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Brazil's 'Lula' Still Confident on Economic Growth - 2003-03-24

In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula", is struggling to expand his nation's economy and his government's programs for the poor even as the war in the Persian Gulf puts pressure on economic growth prospects worldwide. Almost three months into his term, the Brazilian leader is contending with numerous problems, including friction within his own party.

When he was elected last year, President da Silva promised to provide his people with more jobs and expectations, especially among the poor, were set high. Now, with the worldwide economy still struggling to find its footing and a war raging in Iraq, the outlook for job growth in Brazil is somewhat clouded.

Political analyst David Fleischer, speaking to VOA by telephone from his office in the capital of Brasilia, says administration officials remain confident that the war will have little or no effect on Brazil's economic growth.

"There are some in Lula's government who actually feel that exports might even increase and that capital flows to emerging markets, especially Brazil, might even be stronger," he said. "That may be wishful thinking and we will have to wait and see what the major consequences of the war are."

For now, Mr. Fleischer points out, the da Silva government is taking a moderate approach, continuing many of the same programs that were started under the previous administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Since Brazil's tax rates are already high and its foreign and domestic debt is enormous, amounting to well over $250 billion, President da Silva has concentrated on cutting costs rather than expanding new programs.

This has led to strife within his own Workers' Party, with so-called Radicals condemning their old comrade Lula for taking a centrist approach and forming alliances with other, more conservative parties. This has forced the president and his supporters in the Workers'Party to contemplate strong measures, according to David Fleischer.

"It is possible that they may expel or suspend three or four of these radical leaders as an example for the others to tow the line," he said. "So Lula is having some problems, some difficulties, in bringing these radicals into line."

Mr. Fleischer says the government's main problem is finding resources to carry out programs for the poor. The Fome Zero, or Zero Hunger, program is an example. The idea behind this ambitious plan was to provide every Brazilian with three good meals a day. It was launched with great fanfare two months ago, but the government does not have sufficient money to fund it. President da Silva has looked to private donors and international aid programs for help in implementing the program.

But Mr. Fleischer says that for whatever difficulties he has encountered, the president has managed things well in his first three months, and that how he does in the coming months may well depend on international factors, such as the war, which are beyond his control.