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Lula was born on 27 October 1945 in the neighborhood of Garanhuns, a small town about 150 miles inland from Recife, the state capital of Pernambuco. It was a Saturday. His father had left a month before to find work in São Paulo, and his mother, Dona Lindu, was already bringing up six children. Lula, Luiz Inácio da Silva, was the seventh. They were living in a small house, and she was scraping together a living by growing maize and manioc, potatoes, beans, and fruit.
The house where Lula was born no longer exists. But its site, up a dirt track some way off the main road from Garanhuns to Caetés, was pointed out to me in September 2005 by two boys on motorcycles, one a distant cousin of Lula's. Technically, the land is semiarid, but there are pools of water nearby and the soil is fertile.
A few of the farmhouses now have satellite TV dishes. But there is still much unemployment, and there are armed holdups on some of the rural roads at night. Garanhuns, "the city of flowers," was founded in 1879; its railway station, long closed, has become a cultural center. It is a region of minifundios (smallholdings), not natural territory for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (the PT, the Workers' Party), and it was not until twenty-five years after the party's foundation that it managed to elect its first town councilor (vereador).
It is an area that has seen a steady flow of out-migration for more than a half century. In 2005, as president, Lula opened a law school at the state university of Pernambuco in the town, in part a contribution to keeping young people in the area. At the dedication there was a crowd of ten thousand, and fifty of his relations were photographed alongside him.
If Garanhuns today looks tidy, with some new buildings, the smaller town of Caetés is closer to the history of forgotten places in Brazil's impoverished northeast. There are still donkey carts to be seen, and the occasional pau-de-arara (literally, "parrot's perch"), which is a truck converted to a people-transport with hard wooden benches. It is hard to know what anyone does for a living in Caetés, aside from subsistence agriculture. But the da Silva family of the president is acknowledged. Opposite the home of Lula's cousin Gilberto Ferreira is a new public health clinic named for Dona Lindu.
It does not take a lot of imagination to realize that when Lula was born this was a harsh region. There was no electricity in the countryside. People heated their homes and cooked with charcoal and firewood. They got water from wells and washed their clothes in streams. Whole families squeezed into self-built two-room houses. Lula's had been built by his father and uncle, with a wooden roof, a cement floor under the main room, and beaten earth elsewhere. Cobras would sit on the roof. There was no radio.
Surplus produce barely stretched to buy essentials, such as clothing or salt, and game was hunted to add to the diet. Brazil may have been among the victors in World War II, its expeditionary force coming home from Italy to a country that was sick of its semifascist Estado Novo regime, but in the northeast, regularly stricken by droughts, there was often hunger.
When she felt her labor pains beginning, Lula's mother, Euridíce Ferreira de Melo, asked her brother-in-law José to fetch a midwife from Caetés. He was thin, she was large, and they fell off the horse more than once on the way back; by the time they arrived, Lula was in the process of being born. His mother was thirty. Her eldest son, José Inácio, known as Zé Cuia, was nine; Jaime was eight; Marinete was seven; Genival, known as Vavá, was six; another José-later known as Frei Chico because his baldness made him look like a monk-was three; and Maria was two. Two other babies had died before Lula's birth; Lindu also lost twins later, after Lula's birth. Large families and child mortality were sadly common in an era prior to birth control and in a region lacking health services.
What Dona Lindu did not know, when she cried as she waved her dry-eyed husband, Aristides Inácio da Silva, off on foot to pick up a pau-de-arara in Garanhuns to find his fortune in the southeast-he had sold two horses to raise the fare-was that he was not leaving alone. He was traveling with a young female cousin of Lindu's, Mocinha, already pregnant, with whom he would raise a second family. Nordestino migrants to the richer central south often started second families. In the case of the da Silvas, this led to trouble.
Although Aristides sent money back for Lindu, which was crucial for two years when her smallholding was wracked by drought, he did not return to the northeast even to visit until 1949. He had won funds for a trip from jogo de bicho, the illegal but popular gambling game, and he brought his second wife and their two sons back to Pernambuco to see their homeland. Although he kept Mocinha apart from Lindu, Lindu felt humiliated, and Vavá made a point of throwing his well-dressed half-brothers into the nettles. They did not come again.
Nonetheless, Lindu accepted Aristides. He made her pregnant once more, with Sebastiana, or Tiana, who was baptized as Ruth. Lula therefore met his father for the first time when he was four. He was not to get to know him until he was seven, and he was only to live with him for three rather unhappy years altogether.
A certain amount is known of Lula's antecedents. His paternal grandfather had land in Pernambuco and, according to Lula himself, was very mean and died poor. His was a common Portuguese surname. On his mother's side, Lula had a grandmother who was a dressmaker of Italian origin, who drank too much. It is generally supposed that, as with other northeastern families, there had been intermarriage with the local natives (usually called Indians) in the past. Aristides looked like a caboclo, a rural man descended from a mixture of Indians and Portuguese. Lula's parents were poor and illiterate, and, though his father had some admiration for Getúlio Vargas (the former dictator who came back to be elected as president in 1950), they showed little interest in politics.
During his formative early years, Lula was brought up by his mother, brothers, and sisters, particularly his older sister Marinete. He adored his hardworking mother, a woman who never had enemies and who was loving without being demonstrative with her children. She was blue-eyed and physically strong, but a tough life and modest diet prematurely aged her.
It may not be right to describe Lula as her favorite child, though he may have had some advantages as her youngest son. But she seems to have spotted something about him-a kind of energy, if not exactly a gift for leadership-quite early on, and she strongly encouraged his education when she could. The family was poor, surrounded by other poor families, and therefore not always aware of its poverty. Lula does not remember having had much fun in his early childhood.
His life changed when he was seven. In 1952, his mother brought the whole family down to Santos, where his father was working at the port as a longshoreman. He was loading sacks of coffee (then and for much longer Brazil's principal export) onto the ships. This was hard manual labor. Aristides became too fond of alcohol and tried to conceal his illiteracy by buying newspapers, which he sometimes pretended to read while holding them upside down.
Aristides probably never wanted his first family to come south, and implied that the only member he would have liked to see was a favorite dog, who had had to be left behind. On a second visit to the northeast he collected his son Jaime, who then wrote to Lindu without his father's knowledge to say that Aristides wanted them all to join him. Lindu, telling the children that it would be better to die of hunger in São Paulo than in the northeast, sold everything and bought a ride on a pau-de-arara. Vavá, hiding in a tree, did not want to leave home.
The journey south was a classic migrant story of the era, lasting thirteen days and nights from 10 to 23 December 1952. Altogether eleven members of the family were on a crowded truck covered by a canvas top-Lindu and seven children, plus an uncle, his wife, and their son. Lula wore the same shirt throughout the trip.
This was Lula's first expedition away from home, and on it he caught his first sight of a bicycle, a car, and a truck. They started from Tonzinho's, a bar and corner shop, where they had to stay overnight because the pau-de-arara was behind schedule. On the journey they slept in the truck, in the open, or at gas stations; Lindu had packed chicken and biscuits, and they also lived off farinha (manioc flour), bananas, and jerked meat; they were chased by cattle; Lula and Frei Chico were nearly left behind when they stopped to relieve themselves, and had to run behind the truck at night for a half mile before they were spotted; they washed every three or four days. It was a huge adventure: sixty people packed together in two levels on an uncomfortable truck, driving on dirt roads, looking forward to a new life.
When the da Silvas reached their destination, the Brás bus station in São Paulo, all eleven of them piled into a new Chevrolet taxi and drove down to the Santos docks in search of Aristides. He was not particularly pleased to see them-he was living with Mocinha and their children-but rented a place for them to stay. This opened a new chapter in the life of the dysfunctional family. It offered the prospect of greater freedom for Lula, and this was the point at which he ceased to be a rather ignorant country child and began to grow up as a streetwise kid, close to Brazil's industrial heartland.
Lula never liked his father. He saw him as tyrannical, stupid, alcoholic, and favoring his second family over his first. When drunk-and he was overly fond of cachaça, a type of rough sugarcane liquor-he would beat his family, though his second wife and their son Rubens suffered more than Lindu's children. The only good things Lula had to say about Aristides were that he was a hard worker, that he tried to support both families, and that in certain ways he recognized the primacy of the first. Lula's other siblings were frightened of their father, but Frei Chico, who went hunting with him on the weekend, had a rather better opinion.
Lula's memories of his father in Santos, recounted to his biographer, Denise Paraná, were largely negative. He gave two illustrations. One was when Aristides had asked Frei Chico and Lula to check on a small boat he had on the River Caraú, the far side of a Brazilian air force base from where they lived. It began to rain heavily when they were going there, they were afraid, and they turned back without seeing the boat. When Aristides came home, Lindu told him that the boat was safe. The next day, however, a fellow worker told Aristides that he had seen someone rowing off in the boat-that it had been stolen. Aristides was furious. When he got home, he beat Frei Chico so hard with a hosepipe that he urinated in his school trousers, and he would have beaten Lula also had Lindu not stood between them. He struck Lindu instead; Lula thought this was the start of her determination to separate from him.
The other example was Aristides' meanness about food. Food was always in short supply, but in 1952, when Tiana was only three, he gave pieces of bread to his dogs even though she was begging for some. Lula also did not forgive Aristides for giving ice cream once to his two sons by Mocinha, but not to Lula, saying that he would not know how to lick it! Their father did not let them have much fun, would not let the older boys smoke, and was suspicious of education.
How did Aristides manage to keep the two households going? He alternated between them, spending two nights here and two there. But in fact he was a privileged worker, earning relatively good money as a stevedore. It was physically demanding to carry three sacks of coffee beans at a time. But longshoremen who loaded coffee beans onto the ships were able to dress well and were treated as aristocrats of labor.
Furthermore, every member of the family, except the youngest, had to work and bring in money. Vavá sold water from a barrel and worked in a bar, Jaime helped construct fishing boats in a shipyard, Zé Cuia worked in a coal yard, and Marinete and Maria both worked as domestics. When Lula was seven or eight, he started selling peanuts in the port with Frei Chico. They also sold oranges and Lindu's homemade tapioca. Lula was not very good at this to begin with; Frei Chico later recalled that he was too shy to shout his wares.
Child labor and children selling on the street were common then and are not unknown in Brazil now. An excellent film by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Rio, 40 Graus, follows the fortunes of a group of child peanut sellers in Rio de Janeiro at about the time Lula and Frei Chico were selling peanuts in Santos. It depicts the intimidation of young street sellers by older boys and the police in a risky and potentially violent environment. Lula was not an orphan and had a large family and loving mother behind him, but his experiences on the quays of Santos only strengthened his knowledge of human nature, his street smarts, and his will to survive.
Lula and his siblings worked by day and studied by night. He and three others went to the same school, the Grupo Escolar Marcílio Dias. He remembers a teacher, Dona Terezinha, who was fond of him, and he recalls that Frei Chico won a translation of Gulliver's Travels as a prize.
But life in Santos, with a sometimes drunk father and a mother who was far from happy that she was sharing her husband with another, was no idyll. It involved much drudgery, which included hauling water and firewood. Within three years Lindu had had enough and decided to break away from Aristides. Although he tried to win her back with feasts and relatives' attempts at persuasion, and by hanging around her new home at night, she was finished with him. One day she and her family left the joint home early, leaving behind only a daughter to hand him the keys.
Lindu never married again, though she had an offer, and she bore Aristides little ill will after the separation, even bringing up one of his other children. For Lula and her other children, however, this separation was like a cry of liberty. They could begin to live a normal childhood and adolescence, go to the movies, play soccer, and have boyfriends and girlfriends.
But they were still toiling hard, and Lindu was sorting coffee beans and then washing clothes to make money. She got behind with her rent. Her fortunes changed in 1955, however, when Vavá found a package wrapped up in a newspaper on the ground at the market where he was working. It contained 5,855 cruzeiros-more than thirty-four times the legal minimum monthly salary.
After waiting a week to see whether anyone would claim the money and giving 500 cruzeiros to the man he had asked for advice, Vavá handed over the money to his mother. She promptly paid off the rent she owed and moved with four of her children to Vila Carioca, an industrial suburb of the city of São Paulo. Two of her daughters, working as domestics, stayed behind in Santos; Frei Chico and Lula lived with Aristides and Mocinha for an uncomfortable year-during which Aristides was stabbed in a drunken brawl and lost a kidney-before rejoining their mother in 1956.
What sort of a Brazil was it that Lula was growing up in, as he arrived in Brazil's industrial capital? It was an exciting time. In 1955, Juscelino Kubitschek had been elected president, backed by two parties, the Partido Social Democrático and the Partido Trabalhista Brasileira, both of which traced their origins to Getúlio Vargas. He promised fifty years of progress in five, a program of thirty metas (goals), rapid industrialization based on import substitution, and a deepening of Brazil's rather fragile democracy. This was a democracy that was only a decade old, where an elected president had committed suicide in 1954, blaming malign pressures, where illiterates such as Aristides could not vote, where there had been constant rumors of military intervention, and where Kubitschek could be elected with only 35.63 percent of the vote.
Historically, Brazil had been an exception in Latin America. It was Portuguese-speaking, largely surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries. It had been created by the diplomacy of Portugal and the ruthless westward advance of mixed-race bandeirantes, of Portuguese and American Indian heritage, in the era of Portuguese discovery and the following century. Two years after Columbus "discovered" the New World, Portugal persuaded the pope to arbitrate between the two Catholic powers, Spain and Portugal, in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Under the terms of the treaty, Portugal would get land 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. Six years later, Pedro Cabral "discovered" Brazil, and a rather lackluster mother country oversaw a steadily expanding occupation by her more energetic offspring.
Excerpted from LULA OF BRAZIL by RICHARD BOURNE Copyright © 2008 by The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
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