Brazil’s first female president was sworn in Saturday amid cheers and tears from supporters, many of whom followed her rise from freedom fighter brutally persecuted in the 1960s to leader of her country.
Addressing the nation as president for the first time, Dilma Rousseff said she felt the historic weight of her presidency.
“This is the first time that the presidential sash hangs over the shoulders of a woman,” she said.
“I am committed to honoring women, to protecting the most vulnerable and to govern for all.”
Rousseff, 62, replaces Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the most popular president in Brazil’s recent history. Rousseff served as his chief of staff.
Rousseff, who was elected in October in a runoff vote, was sworn in just before 3 p.m. local time, along with her vice president, Michel Temer.
Chanting the song of Rousseff’s PT Worker’s Party — “Ole ole ole ola… Lula Lula…” — crowds gathered in the historic National Congress in support of their new president.
“From now on I am the president of all Brazilians,” a tearful Rousseff told the crowd.
The much-anticipated inauguration of Rousseff was marred by heavy rain, which forced the new president to find cover in a 1952 black Rolls Royce that paraded down the Esplanade of the Ministries as thousands looked on.
Her inauguration comes nearly 41 years after Rousseff was arrested and escorted in a military van to the Tiradentes Prison where, she told Brazil’s congress, she was “barbarically tortured” for nearly two years.
Known as the “subversive Joan of Arc,” Rousseff was tortured under Brazil’s dictatorship for her activities as a left-wing guerrilla fighter in the late 1960s.
Her inauguration Saturday was expected to be attended by 23 heads of state, nine vice presidents, 76 ambassadors and 24 secretaries of state, including Hillary Clinton.
Rousseff was also expected to honor 11 women who spent time in prison with her at Tiradentes, according to state-run Agencia Brasil.
Historian Carlos Fico, a leading historian on Brazil’s brutal military rule that began in 1964, said Brazilians — especially victims of torture — are moved she chose to include her cell mates in the historic inauguration.
“It coincides with many changes taking place in Brazil,” Fico said.
“While so many suffered terrible forms of torture, women were victimized in more ways than others, given the machismo that pervaded in the military. Many women talk to prefer not to mention the details,” he said.
As the nation’s first woman to hold the office, Rousseff said at the time of her election that she has a mission to fight for more gender equality in Brazil.
“I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say yes, women can.”