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Latam Brief: Lula takes sash from “Brazilian people”(January 2, 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva inaugurated his third mandate as Brazil’s president, yesterday.

Lula’s predecesor, Jair Bolsonaro, left the country before the ceremony, so the new president was handed the presidential sash by the “Brazilian people,” embodied symbolically by Aline Sousa, a 33-year-old garbage collector. He took to the stage in yesterday’s ceremony accompanied by a diverse group of citizens that included a Black woman, a handicapped man, a 10-year-old boy, an Indigenous man and a factory worker.

Lula promised to lead the country into a new chapter of environmental protection, social progress and “rational democratic” government. He also framed his political comeback as a victory for Brazilian democracy, after his predecesor’s attacks on the country’s political institutions.

Lula 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.

“Under the winds of redemocratization, we used to say, ‘Dictatorship never again,’” he said. “Today, after the terrible challenge we’ve overcome, we must say, ‘Democracy forever.’”

He also accused Bolsonaro’s administration of committing “genocide” by failing to respond properly to the COVID-19 virus that killed more than 680,000 Brazilians. “The responsibilities for this genocide must be investigated and must not go unpunished,” said Lula.

Nonetheless, Brazil remains deeply divided. Lula won the presidency in October in the closest presidential election in Brazilian history, after a campaign marred by extreme misinformation and disinformation. Bolsonaro supporters have called for a military intervention for months, and the former president carefully avoided conceding the election, even as he urged supporters to call it a day.

Bolsonaro’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão, hinted at those divisions during a New Year’s Eve address in which he indirectly accused the rightwing radical of creating “an atmosphere of chaos and social breakdown” by refusing to recognize the election result.

Attacks and threats by Bolsonaro’s supporters in Brasília and across the country led authorities deploy thousands of security forces, including elite snipers, yesterday to protect Lula from a potential assassination attempt.

On Saturday, police said they defused a bomb planted by a Bolsonaro supporter in a tanker truck full of gas near the international airport in Brasília. They said the suspect told investigators his plan was to provoke chaos to draw military intervention.

Bolsonaro’s departure from the country temporarily takes him out of reach of numerous legal investigations that pertain to his time in office and which could lead to jail-time. He has now lost prosecutorial immunity and could be convicted in any of five separate inquiries, including one into his release of documents related to a classified investigation.

(New York TimesGuardianWashington PostWashington PostReuters)

More Lula

  • Lula’s first actions in office reverted some of Bolsonaro’s environmentally destructive policies: he restored the government’s environmental protection agency’s authority to combat illegal deforestation and revoked a measure that encouraged illegal mining on protected indigenous lands. Lula also unfroze the billion-dollar Amazon fund financed by Norway and Germany to back sustainability projects. (Reuters)
  • But “Lula will need the world’s help to rein in illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers. He will also have to build coalitions in a divided Congress and among rural elites who remain skeptical of Brazil’s environmental commitments,” argues Heriberto Araujo in a New York Times guest essay.

  • Two internationally celebrated Amazon defenders, Marina Silva and Sônia Guajajara, have been named as ministers in Brazil’s new government. (Guardian)

  • Lula also revoked Bolsonaro’s looser gun policies yesterday. “Brazil does not want more weapons, it wants peace and security for its people,” he said. (GloboReuters)
  • Lula’s vision of the global order – “based in dialogue, multilateralism and multipolarity” — aspires to diplomatic solutions rather than isolating adversaries, write David Adler and Guillaume Long in a Guardian opinion piece.

  • Lula met on Saturday with representatives of Russia and Ukraine ahead of his inauguration and called for an end to the war between the two countries. (Reuters)

Guaidó’s “mandate” ended

Venezuela’s opposition-led parallel legislature ratified its decision to terminate the interim government headed by Juan Guaidó, last Friday. (See Dec. 22’s briefs.)

The move marks a shift in the opposition strategy against Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian government, now more focused on a return to democracy through elections and negotiations taking place in Mexico City.

Juan Miguel Matheus, who spoke on behalf of the opposition parties promoting the motion to dismantle the interim government, said the proposal seeks to rebuild the unity of the opposition by establishing a solid foundation.

The decision is also a recognition that Guaidó’s presidency was largely fictional. The vote reflects a shifted diplomatic reality: many countries that originally recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, including the European Union, have stopped doing so. Latin American countries under leftist leadership have shifted from a punitive stance against Maduro to an engagement approach. (Washington Post)

However, the United States still recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president. And critics of the move say it risks leaving Venezuelan assets held abroad in Maduro’s hands, reports the New York Times. Opponents of the vote also say it will lead to further internal divisions and help Maduro’s government regain international recognition, reports the Miami Herald.

More Venezuela

  • Colombia and Venezuela reopened a bridge linking the two countries, yesterday. The full opening of the countries’ shared border, follows years of tense relations between the neighboring nations, and the Colombian Petro administration’s new policy of engagement with Venezuela. (Associated PressReuters)


  • Haiti is on the International Crisis Group’s list of ten conflicts to watch in 2023. The country is in the throws of humanitarian catastrophe: Half the population, 4.7 million people, faces acute hunger, and almost 20,000 are thought to be at risk of starving.

  • Years of political crises left a power vacuum filled by criminal gangs that have imposed a rule of terror in many areas, enforced by violence, including rape. Calls for international intervention are controversial, but could be the country’s best hope if interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry and opponents “were to agree on the role of such a mission and on a transitional road map.” (International Crisis Group)


  • Nicaraguans are increasingly leaving the country — pushed by poverty and repression by the authoritarian government — contributing to the surge in migration from Latin America towards the U.S. southern border, reports the New York Times.


  • More than 4.7 million immigrants in the United States were facing deportation proceedings in fiscal 2022, according to a federal report, a 29 percent jump from the same period the year before. (Washington Post)


  • Javier Milei’s rise in Argentina is largely related to youth voters — and his capacity to channel their sentiment of disenchantment and rage, writes Ezequiel Ipar in El Diplo.


  • Remote workers from around the world have pushed up housing prices in Mexico City, displacing residents and reconfiguring neighborhoods, reports the New York Times.

  • Four human skulls were discovered inside a package at a Mexican airport that was due to be sent by courier to the United States, reports Reuters.


  • Pelé, who died last week, was ”not just the world’s best soccer player, but as a living embodiment of his country. He was, for most of his 82 years, Brazil’s representative to the world and a source of pride to a nation that found itself, thanks in part to the magic in the feet of the 17-year-old wunderkind who fired it to its first World Cup championship in 1958.” — New York Times

  • He “is widely regarded as the greatest footballer the game has ever seen,” according to the Guardian.

  • “More than a star athlete, he was a symbol of a nation in transformation,” writes Mac Margolis in the Washington Post.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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