Rousseff: a flashback

Yesterday we started looking into the administration of Brazil’s current president, Dilma Rousseff, who – in the wake of a remarkable rise toward prosperity under her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-10) – has presided over a precipitous economic decline, accompanied by profound corruption and incompetence.

Dilma Rousseff

Rousseff is a socialist, but she’s the kind of socialist upon whom the Western news media tend to look with sympathy – which is to say that she isn’t constantly denouncing capitalism and the U.S. and that she occasionally even says sensible-sounding things about free markets, free trade, and such. Yet she is what she is.  Vladimir Tismaneanu put it this way last March:“Dilma and her crowd may not be Marxists in a traditional, strictly ideological sense…but, when all is said and done, they still share, subliminally, the Marxist anti-capitalist and ‘anti-imperialist’ revolutionary delusions, expectations, and fever,” which explains “their enduring affinities with the continental far left, including Hugo Chavez’s heir, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.”

How, you may wonder, did this woman end up being president of one of the world’s largest countries? Here’s a flashback.

Régis Debray

Born in Belo Horizonte in 1947, Rousseff is the daughter of a Communist lawyer who fled Bulgaria for France in 1929 and who later moved on to Brazil, where he became a successful businessman. Her upbringing was very privileged – house servants, a fancy boarding school. As a girl, she wanted to be a ballerina. But in 1967, after reading the work of French writer and Castroite Régis Debray, she joined a socialist organization, POLOP (Política Operária, or Workers’ Politics), and became active in COLINA (Comando de Libertação Nacional, or National Liberation Command), a militant Marxist-Leninist faction, in which she met her first husband, Cláudio Galeno de Magalhães Linhares.

As a defendant in a military court, 1970

In 1969 COLINA, which specialized in bank robberies and bombings, killed two police officers, obliging Rousseff and Galena to lay low. While underground, they were sheltered by Carlos Franklin Paixão de Araújo, head of a gang of Communist guerrillas that soon merged with COLINA and other groups to form the VAR Palmares (Vanguarda Armada Revolucionária Palmares, or Revolutionary Armed Vanguard Palmares) – of which Rousseff, after dumping Galeno and hooking up with Araújo, was put in charge.

A mug shot

As head of VAR Palmares, Rousseff reportedly organized strikes, ordered bank robberies, masterminded the theft of a politician’s safe (which contained $2.5 million), planned a kidnapping (which the would-be culprits were never able to pull off), and sequestered weapons. She became known to both supporters and the authorities as the revolutionary movement’s “Joan of Arc.”

After being arrested in 1970, Rousseff was imprisoned and tortured. While she’s repeatedly sought to minimize the importance of her role in VAR Palmares, her description of the extent of her torture has been dismissed by parties familiar with the situation as highly exaggerated. Released from jail in 1972, Rousseff returned to college to study economics. Although her official biography lists master’s and doctoral degrees, she never actually earned either.

And then she went into politics.

We’ll get around to that tomorrow.

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