaten faces gave me some idea of what his future

would have been like had his mother not loaded him onto

that rickety pau de arara in 1952. Instead he ended up in

the midst of democracy's great folk dance and somehow

emerged as a vessel for the hopes of the country.


This was inspiring -- and yet also worrying. I thought of

Fitzgerald's line: ''Show me a hero and I will write you a

tragedy.'' Lula has sincerity and natural intelligence

going for him, and Brazil's economy has lately shown some

promising signs of a rebound. But it remains too hard to

calculate his chances at success, especially with the

public's impatience with their president overtaking their

affection. His life will inevitably serve as a wonderful

fable; it's just too soon to know the instructive moral.



The windowless one-room home where Lula was born no longer

exists. Another family lives on the property now. Their

house is a bit larger, though most everything else is the

same. Corn and manioc still struggle to thrive in the dry



The property is slightly elevated, and from the front door

the view is pleasant, the houses and the cacti and the palm

trees unfolding as a tapestry of greens and browns.


The lady of the house is Anilda Suarez dos Santos. She

stood in the doorway in the late afternoon, a tired-looking

woman in a denim skirt. Like Lula's mother, she has eight

children. Like Lula's family, they are paupers. They

transport their water across the distance in jugs. They

plant, they tend, they harvest. Sometimes they go hungry.


Lula's bolsa familia program has reached their district.

That $25 a month would be a great help to a family like

this, but a local official found a way to swindle the poor

out of the cash. No money from the government had come

their way in months.


I asked Anilda if she had voted for Lula. Her answer was so

forceful a ''yes'' that I wondered if the question had been

impertinent, like asking her if she believed in God.


I was satisfied with her simple, emphatic response, but as

I turned to leave, she felt compelled to add something else

a foreigner needed to understand.


''Of course,'' she informed me, ''nothing has changed.''




Barry Bearak is a staff writer for The New York Times

Magazine. His last article was about Pakistan.


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company