It didn't take long after his election in 2002 for the new President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to make his mark. In Cancún, Mexico, last September, a coalition of developing nations shut down a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Led by Lula and Brazil, the developing world refused to negotiate new foreign-investment rules until powers like the U.S. and the European Union promised to cut the lavish agriculture subsidies that effectively keep developing-world farmers out of lucrative markets. Lula's stance may also derail or seriously dilute the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the hemisphere-wide pact that was meant to be a jewel of President George W. Bush's trade agenda.
Unlike antiglobalization radicals, Lula, 58, insists he's not out to destroy the new world order. He just wants it to work more fairly. Though corruption allegations against top aides and economic troubles have caused Lula problems at home, he has become the developing world's new spokesman, a pragmatic populist who matches his anti-Yankee bluster with economic sobriety. His successes with pension and tax reforms have made Wall Street want to samba. Lula is often cited as the first leader to apply the social activism cum fiscal realism of Europe's "third way" to places where it is more needed. Brazil, for example, has one of the world's most inequitable distributions of wealth. His message: only economic growth can fund antipoverty crusades like his Zero Hunger program. And only by playing hardball within the globalized economic system, he thinks, can developing nations grow.
Born to a poor family, Lula received merely an eighth-grade education. He rose to prominence in São Paulo as a fiery labor-union leader and head of Brazil's leftist Workers Party. After losing three presidential races, he finally won in 2002 with a more centrist vision that many development experts see as a model that can be applied elsewhere. Lula's challenges are daunting. Brazil's economy is wheezing again this year, and angry voters around Latin America are protesting a decade of capitalist reforms. But he has staked out a distinct role. Says Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in Miami: "It's striking how many leaders are looking to Lula right now."
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