Cardoso vs. Lula: Two Brazilian presidents vie over who turned country around

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 7:46 PM

To millions of Brazilians, the man who deserves credit for the country's surging prosperity over the past eight years is President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the charismatic former trade union leader who took office in 2003.

That sentiment, polls show, has benefited Dilma Rousseff, 62, Lula's former chief of staff, whom the president handpicked to succeed him. She calls Lula's two terms a "true revolution" and tells Brazilians that a vote for her in Sunday's run-off presidential election is a vote for continuity.

But one man has been waging a lonely battle to redirect credit for Brazil's remarkable rise: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula's predecessor, who says his administration created the economic stability that allowed the country to eventually flourish.

"To be frank, the novelty, the change in terms of the orientation of the Brazilian society and government, was done in my period," Cardoso said in an interview last week. "Of course, Lula did a series of good things, too. The way he managed the recent international crisis was correct. But I started it."

Now 79, Cardoso is an intellectual and a prolific writer whose books include several on his two-term presidency, which ended in 2002. An academic who once dabbled with Marxism and spent years in exile during Brazil's military dictatorship, he is seen by political observers as a gentleman politician who has largely avoided public tussles since leaving office.

That impassivity changed after the ruling Workers Party began capitalizing on surveys showing that Brazilians viewed Lula far more positively than Cardoso, said David Fleisher, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.

As a dull campaign wound down - Rousseff and opposition challenger Jose Serra are considered capable but colorless technocrats - the ruling party's strategy shifted to include sharp attacks on Cardoso that portrayed him as indifferent to working-class needs.

Serra, 68, who had served in Cardoso's cabinet and is from the same center-left Social Democratic Party, was cast as a relic of the past. Polls last week showed Rousseff with a double-digit lead ahead of the vote.

"It is very important to compare governments, and we are going to compare," Rousseff said in a radio spot this month. "So people can clearly see the Brazil of the past and the Brazil that is being born."

Cardoso under attack

Lula, who has accompanied Rousseff on the campaign trail, in one recent television ad called the Brazil of the past a "country of economic difficulty and unemployment."

"It's time to choose," Lula tells voters, "the Brazil that was going the wrong way or the Brazil that is going the right way - and that Dilma will continue."

In response, Cardoso has appeared publicly with Serra, written newspaper columns and granted interviews. Some of those who know the former president describe him as proud, at times self-righteous and now clearly irritated.

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