Brazil's Lula da Silva sworn in for second term | india | Hindustan Times
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Brazil's Lula da Silva sworn in for second term

'One of my biggest commitments is that I never forget where I came from', says Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

india Updated: Jan 02, 2007 09:13 IST

Brazil's first working-class president was sworn in Monday to a second term, promising to boost the nation's lackluster economy and ease the deep divide between a rich elite and millions living in misery.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took the oath of office in Congress after riding to the ceremony in a classic Rolls-Royce convertible, in keeping with inaugural protocol, but insisted he has not lost sight of his roots as the son of a dirt-poor farmer from Brazil's impoverished northeast.

"One of my biggest commitments is that I never forget where I came from," Silva told lawmakers in Brasilia's congressional palace.

Silva, who became Brazil's first elected leftist leader four years ago after gaining fame as a union leader resisting Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, said low-income workers in the nation of 187 million still do not earn enough and have limited opportunities to better their lives.

But he said that he has improved the nation by stabilizing Brazil's economy and protecting it from boom-and-bust cycles, expanding a food program for the poor, boosting exports and setting the stage for greater social justice in his second term. He took credit for creating 7 million jobs during his first four years, but that number falls short of the 10 million Silva said were needed during his 2002 campaign for a first term. Brazil "is better off in distribution of wealth, access to education, health and housing," Silva said. "We've done a lot in these areas, but we must do much more."

After the speech in Congress, Silva thanked his left-leaning supporters and the nation in an open air address outside the presidential palace, and called Brazil's recent gang-initiated violence "terrorism."

Criminals attacked police stations and torched buses in Rio de Janeiro last week, killing 19 people. The Rio violence followed waves of similar street violence launched by imprisoned gang leaders in Sao Paulo that killed more than 200 last year. "This barbarity that happened in Rio de Janeiro can't be treated like common crime, it's terrorism, and must to be dealt with by the strong hand of the Brazilian state," Silva told an estimated 10,000 supporters, including many who traveled from across Latin America's largest country.

Some wore bright red T-shirts and caps emblazoned with a single white star of Silva's leftist Workers' Party. Others sported white T-shirts with Silva's picture and the words, "Let the man do his job!"

Retired metal worker Celio Alves, 64, dressed entirely in red and carrying a red flag, said resistance from opposition lawmakers prevented Silva from doing more for the poor.

"He's had it tough because he's been governing without support of Congress," Alves said.

World leaders were not invited to the inauguration, and the highest-ranking foreign government official attending was Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema. Silva's first inauguration was attended by Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Despite the leftist inaugural backdrop, Silva has governed from the center-left. He has cordial relations with U.S. President George W. Bush, and is viewed by Washington as a moderate influence on the continent.

Brazil's economy has significantly lagged in growth compared with the rest of South America. This, along with a corruption scandal that dogged his Workers' Party, put him on the defensive during his re-election campaign.

His main second-term push is for decent-paying jobs for the poor in a nation where the minimum wage is US$166 (euro126) a month, and he has vowed to craft economic policies to spur annual economic growth of 5 percent _ a goal most analysts consider lofty. Silva told lawmakers he would stick to conservative monetary policy, affirming investor bets he will not invoke populist measures that could spook markets.

He also pledged to reduce bureaucracy, increase spending on crumbling or nonexistent infrastructure and provide tax incentives to boost investment _ all key issues for Brazilian businesses small and large and foreign investors.

"Our administration never was and is not populist," Silva said. "This administration was and is for the common people." Four years ago, Silva surprised Wall Street by continuing the orthodox monetary policy of his predecessor, approving high interest rates that stymied growth but brought down inflation. The nation's benchmark interest rate has been reduced from a high of 19.75 percent last year, but still stands at 13.25 percent, making it tough for businesses to expand.

The economy grew just 2.3 percent in 2005. Brazil is expected to post gross domestic product growth of 2.8 percent for 2006, and experts believe South America's largest economy will expand 3.4 percent in 2007 _ far below Silva's goal.

Analysts said Silva won heavy support for his landslide re-election victory in October by expanding the "Zero Hunger" program that gives 11 million Brazilian families money for food every month if they keep their children in school. A poll released earlier this month showed Silva is Brazil's most popular president in recent decades, but analysts doubt he has the congressional votes needed to push through extensive reforms that would allow the economy to grow faster and create the quality jobs he is promising.