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Lula sworn in for third term as Brazil's president

January 2, 2023

Leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Brazil was left in "ruins" during the rule of his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. Da Silva also pledged to combat Amazon deforestation.

Brazil's new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gets emotional as he delivers an inaugural speech at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on January 1, 2023
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won Brazil's presidency in a tight election race with far-right leader Jair BolsonaroImage: EVARISTO SA/AFP

Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sworn in as president on Sunday, returning to the job he held from 2003-2010.

The 77-year-old secured a third term after defeating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in October during the tightest presidential race in decades.

What did Lula promise during the inauguration?

Taking the oath of office in Congress in the capital Brasilia, Lula vowed to "maintain, defend and obey the constitution" and promised to "rescue" 33 million people from hunger and 100 million people from poverty — nearly half the country's 215 million population.

Lula said he would rebuild Brazil from the "ruins" that he said the previous government had left, without mentioning his predecessor Bolsonaro by name.

"Out of these terrible ruins, together with the Brazilian people, I assume the responsibility for rebuilding the country and making it a nation of all and for all," he added.

Lula took his criticism of Bolsonaro's administration further, saying his transition team had described the country's public finances as "atrocious."

"They [the previous government] emptied the resources of the Health ministry. They dismantled Education, Culture, Science and Technology. They destroyed the protection of the environment. They left no resources for school meals, vaccination or public safety," he said.

He also accused Bolsonaro's government of committing "genocide" by failing to respond properly to the COVID-19 pandemic that killed more than 680,000 Brazilians.

He then told supporters that Brazil doesn't need to deforest the Amazon rainforest for agriculture — a key criticism of Bolsonaro's tenure.

Lula insisted that no other country can match it for the resources needed to become a great environmental power.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier holds the hand of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on December 31, 2022
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) met with Lulu on the eve of his inaugurationImage: Jens Büttner/dpa/picture alliance

Bolsonaro skips inauguration

Delegations from fifty countries were present in Congress for the swearing-in ceremony including King Felipe IV of Spain and the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Portugal. 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also attended. However, the outgoing President Bolsonaro was absent, having left for Florida on Friday.

Steinmeier: 'Brazil will return to the international stage'

After the ceremony, Lula rode by open-top Rolls-Royce to the Planalto palace to don the presidential sash before a crowd of 30,000 supporters from his Workers' party.

Bolnsonaro had repeatedly refused to hand over the sash to his successor, as per tradition, so Black garbage collector Aline Sousa made the presentation.

Tens of thousands more people gathered on Brasilia's esplanade to celebrate his new term.

Brazil's new president Lula da Silva waves to his supporters from a vehicle in Brasilia
Tens of thousands of Brazilians lined the streets of the capital in a show of support for their new leaderImage: Ueslei Marcelino/REUTERS

Security tightened over threats

Security was beefed up throughout the capital after the most fraught presidential election in a generation sparked concerns of violence by Bolsonaro supporters.

Lula beat Bolsonaro by less than 2% of the vote. The far-right leader refused to admit defeat and cast doubts on the country's electronic voting system.

Some of Bolsonaro's more extreme supporters even demanded a military coup to keep the far-right leader in power.

Ahead of Lula's inauguration, police said they arrested a man who tried to enter the area carrying a knife and fireworks. Last week, a Bolsonaro supporter was arrested for planting a tanker rigged with explosives near the Brasilia airport.    

Lula led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, at a time when his government profited from the raw materials boom and was able to lift millions of people out of poverty through major social programs. 

However, corruption was widespread and Lula was also sentenced to a lengthy prison term for corruption and money laundering, though the sentence was later overturned. 

What do Brazilians think about Lula's return?

In the intervening years, Brazil's economy plunged into two deep recessions — first, while his handpicked successor was in office and then during the pandemic under Bolsonaro.

mm/dj (AFP, AP, EFE, Reuters)