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Lula sworn in as President of Brazil after defeating outgoing Jair Bolsonaro

His inauguration on Sunday marked the third time Lula has assumed office, having previously served as president from 2003 to 2010.

Story by Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sworn in as President of Brazil on Sunday, delivering a searing indictment of far-right former leader Jair Bolsonaro and vowing a drastic change of course to rescue a nation plagued with hunger, poverty and racism.

In a speech to Congress after officially taking the reins of Latin America’s biggest country, the leftist, known as Lula, said democracy was the true winner of the October presidential vote, when he ousted Bolsonaro in the most fraught election for a generation.

His inauguration on Sunday marked the third time Lula has assumed office, having previously served as president from 2003 to 2010.

Bolsonaro, who left Brazil for the United States on Friday after refusing to concede defeat, rattled the cages of Brazil’s young democracy with baseless claims of electoral weaknesses that birthed a violent movement of election deniers.

“Democracy was the great victor in this election, overcoming … the most violent threats to freedom to vote, and the most abject campaign of lies and hate plotted to manipulate and embarrass the electorate,” Lula told lawmakers on Sunday.

He delivered a veiled threat to Bolsonaro, who faces mounting legal risks for his anti-democratic rhetoric and his handling of the pandemic now that he no longer has presidential immunity.

A supporter of Lula eacts at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 1 (REUTERS)

A supporter of Lula eacts at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 1 (REUTERS)© Provided by Evening Standard

“We do not carry any spirit of revenge against those who tried to subjugate the nation to their personal and ideological designs, but we will guarantee the rule of law,” Lula said, without mentioning his predecessor by name. “Those who erred will answer for their errors.”

Lula‘s plans for government provided a stark contrast to Bolsonaro’s four years in office, which were characterized by backsliding on environmental protections in the Amazon rainforest, looser gun laws and weaker protections for indigenous peoples and minorities.

Lula said he wants to turn Brazil, one of the world’s top food producers, into a green superpower. He reinforced his commitment to ending deforestation in the Amazon, which surged to a 15-year high under Bolsonaro, while also enlisting its indigenous inhabitants to help protect the forest.

Supporters of Lula react on the day he is sworn in as Brazil's President (REUTERS)

Supporters of Lula react on the day he is sworn in as Brazil’s President (REUTERS)© Provided by Evening Standard

He said he will revoke dozens of Bolsonaro’s executive orders loosening firearms laws, which prompted a sharp rise in gun ownership.

“Brazil does not want more weapons, it wants peace and security for its people,” he said.

After the swearing-in, Lula left Congress in an open-top Rolls-Royce. He then arrived at the Planalto palace, where he walked up its ramp with his wife and a diverse group that included Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapo tribe, a young Black boy and a disabled man.

Lula was then handed the presidential sash – a hugely symbolic act in Brazil that Bolsonaro had repeatedly said he would never do – by a Black woman.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wipes his face after he was sworn in as new president at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil (AP)

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wipes his face after he was sworn in as new president at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil (AP)© Provided by Evening Standard

Tens of thousands who had gathered to celebrate on Brasilia’s esplanade cheered as Lula wiped away tears.

In a subsequent speech, he pledged to unite the polarized country and govern for all Brazilians.

“No one is interested in a country on a permanent war footing, or a family living in disharmony,” Lula said. “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one great nation.”

He said his main focus would be on ending hunger and narrowing rampant inequality, while also improving the rights of women and attacking racism and Brazil’s legacy of slavery.

 (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)© Provided by Evening Standard

“It was to combat inequality and its consequences that we won the election,” he said. “This will be the hallmark of our government. From this fundamental struggle, a transformed country will emerge.”

Security was stringent at Sunday’s ceremony, amid fears supporters of Bolsonaro would cause disruption.

Early on Sunday afternoon, people wearing the red of Lula‘s Workers’ Party flooded into Brasilia’s main esplanade to enjoy live music and await the start of official events.

They chanted Lula‘s name and sang the lyrics of a song that informs Bolsonaro it is time for him to leave.

 (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)© Provided by Evening Standard

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

The leftist defeated far-right Bolsonaro in the October 30 vote by less than 2 percentage points.

For months, Bolsonaro had sown doubts about the reliability of Brazil’s electronic vote and his loyal supporters were loath to accept the loss.

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

Bolsanaro’s most die-hard backers resorted to what some authorities and incoming members of Lula’s administration labeled acts of “terrorism” – which have prompted growing security concerns about inauguration day events.

Firefighters spray water to relieve spectators as they gather to wait for the inauguration ceremony (AFP via Getty Images)

Firefighters spray water to relieve spectators as they gather to wait for the inauguration ceremony (AFP via Getty Images)© Provided by Evening Standard

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

With tensions running hot, a series of events has prompted fear that violence could erupt during Lula’s inauguration on Sunday.

On December 12, dozens of people tried to invade a federal police building in Brasilia, and burned cars and buses in other areas of the city.

 (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)© Provided by Evening Standard

Then on Christmas Eve, police arrested a 54-year-old man who admitted to making a bomb that was found on a fuel truck headed to Brasilia’s airport. He had been camped outside Brasilia’s army headquarters with hundreds of other Bolsonaro supporters since November 12.

He told police he was ready for war against communism, and planned the attack with people he had met at the protests, according to excerpts of his deposition released by local media.

The next day, police found explosive devices and several bulletproof vests in a forested area on the federal district’s outskirts.

 (AFP via Getty Images)

(AFP via Getty Images)© Provided by Evening Standard

Lula has made it his mission to heal divided Brazil. But he will have to do so while navigating more challenging economic conditions than he enjoyed in his first two terms, when the global commodities boom proved a windfall for Brazil.

The nation’s economy has since plunged into two deep recessions and ordinary Brazilians have suffered greatly.

Lula has said his priorities are fighting poverty, and investing in education and health.

Source: Evening Standard

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