BRASILIA, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in as Brazil’s president on Sunday, criticized far-right former leader Jayi Jair Bolsonaro has made a pointed indictment and vowed to radically change course to save a country plagued by hunger, poverty and racism.
In a speech to Congress after formally taking over Latin America’s largest country, the leftist said democracy was the real winner in October’s presidential election, when he ousted Bolsonaro in the most fraught election in a generation Ro.
Bolsonaro left Brazil for the United States on Friday after refusing to concede defeat, rattling the cage of Brazil’s young democracy with baseless claims of electoral weakness that sparked a violent campaign of electoral deniers.
“Democracy is the great victor of this election, overcoming … the most violent threats to voting freedom, and the most vile campaigns of lies and hate designed to manipulate and humiliate voters,” Lula told lawmakers.
Lula, who was jailed on graft charges overturned during Bolsonaro’s 2019 inauguration, issued veiled threats against his predecessor.
With Bolsonaro no longer enjoying presidential immunity, he faces growing legal risk over his anti-democratic rhetoric and handling of the pandemic. The former president’s trip to Florida shielded him from any immediate legal threat in Brazil.
“We will not take any revenge against those who try to bend the country to personal and ideological designs, but we will guarantee the rule of law,” Lula said, without naming his predecessors. “Those who make mistakes are responsible for their mistakes.”
He also accused Bolsonaro’s government of committing “genocide” by failing to adequately respond to the COVID-19 virus that has killed more than 680,000 Brazilians.
“Responsibility for this genocide must be investigated and there must be no impunity,” he said.
Lula’s government plans stand in stark contrast to Bolsonaro’s four years in power, which has been marked by rollbacks in environmental protection in the Amazon rainforest, lax gun laws and weakening protections for indigenous peoples and minorities.
Lula said he wanted to turn Brazil, one of the world’s top food producers, into a green superpower.
In his first decision as president, Lula restored the powers of the government’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, to fight illegal deforestation that had been curtailed by Bolsonaro, and revoked a program that encouraged conservation on protected indigenous lands. Measures against illegal mining.
He also unfrozen billions of dollars in Amazon funds funded by Norway and Germany to support sustainable development projects, reinforcing his commitment to ending deforestation in the Amazon, which has been rampant under Bolsonaro. Soared to the highest level in 15 years.
Lula also rolled back Bolsonaro’s lax gun policies that had contributed to a sharp rise in gun ownership in Brazil.
“Brazil doesn’t want more weapons, it wants peace and security for its people,” he said.
After being sworn in, Lula drove a convertible Rolls-Royce to Planalto Palace, where he walked up the ramp with his wife and a diverse group of people, including Raoni Metuktire, chief of the Kayapo tribe, a Young black boy and a disabled person.
Aline Sousa, a black garbage collector, then handed Lula the presidential belt — an act of enormous symbolic importance in Brazil that Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he would never do.
As Lula wiped away tears, tens of thousands of people gathered on Brasília’s corniche to celebrate.
In a subsequent speech, he promised to unite the polarized country and govern for all Brazilians.
“No one is interested in a country that is always at war or a family that lives in discord,” Lula said. “There are no two Brazils. We are one country, one great country.”
Lula said he would exercise fiscal caution, but made clear his main focus would be fighting hunger and narrowing rampant inequality. He also said his goal was to improve women’s rights and fight racism and Brazil’s legacy of slavery.
“This will be the hallmark of our government,” he said.
Allies said Lula’s newfound social conscience was the result of his 580 days in prison, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Lula’s inauguration took place under heavy security.
Some Bolsonaro supporters have claimed the election was stolen and called for a military coup to prevent Lula from returning to office in an atmosphere of disruption and violence.
On Christmas Eve, a Bolsonaro supporter was arrested for planting a bomb on a truck full of aviation fuel at the entrance to Brasília airport and admitted he was trying to sow chaos to provoke military intervention.
Bolsonaro has seen his support evaporate among many former allies due to anti-democratic protests.
On Saturday night, Bolsonaro’s vice-president, then-acting president Hamilton Mourao, criticized his former boss for allowing anti-democratic sentiment to flourish after his defeat in the polls.
“Leaders who are supposed to appease and unite the country … allow silence or inappropriate and harmful protagonist behavior to create an atmosphere of chaos and social disintegration,” Mourao said.
Lula’s electoral victory marked a stunning political comeback, winning an unprecedented third term after a year and a half behind bars.
In his first few years as head of the Workers’ Party (PT) from 2003 to 2010, the former union leader helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty as a commodities boom boosted the economy.
Now he faces the daunting challenge of improving Brazil’s stagnant economy while also uniting a country painfully polarized under Bolsonaro.
“Great expectations are placed on Lula. He will have the daunting task of restoring normalcy and predictability to Brazil, and above all quick results that will improve the quality of life of the local population,” said Creomar de Sousa, director of Dharma Political. de Souza) said. Risk Consulting in Brasilia.
Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello, Ricardo Brito, Lissandra Paraguassu, Anthony Boadle and Fernando Cardoso; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Kirsten Donovan
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