Brazil's first working class president says he used to lie awake at night, fearful of bungling his job.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters Friday he would turn his wife and say, "Marisa, we cannot fail. If I fail, no other worker will ever have the chance of being president."
But with a month left to go before leaving office, Silva, 65, is preparing to end his two terms as perhaps Brazil's most popular president ever, able to boast that he has helped bring a regional giant to global prominence as well.
"We're seeing a solid Brazil, which can become in the next six years the fifth world economy," Silva said at a news conference.
He compared Brazil to "a car going 120 kilometers an hour" and said his successor, Dilma Rousseff, "can take it to 140, 150 if she wants."
Since Silva won election in 2002, Brazil has achieved economic stability, reduced its debt, increased its foreign reserves and kept inflation under control — all remarkable achievements in an area notorious for economic booms and crashes.
The recession that shook world financial markets was a two-quarter blip in the Brazilian economy, which was among the first to emerge. The unemployment rate is low, and the middle class is growing.
"We didn't solve all the problems in Brazil, but we made great progress on problems that seemed chronic," Silva said.
"I did more than any other" president, he boasted.
Silva said major infrastructure projects already started — hydroelectric dams, railways, refineries — will help Brazil prosper into the future. Soccer's World Cup of 2014 and the Olympics of 2016 will make this new Brazil better known to the world.
Silva repeated his call for reform of the U.N. Security Council to reflect a new world order that would include emerging powers along with five victors of World War II among permanent members.
He also praised the recent police takeover of two gang-ridden slums in Rio de Janeiro, and plans to flood those areas with improved government services.
"We have to protect the vast majority of people, who are workers," he said. "The only way of vanquishing organized crime is to offer services to the population — jobs, a better quality of life."
Silva is a former labor leader and metal worker who grew up poor and never had a chance to finish high school. He ran for office as an ally of leftists such as Cuba's Fidel Castro but managed to remain on good terms as well with U.S. governments and with his country's business community.