Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to power promising an economic and social revolution for Brazil. Here, he speaks of the vision that has redefined his country’s place in the world

Change. I started my inaugural speech with this word when I assumed the presidency of the republic. I was not trying to be rhetorical. I was rather trying to make clear the direction that would be followed by the presidential mandate I was taking up. After two years, the time has come to take stock. But, above all, the opportunity has arrived to chart our path for the second half of my government term.

I have never lost sight of the purpose of the mandate I received from the Brazilian people: to use our society’s strengths in order to get back onto the road to sustained growth, growth that creates jobs, distributes revenue and promotes social integration.

I am not going to take stock in great detail, and I am certainly not going to be self-complacent and gloat. Everything we have done over two years, which is by no means negligible, is much less than what Brazilian society requires. We have had centuries of exclusion and inequality, which have worsened in recent decades. I did not promise to put right all inequalities, all injustices. But I did undertake to put the country on the right path, setting up the base for a sustained period of economic development, social justice and deepening of democracy.

During the first two years we reversed a process that was leading us to the abyss. The catastrophe predicted by some, both at home and abroad, did not occur. We, the government and the people, were able to prevent it.

We have not continued with the policies of the previous government. We have done what it did not do, and we have rebuilt our economy, strengthened our institutions and, above all, won credibility both at home and abroad. As important as this objective transformation is, it was the change from a feeling of despondency, if not desperation, that took hold of our people.

A return of confidence
Today, everything is starting to change. We are recovering our self-esteem, we are again starting to be proud of being Brazilian, starting to understand that there is a new path to be trodden. Even though we know that this path is strewn with obstacles, we are starting to have confidence in our ability not only to follow it but, above all, to build it.

Brazilian economic indicators are the best for 10 years. The spectacular successes of our foreign trade – which owes a great deal to the role played by our agricultural industry – have contributed towards our economic growth and have expanded employment, energizing the domestic market. The economic measures adopted – some harsh, others misunderstood or criticized – have enabled us to put the country on the right path. They were and still are necessary conditions to tackle the enormous challenges facing us.

This country has to grow considerably to recover the lost decades that ruined our manufacturing industry and infrastructure. Recessions and mediocre growth have deepened the enormous social chasm that marks Brazil. This country has to distribute revenue, not only as a result of growth, but as a fundamental lever for growth. Brazil needs macroeconomically sustainable growth, free from inflationary shocks or cycles of internal and foreign indebtedness. This country needs to have sovereign control over its development, reducing dependency on the external inputs that can make its economy vulnerable, without succumbing to the temptations of an isolationist policy. Finally, this country needs to plan its development as part of South America, promoting modern, sympathetic regional integration, without hegemony.

Over the past two years, we have tried to redefine Brazil’s place in the world. We encouraged a process of reconstruction of Mercosur [an economic entity that comprises Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay] and established a relationship with the region as a whole. This process led to the establishment of the South American Community of Nations.

We have re-established a relationship with the African continent, acknowledging historical debts to those countries that played a fundamental part in building the Brazilian civilization. We have pursued political alliances and re-established cultural links, without forgetting to build economic and commercial partnerships. Our policy with respect to the Arab world is along the same lines.

We have kept our promise to strive towards closer relations with large countries such as China, India, Russia and South Africa, that are fundamental to new South-South relations that change the world’s economic and commercial geography. All this was done without clashes or conflicts with the large developed countries, namely America, the European Union and Japan, with which Brazil maintains very close, extremely friendly relations.

Our foreign policy, which is active and proud, has sought to change international relations and forces. Without confrontations, we have developed initiatives to achieve a fairer, more balanced world from the economic, social and political viewpoints. In order to change commercial relations, we boosted the G20 [a forum of 20 countries that seeks to promote dialogue between industrial nations and emerging-market countries] which gave new content to the Doha round, in the context of the World Trade Organization. Together with our Mercosur partners, we gave new direction to the talks on the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

We have made progress in international financial institutions by backing mechanisms to support developing countries and boost essential investment in infrastructure.

Our bid to change the United Nations, and particularly its Security Council, has received support from every continent. Significant backing was also given to our appeal to set up a mechanism to fight hunger and poverty. Sixty-five heads of state and government attended the meeting that launched the initiative in New York; 130 countries supported it. This initiative shifts a desire that has driven my government – getting rid of hunger, poverty and social exclusion – to the international level.

Dealing with the social crisis
We know that these goals will only be attained through consistent policies that can be sustained by development. Initiatives such as the Projeto Fome Zero (Zero Hunger Programme) play a fundamental role in diminishing the social crisis we are experiencing. They help to speed up economic growth through the distribution of revenue. Therefore they cannot be confused with compensatory or merely philanthropic measures.

Today the Bolsa Família Program (Family Grant Programme) benefits 6.5 million families, providing payments three times higher than in the past. By combining family allowances, children’s schooling and healthcare, this programme makes essential public services more universal, which is another way of distributing revenue.

But support initiatives for family farming are essential to the success of the Zero Hunger Programme. We have made great progress and have doubled the resources used by previous governments. This is having a strong economic as well as social impact.

The principal initiatives of the health ministry – concerned with making family doctors, oral health and pharmacies accessible to the people – and the stringent programmes of basic sanitation are also aimed at fighting social inequality and tackling the neglect to which large and medium-sized Brazilian cities have been subjected.

One of the two main challenges facing governments and Brazilian society as a whole is found in these cities, namely, violence. Although the basic jurisdiction for tackling this problem lies with the state governments, we do not shun our responsibilities. We have signed agreements with state governments to qualify police action, reform the prison system and offer federal power to deal with serious situations in cases of emergency. But besides these initiatives, which will also benefit from reforms of the judiciary, it is clear that it is up to us to offer society, and in particular young people, consistent alternatives. These basically involve education and access to cultural assets.

We are therefore placing emphasis on basic and intermediate education qualifications and professional training. We are also focusing on the work of Brazilian universities, particularly with respect to public education. Affirmative actions in the short term and the effects of improvements in basic and intermediate education will enable our country to achieve the dreamed-of democratization of our universities. Brazil must prepare for the future, but also deal with the challenges facing it today. We need to build a society based increasingly on knowledge, a constant concern for our Ministries of Science and Technology, and Education and Culture. This task is becoming more urgent in view of the industrial policy recently announced by the government, the first in many decades.

Besides a sophisticated economy based on large investments and technologically advanced resources, Brazil is witnessing the rebirth of an economy of small and medium-sized businesses which benefit from specific credit policies. Similarly, millions of workers, elderly people and poor people now have access to cheap consumer credit and, for the first time, have been able to open bank accounts.

A time of dramatic transformation
Two years ago, the challenges seemed enormous. Over the past two years we have experienced the dramatic transformation of our country, and mainly the dismantling of the state. We inherited an inefficient administrative machine, devoid of republican direction to a large degree, with no ambition to carry out policies to benefit the majority.

I knew that the goals we are pursuing would probably consume the energies of more than one generation, but we don’t just want to prepare the way for those who will live after us; we are committed to building this way, or path, now.

I said that we would first do what was necessary, and then do what was possible, in order later to attempt the impossible. I think that we did what was needed, part of what was possible and, perhaps, even some of the impossible. I say this when I think about the reforms we have made to tax, welfare, the judiciary, the Elderly Persons Act and so many other initiatives that had dragged on for many years in the National Congress with little hope that they would ever be passed. In these initiatives, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate were sensitive not only to the government’s appeals but, above all, to the people’s demands. For this reason I pay homage to the legislature and to all parties forming part of this.

This is also the time to celebrate the advent of full democracy and public liberty in the country. Society has been able to express itself in the freest manner possible. There is complete freedom of information. Never has society been listened to so much, not only through its representations in the Economic and Social Council, but in the thousands of consultations and debates behind the formulation of the government’s public policies, including the national budget.

We have another two years ahead of us. Time to reap what we have sown, time to affirm with greater emphasis our inclinations to continue with our economic and social policies. After decades of apathy and disenchantment this country needs to develop. This word – change – forgotten for so many years, is today and will always be at the centre of our concerns. Let nobody be mistaken about this government’s priorities, which are the economic and social transformation of the country.

The difficulties that I have faced in my lifetime and the successes that I have achieved during it have convinced me that the best thing that we have is our people. Let nobody confuse patience and sincerity with passivity. Let it be understood that we are a people made up of strong men and women who only need a moment in time to enable us to demonstrate our entire potential. This moment has arrived.

I took over the presidency guided by such feelings. I was accompanied by generations of social contenders who have not allowed themselves to be dazzled by the bright lights of power and who, here, have strengthened their democratic convictions. This is a government of honest, capable, dedicated men and women. We are all imbued with the feeling that Brazil’s hour has come. This hour is the hour of development, of economic growth and social integration.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the president of Brazil