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Dilma Rousseff profile: former guerrilla primed to become Brazil's first female president

Dilma Rousseff is a former Marxist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured during the years of Brazil's military dictatorship.

By Robin Yapp, Sao Paulo
Published: 2:03PM GMT 31 Oct 2010

Dilma Rousseff profile: former guerilla primed to become Brazil's first female president
Dilma Rousseff was little known until President Lula selected her as his flavored successor Photo: EPA

Born in December 1947 in Belo Horizonte, in the coffee-growing state of Minas Gerais, Ms Rousseff had a middle-class upbringing.

Her father, a Bulgarian immigrant, was a lawyer and entrepreneur and her Brazilian mother was a teacher.
As a student she developed an interest in left-wing politics and became heavily involved in the underground resistance to the country´s military rulers, who maintained power from 1964 until 1985.

She was captured and jailed early in 1970 and was subjected to electric shocks while serving her sentence.
After her release at the end of 1972 she studied economics and went on to become a career civil servant.

She served as energy minister and then President Lula's chief of staff from 2005 until stepping down to run as the presidential candidate of the Workers' Party earlier this year.

Ms Rousseff, 62, was little known to her compatriots until President Lula selected her as his favoured successor after a number of high-profile candidates were forced out by corruption scandals during his time in office.

But Ms Rousseff - who is referred to by some as "the Iron Lady" - now looks almost certain to follow
Baroness Thatcher in becoming her country's first female leader.
Ms Rousseff has also attracted comparisons to another British Prime Minister - Gordon Brown - because she is known for her brusque nature and has a reputation for publicly dressing down ministers.

Since beginning her presidential campaign, Ms Rousseff has made some attempts to soften her image, replacing glasses with contact lenses, undergoing plastic surgery to her face and adopting a different hairstyle.
She also recently made a written promise not to liberalise Brazil's strict abortion laws after speculation that she would do so began to erode her lead in the polls.

Last year, Ms Rousseff admitted she was undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer, which generated public sympathy. Doctors later said they believed her to have beaten the disease.

If elected she is expected to continue with the market-friendly economic policies credited with helping Brazil's economy to record rapid growth in recent years and with the social programmes that have lifted millions out of poverty.

But some analysts also believe that she may increase state intervention in certain areas.

She previously chaired the board of directors of state-owned oil company Petrobras, which is assured of at least a 30 per cent stake in any consortium seeking to exploit Brazil's recently discovered oilfields.

Political commentators also believe she will find it difficult to emulate the international influence of President Lula, who Barack Obama once called "the most popular politician on earth."

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