On Sunday January 1, 2023, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 77, arrived at the presidential palace in Brasilia. He was greeted by a gigantic crowd: supporters from his Workers’ Party, dressed in red, still partying after New Year’s Eve. They have been dreaming of this moment for a long time.
“Love vanquished hate. Long live Brazil!” bellowed the new president, as he was sworn into office for the third time in his life. The former factory worker and union leader – popularly known as “Lula” – broke down in tears when speaking about the poverty experienced by millions of Brazilians.
Jair Bolsonaro – his predecessor – did not attend the inauguration. He was already in Florida, having left the country on Friday.
Lula previously served as president between 2003 and 2010, when he managed to dramatically reduce poverty and boost educational attainment. His return to power brought an end to four years of right-wing rule under Bolsonaro, who was defeated by the former president by a narrow margin back in October of 2022.
During his inaugural address, Lula focused on rising inequality, expounding on how 5% of Brazilian citizens earn the same income as the remaining 95%. He also spoke about governing for all Brazilians, indicating that his government will include participation from all political parties. His vice president, Geraldo Alckmin, is a conservative former governor, while there are nine parties present in his cabinet from across the political spectrum.
In a nod to the most vulnerable citizens of his country, he vowed to bolster the cash transfers that began under his previous term in office, while strengthening social programs, public education and the healthcare system.
The president reminded the incoming legislators that, 20 years ago, after his first victory, he said that his life’s mission was for every Brazilian to eat three meals a day.
“That I must now repeat that commitment today, in the face of the growth of misery and hunger – which we once overcame – is the most serious symptom of the devastation of recent years,” he noted, in a jab at the outgoing Bolsonaro. His priority now, he said, will be to rescue 33 million Brazilians from hunger and 100 million from poverty.
After the ceremony, Lula signed several decrees. The first he approved was a guarantee of 600 Brazilian reais each month ($120) for each of the poorest 21 million Brazilians. Other measures restricted the sale of guns (which were loosened under Bolsonaro) and committed to reducing deforestation, which was a problem under both Lula and Bolsonaro.
Rosa Amorim, 26 – a Workers’ Party congresswoman from the state of Pernambuco – was jubilant.
“Today, Brazil can be hopeful. Lula is the dream of a Brazil for everyone!” she says. The young woman – who previously led the Landless Workers’ Movement – was one of the 300,000 supporters of the president who came to Brasilia to enjoy the free concerts before and after the ceremony.
In another part of the capital, Sunamita Priscila – a 32-year-old cleaning worker – is more reserved. She knows Lula well – she worked at the presidential palace in 2010, before he left office. Then, she worked with his successor, Dilma Rousseff, before she was impeached. “Then with Mr. Temer and with him,” she says, referring to Bolsonaro. An Evangelical Christian, she asks that “God guide [Lula], because things are not easy.”
Vice President Alckmin, 70, had a prominent role in the festivities. Lula arrived in a convertible Rolls Royce but in a breaking with tradition, Alckmin, his wife and Rosángela da Silva accompanied the president. It was his way of emphasizing that Bolsonaro lost the elections thanks to an unprecedented coalition of the left and center-right.
Alckmin is an old-school center-right figure, who lost the 2006 elections to Lula and voted in favor of impeaching Rousseff in 2016. He is now, in a surprising turn of events, “comrade Alckmin.”
Unlike during Bolsonaro’s administration – when older, white men dominated the executive branch – the presidential palace now has a more diverse assembly, and fewer soldiers in uniform. One-third of Lula’s new cabinet is female – there are Black men and Indigenous leaders as well. Some of the women present were dressed in white with spectacular headdresses: they are followers of the religions that preceded Christianity. There were also members of the LGBTQI+ community in attendance.
Many of these groups were made to feel uncomfortable in their country during the Bolsonaro administration. Lula intends to court them.
Bolsonaro – always determined to treat Lula as an enemy – did not attend the ceremony. He has been in the United States since Friday, after two months of silence. His allies, however, control both chambers of Congress and it remains unclear if he has a political future as leader of the opposition to Lula’s government.
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