In Brazil, from prisoner to president

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Interview by Lally Weymouth
Sunday, December 5, 2010

IN BRASILIA Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of The Washington Post.

Four weeks ago, Brazilians elected their first female president - Dilma Rousseff, the chosen candidate of Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, Brazil's popular outgoing president. Rousseff comes to power with an unusual background: She fought in the 1960s underground against the military regime that then ruled Brazil, and she was imprisoned and tortured between 1970 and 1972. She then started in local politics and joined Lula's government in 2002 as minister of mines and energy, eventually becoming his chief of staff. On Dec. 2, in her first lengthy interview since the vote, Rousseff spoke about her plans for the next four years. Excerpts:

Does having been a political prisoner give you more sympathy for other political prisoners?

There is no question about that. Due to the fact that I experienced personally the situation of a political prisoner, I have an historical commitment to all those that were or are prisoners just because they expressed their views, their public opinion, their own opinions.

So, will that affect your policy toward Iran, for example? Why is Brazil supporting a country that allows people to be stoned, that jails journalists?

I believe that it is necessary for us to make a differentiation in [what we mean when we refer to Iran]. I consider [important] the strategy of building peace in the Middle East. What we see in the Middle East is the bankruptcy of a policy - of a war policy. We are talking about Afghanistan and the disaster that was the invasion of Iraq. We did not manage to build peace, nor did we manage to solve Iraq's problems. Iraq today is in civil war. Every day soldiers on both sides die. To try to build peace and not to go to war is the best way.

[But] I do not endorse stoning. I do not agree with practices that have medieval characteristics [when it comes] to women. There is no nuance; I will not make any concessions on that matter.

Brazil abstained from voting on the recent U.N. human rights resolution.

I am not the president of Brazil [today], but I would feel uncomfortable as a woman president-elect not to say anything against the stoning. My position will not change when I take office. I do not agree with the way Brazil voted. It's not my position.


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