BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as president on Sunday, and in his first address expressed optimism about plans to rebuild while pledging that members of outgoing Jair Bolsonaro’s administration will be held to account.
Lula is assuming office for the third time after thwarting incumbent Bolsonaro’s reelection bid. His return to power marks the culmination of a political comeback that is thrilling supporters and enraging opponents in a fiercely polarized nation.
“Our message to Brazil is one of hope and reconstruction,” Lula said in a speech in Congress’ Lower House after signing the document that formally instates him as president. “The great edifice of rights, sovereignty and development that this nation built has been systematically demolished in recent years. To re-erect this edifice, we are going to direct all our efforts.”
Sunday afternoon in Brasilia's main esplanade, the party was on. Tens of thousands of supporters decked out in the red of Lula’s Workers’ Party cheered after his swearing-in.
They celebrated when the president said he would send a report about the prior administration to all lawmakers and judicial authorities, revoke Bolsonaro's “criminal decrees” that loosened gun control, and hold the prior administration responsible for its denialism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do not carry any spirit of revenge against those who sought to subjugate the nation to their personal and ideological designs, but we are going to ensure the rule of law," Lula said, without mentioning Bolsonaro by name. "Those who erred will answer for their errors, with broad rights to their defense within the due legal process.”
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 Bolsonaro in the Oct. 30 vote by less than 2 percentage points. Many have gathered outside military barracks since, questioning results and pleading with the armed forces to prevent Lula from taking office.
Lula will have to navigate more challenging economic conditions than he enjoyed in his first two terms, when the global commodities boom proved a windfall for Brazil.
At the time, his administration's flagship welfare program helped lift tens of millions of impoverished people into the middle class. Many Brazilians traveled abroad for the first time. He left office with a personal approval rating of 83%.
In the intervening years, Brazil’s economy plunged into two deep recessions — first, during the tenure of his handpicked successor, and then during the pandemic — and ordinary Brazilians suffered greatly.
Lula has said his priorities are fighting poverty, and investing in education and health. He has also said he will bring illegal deforestation of the Amazon to a halt. He sought support from political moderates to form a broad front and defeat Bolsonaro, then tapped some of them to serve in his Cabinet.
Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro’s State University, said the credibility of Lula and his Workers’ Party were assailed by a sprawling corruption investigation. Party officials were jailed, including Lula — whose convictions were later annulled on procedural grounds. The Supreme Court then ruled that the judge presiding over the case had colluded with prosecutors to secure a conviction.
Speaking to the crowd, Lula listed shortfalls in government funds that will affect the Brazilian people. He said that, according to the transition team’s report on Bolsonaro’s government, textbooks haven’t been printed for public schools, there are insufficient free medications and COVID-19 vaccines, the threat looms of federal universities shutting down, and civil defense authorities cannot work to prevent disasters.
“Who pays the price for this blackout is, once again, the Brazilian people,” he said, and was promptly met by a chant from the crowd: “No amnesty! No amnesty! No amnesty!”