Lula Begins Chemotherapy as Cancer Undermines Brazilian’s Political Future
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who stepped down this year as Brazil’s most popular president ever, will begin chemotherapy treatment today to eradicate a cancerous tumor in his throat that is undermining speculation he’ll try to regain power in 2014.
Doctors found a 2-3 centimeter tumor in Lula’s throat Oct. 29, two days after he celebrated his 66th birthday. The cancer was detected early and won’t require surgery, which would’ve put at risk his ability to speak, though three sessions of outpatient chemotherapy means he may lose his hair and the trademark beard he’s worn since gaining prominence as a union leader in the 1980s.
Lula, in two terms atop 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 inflation rate fell by more than half. He left office with an approval rating of 87 percent and remains a towering figure in Brazilian politics. Friends and foes alike have speculated he’ll run for president again in 2014 after a constitutional ban on three straight terms led him to back Dilma Rousseff as his handpicked successor.
Rousseff, citing her own battle with lymphoma in 2009, said she was confident Lula would make a full recovery.
“As president of the republic, ex-minister of Lula, but above all as a friend, comrade, sister and admirer, I will be at your side with my support and friendship,” Rousseff said in a public letter yesterday. “Lula is a leader, a symbol and an example to all of us.”
Outpouring of Support
The former president spent yesterday resting with his family and watching on TV a game by his beloved soccer team Corinthians, Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman at the Instituto Lula, said in a phone interview from Sao Paulo. Before the match, players unfurled a sign reading “Be Strong, Lula” while fans unfurled a banner bearing his image from when he led the opposition to Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Lula sought medical attention at the same hospital Sirio- Libanes Hospital in Sao Paulo that treated Rousseff after his familiar gruff voice grew hoarse about 40 days ago, the G1 news service reported.
Paulo Hoff, one his doctors at Sirio-Libanes, told reporters today that after two chemotherapy sessions will they have a clearer prognosis of whether the normally semi-aggressive cancer will require surgery. A catheter will be implanted near his chest to administer the cocktail of drugs.
Throat cancers, typically contracted by 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 the risk, according to the website of the Bethesda, Maryland-based agency.
Power Broker Still
Even out of office, Lula remains a power broker as the honorary president of the Workers’ Party and a mentor to Rousseff, his former Cabinet chief. The two political allies last week inaugurated a bridge together in the Amazon city of Manaus and several of Lula’s top advisers, including Finance Minister Guido Mantega, continue to serve in Rousseff’s Cabinet.
He’s also expected to play a major role campaigning on behalf of his party’s candidates in Oct. 2012 municipal elections.
Still, the president has taken distance from the nine- party coalition she inherited from Lula, 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.
“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.”
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.”
Heads of state from South America, who continue to look up to Lula for his role in reducing poverty and asserting the region’s growing economic independence from the U.S., 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 also treated at the Sirio-Libanes hospital, told reporters on Oct. 29 in Asuncion gathered for a regional summit. “This should remind us to periodically check on our health, which we sometimes forget.”
Chavez, who has undergone four stages of chemotherapy this year after doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in his pelvis, said he was saying prayers for Lula.
“Lula knows I will follow closely the development of his situation the same way he did with me during the circumstances I lived through,” the Venezuelan leader said in a statement.
Lula has had other health scares. In 2010, he skipped the World Economic Forum 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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