Saturday 10 December 2016

Brazil's former president Silva takes cabinet post

Published 16/03/2016 | 23:16

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva (AP)
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva (AP)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has appointed her predecessor and mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as her chief of staff.

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Her supporters say the move will help her fight impeachment proceedings and critics say it will shield the former leader from possible detention in corruption probes.

Ms Rousseff hailed the appointment, which capped days of intense speculation and hours-long meetings between the two leaders, saying she was "very happy with his arrival."

"His joining my government strengthens my government," she said at a news conference in the capital, Brasilia, adding, "Many people don't want it to be strengthened.

"But he is coming and he's coming to help."

Rumors of Silva's appointment to a Cabinet post surfaced after the former leader was taken to a police station this month to answer questions connected to a sprawling investigation into corruption at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Wednesday's appointment will make it harder for prosecutors to investigate Silva because only Brazil's Supreme Court can authorize the investigation, imprisonment and trial of Cabinet members and legislators.

Rousseff herself served as chief of staff under Silva from 2005-2010. That powerful role projected her into the spotlight and led Silva to anoint her as his successor.

A dexterous political operator, Silva is seen as Rousseff's best hope for shoring up support for the government and its agenda by sealing alliances with key centrist and right-wing parties in Congress and securing the support of social movements. He's also regarded as crucial to blocking impeachment proceedings against Rousseff over allegations of fiscal mismanagement.

Rousseff vehemently denied that Silva had accepted the post to delay investigations against him, stressing that Cabinet ministers' special judicial standing does not grant them immunity.

"It doesn't mean that he will not be investigated," Rousseff said. "It's a question of whom he will be investigated by."

The head of Silva and Rousseff's governing Workers' Party, Rui Falcao, said on Twitter that Silva would be sworn in on Tuesday.

The opposition excoriated Wednesday's much-anticipated announcement.

Another former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, called his successor's appointment as "an error," according to a report in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, and analysts have said Silva's appointment could weaken Rousseff dramatically.

"Dilma will be surrendering the presidency to Lula," said Thiago de Aragao of the Brasilia-based Arko Advice political consulting firm. "He will become the new president."

Brazil's stock market and currency initially fell on news of the appointment, though they rallied later in the day. Mr Silva has made no secret of his desire to dip into international reserves in order to kick start economic growth, an approach widely criticised by market analysts.

Ms Rousseff denied any plans to use the reserves and said Mr Silva's two terms in office had proven his commitment to fiscal stability.

Mr Silva, a former metalworker who entered politics as a labour union leader, presided over years of galloping economic growth that saw tens of millions of people lifted out of grinding poverty. Despite a massive bribes-for-votes that took down one of his chiefs of staff, he was wildly popular when he left office in 2010.

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