Brazil's 'Janja' wants to give 'new meaning' to first lady role

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva credits his wife of mere months, Rosangela da Silva, with giving him new life.

Da Silva, a 56-year-old sociologist and left-wing activist widely known by her nickname "Janja," was front-and-center in her husband's election campaign and in planning his inauguration on Sunday.

She has injected fervor and much affection into the job, tenderly holding her husband's victory speech as he addressed a sea of euphoric supporters after his October election victory, and organizing a major music party for some 300,000 expected to join Sunday's celebrations.

Da Silva married Lula, 77, a twice-widowed cancer survivor, in May.

"I am as in love as if I were 20 years old," the president has said of his wife, a long-time member of his Workers' Party.

Their age difference seems to have breathed new energy into Lula, whose first wife, Maria de Lourdes, died in 1971. In 2017, he lost his second wife of four decades, Marisa Leticia Rocco, to a stroke.

"When you lose your wife, and you think, well, my life has no more meaning, suddenly a person appears who makes you feel like you want to live again," he told Time magazine in an interview published just before he remarried.

The septuagenarian politician links his political rebirth to his late-life love affair.

"I'm here, standing strong, in love again, crazy about my wife," he told the crowd Sunday. "She's the one who will give me strength to confront all obstacles."

- A kiss outside prison -

Da Silva was born in the south of Brazil and earned a sociology degree from the university in Curitiba, capital of Parana state.

In 1983 she joined the Workers' Party, which Lula had cofounded two years earlier.

Brazilian media reports say the two have known each other for decades, but Lula's press people said their romance began only in late 2017 at an event with left-leaning artists.

The love affair between the smiling woman with long chestnut hair and the aging lion of the Brazilian left became widely known in May 2019.

At the time, Lula was in prison -- jailed on controversial corruption charges that were later annulled by the Supreme Court.

"Lula is in love, and the first thing he wants to do when he gets out of prison is get married," one of his lawyers said after visiting him then.

In the end, the two wed only this year. The 200 guests included celebrities like singer Gilberto Gil, who had served as Lula's culture minister.

While Lula was in prison, Janja would pen affectionate tweets about him. "All I want to do is hug you and cuddle with you nonstop," she wrote on his 74th birthday.

In November 2019, shortly after Lula's release from prison, they shared a kiss before a crowd gathered outside the prison in Curitiba, where Lula had spent 18 months locked up.

- 'New meaning' -

While active in Lula's campaign, on stage and on social media, Da Silva is very private about her personal life. The magazine Veja says she was previously married for more than 10 years and has no children.

Starting January 1, she will be Brazil's first lady.

"I want to give new meaning to the role of first lady, by focusing on topics that are priorities for women, such as food insecurity or domestic violence," she said in August.

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