A tearful Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to haul Brazil out of Jair Bolsonaro’s era of “devastation” and kickstart a new phase of reconciliation, environmental preservation and social justice after being sworn in as president.
Fighting back tears as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who had packed the plaza outside the presidential palace in Brasília, Lula declared the end of “one of the worst periods in Brazilian history” under the former far-right president.
“[It was] an era of darkness, uncertainty and great suffering … but this nightmare is over,” Lula said, vowing to reunite the bitterly divided South American country and govern not just for those who elected him in October’s historic election, but all 215 million Brazilians.
“It is in nobody’s interest for our country to be in a constant state of ferment,” Lula said, urging citizens to rebuild friendships destroyed by years of hate speech and lies. “There aren’t two Brazils. We are one single people.”
The veteran leftwinger, a former factory worker who was president from 2003 to 2010, broke down as he outlined plans to wage war on hunger, which he called “the gravest crime committed against the Brazilian people”.
“Women are rummaging through the rubbish to feed their children,” said Lula, 77. “Entire families are sleeping out in the open, exposed to the cold, rain and fear.”
Brazil’s new president did not mention his right-wing predecessor by name. But he excoriated the damage done by Bolsonaro’s four-year administration during which nearly 700,000 Brazilians died of a mishandled Covid outbreak, millions were plunged into poverty, and Amazon deforestation soared.
“No amnesty! No amnesty!” the crowd bellowed of Bolsonaro, who many want brought to justice for sabotaging Covid containment efforts and vaccination against an illness he called “a little flu”.
Franceli Anjos, a 60-year-old feminist, had travelled 55 hours by road from the Amazon city of Santarém to witness the long-awaited end of Bolsonaro’s chaotic reign. “I’m convinced a new spring has arrived,” she said.
Lucas Rodrigues’s hands trembled
with emotion as he described his delight at Lula’s sensational comeback, exactly 20 years after the former union leader became Brazil’s first working-class president in January 2003.
“The whole of Brazil is here – that’s what Lula’s capable of,” the 25-year-old said after stepping off a bus from the southern state of Santa Catarina, where he is part of the landless workers’ movement.
Lula’s American biographer John D French said he believed that after declaring war on hunger – a hallmark of Lula’s first government – the new president’s top priority would be reuniting a bitterly divided nation after a poisonous election campaign marred by violence.
“I think what he’d like would be a generalised reconciliation … and a standing down of the levels of conflict,” French said, although he warned that would be difficult given the toxic chasm between Lulistas and Bolsonaristas.
“The notion that everything is going to be roses and peaches and cream [is misguided]. I think this is going to be a very conflictual period.”
Bolsonaro’s narrow defeat in October’s election – which he lost by 2m votes – sent a wave of relief over progressive Brazilians desperate to see the back of a man they accused of wrecking Brazil’s environment and place in the world.
French said that relief was reminiscent of Democrats’ reaction to Donald Trump’s 2020 demise. “[People were] like: ‘Phew, OK – now things can go back to normal.’
“But they didn’t go back to normal in the US. Nothing is normal politically. And it’s not going to return to some sort of placid normality [in Brazil, either].”
Still, the mere prospect of a fresh start under a progressive and inclusive Lula government – which has vowed to fight environmental crime and named an Indigenous woman to lead Brazil’s first-ever ministry for Indigenous people – has thrilled supporters who have flocked to the capital.
“I know it won’t be easy for Lula to rebuild everything that Bolsonarismo has destroyed. But I feel hopeful. If there’s anyone who enjoys the popular support and international respect from leaders around the planet needed to rebuild Brazil’s relationships with the world, it’s Lula,” said Diogo Virgílio Teixeira, a 41-year-old anthropologist from São Paulo.