I arrived in Rio de Janeiro just two days after the first round of the presidential election. Incumbent President, Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers' Party (Partido dos trabalhadoes) and Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira) had just beat out Marina Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro) to move on to the second round. The second round took place one week ago on October 26, with Dilma holding onto the presidency.
That period between the first round and the second round served as my introduction to Brazil. While we are often taught in the US to avoid discussing politics with new acquaintances, nearly everyone I talked to between my flight, settling into my apartment, the Terra dos Homens field site in Mangueirinha, and getting fresh fruit juice at one of the local markets seemed eager to know my opinion on the election.
Once the shock wore off that I am not, in fact, Brazilian, people were curious about how Brazilian politics were being followed in the US. What did I and other Americas think of Dilma Rousseff? Did I think she had continued or tarnished the legacy of her tremendously popular predecessor Lula da Silva (2003-2011)? Was Brazil still seen as an "emerging" country or more of a regional or even global player?
I often tried to turn these questions right back around to whomever I was talking to. I wanted to know if the protests against the World Cup during the summer were still on people's minds as they headed to the polls or if other issues, like the Petrobras Scandal, would prompt people to vote against Dilma.
The man sitting next to me on my flight felt that the tactics of President Rousseff against her opponents, especially, Marina Silva, went a bit too far. He disliked a series of attack ads that painted Silva, former Environment Minister under Lula da Silva before resigning from the post in 2009, as incompetent and insincere in her political convictions and he believed they ultimately led to her receiving only 21% of the vote in the first round.
In the following weeks, Rio seemed overwhelmingly to support Dilma. People proudly wore their "Dilma 13" stickers--the number voters keyed in to select Dilma using Brazil's electronic voting system. A popular t-shirt featured a stylized version of a mugshot of a young, militant Dilma when she was arrested in the 1970's. The few people who wore Aécio stickers or waved flags were few and far between. I was told by many that Workers' Party policies, such as the Bolsa Família, are hugely popular among Cariocas--the word for people from Rio de Janeiro.
Terra dos Homens, the local children's advocacy NGO I am working with while in Rio, was not immune to Dilma fever. My supervisor, Luciano, proudly covered his t-shirts and bookbag with stickers showcasing his support.
During my second week in the office, Luciano invited me to a political rally in Duque de Caxias where Dilma was scheduled to speak. Students, workers, Afro-descendant and LGBT activists, feminists and other Dilma enthusiasts quickly filled the streets of the Rio suburb, dancing and singing--"É um, é tres, é Dilma outra vez" --as they waited to hear from the Presidenta. It was hard not to get caught up in the emotions of the crowd, especially because everyone seemed to be having such a great time. When Dilma arrived, I could only see her from the back, but she captivated the crowd with her promise of continued investments toward bettering the livelihoods of Brazil's most vulnerable populations. As she spoke, Luciano told me it was one of the larger turn outs in Caxias he had seen since the days of Lula.
The next day in the office, the always curious nine-year old Adrian asked Luciano, still decked out in Dilma paraphernalia, why he was such a huge supporter. Luciano told him quite simply that he would vote for Dilma so that Adrian and the other children of Terra dos Homens would have the chance to go to university.
Arriving during such a politically charged moment allowed me to witness an entire nation's hopes and fears, anxieties and ambitions. With four more years of Dilma, or Dilmais--a play on words combining Dilma and "mais" the Portuguese word for more--many Brazilians are hoping for four more years of progressive social programs and shrinking inequality. While some have expressed disappointment in Dilma's previous term, the week following her narrow re-election has left a palatable sense of potential in the air, like Luciano's dream that Adrian will one day attend university.
Stephanie Reist is a Duke University Felsman Fellow working with the local Brazilian NGO Terra dos Homens. She is pursuing a dual MPP-PhD in Latin American Studies. Stephanie will be living, working, and studying in Rio de Janeiro until July 2015. Follow her blog at: http://felsmanfellowstephanie.weebly.com/blog/first-impression-rio-goes-dilmais