Now that our American election fever is over (for a little while) I thought that today I would introduce you to Brazil's first-ever female president. Dilma Vana Rousseff (who was born on December 14th, 1947) is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant; her father had been an active member of the Bulgarian Communist Party in the 1920s. He moved to Brazil to escape political persecution, and became financially successful. He married Dilma Jane Silva, a schoolteacher, and they had three children, but he died when Dilma Vana was only 15 (1. No Paternal Safety Net).
The new President of Brazil (which has the seventh-largest economy in the world) received her early education at a Catholic (3. Belief in the Unbelievable) boarding school, where the students and nuns primarily spoke French. After her father's death, the teen aged Rousseff went to the Central State High School where she became more aware of politics and realized that "The world was not a place for debutantes." This is where she first became interested in The Worker's Politics Organization (POLOP), and became opposed to Brazil's dictatorship (2. An Early Sense of Direction).
Rousseff became so involved with politics that the authorities gave her several nicknames: "The Joan of Arc of Subversion," "Political Criminal,"
"Female Figure of Sadly Notable Aspect," and "the She-Pope of Subversion." Obviously, such name-calling didn't upset her (5. Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).
In 1968, she married Claudio Galenao Linhares, a political activist five years her senior. Two years later, he was arrested; she was captured by the authorities, sentenced to six years in prison, and her political rights were suspended for 18 years. During her time in prison, she was tortured for several weeks with punching, ferule, and electric shock devices (12. Hard Times).
She was released from jail in 1972, but was barred from continuing her university studies the next year. Ultimately, she applied to the Rio Grande do Sul Federal University, where she majored in economics and graduated in 1977. In addition to politics and economics, Rousseff is an opera lover (9. Music).
Her first marriage (in 1968) ended with an amicable divorce in 1981, but she used her first husband's name until 1999, when she reverted to her maiden name. Her second (common law) marriage was to Carlos Araujo, even though he had an affair with actress and fellow militant Bete Mendes, he and Rousseff had a daughter, Paula Rousseff Araujo, who was born in 1976. In 1994, Rousseff found that another woman was pregnant with Araujo's child (15. Forget About Prince Charming); Rousseff and Araujo separated, but later reconciled. They remained together until 2000, when she left.
Politically, Rousseff had served as Brazil's Energy Minister and was chosen by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) to be his Chief of Staff, the first female to hold that position. Many believe that his support helped her win last month's election.
In 2009, Rousseff disclosed that she was battling Lymphatic System Cancer, and she also suffered from Myopathy as a result of the cancer treatment. During much of her campaign, she wore a wig due to chemotherapy-related hair loss. The story of a former left-wing, urban guerrilla who has risen to become her country's (first female) leader is a stirring one.
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