Speech by Prime Minister Rutte on the occasion of the presentation of the Four Freedoms Award

Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the occasion of the presentation of the Four Freedoms Award to the former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), in Middelburg, 12 May 2012. 

Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear: with these words, Franklin Roosevelt defined a world based on the fundamental concept that all people – everywhere in the world – have the right to live free from the scourge of poverty, at peace with themselves and with their neighbours; a world where everyone has the right to earn a living wage; a world where the voice of the poor stands on equal footing with that of the rich and powerful.

On this, the twelfth day of May 2012, we honour a man who has dedicated his life to this vision, by presenting the International Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award to Mr Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or, as everyone knows him, ‘Lula’.

The son of peasants born in the dust bowl of north-eastern Brazil, Lula has known one constant in his life: the need to work. It was this reality that led his mother to travel 1,900 miles on the back of a flat-bed truck to the slums of São Paulo when he was only seven years old. And this reality that led him to shine shoes and sell candy on the street to help his single mother support him and his seven siblings. At the age of 14, with only a fifth-grade education, he left school to work at a screw manufacturing plant that enrolled him in a technical school where he became certified as a lathe operator.

Lula would spend the rest of his adolescence working in a sheet metal plant, where at 19 he lost his little finger on the graveyard shift. These struggles, and the encouragement of his older brother ‘Frei Chico’, led him to make one of the most important decisions in his life: to join the labour movement. 

In those days, when Brazil was ruled by a military junta, championing labour was a dangerous activity. Yet Lula persisted and became president of the metal workers union of São Bernardo do Campo, an industrial city in the São Paulo Metropolitan Area. By 1980 he had become a national figure, defying the generals and the bosses through a series of illegal strikes that practically shut down Brazil’s industrial sector. He was arrested as a threat to Brazil’s national security and spent 30 days in jail. Later, he would be tried and only after a few years would his conviction be overturned.

If anything, his arrest inspired Lula to work even harder for the rights of labour, and in 1980 he joined an effort to found the Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers Party. From 1982 on, the Workers Party fielded candidates in every election. In 1986 Lula achieved his first political victory by gaining a seat in the Brazilian Congress – with the best electoral result for a deputy in Brazilian history. In 1989 he decided to run for national office in the first democratic elections for president since 1960. He lost, but would run for president again and again. His critics dismissed him as unelectable. But Lula refused to give up, and in October 2002 he and the Brazilian people proved them wrong, securing the presidency with the biggest electoral landslide in Brazilian history.

Since that day Brazil, and indeed the rest of the world, has never been the same. As president, Lula’s pragmatic policies and steadfast determination to rid Brazil of extreme poverty and social injustice were an inspiration to people everywhere. Moreover, his lifelong commitment to social and economic justice, coupled with his resolve to help foster a climate of peace and reconciliation among all nations, led President Obama and others to call him ‘the most popular politician on earth’.

More than seven decades ago Franklin Roosevelt reminded us that for democracy to survive, we must insist that ‘the employer-employee relationship should be one between free men and equals’.  FDR insisted on this, because, like the man we celebrate today, he understood that without the dignity of work, and the right to enjoy the Four Freedoms, democracy cannot survive. It is in recognition of his tireless efforts to secure these essential human freedoms, not only for the people of his beloved country but for the less fortunate the world over, that we thank and honour Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

I deeply regret that Lula cannot be here today to accept his Four Freedoms Award in person. But I am pleased and honoured that Mrs Clara Ant, who has known him so long and so well, is accepting the award on his behalf.