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US Must Samba With 'Lula'

If President Bush still pays attention to Latin America as he prepares for a second war in another hemisphere, he'd be smart to spend some time and reach out warmly to Brazil's new president.

In a triumph for Latin American democracy, voters in Brazil threw their lot to the left on Sunday by electing a former lathe operator and trade unionist to lead the world's eighth- largest economy.

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The election of Workers' Party candidate Luiz Inacio da Silva, or "Lula," comes less than than two decades after the end of military rule, followed by a series of conservative presidents. His election shows that the "little guy" can win against an entrenched political elite – although Lula traded in his blue jeans for a suit, allied his party with conservatives, and promised fiscal prudence.

His victory also reflects a regional backlash against the international free-market policies of the 1990s that arrived with big promises but whose many successes aren't coming quickly enough for Brazil's 11 million jobless.

Mr. da Silva represents Brazil's historic desire to be Latin America's natural leader and to be treated with "dignity." Mr. Bush, in his push to set up a hemispheric free-trade pact, will need to make big compromises to win over this new, more nationalist Brazil of 170 million people.

As a radical leader of humble roots who reinvented his party and himself to win this election, da Silva will need US financial assistance. He will still face the powerful forces of international business even as he promises to uplift Brazil's poor. His predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, made much progress in reducing poverty, infant mortality, the number of landless, and runaway inflation.

Now da Silva, a pal of Fidel Castro, must build on those policies rather than engage in class warfare. His biggest domestic test will come in reducing the burden of state pensions.

Investors and the International Monetary Fund appear ready to give Lula a few months to succeed. That would go better if Bush would embrace this new star of Latin America.


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