Stephanie Nolen reports on the recent election in Brazil, which saw former left-wing revolutionary, Dilma Rousseff and the Workers’ Party returned for second term.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, history, current events

Key Questions to Explore:

How has Brazil been transformed since 21 years of military dictatorship ended in 1985? What is ironic about the narrow victory of Dilma Rousseff?

New Terminology:

Conciliation, clandestine, guerilla, nullified

Materials Needed:

Globe article, Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The re-election of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff on October 26th of this year draws attention to her unique rise to power from a left-wing radical revolutionary to become the leader of the fifth largest country on earth, with a population of more than 200 million. Students can benefit from a lesson that introduces them to Brazil, a country that occupies half of all the land in South America, and which was under the control of a brutal military dictatorship for 21 years, ending in 1985. Few world leaders can claim to have been imprisoned and tortured in the countries they now lead, as can President Rousseff. Finally, it is ironic that she fought against corruption in her youth as a revolutionary and today her most pressing issues include corruption resulting from her party having been in power for so long, according to her opposition which represents nearly half of the country’s electorate.

Using Stephanie Nolen’s article, as well as your preferred Internet sources, students will work in groups to provide brief overview reports on Brazil’s geography and economy, political history and Dilma Rousseff’s political history, including the recent election.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short (five minute) discussion about Brazil. These questions may help (answers for your benefit in parentheses):

  • How many countries form the land mass of South America? (12)
  • What is the largest country? (Brazil, fully half of the whole continent)
  • What do you know about Brazil? (Answers will vary, but soccer fans will possibly know its soccer team and stars)
  • What is the official language of Brazil? (Portuguese)
  • Name a Brazilian city or two: (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre—and note, these are four of the 10 largest cities in all of South America)
  • The largest city by population? (Sao Paulo, with nearly 12 million; Rio is next with about six million)

Next, organize students into three groups and provide each with one of the three sets of tasks, below, as well as with a copy of the article by Stephanie Nolen, which will be used primarily in the group(s) that address the tasks related to the recent election.

Group One: You are tasked with developing a report on the geography and economy of Brazil. For your report, be prepared to draw a rough map of South America, locating Brazil and its major cities on it.

Include the following in your report:

  • Brazil’s size in square km and as relative to its neighbouring countries, as well as its ranking with the largest countries on earth
  • Its climate, typical summer and winter temperatures
  • Major rivers and lakes, geographic regions and their climates
  • Its coastline, length and unique features
  • Primary economy: What it produces and exports
  • Its unique environmental issues
  • Land reform: Why it is an old issue that refuses to go away
  • Bonus: In what areas does Brazil compete with products from the Canadian economy?
  • Finally, read aloud the Globe article and discuss it with your group. How might President Rousseff’s current problems be seen as ironic, given her personal political history?

Group Two: You are tasked with developing a report on the political and demographic history of  Brazil. Include the following in your report:

  • The names of some Aboriginal tribes who occupied the country before the Portuguese arrived
  • The fate of the indigenous people, above, under Portuguese rule, and their situation today (in very general terms)
  • Very generally, how the original Portuguese conquerors organized land development (who took ownership of the land and what was done with it)
  • Other significant immigrant groups by origin and approximate numbers today of the main groups
  • Primary religions, languages
  • Date of first constitution and form of government; year Brazil was proclaimed a republic; significance of the Institutional Acts of 1967
  • A description of what it was like to live under a dictatorship in Brazil, from 1964 to 1985
  • Main reason dictators used suspension of democratic rule.
  • Finally, read aloud the Globe article and discuss it with your group. How might President Rousseff’s current problems be seen as ironic, given her personal political history?

Group Three:

You are tasked with developing a report on the political history and current status of Dilma Rousseff, recently elected to her second term as president of Brazil. Include the following in your report:

  • Where she was born, her parental heritage
  • How communism figured in her upbringing, if at all
  • When she joined the National Liberation Command, the purpose of the organization and her role in it
  • A list of violent activities credited to this organization and of its thefts (including its largest and who was credited with this)
  • When she was arrested in 1970, Why was Dilma Rousseff  labelled a “Joan of Arc”?
  • Her physical condition when she was released from jail, as well as conditions she endured while imprisoned
  • Her role, after the dictatorship, in restructuring the Brazilian Labor Party
  • Her rise as a civil servant
  • Her election as president in 2010 and the role of the previous president in her victory, if any
  • Finally, read aloud the Globe article and discuss it with your group. How might President Rousseff’s current problems be seen as ironic, given her personal political history?

Consolidation of Learning:

Group presentations at the end of the class period; more class discussion of the issues.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Successful completion of group activity; constructive and relevant discussion on the subject of Brazil.

Confirming Activity:

  • Have students write a paragraph on this topic: Why do you think some people in democratic countries worry when their leaders start to curb their rights in the name of national security? Reference the Brazilian dictatorship in your work.