During the night of Monday 21 June 2004, our dear friend and comrade, Leonel Brizola, passed away at the age of 82 following a cardiac arrest in Rio de Janeiro’s Sao Lucas Hospital where he had been taken for treatment of a serious cold.
An Honorary President of the Socialist International at the time of his death, having been elected to that post by the SI Congress held in Sao Paulo last October, Leonel Brizola firmly believed in the Socialist International and its ideals, and for eighteen years consistently played an active and committed role in the organisation, having also served as a Vice-President for fourteen of those years. We feel deep sorrow at his loss and are enormously proud to honour his memory.
Brizola was a prominent and popular figure in Brazilian politics over the last fifty years, most notably during his two stints as Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro from 1982 to 86 and from 1990 to 94, where he was proud to count among his achievements the building of more than 200 educational centres for children. Passionately committed to helping the poor and the workers, he remained faithful to his left-wing ideals throughout his career, opposing the influence of neo-liberal policies.
Brizola began his political career in Rio Grande do Sul in 1947 with his election to the State Assembly for the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PTB) and subsequently, in 1954, was elected Deputy and in 1958 State Governor. During that time he also served as Mayor of Porto Alegre, the State’s capital, elected in 1955.
Following the military coup in 1962 Leonel Brizola spent the next fifteen years in exile where he founded a new party, the Democratic Labour Party, PDT, which he led until his death. The PDT joined the Socialist International at the Lima Congress of 1986 with consultative status, becoming a full member of the organisation at the Stockholm Congress of 1989, at which time he was elected a Vice-President of the SI.
In 1989 Brizola also ran for President of Brazil, narrowly missing a place in the run-off. In 1998 he ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate on Lula’s ticket for the Presidency which they lost. For the 2002 elections he formed part of the Frente Trabalhista, a labour coalition of the PDT, PPS and PTB for the first round of the vote, and in the second backed Lula, later becoming critical of the government’s policies.
Leonel Brizola’s commitment to the Socialist International was unwavering and as a member of the SI Presidium, he was a familiar face in any part of the world the SI happened to meet in, always lending his voice to the proceedings of our International. The Socialist International is deeply grateful and will keep his memory alive.