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Brazilian President Brings His Populist Appeal to the Bildner Center

June 23, 2004 - 4:00 pm

Brazil is on the road to economic recovery and remittances from citizens living abroad are helping drive the country’s development, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva told a festive gathering of more than 500 academics, media and Brazilian immigrants at The Graduate Center on June 23.

“The worst is over,” Lula said, speaking to a standing-room crowd that packed the Center’s Harold M. Proshansky Auditorium and two adjoining conference rooms. “I am convinced that Brazil has entered a cycle of sustainable growth that will only move ahead without return. Brazil is a country that offers no risks, only opportunities.”

Lula, a member of the left-leaning Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) who was elected president in 2002, visited The Graduate Center to help launch a new Internet-based remittance program administrated by the government-owned Caixa Economica Federal, Brazil’s third largest bank. Remittances by more-than 2 million Brazilians living abroad pumped an estimated $5.2 billion into the Brazilian economy in 2003, according to Caixa. The new program is designed to streamline the remittance process by allowing Brazilian expatriots to establish online accounts, thereby avoiding tariffs and fees charged by private banks and financial services.

The evening, which was hosted by The Graduate Center’s Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, also featured a performance by renowned musician Paulinho da Viola, whose Samba-infused songs have made him a popular international performer and folk hero in Brazil.

Paulinho’s infectious melodies and Lula’s populist appeal – at one point he compared the Brazilian immigrants on hand to his father, who migrated from northern Brazil to São Paulo in the 1950s “in order to survive” – made for an emotional evening. “He was so lucky,” Lula said of his father, “that his son became president.” Audience members, some waving Brazilian flags, repeatedly interrupted Lula with standing ovations, and when he finished his speech, dozens rushed the stage to shake the President’s hand.

The evening was the latest in a series of events related to the Bildner Center’s Brazil Project, which encourages the study of the processes of reform and sustainable social development in the South American nation and surrounding countries. The Bildner Center also recently published Reforming Brazil, a collection of scholarly essays that examines the economic, political and social changes that have emerged in Brazil during the past decade.