Obama should take his cues from Brazilian president Rousseff

The Brazilian people elected Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first woman President, to office in 2010. She may be the world’s most powerful woman, holding the reins to Brazil’s optimistic yet cautious economy. Her courageous leadership is beginning to shine despite only being in office for a little over a year.

Last Friday she spoke at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, about a “renewal of ideas” on the front of sustainable development. As she spoke about the importance of exploring new energy options at the Rio 20 summit this coming June, President Obama gave a speech in Las Vegas the same day that can help us understand what Rousseff meant by a growing “dissonance in between the voice of the markets and the voice of the streets” in developed countries.

“We have enough natural gas under our feet to last us one hundred years,” Obama said with rigor. “We, as it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

What ever happened to creating a green economy relying on renewable energy which he spoke so convincingly of during the 2008 campaign? And I don’t mean “green” in the way oil companies spout about on television commercials. When we said we wanted to kick our addiction to foreign oil, it didn’t mean start chugging our own natural gas.

If you keep up with political affairs, you may have also come to the sober conclusion that the Obama of 2012 is different than Obama the “community organizer” of inner city Chicago.

Rousseff, to her credit, took her devotion a few steps further in her early political career: In her 20s she became a Marxist urban guerrilla fighting the military dictatorship that paralyzed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. She was eventually arrested by the military in 1970 and was tortured by her captors.

Although today she is more of a pragmatic social capitalist, she is proud of her revolutionary heritage and, as president, approved of an investigation on the abuses that took place during the dictatorship. “Secrecy will never again be used to hide the abuse of human rights,” she said in 2011. Bush and Cheney should feel very lucky that their torturous regime wasn’t followed by Rousseff. And she doesn’t stop with abuses that happened many years ago.

Within a span of six months she sent six government officials packing as a result of corruption scandals. Though none have been convicted of crimes, the record number officials she has forced out of her administration shows her no-nonsense approach and that she intends to run a tight ship.

Brazil’s democracy is still in its adolescence and not without its share of growing pains. But the country is showing it has the resolve to accept important responsibilities. President Lula, Rousseff’s charismatic and globetrotting predecessor, implemented the Bolsa Familia social program in 2003, and since then 40 million Brazilians have climbed out of poverty and into the middle class. Rousseff expanded the program with the goal of continuing to decrease inequality and completely eradicate the extreme poverty that 16 million Brazilians still live in.

As a mark of the progress that Brazil is experiencing, Rio de Janeiro will host both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, two huge tests of infrastructure, security and national identity.

I was in Rio when Rousseff was elected and the celebration was nothing close to what I felt in Grant Park when Obama became the first black president. The energy in Chicago that night was overwhelming and electrifying; I think I was more excited about Rousseff than most of the Brazilians were (wearing the jersey of your favorite futebol team is a more serious political statement there).

I think the subdued enthusiasm was, in part, because of a natural distrust the Brazilians have in their government, which for many years has been corrupt and incompetent. But Rousseff has shown that she will stick to her ideals and is in the game for the long haul. Brazilians sense this positivity and people are growing more confident with her vision for the country.

Obama, on the other hand, feels to me like the reverse of this trend: Whereas I was once proud of his ambitious plans for America, he is now likening us to another Saudi Arabia — an oppressive petro-state I don’t believe many Americans would like to imitate.

_Michael is a senior in LAS._