Brazilians partied on the beaches of Rio and Brazilian stocks rose with anticipation Monday morning as results from Sunday's runoff election confirmed Dilma Rousseff as the South American nation's first female president.
Rousseff, who has never held elective office, won largely due to her ties to her mentor, outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a beloved figure credited with transforming Brazil into a world player. "It's historic," a government worker celebrating Rousseff's win in Brasilia told the Daily Mail. "Brazil elected a factory worker and now a woman. Dilma will be a mother for the Brazilian people."
In her victory speech, Rousseff promised to further attack poverty in Brazil. Making reference to her historic win, she said, "I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say yes, women can."
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Rousseff joins a small but celebrated group of female leaders in Brazil's long history. The last time a woman ruled over Brazil was in the early 19th century, when Princess Maria Leopoldina served briefly as empress consort of the Brazilian empire, and was instrumental in Brazil's declaration of independence from Portugal in 1822. In the final period of the Brazilian monarchy, Princess Isabel, serving as regent, abolished slavery by signing the Ley Aurea in 1888 (link in Spanish).
The abolition of slavery in Brazil triggered the fall of the monarchy.
Brazil became a constitutional republic in 1889. The country witnessed a repressive military dictatorship between 1965 and 1985. It was during this time that Rousseff, daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and a teacher, became active in Brazil's guerrilla resistance movement.
In this manner she is similar another modern female leader in the Americas. The popular former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, was a member of the resistance during the Pinochet dictatorship and was jailed and tortured, as Rousseff was in Brazil.
Three other women currently serve as leaders in Latin America. Laura Chinchilla was inaugurated as the first female president of Costa Rica in May. Weeks later in Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the first female prime minister. Argentina is led by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, its first elected female president.
Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, and is set to become a major oil exporter in the coming years.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Dilma Rousseff looks up to a television screen during a presidential debate on Oct. 25. Credit: Reuters