Accepting the mantle of power from her immensely popular mentor, former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff was sworn in Saturday as Brazil’s first female president and faced two immediate tasks: keeping the booming economy on track and fleshing out Brazil’s developing role on the world stage.
Rousseff, 63, took office with big shoes to fill: those of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who leaves Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia with an 87% approval rating, the highest in recent history for a departing leader of South America’s largest and most populous nation.
The new president hopes to maintain the economic momentum that was the key to Lula’s power and popularity while advancing the Workers Party social agenda of reducing poverty, attracting foreign investment to create jobs and taking greater control of natural resources.
Rousseff will almost immediately have to select a contractor in a $4-billion jet fighter purchase for Brazil’s expanding armed forces. She must also shepherd the construction of billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure as the nation prepares to put on the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 while trying to keep a lid on drug-fueled crime in the host city for both events, Rio de Janeiro.
She also steps into a diplomatic row with Italy after Lula declined to extradite a suspected terrorist.
Rousseff takes office as relations with the United States are in state of flux. The Obama administration was displeased with Lula’s attempt last year to broker a deal with Iran that would resolve international tensions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Still, President Obama admired Lula and at least publicly professed satisfaction with Brazil’s growing regional clout.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Brasilia, the capital, to represent the United States at the inauguration. But significantly, Rousseff has said the first foreign leader she will meet with is leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. She also has promised to appoint more women to her cabinet.
Soares and Kraul are special correspondents.