By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The new governor of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Fernando de Souza, better known as Pezão (Bigfoot), has prioritized security, health care and transport at the beginning of his tenure, after replacing Sérgio Cabral. Pezão came into office on April 4th, four days after Cabral formally resigned from his post.
Mr. de Souza will finish the remaining nine months of Cabral’s term and will then run for election himself in October. Pezão, like his predecessor Cabral, is a member of the PMDB party (Democratic Movement of Brazil Party).
Cabral said of the switch that the government now had to “advance, advance, advance, and Pezão is synonymous with this cause.” Cabral is expected to run as Senator in the forthcoming elections, which requires him to vacate his post as governor before campaigning. He resigned amidst a decline in popularity since the June 2013 protests.
Luiz Fernando de Souza’s first act as governor was to convoke a meeting with Eduardo Paes about re-opening the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, a traditional hospital in Centro, closed for six months now.
He made clear his plans to expand and evolve the UPP (Police Pacification Unit) program for the future, by “contracting more police, creating more UPPs and presenting a plan for the occupation until 2020.” They will contract 1,800 new policemen by May, and train 6,000 more by the end of the year. Cabral, with security secretary José Mariano Beltrame, introduced the UPPs in 2008.
Pezão also plans on initiating large extensions to the Metro (underground subway), proposing 18km of new lines. This includes beginning the construction of Line 3 (from Niterói to São Gonçalo), and the proposals for Line 4 (from Jardim Oceânico to Recreio), Line 5 (from Gávea to Carioca), and extending Line 1 beyond Uruguai station, to Méier, Zona Norte (North Zone).
In October’s elections for governor, Souza will run for election, with Cabral’s support. On a national scale, he declared himself a close friend of President Dilma Rousseff – “I am a friend, I will fight for her. If I can help her, I will” – despite the rupture of the alliance between the PMDB and Rousseff’s PT (Workers’ Party), who decided to field their own candidate for governor, Lindbergh Farias.
However, Souza also claims to have a good relationship with Rousseff’s presidential rival, Aécio Neves, senator for Minas Gerais (PSDB – Social Democratic Party of Brazil), but not Eduardo Campos (PSB – Socialist Party of Brazil).
Souza is originally from Piraí, in the South Fluminense region of the state, where he served as mayor for two terms. In 2006, he became vice-governor and state construction secretary under Cabral, leaving the latter post in 2011. His nickname, Pezão, literally refers to his size 47.5 (approximately US size 15) feet: “Today, no one knows who Luiz Fernando is,” he said.
On the recent occupation, and subsequent eviction, of the “Favela da Telerj,” in a territory owned by Oi, the telephone company, Pezão said that the government “had done what needed to be done,” and that families evicted from the site are being integrated into social housing programs “at a normal pace.” He also announced that Oi will be charged for the expenses of the eviction operation by the military police.