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Lula's flawed leadership laid bare by leaks

Lula's flawed leadership laid bare by leaks
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends the opening plenary of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Center in Washington on April 13, 2010. UPI/Andrew Harrer/Pool | License Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, lionized at home and abroad through eight years of leadership, has had his reputation questioned in leaked cables that cited corruption, cronyism and weakness on crime.

Comments by U.S. diplomats reproduced in a WikiLeaks report said the president paid scant attention to "open corruption" among his close aides that went so far as vote buying in Congress.

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Although more than 40 of his aides faced criminal charges in various corruption scandals, Lula emerged unscathed from those controversies.

Lula was frequently criticized by his political foes, but public opinion was largely swayed by high approval ratings. Lula's popularity enabled his ruling Workers Party to secure a win for President-elect Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first woman president.

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Rousseff was widely described in Brazilian media as a "protege" of Lula, but with renewed criticism of the president's two terms in office has come a gradual distancing of the Rousseff camp from Lula's presidency.

U.S. diplomatic criticism cited Brazilian public concern that Lula's government failed to address the key issues of organized crime, urban violence and widespread drug abuse and drug dealing. Much of the concern was allayed by generous social welfare programs that won Lula votes among the poor.

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"The main public opinion concern, crime and public security, have not improved during the administration of President Lula da Silva," wrote U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel in a cable sent from the embassy in Brasilia to the State Department.

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Sobel reported a "plague" of vote buying and influence peddling under Lula's administration. The charges were cited earlier by the president's opposition critics.

And yet, Sobel said, Lula's popularity did not suffer as a consequence of corruption scandals that implicated his close allies.

The telegram was part of background information sent by the U.S. Embassy in 2008 before a visit to Washington by Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim.

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The comments came amid U.S. efforts toward re-engagement with Latin America after years of what critics called neglect of the region during the U.S. preoccupation with international terrorism, energy and the Middle East.

Lula employed Brazil's newly acquired prosperity fueled by a commodity export bonanza to embark on a multibillion-dollar military regeneration program.

U.S. initiatives at the time aimed to forge closer ties with Lula's administration to foster military and political collaboration. But Sobel's comments noted the Brazilian media somehow did not subject Lula's programs to a detailed analysis. Throughout his eight years in office, Lula enjoyed a wider following among the nation's media, and criticism of his policies was muted.

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In March 2009, before an appearance at the Group of 20 summit meeting in London, Lula caused an international uproar when he declared the economic crisis was caused by "the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes, who before seemed to know everything, and now have shown they don't know anything."

Lula's successor Rousseff will be inaugurated in January.

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