Brazils no-nonsense president shows her lighter side

05 June 2014 02:31

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has a no-nonsense reputation, but with the World Cup approaching, she has shown a lighter side, divulging her football superstitions, her love of "Game of Thrones" and the liberating feeling of escaping the presidential palace on a Harley-Davidson.

Rousseff, an economist by training, developed an image as a tough, efficient manager as chief of staff to her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and has furthered it since becoming the sprawling South American country's first woman president.

But the arrival of the World Cup, which Brazil is hosting from June 12 to July 13, seems to have sparked a more gregarious style -- a shift that may also have something to do with her bid for re-election in October.

Rousseff, who typically gives few interviews and approaches journalists with restraint, was animated in the aftermath of the Brazilian national team's 4-0 rout of Panama in a pre-World Cup friendly Tuesday.

She told journalists invited to her official residence for a dinner after the match that the Brazilians were looking like contenders to win their sixth World Cup.

Then she immediately rushed to find a bit of wood to touch.

"I'm very superstitious about football, like all Brazilians," she said.

She confessed to wearing lucky charms to help the national team and vowed to keep her fingers crossed throughout the tournament.

If Brazil's team wins it all, Rousseff vowed to take to the streets to celebrate, adding that she preferred to watch matches like any ordinary Brazilian, with beer, barbecue and friends.

Rousseff, 66, rarely speaks publicly about her past as a member of a leftist guerrilla group during Brazil's military dictatorship, or her imprisonment and torture by the regime.

But the subject of football evoked memories of the 1970 World Cup, when Rousseff said she supported Brazil's championship-winning team even though she was a political prisoner at the time.

The team belongs to the nation, she said, not the government.

- Harley escape -

Appearing at ease over dinner, the divorced mother of one spoke enthusiastically of wandering the streets of New York and Rome unrecognized.

"I can only do that overseas," she said.

Rousseff also spoke with relish of "the great feeling of freedom" she gets from riding a motorcycle, and related the story of the time a friend offered to take her for a spin last August.

"Let's get out of here," she recalled saying, dodging her security detail, slipping out of the presidential palace and riding unrecognized through the streets of Brasilia on the back of his Harley.

Rousseff also spoke of her love of books, saying she routinely stayed up late at night to read on her Kindle.

"I can't sleep without reading," she said.

Her chief of staff, Aloizio Mercadante, said the president reads in French, English and Spanish, as well as her native Portuguese.

She listed her favorite authors as Belgium's Georges Simenon, Cuban Leonardo Padura and Argentine Miguel Bonasso -- who, like her, was persecuted by his country's military regime.

Rousseff also loves films of all genres -- though her passion at the moment is HBO television series "Game of Thrones," she told journalists, naming her favorite actor as Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion on the show.

Showing her serious side, the president also defended her government's investment in infrastructure, social programs and education against critics who say too much has been spent on World Cup stadiums.

Displaying a commanding grasp of even the smallest technical details, she repeatedly corrected the ministers at her side.

Source: AFP