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'Lula' Supporters Jubilant in Brazil - 2002-10-28

In Brazil, as Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's presidential victory became certain Sunday, his supporters celebrated what they say has been a thirteen year wait, since Mr. da Silva's first run for president in 1989. This was his fourth try as a candidate of the left wing Workers Party, which he founded. Supporters of the man universally known as Lula have great expectations for the country's first working class president.

Lula's victory has been all but certain in recent weeks, and once the polls closed Sunday his supporters were ready to celebrate, waving flags from street corners and car windows, with many people decked out in the red and white colors of his Workers Party. Mr. da Silva won Brazil's second round presidential election, soundly defeating his opponent, former health minister Jose Serra.

Supporters in Rio's famed Copacabana beach danced, sang and cheered as election results were shown on a giant TV screen. Many said they see Lula's election as a mandate to address Brazil's crushing inequalities between rich and poor.

Psychologist Fernanda Campos and her friends said they realize that Lula may have little room in which to maneuver, given Brazil's debt and budget constraints. But they don't think he will disappoint them. "It's gonna be hard, we know that it isn't going to be easy and we have a lot of hope in him, that's the point," says Mr. Campos. "We've been waiting for him for thirteen years."

Mr. da Silva's election campaign, based on the slogan "a Brazil with decency, also seemed to represent a boost in national pride for Brazil's leftists. Many say they feel betrayed by current President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's efforts to privatize Brazilian companies and open the country's markets to foreign competitors.

Fernando Sarmento, who works for Brazil's state oil and gas giant Petrobras, said gleefully that with Lula in charge, Brazil will stand stronger in upcoming free trade negotiations with the United States and in dealings with the International Monetary Fund. "Mr. Bush beware! Why? because we won't take any more from the United state," says Mr. Fernando. "We will have to assert ourselves as a nation, which we haven't been doing for a long time. And I think Lula as president will assert Brazil as a real nation and will not bend over to the United states or to the IMF."

Even away from the victory parties, supporters of Mr. Serra and the current government he represents were hard to find on Sunday night. While current President Cardoso successfully tamed inflation, his second term in office has been marked by high unemployment and low economic growth.

Many people watching their children play in a city park said they supported Cardoso the first time around, but now they are ready for a change. Retired secretary Thelma Quinta Nilha said she never voted for Lula until this year, but she feels very hopeful about his victory. "I think the most important issues are violence, education and health care, we need so much! I even liked Cardoso," she said. "But the country seems to have gotten stuck."

Despite the worries Lula's rise has caused among international financiers, no one expressed strong fears in the wake of the election, but simply uncertainty. At the country club that served as one of Rio's polling places, chemical engineer Claudia da Cunha said she voted for Mr. Serra but hopes that Lula will do a good job. "Lula's a black box. I think his speeches these days are much more moderate than in the past, but only time will tell whether he's going to be moderate or go back to being radical."

Mr. da Silva's image in this campaign is so different from years past that it will be difficult to satisfy the converts to his new more moderate image, and the Workers Party loyalists. But in the wake of his election, his jubilant supporters said Lula's inspiring life story from poverty to the presidency gives them hope that he can accomplish great thing.