- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Brazil's president told his nation Thursday that he had inherited a grave situation and that the policies adopted by his predecessor did not prioritize economic growth or great equity in the distribution of income.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva painted a dire portrait of Brazil saying that income distribution had remained unchanged for the last 30 years and that former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso did little to change that during his eight-year mandate.

"But I was not chosen to lament, rather to face this situation," said Lula, who since assuming office on Jan. 1 has been steadily pushing for comprehensive reform in an attempt to narrow one the world's largest economic divides.

Brazil's left-wing leader stressed that the need to reform government institutions such as pension programs, welfare and taxes "was urgent" so that the country could grow and foster greater social cohesion.

Lula's dire assessment and demand for change came on the same day of the first meeting of his Council of Economic and Social Development.

Known locally as the CDES, the group of 82 non-elected business and labor leaders will advise the administration on how to cure Brazil's various social and economic woes and assist in the development of a reform package to present to Congress.

The president went on to assure Brazilians that CDES members were not chosen "because they are friends of Lula, or of his Workers' Party," nor would they diminish the role of elected officials. Rather, the council, said the president, would provide private citizens the opportunity to assist in forging their country's future.

"The council will not, under any circumstances, substitute nor will it diminish the power of the National Congress, which, in the Brazilian democratic system, is the privileged forum for the country's strategic deliberations," Lula said.

"The search for consensus in society, the search for an authentic strategic social accord, can be very useful to the work of the executive and the legislature itself, without removing any of its prerogatives, instead, adding to their importance."

Some elected officials, however, don't see it that way.

Jose Carlos Aleluia, a leader in Brazil's lower house and member of the right-leaning Liberal Party, said he didn't recognize "the party as a deliberative organ" and "guaranteed that Congress won't accept reform proposals" put forward by the CDES.

Some analysts are forecasting pitfalls in Lula's future for introducing what amounts to another, unofficial branch of government in his quest to implement reforms.

While the approval of the CDES may help create consensus among voters, it "might create some tension" with Congress, where Lula's Workers' Party does not hold a majority, predicts Tendencias Consulting Group analyst Christopher Garman.

"The government will play it up as, 'We are consulting society,'" said Garman, "though Congress could end up regarding it as an unnecessary mechanism that could subvert its authority."

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