Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who stepped down this year as Brazil’s most popular president ever, will undergo chemotherapy for a malignant tumor in his larynx, undermining speculation that he will seek office again in 2014.
The former president is in “good” condition and will be treated on an outpatient basis, the Sirio-Libanes hospital in Sao Paulo said today in a statement. Lula remains there recovering from a surgery to remove part of the tumor for analysis, the G1 news service reported, without saying how it got the information.
Lula, in two terms as leader of what is now the world’s seventh-largest economy, helped lift 21 million Brazilians from poverty as unemployment fell to a record low and the country’s inflation rate was reduced by more than half. He left office with an approval rating of 87 percent and remains a towering figure in Brazilian politics.
He celebrated his 66th birthday this week with political allies at his apartment in the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo. Lula is the honorary president of the Workers’ Party and is consulted regularly by his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, who herself was treated for cancer at the Sirio-Libanes hospital in 2009. Several of Lula’s top advisers, including Finance Minister Guido Mantega, continue to serve in Rousseff’s Cabinet.
“We don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” said David Fleischer, a political analyst at the University of Brasilia. “The least it could probably do is affect his speaking ability. If Rousseff would not have him to fall back on in some critical moment, that would be negative.”
Throat cancers, which typically affect people who smoke -- which Lula has acknowledged doing in the past -- can be cured in 90 percent of patients if detected early, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Excessive drinking can also increase risk, according to the website of the Bethesda, Maryland-based agency. If the cancer spreads to surrounding tissues or lymph nodes in the neck, up to 60 percent of cases can be cured.
“Thanks to preventive tests, the tumor was discovered at a stage that allows it to be treated and cured,” Rousseff said in an e-mailed statement today. Lula is certain to achieve “total recovery” just as she did from her lymphoma, she said.
Lula sought medical attention yesterday after his voice grew unusually hoarse about 40 days ago, G1 reported, without saying how it got the information. The tumor measures between two and three centimeters, and Lula is expected to undergo three sessions of chemotherapy, once every 20 days, the news service said.
The prognosis for Lula’s kind of cancer is “very good,” said Paulo Hoff, one of the former president’s doctors at the Sirio-Libanes, according to the Estado de S. Paulo website.
Jose Crispiniano, who is a spokesman for the ex-president at the Instituto Lula, declined to provide additional details when contacted.
Even before Rousseff was sworn into office Jan. 1, friends and foes alike speculated that Lula will seek to return to power in 2014. Brazil’s constitution prohibits candidates from serving three consecutive terms.
While Lula has backed a possible re-election bid by Rousseff, he hasn’t closed the door to making a comeback of his own.
“I’m going to say something categorical: Brazil has a candidate in 2014 and she is President Dilma Rousseff,” Lula told reporters in Rio de Janeiro on July 29. “The only hypothesis of her not being the candidate is if she doesn’t want to be.”
Rousseff and Lula remain close allies, and last week they inaugurated a bridge together in the Amazon city of Manaus. Still, the president has taken distance from the nine-party coalition she inherited from her mentor, forcing five Cabinet ministers to resign since June after they were accused in the media of corruption. All but one of the aides served in Lula’s Cabinet. Rousseff’s approval rating has soared to 71 percent as Brazilians approve of her anti-corruption purge.
“Lula is a leader, a symbol and an example to all of us,” Rousseff said in the statement today.
Heads of state from South America, who look up to Lula for his role in reducing poverty, expressed support for the former president.
“I had cancer last year, now Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has the same illness, and now we have received news that Lula has cancer,” Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who was treated at the same Sao Paulo hospital, told reporters in Asuncion gathered for a regional summit. “This should remind us to periodically check on our health, which we sometimes forget.”
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said Lula is a great “fighter” and will without a doubt defeat his illness.
Chavez has undergone four stages of chemotherapy this year after doctors discovered what he described as a baseball-sized tumor in his pelvis.
Since leaving office, Lula has traveled around Latin America as well as Africa promoting the foreign expansion of Brazilian construction companies. In 2010, Lula skipped the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, after being hospitalized for high blood pressure, which he later blamed on his “excessive workload.”
“Sincerely, this makes me sad,” said Lucicleide Reis, 27, an employee at a cafe in Sao Paulo’s Brooklin business district. “The things he did helped me a lot. If he could be re-elected again, I would vote for him, smiling.”
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