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Summary Article: Rousseff, Dilma Vana (1947–) from Brazil Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic

Dilma Rousseff is the 36th president of Brazil and the first female to hold the office. Before becoming president, she held the distinction of being the first female chief of staff during the administration of President Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula).

Rousseff was born December 14, 1947, in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. She was the daughter of Pedro Rousseff, a Bulgarian immigrant, and Dilma Jane da Silva, a schoolteacher from Rio de Janeiro (State). She began her education at an all-girls Catholic boarding school, Colégio Nossa Senhora de Sion, received her secondary education at Colégio Estadual Central, and began her college education by majoring in economics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Colégio Estadual Central and the Federal University of Minas Gerais were centers of lively political and cultural activity on the eve of the coup that imposed a military dictatorship in 1964. Her father died when she was 14 years old, and two years later, in 1964, she began her life of political activism as part of a Marxist organization, Worker's Politics (POLOP), that resisted the military dictatorship. She later joined a revolutionary Marxist organization, the National Liberation Command (COLINA), which had been formed by militants from POLOP and which was active mostly in Minas Gerais. To fund its revolutionary agenda, COLINA supplemented its political activities with armed robberies. Arrests and repression decimated the group, prompting it to merge with another leftist organization and form the Armed Revolutionary Vanguard–Palmares (VAR–Palmares). In 1968, Rousseff married a fellow militant, Cláudio Galeno de Magalhães Linhares, but the armed struggle against the military dictatorship forced the couple to live in separate cities. During their separation, Rousseff met and fell in love with Carlos Franklin Paixão de Araújo, a lawyer from Rio Grande do Sul and a leader of VAR–Palmares. Rousseff later divorced Galeno and maintained a common-law marriage with Araújo until their divorce in 2000. In 2008, she married Rafael Covolo who works in business administration.

In 1970, Rousseff was arrested and incarcerated in São Paulo (City) by Operation Bandeirantes (OBAN) and the Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS). OBAN was a semiofficial unit while DOPS was an official organ of the government, but both conducted a campaign against subversives that included political investigations, interrogation, abduction, torture, and assassination. While under their custody, Rousseff was tortured and found guilty of simple subversion since she had not participated in any armed activity. Sentenced to two years and one month of prison, Rousseff served almost three years before her release from prison in 1973, after which she moved to Pôrto Alegre where Araújo was serving a four-year sentence in prison. While in Pôrto Alegre, she completed her college education at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and, in 1975, took a position as a trainee with the state's Foundation for Economics and Statistics, which she later headed during the early 1990s. Rousseff's public service in Rio Grande do Sul included stints as the state's secretary of mines, energy, and communication and as municipal secretary of the treasury for Pôrto Alegre. She remained politically active, participating in the movement demanding that political amnesty be granted to those who had militantly opposed the military dictatorship and in the Diretas Já movement that demanded direct presidential elections as Brazil democratized. Together with Araújo, she helped found the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) in Rio Grande do Sul, which formed a political alliance with the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) (PT). When the alliance ended in 2001, Rousseff left the PDT and joined the PT.

Rousseff's service in Rio Grande do Sul and in particular her successful efforts to avoid electricity shortages in the state drew the attention of Lula after his election in 2002. She was asked to join the transition team that prepared the transfer of power from Fernando Henrique Cardoso to Lula. From 2003 to 2005, she served as minister of mines and energy, overseeing administration of Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.), research into biodiesel fuel, and redesign of the electricity grid. She is credited with bringing electricity to 11 million Brazilians living in rural areas and in the outskirts of cities through her program, Light for All. After her appointment as chief of staff in 2005, she coordinated infrastructure investments through the Accelerated Growth Program, oversaw a low-cost housing program known as My House, My Life, and formulated policies related to Brazil's offshore oil deposits.

In April 2010, Rousseff resigned her position in the Lula administration to pursue the presidency as the PT's candidate. She won the presidency in the election's second round, drawing 56 percent of the votes to defeat her opponent, José Serra, and took office on January 1, 2011.

Suggested Reading
  • Guardiola-River, Oscar. What If South America Ruled the World? How the South Will Take the North through the Twenty First Century. Bloomsbury Press New York, 2010.
  • Hunter, Wendy. The Transformation of the Workers’ Party in Brazil. Cambridge University Press Cambridge, 2010.
  • Rohter, Larry. Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed. Palgrave Macmillan New York, 2010.
  • Nobile, Rodrigo
    Vallance, Monique M.
    Crocitti, John J.
    Copyright 2012 by John J. Crocitti and Monique M. Vallance

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