Brazil's Rousseff defends record in TV interview

JENNY BARCHFIELD
FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2014 file photo, Brazil's President and presidential candidate of the Workers Party (PT) Dilma Rousseff speaks during a meeting with members at the National Confederation of Agriculture, at the CNA headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil. Rousseff acknowledged "many problems and challenges" in the country's woeful health system but is defending her record on the economy and education as she campaigns for re-election in October. Rousseff spoke on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014 in an interview on the Globo television network. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In her first live prime-time television interview of her re-election campaign, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff acknowledged "many problems and challenges" still plague the country's woeful heath system but defended her record on the economy and education.

Monday's 15-minute interview on the Globo television network's nightly news was a testy affair, with the channel's two anchors repeatedly questioning Rousseff about corruption scandals that have beset her term, as well as the two terms of her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — both of the left-leaning Workers Party, or PT.

Rousseff declined to comment on the PT's unflagging support of top party officials convicted in a 2012 trial involving a congressional cash-for-votes scheme, skirting several direct questions and saying "I will not make any comment on of a trial conducted by the Supreme Court."

When the pair of journalists listed continued shortcomings of Brazil's public health service after 12 years of PT governance, Rousseff acknowledged the situation was not "in the least satisfactory."

"We have had and still have many problems and challenges to take on in health care," Rousseff said during the broadcast from a library in the Alvorada Palace presidential residence.

But she ardently defended her administration's controversial "Mais Medicos," or "More Doctors" program, which recruited thousands of foreign doctors — many of them from Cuba — to work in underserved rural areas and urban slums. The program came under fire from groups representing Brazil's medical professionals, who contended the Cubans were underqualified.

A survey released Tuesday by the respected Datafolha polling agency suggests public dissatisfaction with Brazil's health care system is overwhelming. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they had a negative impression of the government-run system, with most of those interviewed saying they had to wait up to six months to schedule a doctor's visit, test or surgery.

The nationwide survey was conducted among 2,418 respondents between June 3 and 10.

Monday's interview, Rousseff also defended her party's economic performance, despite anemic indicators in recent years. She said Brazil's sluggish growth, which government projections put at 1.8 percent for 2014, was a consequence of the global financial crisis. She noted that Brazil hadn't suffered the massive layoffs experienced in Europe.

She said a series of economic indicators, including energy consumption and car sales, pointed to an upswing in the second half of the year.

Rousseff also said improvements in education were transforming this notoriously unequal country of haves and have-nots into a middle-class nation.

"We created the condition to leap (ahead) by putting education squarely in the center," she said. "This means that we want to continue to be a middle-class country, with ever greater participation of the middle class."

Rousseff was leading the polls ahead of the Oct. 5 presidential election, although the race has been upended by the death last week of Socialist candidate Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash. Campos, who had been running third in polls, was replaced by environmentalist Marina Silva, who has surged in voter surveys.

Silva is running neck-and-neck for second place with Aecio Neves. Observers say Rousseff may have to face a second-round election.

The electoral campaign officially kicked off on Tuesday, with the start of ads on television and radio stations.

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Associated Press reporter Adriana Gomez in Sao Paulo contributed to the report.