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At the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Tuesday evening (April 10), President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman head of state, described her country’s remarkable economic progress over the last several decades and her administration’s work in moving Brazil even further towards economic prosperity.
Rousseff’s appearance at the forum came just a day after her visit to the White House. A long-time political activist who served, most recently as chief of staff, in the popular administration of President Luiz Inácio “Lula’’ da Silva, Rousseff took office in January 2011.
Once a country with a huge public debt, she noted, Brazil has gone from a debtor to a creditor to the International Monetary Fund. The key factor in the change, said Rousseff, is the government’s success in lifting 40 million of its people into the middle class. Today, she noted, Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that is bridging the gap between political and social stability.
By late 2012, electricity services will be available for the first time to 12 million people living in the country’s rural areas. The new administration is also elevating the country’s education system by improving quality from early to college-level education and by increasing the number of universities and technical schools. Until recently, she said, the education and health sectors were targeted only to serving the upper middle class. But equal opportunity in education, she noted, “is the key to building a middle class country.”
Describing Brazil with its 190 million inhabitants as “as vast as a continent,” Rousseff said that huge challenges lie ahead for a country that now ranks as the world’s sixth largest economy. A complex nation, she said, Brazil must continue to work toward eradicating extreme poverty and to expanding its research and technology efforts. Although Brazil possesses a very sound banking system, she added, the European monetary crisis also poses serious threats to the country.
Rousseff noted that with 40 million more citizens added to Brazil’s middle class, the state will be held more accountable. “When you positively affect economic security, these people become more critical.” But Brazil is headed in the right direction, she said, citing Brazil’s new program Science Without Borders, which plans to send up to 100,000 students abroad to study science and technology.
Rousseff also described the importance of forging a strong partnership with the United States. “The United States has a resilient, flexible economy. It is a leader in science and technology, and it was from its very beginning a democracy.” As the two largest democracies in the western hemisphere, she said, we have much in common.