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Leonel Brizola, 82; Brazilian Politician

June 23, 2004|From Times Wire Services

Leonel Brizola, the former populist governor of Rio de Janeiro state and one of Brazil's most notable leftist politicians, has died. He was 82.

According to the Democratic Labor Party, which he founded more than 20 years ago, Brizola died in Rio de Janeiro's Sao Lucas Hospital Monday night of a heart attack.

In his nearly six-decade political career, Brizola led opposition to 20 years of military rule in Brazil and fought efforts to reduce state control of South America's biggest economy.

Over the last year, Brizola rallied opposition to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's economic policies after pulling his Democratic Labor Party out of the ruling coalition.

Brizola's rivalry with Lula came to a head in May, when the New York Times reported that the president's drinking had become a national concern. The article quoted Brizola -- who was Lula's vice presidential candidate in a failed 1998 presidential bid -- as saying that Lula refused to listen to his advice on the dangers of excessive drinking.

Brizola was born into a poor family in Carazinho, Rio Grande do Sul state. An engineer by training, he began his political career in 1947, when he won a seat in the Rio Grande do Sul state legislature for the Brazilian Labor Party, which he had joined two years earlier.

He rose quickly through the party ranks and in 1954 was elected to the federal congress. One year later he was elected mayor of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. In 1958 he won the state's gubernatorial race and during his four-year tenure expropriated -- without compensation -- foreign-owned utility companies.

In 1962 he was once again elected to the lower house Chamber of Deputies, this time for the state of Guanabara -- now Rio de Janeiro.

In 1964, the armed forces overthrew leftist President Joao Goulart, fearing that he would install a regime in Brazil similar to Fidel Castro's. Goulart went into exile in neighboring Uruguay and so did Brizola, who became his brother-in-law by marrying Neuza Goulart in 1950.

Brizola was widely viewed as Goulart's successor in the presidential elections scheduled for 1965. After living in exile in Uruguay, the United States and Portugal, Brizola returned to Brazil in 1979, when then-President Joao Figueiredo signed an amnesty law. He quickly returned to politics, founding the Democratic Labor Party and getting elected as governor of Rio de Janeiro state in 1982 and 1990.

He ran for president in 1989, but was edged out from the runoff second round by Lula, then making his first bid for the presidency. That election was won by Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached in 1992.

Brizola made another unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1994, and in 1998 was Lula's running mate in an election won by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

A widower, Brizola is survived by three sons.

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