Lula sworn in as president to lead polarized Brazil

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as president on Sunday, taking office for the third time after thwarting the re-election bid of far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

His return to power marks the culmination of a political comeback that is thrilling both supporters and rabid opponents in a fiercely polarized nation.

“Our message to Brazil is a message of hope and reconstruction,” Lula said in a speech to the lower house of Congress after signing the document that officially appoints him president. “The great edifice of rights, sovereignty and development that this nation has built has been systematically torn down in recent years. And to rebuild this edifice, we will direct all our efforts.

Sunday afternoon on the main esplanade of Brasilia, the party was launched. Tens of thousands of supporters dressed in Lula’s Workers’ Party red cheered after he was sworn in. They also celebrated when the president said he would send a report on Bolsonaro’s presidency to authorities who could investigate the far-right leader based on their findings.

Lula’s presidency is unlikely to resemble his previous two terms, after Brazil’s tightest presidential race in more than three decades and resistance to his taking office by some of his opponents, political analysts say.

The leftist beat Bolsonaro in the Oct. 30 vote by less than 2 percentage points. For months, Bolsonaro had cast doubts on the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting and his loyal supporters were reluctant to accept the loss.

Many have gathered outside military barracks since, questioning the results and pleading with the armed forces to prevent Lula from taking office.

His most hardcore supporters resorted to what some authorities and new members of Lula’s administration called acts of “terrorism” – something the country hadn’t seen since the early 1980s. and which raised security concerns about the Inauguration Day events.

“In 2003, the ceremony was very beautiful. There wasn’t this heavy bad climate,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, referring to the year Lula first took office. “Today is a climate of terror.”

Lula has made it his mission to heal the divided nation. But he will have to do so while navigating tougher economic conditions than in his first two terms, when the global commodity boom proved a boon for Brazil.

At the time, his administration’s flagship welfare program helped push tens of millions of poor people into the middle class. Many Brazilians have traveled abroad for the first time. He left office with an 83% personal approval rating.

In the years that followed, the Brazilian economy plunged into two deep recessions – first, during the tenure of his hand-picked successor, then during the pandemic – and ordinary Brazilians suffered greatly.

Lula said his priorities were to fight poverty and invest in education and health. He also said he would end illegal deforestation in the Amazon. He sought the support of political moderates to form a broad front and defeat Bolsonaro, then called on some of them to serve in his cabinet.

Claúdio Arantes, a 68-year-old pensioner, carried an old Lula campaign flag on his way to the esplanade. The longtime Lula supporter attended his inauguration in 2003 and agreed that this time was different.

“Back then he could talk about the unity of Brazil. Now he is divided and won’t heal anytime soon,” Arantes said. “I trust his intelligence to make this administration of national unity work so that we never have a Bolsonaro again.”

Given the country’s political flaws, it’s highly unlikely that Lula will ever regain the popularity he once enjoyed, or even see his approval rating top 50 percent, said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at the University. of State of Rio de Janeiro.

In addition, Santoro said, the credibility of Lula and his Workers’ Party has been assaulted by a sprawling corruption investigation. Party officials were imprisoned, including Lula ― until his convictions were overturned on procedural grounds. The Supreme Court then ruled that the judge presiding over the case had agreed with prosecutors to secure a conviction.

Lula and his supporters claimed that he had been the victim of a railroad. Others were willing to look past possible wrongdoing as a way to topple Bolsonaro and bring the nation together.

But Bolsonaro supporters refuse to accept someone they consider a criminal returning to the top job. And with tensions burning, a series of events raised fears that violence could erupt on inauguration day.

On December 12, dozens of people attempted to invade a federal police building in Brasilia and set fire to cars and buses in other areas of the city. Then, on Christmas Eve, police arrested a 54-year-old man who admitted making a bomb found on a tanker truck heading to Brasilia airport.

He had camped outside Brasilia’s army headquarters with hundreds of other Bolsonaro supporters since November 12. He told police he was ready for war on communism and planned the attack with people he met at the protests, according to published excerpts of his deposition. by local media. The next day, police found explosive devices and several body armor in a wooded area on the outskirts of the Federal District.

Lula’s new justice minister, Flávio Dino, this week called on federal authorities to end “undemocratic” protests, calling them “terrorist incubators”.

In response to a request from Lula’s team, the current justice minister authorized the deployment of the National Guard until January 2, and Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes banned people from wearing protective clothing. firearms in Brasilia during those days.

“It’s the fruit of political polarization, of political extremism,” said Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco. Pavão pointed out that Bolsonaro, who has mostly disappeared from the political scene since losing his re-election bid, has been slow to disavow the recent incidents.

“His silence is strategic: Bolsonaro must keep bolsonarismo alive,” Pavão said.

Bolsonaro finally condemned the bomb plot in a December 30 farewell speech on social media, hours before he flew to the United States. His absence on the day of the inauguration will mark a break with tradition and it is not known who, in his place, will hand over the presidential sash to Lula at the presidential palace.

Lawyer Eduardo Coutinho will be present. He bought a flight to Brasilia as a Christmas present for himself.

“I wish I had been there when Bolsonaro’s plane took off, that’s the only thing that makes me almost as happy as tomorrow’s event,” Coutinho, 28, said after singing the jingles for the Lula campaign on the plane. “Usually I’m not that over the top, but we have to let it out and I came here just to do that. Brazil needs it to move forward.

AP writer Diane Jeantet contributed from Rio de Janeiro.

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